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Jewish World Review Sept. 12, 2001 / 23 Elul, 5761

Walter Williams

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Consumer Reports

It ain't necessarily so -- NOWHERE do lies and misrepresentation stand out in as bold relief as in the political arena. But how we forget.

Speaking in 1983, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Joan Claybrook said, "Because they (air bags) are hidden away in dashboards, they work automatically when a crash occurs. ... They fit all different sizes of people from little children up to 95 percent of males, very large males. And I think that that gives more freedom and liberty than being forced to wear a seatbelt ..."

In 1977 the Transportation Department announced that air bags "protect automobile occupants from collision injuries automatically, without the need to fasten belts or take any other action."

Out of safety concerns, U.S. auto manufacturers wanted to delay introduction of air bags and post safety warnings. In 1969, General Motors warned that "a small child close to the instrument panel from which the air cushion is deployed may be severely injured or even killed." In 1971, Chrysler's president said the air bag is "potentially hazardous for an out-of-position adult or small child."

Joan Claybrook, Ralph Nader and the Washington bureaucrats ignored these concerns as obstructionism, and air bags became mandated standard equipment. Now, after 146 people have killed by air bags, the government mandates seatbelt usage and fines for allowing children to be seated in the front seat, and auto companies must post warnings of possible death and injury.

Remember the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), whereby tobacco companies were to pay states $206 billion over the next 25 years to fund tobacco control programs and pay for tobacco-related health costs? According to a recent U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) report, only 7 percent of the $13.5 billion already paid has been used for new or expanded tobacco control programs.

Most of the money has gone for college scholarships, road repair, social services and health services unrelated to smoking, and to finance tax reductions. Federal, state and local politicians simply exploited (extorted) an unpopular industry and its customers to get more of what every politician wants -- money to spend. Cowardly and browbeaten tobacco company executives are too timid to complain or take actions against this fraud and misrepresentation. You can bet that politicians emboldened by successes with tobacco companies and their customers will target another industry and its customers for extortion.

The political arena is by no means the sole source of lies, distortion and misrepresentation -- the academy comes in as a close second. Ask most any college or high-school student what was the cause of the Great Depression. Assuming they know what the Great Depression was in the first place, they'll tell you that it was caused by the stock market crash and a failure of capitalism.

Professors Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz, in their classic, "The Monetary History of United States," years ago pointed out that inept Federal Reserve policy caused the Depression. A more readable article by Paul Craig Roberts and Lawrence M. Stratton, titled "The Fed's Depression and the Birth of the New Deal," in Hoover Institution's Policy Review (August/September 2001) makes the same argument.

It was the Fed's extremely tight money policy in 1929 (a nearly 3 percent reduction in the money supply) that put the economy into a tail spin. Later on, the Fed made matters worse by abdicating its responsibility as a lender-of-last-resort.

President Roosevelt, who had little respect for the Constitution, pushed through economy-stifling New Deal policies. FDR's constitutional disrespect was made clear in his 1935 message to the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, "I hope your committee will not permit doubts as to constitutionality, however reasonable, to block the suggested legislation."

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