New Year's Reflections On Alfred Kahn's Legacy

Published on December 31, 2010

By Andrew Kreig / JIP Director’s Blog

The passing this week of the illustrious economist, college dean and pioneering regulator Dr. Alfred Kahn provides an apt occasion not simply to celebrate his work helping consumers. His work underscores also how logic and individual commitment can change conventional wisdom and indeed entrenched power, These lessons are especially timely as we at the Justice Integrity Project take stock of our first year documenting scandals within the justice system and, with your help as readers, rally support for reform in the year ahead.

Kahn, 93, left, is most famous for leading the deregulation of the airline industry during the late 1970s under President Jimmy Carter at a time when it was widely assumed that air traffic over major routes required close government supervision over a handful of major carriers. Kahn then became anti-inflation “czar” in that administration, an almost hopeless task that was enlivened occasionally by his blunt talk and wit. Most of us have benefitted for decades from the lower-costs and innovations from deregulating air traffic, which enabled creation of Southwest Airlines and provided a test case for similar deregulation and expanded consumer benefits in many sectors. These included energy and my longtime field of telecommunications.

Kahn’s friend and admirer, Dr. Thomas Hazlett, professor of law and economics at George Mason University School of Law, wrote an eloquent assessment in today’s Financial Times, excerpted below.  In showing the power of ideas, it’s relevant that Kahn was generally considered a liberal Democrat and Hazlett is a well-known political conservative and authority on telecommunications. He directs his law school’s Information Economy Project at the National Center for Technology and Law after serving as the FCC’s first chief economist. As disclosure, I’m an affiliated research fellow at that Project. Also, my undergraduate degree from Cornell University was signed by then-Dean Kahn, who spent most of his career at the university since 1947 when not in public office. The degree hangs on my wall, as I write this as a kind of inspiration, though I'd be the first to recognize that its signing was more of an administrative function than personal. For an authoritative and even more personal assessment of the deregulating regulator's legacy to the country, kindly read that below -- with our best wishes for all of your endeavors in the New Year.

Financial Times, Fred Kahn's First-Class Flight, Dr. Thomas W. Hazlett (right), Dec. 31, 2010. This week’s passing of economist Alfred Kahn, 93, has brought tributes for the Cornell professor’s key role in the 1970s deregulation of US airline fares. That achievement saves Americans a stunning $20bn annually. Yet Kahn’s contributions to electricity regulation and telecommunications policy may even exceed this high-flying success. Thanks to a superb, Pulitzer Prize-winning history of Kahn’s career, Thomas McCraw’s 1984 “Prophets of Regulation,” as well as Kahn’s own two-volume magnum opus, “The Economics of Regulation” (2nd Ed., 1988), and his papers and speeches on a variety of regulatory topics, we have a rich, bull-bodied view of the colourful life of a remarkable man.

Editor's Note: Below is a selection of other significant blogs and news articles on legal reform and related political, security and media news. The articles contain a sample of news, with the full article viewable by clicking the link.

Democracy Now! Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg on WikiLeaks, War and Resisting Government Crackdown, Amy Goodman, Dec. 31, 2010 (1 hour. Includes transcript). WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange were targeted by the U.S. and other governments around the world. We play our interviews with Assange and with Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.
 
Huffington Post/Guardian (UK), The Julian Assange Investigation -- Let's Clear the Air of Misinformation, Nick Davies, Dec. 30, 2010. The Guardian went out of their way to include exculpatory material, not just from the police file but also from previous comments made by Assange and his lawyers….Our story contains literally hundreds of words whose sole purpose is to reflect Assange's position.

The Standard (New Zealand), Marianne Ny: Making an arse of Swedish law, LPRENT, Dec. 4, 2010. What has been intriguing me more is the behavior of the Sweden’s director of public prosecutions, Marianne Ny….Assange’s current lawyer compares her to role of the infamous Beria in Stalins (sic) 1930′s show trials – and from what I can see I’d have to agree. Similarly I fail to see why Interpol is involved for such a minor charge.
Legal Schnauzer, Is Barack Obama Really Our First Black President? Roger Shuler, Dec. 31, 2010 (Videos). We recently extolled the virtues of the 1987 movie classic Amazon Women on the Moon, which featured the unforgettable character Don "No Soul" Simmons. Comedian David Alan Grier played the immortal "No Soul" Simmons and has gone on to appear in a number of TV shows, including Comedy Central's Chocolate News.

 

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