Jonathan Chait relays ED Kain’s observation that Jimmy Carter saved American beer by deregulating it, thereby allowing the flowering of local microbreweries.Â But neither Chait nor Kain see fit to mention that Carter was one of the great deregulators in American presidential history.
It was Carter who hired the great Alfred E. Kahn as head of the Civil Aeronautics Board, and Kahn promptly put himself out of business by deregulating air travel.Â If you get cheap airfares, thank Carter.Â (And if you hate the hub system, you can hate Carter for that, too).Â A good description ofÂ all this isÂ Tom McCraw’s classic (and in this case, somewhat mis-named)Â Prophets of Regulation, which hasÂ a whole chapter on Kahn.
Even more significantly, in the wake of the 1979 oil shock, Carter decontrolled oil prices, a move that eventually led to a six-year decline in their price.Â Â But precisely because of Carter’s indecisiveness and atrocious sense of political timing, the initial price increase fell under his administration, and the long-term decline under Reagan’s.Â Â The vast increase in oil prices sent the economy into a tailspin that had already begun, of course paving the way for the Gipper’s election.Â Thus, not only were Carter’s actions a precursor of Reaganite deregulatory philosophy, but his ham-handedness brought us President Reagan.
Somehow I’m not expecting Carter to fall into the pantheon of conservative heroes, though.
UPDATE:Â A commenter reminds me of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, which Carter really pushed.Â This ActÂ substantially deregulated interstate trucking,Â greatly facilitated the development of the FedEx/UPS “just-in-time” delivery system, andÂ also reduced truckers’ wages.Â A Reaganite’s dream!