When Eastern Europe broke free in 1989, we all realized just how little thought had been given to the transition from socialism to capitalism. Mises had told us the collapse was coming, and we should have been prepared.
As America comes to resemble a command economy, we need a transition plan here too. Yuri Maltsev proposed a "One-Year Plan" for the U.S.S.R. We’re not in that bad a shape (yet), so we could do it in 30 days.
DAY ONE: The federal income tax is abolished and April 15th is declared a national holiday. The 40% reduction in federal revenues is matched by a 40% cut in spending. The budget is still almost twice as big as Jimmy Carter’s.
DAY TWO: All other federal taxes are abolished, including the corporate income tax, the capital gains tax, the gasoline tax, "sin" taxes, excise taxes, etc. Businesses boom, and the few legitimate federal functions are funded with an inexpensive head tax. People who choose not to vote need not pay it. (Note: this was a mainstream view in the 19th century.)
DAY THREE: The federal government sells all its land, freeing up tens of millions of acres for development, mining, farming, forestry, oil drilling, private parks, etc. The government uses the revenue to pay off the national debt and other liabilities.
DAY FOUR: The minimum wage is reduced to zero, creating jobs for ex-federal bureaucrats at their market wage. All pro-union laws and regulations are scrapped. The jobless rate falls dramatically.
DAY FIVE: The Bureau of Labor Statistics, like the rest of the Labor Department, is sent to that big hiring hall in the sky. Without detailed economic statistics, future economic planners will be blind and deaf.
DAY SIX: The Department of Commerce is abolished. Big business has to make its own way in the world, without subsidies and privileges at the expense of its competitors and customers.
DAY SEVEN: The plug is pulled on the Department of Energy. Oil and gas prices plummet.
DAY EIGHT: All regulatory agencies, from the Interstate Commerce Commission to the Federal Trade Commission, are deep-sixed. Competition is legalized.
DAY NINE: HUD is squashed like a bug. There’s a building boom in cheap, private, apartments.
DAY TEN: The interstate highways reopen as private businesses. Road entrepreneurs price travel according to consumer demand. Using modern technology, drivers get bills once a month. Credit risks — and drunks and dangerous drivers — aren’t allowed on the road. Non-drivers no longer subsidize car owners.
DAY ELEVEN: Government welfare is wiped out. Bums work or starve. The deserving poor find a cornucopia of private services designed to make them independent. Private charity explodes, as the American people, already the most generous in the world, find their incomes almost doubled, thanks to the tax cuts.
DAY TWELVE: The Federal Reserve closes its open-market operations and stops protecting the banking industry from competition. But banks can now engage in all the non-bank financial activities previously forbidden to them. The business cycle, which is caused by monetary expansion through the credit markets, is liquidated.
DAY THIRTEEN: Federal deposit insurance is scrapped. All insured deposits are redeemed from federal assets, which include the personal assets of high-level government employees. The threat of bank runs forces banks to keep 100% reserves for their demand deposits, and prudent reserves on all other accounts. There are no more inherently bankrupt banks propped up by the government, at taxpayer expense, and no more bail-outs.
DAY FOURTEEN: The shaky fiat dollar is defined in terms of gold, with the ratio determined by dividing the government’s gold stock by all existing dollars on that day.
DAY FIFTEEN: The federal government sells National and Dulles airports to the highest bidder, and stops all subsidies to other socialist airports around the country. All constraints on airline prices and service cease. It costs more to fly during peak hours than off-peak, but overall, air travel drops in price.
DAY SIXTEEN: All government regulations that create and sustain cartels are abolished, including those for the post office, telephones, television, radio, and cable TV. Prices plummet, and a host of new and unforeseen services becomes available.
DAY SEVENTEEN: Centrally planned agriculture, as imposed by Hoover and Roosevelt, is repealed: there are no more subsidies, payments-in-kind, marketing orders, low-interest loans, etc. Farm prices drop. Entrepreneurial farmers get rich. Welfare farmers go into another line of work. The poor eat like kings.
DAY EIGHTEEN: The Justice Department shutters its anti-trust division. Companies, big and small, are free to merge — up, down, or sideways. Stockholders can buy any other company, or sell their stock to anyone else. Marginal producers can no longer battle their competitors with bureaucratic weapons.
DAY NINETEEN: The Department of Education flunks the constitutionality test, and is kicked out. Private charities set up remedial reading and writing programs for the former bureaucrats. Federally subsidized sex education and other anti-family programs go out of business. Local school districts become responsive to parents or close, pressured by a fast-growing private school sector (which many more parents can now afford).
DAY TWENTY: All federal monuments are sold, in some cases to non-profit groups based on the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association, which owns and runs George Washington’s home. The VFW buys the Vietnam memorial. There is much bidding for the Jefferson and Washington monuments. Nobody wants FDR’s, so it’s torn down and the land sold to a farmer. (With the federal government cut back to its constitutional size, much of Washington reverts to productive uses like agriculture, as in late 18th century.)
DAY TWENTY-ONE: The computerized financial and political dossier maintained by the government on every American is erased. The public wanders through the federal offices to make sure, in a reprise of the East Berliners’ visits to Stasi headquarters.
DAY TWENTY-TWO: Equal rights are granted to all Americans, even members of non-victim groups. There is no affirmative action, no quotas, no set-asides, no public accommodations laws. Private property and freedom of association are fully restored.
DAY TWENTY-THREE: The EPA is cleaned out, with all "clean air" and similar big-government laws repealed. Ten thousand lawyers leap from their balconies. Private property is established in air and water. Americans harmed by pollution are free to sue the polluters, who are no longer protected by the federal government.
DAY TWENTY-FOUR: Americans are given complete freedom of contract, restoring rationality to malpractice and product liability law.
DAY TWENTY-FIVE: Government scrambles for more assets to sell (i.e., the National Zoo, also known as Washington, D.C.) to pay off the liabilities of the privatized Social Security system.
DAY TWENTY-SEVEN: Foreign aid is outlawed as unconstitutional, unjust, and un-economic. Foreign politicians have to steal their own money. The World Bank, IMF, and United Nations close their super-luxurious doors.
DAY TWENTY-EIGHT: The American people are given the unrestricted right to keep and bear arms.
DAY TWENTY-NINE: The Defense Department is reoriented towards defense. American troops come home from all around the world. We adopt a policy of armed neutrality, remembering the Founding Fathers’ teaching that we could not have an empire abroad and a constitutional republic at home.
DAY THIRTY: All tariffs, quotas, and trade agreements are put through the shredder. Americans can trade with anyone in the world, without barriers or subsidies. Japanese car prices drop an immediate 25%.
In just 30 exhilarating days, we have established the outlines of free market. Radical? Maybe so. Me, I can’t wait until Month Two.
This article appeared in The Free Market for March 1991.