20 Years on Battle Lines for Reason

Calling itself a "think magazine for the baby boom generation," Reason, the Libertarian alternative to The Nation, National Review and the New Republic, celebrates its 20th anniversary this month.

The journal was started in 1968 as a mimeographed broadside by Boston University journalism student Lanny Friedlander. A follower of Ayn Rand, Friedlander opposed not only the Vietnam war, the draft and the corporate state--as so many on campus did in the the late 1960s--but he also opposed the opposers. Reason offered what the current editors call a rationalist alternative based on individualism and free market economics to the romantic advocacy of collectivism and socialism by such organizations as Students for Democratic Society.

In 1969, Friedlander published an argument favoring airline deregulation, nine years before Congress acted in the matter, by a young engineer at Sikorsky in Connecticut named Robert W. Poole Jr. "Seeing that article in print was my moment of truth," recalls Poole, now 43. "I decided that rather than spending my life in aerospace engineering, I wanted to be writing about and helping to shape public policy." A year later, he and several partners purchased Reason from Friedlander and moved it to Santa Barbara. The publication began its slow evolution to a slick monthly.

With the May issue, Reason's circulation hit 38,000, a healthy number for an opinion magazine. (Though it reaches fewer readers than the New Republic or National Review, Reason compares favorably to such established competitors as Washington Monthly, American Spectator and Commentary.) Most of that circulation is by subscription, though the periodical has begun enjoying still minuscule but growing newsstand sales since being taken on last year by Eastern News, a national distributor specializing in non-mass-circulation publications.

The magazine has launched an ambitious $300,000 circulation drive anticipated to double distribution in two years. Revenues are also rising, though so far most advertisers are low-circulation regulars promoting discount sunglasses and radar detectors, and oddball publishers.

According to Poole, polls show that as many as 25% of Americans are conservative on economic issues but liberal or tolerant on social issues, with that figure running higher among the college-educated audience likely to be attracted by an opinion magazine. It is to this audience, labeled libertarian, that Reason addresses itself, according to Poole, who is publisher in addition to being the president of the parent Reason Foundation.

Profound Changes

In the current issue, 60 past contributors--including Robert Nisbet, Richard Epstein, George Gilder, Karl Hess, Charles Murray, Walter Williams and P. J. O'Rourke--have been asked to give their thoughts on "How Freedom Fares" two decades after the magazine's founding. In an introductory essay, Poole points out the changes profound and trivial that have occurred to alter the "violent, constrained world" of 1968.

It is hard to remember now, as Poole recollects, that self-service gas stations were against the law in 1968, that there were no automatic teller machines, that cable TV was prohibited in most cities. Government regulation thwarted fare competition between airlines. The maximum income tax rate was 70%. It was illegal to own gold. Doctors and lawyers couldn't advertise. The women's liberation movement hadn't begun to take effect. Young men lived in dread of the draft. In many places, sex between unmarried partners was a crime.

Without actually saying so, Poole seems to credit Reason with fostering the spread of libertarian ideas, and there is reason to believe that on at least one issue, the privatization of government services, the magazine and the foundation have had an effect. The foundation, for example, has testified frequently before the President's Commission on Privatization.

Other topics that absorb Reason's attention include corporate takeovers, music censorship, trade protectionism, airline safety, black self-help, arms control and the INF treaty, the space program, and the Reagan doctrine in Central America.

Investigative reporter Martin Morse Wooster has filed attention-getting exposes of what he characterized as the dubious scientific research propping up the Meese Commission Report on Pornography and of the press' easy acceptance of Mitch Snyder's off-the-cuff estimate of U.S. homelessness, which Wooster argued is off by a factor of 10. Other investigative pieces have charged abuse of federal grant moneys by Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers union and blamed the Love Canal disaster on city planning mistakes.

Reason magazine and the Reason Foundation moved to Los Angeles from Santa Barbara in mid-1986, settling in to a suite of first-floor offices in a building in the industrial park by Santa Monica Airport. Dedicating itself to the pursuit of a free society--which it defines as one that protects private property, individual liberty and free markets, and that limits the size and reach of government at every level--the organization employs research and communications to effect policy changes.

Although the magazine is the principal activity of the foundation, its Local Government Center maintains three computerized databases on various aspects of privatization and publishes a monthly newsletter, Privatization Watch. Through the Federal Privatization Project, the foundation has influenced the course of the Reagan Administration's efforts to dismantle the non-military parts of the federal government. Outreach programs include a high school economics project and and regional forums on the free market for business and community leaders. And "The New Enlightenment," a three-hour documentary on the rebirth of classical liberal economic thinking, has been shown on British public television. KQED in San Francisco is in the process of raising $800,000 for a more up-to-date and more Americanized version to be broadcast early next year.

Reason is published 11 times ($2.50 newsstand) and is available by subscription ($15 a year) from P.O. Box 3724, Escondido, Calif. 92025-9658.

Media observers have been wondering for months which big national publishing company would pick up L.A. Style magazine, the successful 3-year-old monthly guide to the hip and trendy in culture and fashion. Rumors have it that the successful suitor is American Express Publishing, which already has one of this year's publishing success stories in New York Woman. Confronted with reports that L.A. Style was being sold, Style publisher/editor Joie Davidow told The Times that she will have "nothing to say" until next week. "I will have a story for you then," she said. A spokesman for Tom Ryder, president of American Express, was less forthcoming. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said.

A sad farewell to the 4-H Leader, national magazine of the 4-H Club, retiring after 66 years. . . . Follow-ups: Westar Media's Southern California Home & Garden ($2) is out on schedule. Very similar to its Northern California sibling, the new monthly is well-produced but not very exciting. With national magazines like HG targeting the same market, with Los Angeles magazine, South Bay Living, LA West, and Changing Homes covering much of the same ground, with at least two rivals in Orange County, and with California magazine's projected Westside style magazine, now tentatively called Angeles, in the wings, watch for a shakeout. . . . You will want UFO: An International Forum on Extraterrestrial Theories and Phenomena ($3), a quarterly now in its third year. The current 48-page issue reprints Polaroids of a UFO encounter in Florida; a Q & A with Whitley Strieber, who wrote Communion, a story about an Arizona inventor who gets his ideas from an extraterrestrial; and first-hand accounts of abductions (subcriptions: six issues for $18 from California UFO, 1800 S. Robertson Blvd., Box 355, Los Angeles, Calif. 90035).

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