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Alfred Kahn

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"Alfred Kahn"

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Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he spent most of his career, said on its Web site that he died from cancer.

As chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board under President Jimmy Carter, Kahn was probably the first Washington regulator to put himself out of a job. He argued that airlines could serve consumers and business best by competing with each other, a novel notion at a time when prices and routes were government-controlled.

If you want to know why air travel is so sucky, it’s largely because Kahn was correct. It turns out that in a competitive market, what consumers really wanted was affordable air travel. Under the old paradigm, airlines were providing service quality that was too good and too expensive. This is a bummer for those of us who mostly travel for work—when someone else is paying you want the high price, high quality equilibrium—but it’s a small victory for efficient allocation of scarce resources and a great boon for domestic tourism and far-flung families trying to stay in touch.

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