The Lone Mountain Compact: Principles for Preserving Freedom and Livability in America’s Cities and Suburbs
The phenomenon of urban sprawl has become a pre-eminent controversy throughout the United States. Recently, a number of scholars and writers—gathered by the Political Economy Research Center at a conference about the issue at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana—decided to distill their conclusions into the following statement of principles. As communities face the challenges of growth, the “Lone Mountain Compact” identifies ten fundamental principles upon which an improved quality of life for all citizens should be based.
The unprecedented increase in prosperity over the last 25 years has created a large and growing upper middle class in America. New modes of work and leisure combined with population growth have fueled successive waves of suburban expansion in the 20th Century. Technological progress is likely to increase housing choice and community diversity even further in the 21st Century, enabling more people to live and work outside the conventional urban forms of our time. These choices will likely include low-density, medium-density, and high-density urban forms. This growth brings rapid change to our communities, often with negative side effects, such as traffic congestion, crowded public schools, and the loss of familiar open space. All of these factors are bound up in the controversy that goes by the term “sprawl.” The heightened public concern over the character of our cities and suburbs is a healthy expression of citizen demand for solutions that are responsive to our changing needs and wants. Yet tradeoffs between different policy options for addressing these concerns are poorly understood. Productive solutions to public concerns will adhere to the following fundamental principles.
Principles for Livable Cities:
1. The most fundamental principle is that, absent a material threat to other individuals or the community, people should be allowed to live and work where and how they like.
2. Prescriptive, centralized plans that attempt to determine the detailed outcome of community form and function should be avoided. Such “comprehensive” plans interfere with the dynamic, adaptive, and evolutionary nature of neighborhoods and cities.
3. Densities and land uses should be market driven, not plan driven. Proposals to supersede market-driven land use decisions by centrally directed decisions are vulnerable to the same kind of perverse consequences as any other kind of centrally planned resource allocation decisions, and show little awareness of what such a system would have to accomplish even to equal the market in effectiveness.
4. Communities should allow a diversity in neighborhood design, as desired by the market. Planning and zoning codes and building regulations should allow for neotraditional neighborhood design, historic neighborhood renovation and conversion, and other mixed-use development and the more decentralized development forms of recent years.
5. Decisions about neighborhood development should be decentralized as far as possible. Local neighborhood associations and private covenants are vastly superior to centralized or regional government planning agencies.
6. Local planning procedures and tools should incorporate private property rights as a fundamental element of development control. Problems of incompatible or conflicting land uses will be better resolved through the revival of common law principles of nuisance than through zoning regulations which tend to be rigid and inefficient.
7. All growth management policies should be evaluated according to their cost of living and “burden-shifting” effects. Urban growth boundaries, minimum lot sizes, restrictions on housing development, restrictions on commercial development, and other limits on freely functioning land markets that increase the burdens on lower income groups must be rejected.
8. Market-oriented transportation strategies should be employed, such as peak period road pricing, HOT lanes, toll roads, and de-monopolized mass transit. Monopoly public transit schemes, especially fixed rail transit that lacks the flexibility to adapt to the changing destinations of a dynamic, decentralized metropolis, should be viewed skeptically.
9. The rights of present residents should not supersede those of future residents. Planners, citizens, and local officials should recognize that “efficient” land use must include consideration for household and consumer wants, preferences, and desires. Thus, growth controls and land-use planning must consider the desires of future residents and generations, not solely current residents.
10. Planning decisions should be based upon facts, not perceptions. A number of the concerns raised in the “sprawl” debate are based upon patently false perceptions. The use of good data in public policy is crucial to the continued progress of American cities and the social advance of all its citizens.
|For more information and background on these principles, see A Guide to Smart Growth: Shattering Myths, Providing Solutions, edited by Jane S. Shaw and Ronald D. Utt, published in 2000 by the Property and Environment Research Center and The Heritage Foundation.|
AMERICANS HAVE A GREAT STAKE in the transition of power from one President to the next. Even those who did not vote for the winning candidate should want the newly elected President of the United States to succeed in general. When the White House operates smoothly and the President is seen as a success, every American benefits. When the White House is in chaos and the President fails, they suffer.
Examples abound of Presidents who were unable to “hit the ground running” because of mistakes they made during the transition period. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, for example, made early decisions to give their Cabinet secretaries primary authority over appointments to key policymaking posts within their departments. In practice, this decision meant their administrations similarly were unable to speak with a single voice in key policy areas. Confusion and even conflict resulted.
Bill Clinton declared early that he wanted his Cabinet to “look like America” and a woman to serve as Attorney General. These decisions led to speedy but sloppy, screening of the potential candidates and resulted in a series of rapid-fire embarrassments. The misguided effort known as “Nannygate” was not President Clinton’s only early problem. One week after his election, he unexpectedly provoked controversy with a surprise promise to lift the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military. Combined with the abrupt dismissal of veteran personnel from the White House Travel Office, the “growing pains” of the early months of the Clinton Administration produced months of backpedaling and, in the case of Travelgate, years of investigation, criticism, court battles, and conflict. For a while it seemed as though the new Chief Executive from Hope, Arkansas would never recover.
Ronald Reagan, by comparison, strode into office insouciant and self-confident because he had a vision and clear plans for his Administration. Thanks to advance planning with a handful of his key advisers, Reagan entered the White House knowing exactly how his team would fill the key posts, how they would instruct their principal appointees, which positions would be filled and in what order, and which policies his Administration would push first. By Inauguration Day on January 20, Reagan was ready. Just as important, to the American people and the media he appeared ready. Analysts of all political persuasions attribute the successes he enjoyed in the opening months of his presidency to these early steps, and they often cite his transition as a model for future Presidents to follow.
Traditionally, the peaceful transfer of power from one President to another after an election is a time of great expectation. The inauguration of the President of the United States, and especially the inauguration of a new President, with all its pageantry and solemnity has become a national ritual. President John F. Kennedy rightly called it a “celebration of freedom.” To those still bereft of the blessings of democracy in other parts of the world, the inauguration of the American President, in public view and before his supporters and former opponents, continues to demonstrate the greatness of America.
The 70 days between the election and the swearing-in can be heady times for the President-elect and his team. They can also be chaotic. After a long and hard-fought campaign, veterans of the effort experience both the euphoria and the exhaustion that accompany victory. Often they display an understandable hubris, believing perhaps that nothing that awaits them can be as difficult or as arduous as what they have already achieved. Historians and journalists believe this arrogance was one of the underlying causes of Kennedy’s miscalculation in the Bay of Pigs incident and prompted Clinton’s ill-conceived economic stimulus package and health care proposal.
The days and weeks immediately after the long campaign – when people are tired, stressed, ecstatic, and more than a bit confused about what lies ahead – are not the best time for a President-elect and his closest advisers to make decisions that will affect the country and world for years to come. Yet, in an atmosphere conducive to error, they must make many such decisions and in quick succession. Presidents who either delay decisions on critical matters or act in haste will be sowing the seeds of future frustration.
Richard Nixon, for instance, who was unsure in the final weeks of his campaign that he would be elected, had a slow and awkward start to his Administration. Jimmy Carter planned for the transition, but much of his planning was done in a vacuum only to be unearthed after the election, when the campaign staff – upset that they had not be consulted – began to focus on the transition.
Sometimes Presidents handicap themselves by placing a premium on fulfilling the promises of government “reform” they made during the heat of the campaign. Clinton, for example, pledged to reduce the size of the White House staff. Mindful that the press would be keeping count, members of his team often made cuts they later regretted.
To help the next American President prepare for a successful transition, The Heritage Foundation brought together alumni and observers of nine presidential administrations – spanning a period of nearly 50 years – for a series of discussions about what went right and what went wrong during transition periods and administrations past. Although they sometimes disagreed in what to emphasize, most agreed on substance and the fundamentals of what a President should do.
Gleaning from the collective experience of those who have walked the Pennsylvania Avenue walk, eight keys to a successful presidency were identified which address the different types of questions a new President must face and the steps he should take to answer them effectively.
- Achieving a Successful Transition: What needs to be done? When, where, and by whom should each step be implemented?
- Running the White House: How should the White House be organized? What system can be put in place to efficiently handle the steady flow of people and paper? Who should have access to what? Who should have what authority?
- Staffing a New Administration: How do you find the best people for the key positions? For that matter, how do you determine what the “best” is? What priorities should be set by filling the key posts? What management system will assure the President that the administration will further his own goals?
- Turning the President’s Agenda into Administration Policy: How will the White House interface with Cabinet departments and independent agencies? Where should policy be made?
- Enacting a National Security Agenda: What vision does the President have for America’s role in the world? What criteria should be used to select a National Security Adviser? How should the President, the National Security Adviser, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense interact?
- Working with Congress to Enact an Agenda: How can the President ensure a desired program will become law? How do you facilitate smooth inter-branch relations?
- Managing the Largest Corporation in the World: What are the President’s primary managerial duties? How can the President ensure that his directives flow through the entire federal bureaucracy?
- Building Public Support for the President’s Agenda: How is a message developed, transmitted, and used to reinforce support among principal actors?
History shows that Americans benefit when presidential transitions run smoothly. When a new President is able to articulate clearly his vision for America; when the White House and Congress establish a good working relationship, even if they disagree on legislative and policy details; when the right people are selected for the right administration jobs; and when the President’s team understand his priorities and has a plan for doing “first things first,” then every American profits.
Though some consider transition planning to be a modern phenomenon, Presidents have engaged in it since the days of George Washington. Rather than a sign of overconfidence or bravado, transition teams are a necessary management tool that spell the difference between success and failure in the first days of the new administration. Yet, among modern Presidents, only Ronald Reagan had the foresight to begin planning early. Many others, in retrospect, undoubtedly wish they had.
Dr. Felzenberg is a Visiting Fellow at The Heritage Foundation where he directs the Foundation’s Mandate for Leadership 2000 Project. This article is excerpted from The Keys to a Successful Presidency, which he edited.
THOSE SO QUICK TO SAY that the government should stay out of the “choice” issue have it right – when they are referring to schools, anyway. For the fourth straight year, “education” leads the polls as the nation’s top priority. Among likely voters, education ranks first on a list of issues “most important to you in deciding how to vote.” Abortion? Eleventh, besting only campaign finance reform as the top concern.
Twenty years ago, with Communism, inflation and unemployment as front-burner concerns, education was a sleeper issue. Only a handful of people (3%-5%) would cite education as the most pressing challenge when asked to do so in an open-ended question. However, in the latest installment of the bipartisan Hotline-Bullseye poll (August 2000), 31% of likely voters nationwide cited education and schools as one of the “three most important issues to you in this presidential campaign.” In the 1980’s the enemy was situated half way around the world in the Soviet Union; today, many Americans believe the greatest threat to our security exists within our own classrooms.
It follows, then, that significant numbers of voters favor measures like charter schools, teacher testing, and tax credits for private scholarships. The most popular reform in the education arena is school choice. For years, national polls have shown that two-thirds of those surveyed favor allowing parents greater control over where their children attend school and what is taught there, and notable majorities approve descriptions of specific provisions and programs to accomplish this.
The backing for school choice cuts across all major demographic, geographic and attitudinal lines, with people of all ages, races, income and education levels, and both genders showing significant endorsement. Most notably, minority parents voice majority support for school choice, a significant break with the Democratic party orthodoxy that places the demands of teachers’ unions before the needs of inner-city students.
Oftentimes, the public’s appetite for an attractive idea wanes when specific details are revealed. Witness the unraveling of the Clinton “health care security” plan. It was introduced in 1993 to 75% public support; yet upon full disclosure, a majority of voters and President Clinton’s own Democratic Congress rejected it one year later.
This is not the case with education reforms that aim to shift education dollars and dominion from Washington to local officials and parents themselves. Public support for these forms of school choice often intensifies, not erodes, when particular features are explained, and actual accounts of “choice-in-action” through charter schools or private voucher programs are shared. A May 2000 poll conducted by The Washington Post revealed that 63% of registered voters nationwide favor education reform that would “provide parents with more alternatives such as private or charter schools if they don’t want to send their child to a traditional public school.” An astonishing 82% of respondents in the same poll said they favor giving “state and local governments more say in how to spend federal education money” (55% “strongly favor” such a measure).
In one of the few poll questions in this area that cuts through the “happy talk” of “Do you support or oppose improving education?” voters prefer, sometimes by a 2-1 margin, “allowing parents more control over where their child attends school” or “making sure that all of the basics are being taught” as opposed to “have the government spend more money per pupil on instruction and materials” or “pay teachers more and give teachers’ groups more decision-making power”.
The most compelling statistics about school choice and related reforms, of course, are those that tell the tale of how many children can and do benefit from actual programs. In less than a decade since the first one was formed, some 1,700 charter schools operate in 34 states and the District of Columbia. And in cities like Milwaukee, Cleveland and Tampa, to the extent attempted school choice programs have been permitted to flourish, private individuals providing scholarships have empowered thousands of parents to place their children in better schools and encouraged thousands more to place their children on waiting lists to do the same.
Public support and private scholarship success aside, broader implementation of school choice measures face two significant obstacles. The first is the steady stream of legal challenges coming from civil liberties groups, teachers’ unions and other defenders of the status quo. The second major challenge to continued reform demands increased public knowledge about education. Few Americans dispute the poor quality of public schools, but most cannot understand the mind-numbing facts and figures that show the severity of the problem.
Reclamation of the word “choice” would help in the continued communication of these private reforms to the problem of failing schools. “Choice” is a core American value. It is the result of freedom, the predicate for self-reliance and democratic rule, the bud of entrepreneurship and a staple of modern society. For thirty years, the Left has hijacked the word “choice” to soften the communication of their defense of abortion. Now, the same people who claim a woman has the “right to choose” to terminate her pregnancy would deny that same woman five years later the “right to choose” where that child attends school.
Before the next President of the United States influences the educational system, education reform promises to influence who becomes the next president of the United States. Some 75% of likely voters said in a July 2000 Washington Post/ABC News poll that improving schools and education would be a “very important” factor in deciding how to vote in November. Both presidential candidates and their political parties featured education in their respective platforms, and devoted entire portions of their conventions to the topic. To cash in on the political currency attached to education reform, however, candidates must abandon the happy talk of being “for quality education” or “for the kids” (who isn’t, after all?) and offer specifics and solutions.
A common complaint among some voters is that the two major parties are too similar in their policy positions. That may be true with some issues, but on the matter of choice-in-education this year’s candidates demonstrate genuine differences.
Governor Bush is decidedly pro-school choice, and said as much in the remarks he made at this summer’s Republican National Convention. Looking to export some of the education programs he has managed as governor of Texas to the White House, Mr. Bush chided “this administration” for continuing “on the same old path with the same old programs while millions are trapped in schools where violence is common and learning is rare.”
The governor’s plan emphasizes school evaluations, parental choice, and teacher accountability, and seeks to build upon some of the more aggressive reforms attempted by the Republican Congress, including expanding Education Savings Accounts (ESA’s) and doubling the number of charter schools by providing loan guarantees for start-up costs. Mr. Bush and the GOP would allocate monies toward an Educational Technology Fund to boost technology in the classroom, offer Pell grants to low-income students who opt to take accelerated math or science classes, and establish a “Reading First” program to foster reading ability in every disadvantaged child by the third grade.
In contrast, candidate Gore’s education lexicon includes such catchy phrases as “working for smaller class size,” “improving educational opportunities for all Americans,” “fighting for early childhood education,” and “setting national education goals” and an unequivocal hostility toward school choice reforms. He has said, “I will never support private school vouchers, which would drain public money away from public education.”
With the selection of Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), as his vice presidential running-mate, some hoped that Al Gore might now include a more thoughtful examination of the types of reforms Mr. Lieberman has supported. In remarks before the Senate Government Affairs Committee in 1997, Senator Lieberman made clear his position on the state of public education in Washington, DC. He said, “There are some who dismiss suggestions of school choice programs and charter schools out of hand, direly predicting that these approaches will ‘ruin’ the public schools. The undeniable reality is that the system is already in ruins.”
Polls taken at the same time revealed that a majority of adults in DC agreed with Mr. Lieberman. A survey of 400 adults living in the nation’s capital conducted by the polling company™ (R) and Global Strategy Group (D) found that 64% of Washingtonians would send their children to a private school if money were not an issue, and more than one-third (35%) would choose a religious school for their children if they could. Low-income residents were most hopeful (62%) that school choice would improve the quality of their schools. Following the survey, Mr. Lieberman stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, and in the well of the Senate, touting the public support for his version of school choice, and sponsoring legislation to implement it. But now Mr. Lieberman stands beside Al Gore who, like President Clinton before him, is closely tied to the teachers’ unions, which are consistent opponents of the principles of choice. Voters may accept genuine differences on policy, but they have a nose for hypocrisy as well. As the Gore-Lieberman campaign moves forward, it may become increasingly difficult for two rich, white men to explain to poor Black mothers why their children should be denied the same quality education that Messrs. Gore, Lieberman and Clinton, and scores of other elected officials and public school teachers have provided their own children.
To date, those with the most to lose through competition and school choice – teachers’ unions and other government employees – have had more dollars and more demagoguery than those who have the most to gain from it. That is beginning to change as reform proponents increase their voice and visibility.
At the same time, heartwarming accounts of school choice successes are beginning to emerge. Students enrolled in charter schools and voucher programs have boosted their test scores and literacy rates, as well as their hope and morale. Even The Washington Post admitted in a recent article that competition has not resulted in the financial disaster some opponents predicted.
Al Gore’s pollsters must be whispering this in his ear. That might explain why he carefully said on August 10, 2000, “If I was [sic] the parent of a child who went to an inner city school that was failing…I might be for vouchers, too.” For the cost of just one of the focus groups that Mr. Gore conducts to find out how to phrase his unpopular views on school choice, several children could afford tuition to a school of their choice for an entire year.
Ms. Fitzpatrick is CEO and President of the polling company™.
AFTER DECADES OF POLITICIANS STUDIOUSLY AVOIDING any debate about the future of Social Security, the issue has suddenly become central to this year’s presidential election. Both Texas Governor George Bush and Vice President Al Gore have very different proposals that claim to deal with Social Security’s impending financial crisis. The next several months will see charges and countercharges about the cost of this and that, or whether it is riskier to set up personal retirement accounts or to do nothing. For most people, the debate will be confusing unless they keep in mind a few basic facts.
The reason for this is simple. Social Security is an extremely popular program, but very few people actually know how it is funded or managed. Despite the fact that this debate could determine retirement incomes for millions of Americans, the press has done little to fill this knowledge gap.
As a result, efforts to scare people away from a real reform that allows workers to invest some of their Social Security taxes in a personal retirement account could succeed. Here are responses to what critics will say against Social Security reform.
The Critics: There really isn’t a problem. Social Security is solvent until 2037, at least. Besides, this is just an economic projection, and it could be wrong.
The Facts: The Social Security Administration (SSA) itself says that the retirement program will begin to spend more money than it takes in by 2015. From then until 2075, they never expect it to run a surplus again. This problem is serious. According to SSA, when my 14 year old daughter retires around 2050, Social Security will run a $240 billion annual deficit (in 1999 dollars). When her kids retire around 2070, that annual deficit will have grown to over $500 billion. Economic projections can be wrong, but this one is considered to be fairly reasonable, and it would be irresponsible to ignore this warning. If the exterminator shows you that termites are in your house, it is much cheaper to fix the problem now than to just hope they go away.
The Critics: If the economy grows just a bit more, the problem will be solved.
The Facts: Actually, just the opposite is true. Increased economic growth makes the program solvent for only two additional years. It still starts to spend more than it receives by 2017 and never goes back into the black. Also, because individual incomes grow, SSA will have to pay more in benefits after several decades. SSA uses a “best guess” economic projection to determine Social Security’s future health. Increasing that projection by almost 60 percent slightly delays the inevitable, but does not solve Social Security’s problems.
The Critics: All we have to do is to raise taxes just a bit more, or reduce benefits slightly.
The Facts: SSA says that the average deficit Social Security faces between now and 2075 is about 2 percent of income. However, averages are misleading. The program is in surplus until 2015, and runs ever increasing deficits after that.
The longer we wait the higher the bill for reform. The US General Accounting Office says that waiting until 2034 would require a 38 percent tax increase or a 28 percent cut in benefits. By 2075, that grows to a 49 percent tax increase or a 33 percent cut in benefits.
The Critics: Any Social Security reform will mean lower benefits for current retirees.
The Facts: This is completely false. All responsible reform plans guarantee that current retirees and those close to retirement will not see any changes to their benefits. This is true for both the Bush plan and the Gore plan.
In fact, both plans will probably result in enough money to pay benefits for someone who is already retired. The surpluses between now and 2015 should guarantee that. The real question is what happens to our children and grandchildren. They face either higher taxes or lower retirement benefits unless Congress acts soon.
The Critics: The Gore Plan’s “Retirement Plus” accounts will take care of the problem.
The Facts: Unfortunately, this is not true. These accounts would in effect establish a new entitlement program and give people below a certain income level government matches to any money that they save. Saving money is a good thing at any time, but the Gore accounts do nothing to reduce Social Security’s coming deficits. The $240 billion deficit that my daughter will face in 2050 would not change at all if Retirement Plus accounts are established.
The Critics: If money goes into personal retirement accounts, Social Security will have financial problems sooner.
The Facts: This is similar to refinancing a house. There is an up-front cost that results in major savings in the future. Similarly, Social Security transition costs are a real issue, but the modest cost is better than the alternative. Social Security currently runs enough of a surplus to allow people to put an amount equal to 2 percent of income in a personal retirement account. However, in a few years that will change and the program will run a deficit sooner than under current law.
SSA estimates that the retirement program will run a cumulative $21.6 trillion deficit between 2015 and 2075. It also estimates that the total cost of various existing reform bills would be between $3.5 trillion and $6 trillion. Under reform, the costs come sooner, but the total is much less. Isn’t it worth a small sacrifice to make sure that our children and grandchildren have the same retirement security that older people do?
The Critics: Putting more money into the trust fund will solve the problem.
The Facts: Social Security’s trust funds are filled with special issue US Treasury bonds. President Clinton’s own Office of Management and Budget said that the only way to repay those bonds is to a) collect more taxes, b) reduce benefits, c) reduce other spending, or d) borrow the money to repay the bonds. In other words, using the trust fund to pay benefits will require higher taxes, a higher national debt, or reducing other spending. The amount of bonds does nothing to reduce Social Security’s annual deficits. The $240 billion annual deficit my daughter will face would still be $240 billion.
The Critics: Investing in the stock market is too risky.
The Facts: There is a huge difference between investing in specific stocks and investing in an index fund made up of several hundred stocks. Also, retirement savings are held for long periods of time instead of being traded on a regular basis. In other words, the index funds are bought, and then held, not shifted into the latest financial fad. Individual stocks are quite volatile, but over 20 years or so, stock index funds have always gone up. Ibbotson Associates, a noted stock market research firm, has proved that the market has gone up for every 20 consecutive year period since 1926. This includes the Great Depression.
The Critics: Personal retirement accounts will mean lower Social Security benefits.
The Facts: Quite the opposite is true. When my 14 year old daughter retires in 2050 or so, SSA says that the average monthly benefit will be about $1,429 a month (in today’s dollars). However, the program will only take in enough then to pay $1,056 a month (unless there is a huge tax increase).
If my daughter could invest all her Social Security taxes in a mixture of stocks and bonds paying about 5 percent a year after inflation, she would have almost $1 million more to finance her retirement. A personal retirement account will allow every American to share in our economic growth and to have a better retirement income.
The Critics: Personal retirement accounts cannot earn enough to make up the gap between what Social Security would pay and today’s benefit levels.
The Facts: This is simply not true. Personal retirement accounts will only have to pay about 4.2 percent annually to make up the difference.
Looking at my 14 year old daughter, when she retires around 2050, SSA says that its average monthly benefit will be $1,429 (in today’s dollars). That year, Social Security will only take in enough to pay $1,056 unless there is a huge tax increase. If an amount of taxes equal to 2 percent of income is diverted into personal retirement accounts, Social Security can pay only $870 a month from the taxes that it receives. If her personal retirement account earns only 4.2 percent a year, her total Social Security income would equal the full $1,429 a month. If it earns more, her Social Security retirement income would go up. (By the way, a very conservative account with 50 percent government bonds and 50 percent stock index funds would earn an average of 5 percent. An account entirely invested in stock index funds earns an average of 7 percent.)
The Critics: Administrative costs will eat up most of the savings. All this does is enrich Wall Street.
The Facts: Actually, Wall Street has limited interest in this issue because the profits would be so low. Last year, State Street Trust, a major pension manager, estimated that a simple personal retirement account plan would cost between $3.38 and $6.58 annually. Many people pay more than that each month for just a checking account. In addition, the federal government’s retirement plan allows people to invest in one of three funds at an annual cost of about $0.10 for every $100 invested. Opponents of reform point to the cost of other accounts, but the ones they choose tend to be more elaborate and customized than is necessary for a Social Security-related account.
Separating truth from political rhetoric is difficult, but important. This debate will be crucial to our nation’s future. This is not a debate about current retirees; their future benefits are assured. Stripped down to the basics, it is about how to increase retirement security for Americans of all ages. It is about whether our children and grandchildren will have the same opportunities that we have or be forced to pay ever higher taxes.
Essentially, there are only three ways to resolve Social Security’s financial problems: we can 1) raise taxes, 2) cut benefits, or 3) make Social Security taxes earn more by investing the money. There is no other way to “save” Social Security. Any candidate who opposes one of these solutions must support one of the others. The only way to avoid raising taxes or cutting benefits is to allow personal retirement accounts.
Over the next several months, candidates will attempt to “spin” the issue to make it look like there are other solutions. There are not. It would be much more comfortable to avoid making hard decisions about Social Security, but it would be irresponsible.
Mr. John is a Senior Policy Analyst on Social Security at The Heritage Foundation.
DEFINING A STRATEGIC COALITION is simple. Building and maintaining a strategic coalition is far more difficult. Years of experience working with the Milwaukee school choice coalition demonstrate some fundamental principles.
These principles are critical if one is serious about moving from a discussion of philosophical merit to successful political action. The political scene differs vastly from the marketplace of ideas.
Political success requires unity. Achieving unity is perhaps the most difficult task of all in generating a vital and successful strategic coalition. It takes substantial effort, particularly in the early life of a coalition, to create that unity and to develop an effective style of operation.
The Milwaukee coalition has worked together since the early 1990s. It helped to expand parent choice in 1995 and to strengthen charter school laws for Milwaukee in 1997. In 1999, it helped elect a slate of five reform candidates to the Milwaukee School Board. That board now has a 7-2 majority of members who want excellent public schools but who also believe parents deserve educational choice.
Let us define terms. A strategic coalition is a coalition that is effective politically on a sustained basis. It gets results over time. It is durable.
Sustainability is vital to success. We are not in a short-term fight. Our opponents use a three-prong strategy to defeat us. They try to block legislation. When we prevail, they take us to court – not just once, but over and over. And they try to smother our victories through regulation.
Consequently, school choice supporters face formidable odds. Our opponents are tenacious, relentless, single-minded, and well-financed. They have a highly developed infrastructure at the local, state and national level. And they focus on a single goal: to stop school choice.
We, in contrast, are a loose federation of people who don’t always agree, whose resources are limited, and who too often forget the importance of unity. Our opponents exploit these weaknesses. To defeat them requires that we work overtime to reduce risk and improve the prospects of success.
We win with a strong coalition whose members develop key traits. They set clear goals. They value focus and unity of purpose. They function as a team. They work to include, not exclude others, a challenge when coalition members may not agree on any issue other than school choice. They act effectively because they trust each other. That trust is essential and it is earned or lost by each individual.
Key Elements of a Strong Coalition
Maintaining a strong moral theme. A powerful message is the philosophical glue that allows members to put other baggage aside. People want to work on causes larger than their own self-interest. Issues of justice and equity – those that drive most supporters of parent choice – are intense motivators and attract people who are driven to get something done. When the going gets tough, the strong moral theme keeps people going. Ultimately, it also moves votes.
Building diverse membership. A diverse coalition is powerful. There is very high value in a coalition whose members cross political, racial, religious, ethnic and socioeconomic lines. That is the case in Milwaukee where parents, business leaders, community activists, Democrats and Republicans, and educators fight side by side for more parent choice. Such strange bedfellows cause legislators to take notice. They reevaluate their views when an issue draws more than conventional support. Such a coalition also flusters opponents who want to demonize supporters and enhances the coalition’s strength for the long term.
Agreeing on the rules of the road. Just because coalition members agree on an issue does not mean they automatically fall into line and work as a team. A coalition needs to follow the rules of the road. Stay united. Focus on the goal. Don’t shoot at your friends. Don’t allow your opponents to exploit disagreements. In all cases, send the best messenger – the one who truly can convince – to tell your story. Trust is essential. Unity, clear direction, and the effective use of resources are often the only tools you may have against your opposition.
Holding members accountable for results. A strategic coalition is like a complex construction project. It needs a project manager – not a dictator – but someone who binds the group together and manages the work. The project manager is responsible for strategies, work plans, schedules, and budgets and seeing to it that tasks are completed. In short, every coalition needs a “project nag.”
Recruiting Coalition Members
Establish necessary conditions. An understanding that a problem exists is a necessary condition of recruitment. People won’t enlist in a coalition, accept tough assignments, and undertake years of grinding effort unless they understand the severity of a problem and they see a remedy they like. Without that same understanding, most legislators won’t take a stand that they consider politically perilous. This requires education – an effort that may prove time-consuming. But you cannot skip this step.
Identify enlightened self-interests. People work for reasons that are important to them. To recruit successfully, you must find out what moves people. There are many worthy motives. Define the enlightened self-interests of your recruits and appeal to those self-interests.
Work on best prospects. Good organizing is built on personal relationships. Look for strong individuals with good standing in their communities – people who do what they say they will do, who are committed to your agenda, and who can bring others to the table. Make sure that organizations you enlist are active, focused, and courageous. Work to expand your membership, but don’t let the perpetually uncommitted deplete your energy.
Recruit for the cause. Recruit with a strong moral theme, an appeal to self-interest, and the prospect of success. Give people a vision that they can accomplish something great and are part of a crusade. Are they committed to the cause? Will they make it a top priority? Will they use their resources, political capital, and name to achieve a specific goal? Will they function as a member of a team? Quality is much more important than the number of names you have on a list. Look for people who really want to be with you for the long term as well as when the going gets rough.
Agree to respect differences. Make an early agreement to respect each other’s differences. Don’t apply litmus tests on other issues. Welcome everyone who is willing to focus on the goal. Expect teamwork despite differences.
Organizing the Work
Define a specific goal. Assess the self-interests of the coalition and decide which of them is politically feasible. Based upon member interviews, develop this information and analyze what will work to advance your goal. Agreement on the goal is critical. Without it, your coalition will not function well at crunch time.
Assess your resources. Your opponents have many more resources. You must use your own effectively. Assess them. Conduct interviews. Question your membership: Do they have mailing lists? Active members? Printing facilities? Relationships with legislators? Financial resources? What do they need to be more effective?
Give voice to those without political power. Bring those without perceived power into the debate – parents, in the case of school choice – and give them a real seat at the table. Often they will become the coalition’s best messengers because they give issues a human face and true meaning through their personal stories.
Organize the coalition. This is demanding work. You must educate members or potential members; identify the true activists; give them a real seat at the table; and communicate effectively and often. You can organize at three levels of commitment: 1) A small group of very capable individuals who can organize, testify, and visit legislators; 2) a larger group of people who organize rallies, write letters, and attend hearings; and 3) an even larger group who are simply just willing to turn out.
Establish Accountability Measures. This means that someone is responsible for getting results. The best way to do this is through detailed work plans, regular staff meetings, master task lists and more task lists. Such methods are disciplinary tools. Without them, time passes and too little is accomplished. The goal for a school choice coalition that wants publicly financed parent choice is enough votes to enact a program. This means that every task on the list should focus on this goal.
What Can Go Wrong?
Supporters can’t agree on a specific goal. Too often, supporters of school choice back different legislative proposals. Opponents love this because it gives nervous legislators – the “mushy middle” – cover to vote against you while they profess to support parent choice. It also saps coalition energy.
Coalition members fight in public. Public disagreements force members to spend valuable time on internal issues. Opponents prevail through the classic “divide and conquer” strategy. Solve all your problems within the family.
The plan is poorly executed. When coalition members are busy with other issues and no one is responsible for results, poor oversight allows deadlines to pass. Too little work gets done. Lack of progress breeds frustration.
The coalition announces premature victory. Announcing grand plans prior to laying the groundwork activates opponents and gives them time to prepare to defeat you. We worked for an entire year in Milwaukee before our plans to expand parent choice became public. That proved to be a huge advantage. Do your homework quietly, gets results and then claim victory.
You fail to send the best messenger. Egos get in the way of sound tactics. Some people who should stay in the background just can’t do it. This allows opponents to demonize the effort and undercut its credibility.
Coalition members compete for credit. Seeking individual or organizational credit kills trust and undermines teamwork. Victory produces enough credit for everyone. Focus on getting results.
The methods we’ve used in Milwaukee to expand parent choice can be used to advance other issues. Our lesson is simple. With a powerful message, a clear goal, the ability to function as a disciplined team – and some luck along the way – a small group of determined people can achieve very positive results.
Ms. Mitchell is President of the American Education Reform Foundation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Foundation works to advance public policy that empowers parents to choose the best schools for their children.
Reducing the Government by Half: How and Why We Can Cut the Size and Cost of Government in Half in One Generation
IN THE 1950s, CONSERVATIVES SAID one of their major goals was to reduce or eliminate “deficit spending.” They meant that they wanted to limit the growth of federal spending. Liberals defended deficit spending as good, solid Keynesian economic stimulus. The Left welcomed the growth of the federal budget.
But deficit spending by the federal government was a flawed measure for conservatives to focus upon. The deficit was not the important number. The deficit was the difference between two more important numbers—how much the federal government took from the American people by force in taxes and how much the federal government spent each year. By the 1980s liberals discovered they could use concern over the deficit to oppose tax cuts and to push for tax hikes.
Now that the federal budget is in balance—indeed in substantial surplus—it is the right time for the conservative movement to establish a new goal. We said we wanted to balance the federal budget—we did. Now what? What is the measure of our success or failure in the years and decades to come?
I recommend that we set the goal of reducing the cost and size of government by half over the next twenty-five years—one generation. Why half? Because it is a large enough challenge to be worth the candle. Because it is eminently doable. Why a twenty-five year time horizon? Because it will take time to turn the nation around. Because we have to expect to have setbacks, lost opportunities, bad election years, wars and recessions. Certainly, we would welcome achieving our goal of “In Half” in a shorter time frame.
There are four measures of the size and scope of government. We should look to cut each in half over the next twenty-five years.
#1 – Total government spending as a percentage of the economy.
In 1999, federal, state and local government spending was $2.66 trillion or 34% of the economy. We must always focus on total government spending rather than make the mistake of looking only at the federal budget. While conservatives have been diligent—and somewhat successful—in policing federal spending (which has dropped from 21.5% of GNP to below 19% of GNP since the GOP took over Congress) state and local spending has increased rapidly. Tax Freedom Day was May 3 this year. In the next twenty-five years we must cut total government spending to below 17% of the economy and move Tax Freedom Day to the first week in March.
#2 – The cost of all government regulations as a percentage of the economy.
In 1999 regulations cost Americans more than one trillion dollars or 13% of the economic output of the nation. Again, we must measure regulations at all levels of government. If the conservative movement was to focus solely on government spending the Left could simply decide to increase government power and control through increased regulation rather than direct spending. We are already seeing this in the move to regulation through litigation.
#3 – Total government employment: How many Americans work for the government at all levels.
Today more than 15 million Americans work for state and local government. More than 900,000 Americans work for the quasi-governmental U.S. Post Office. When the government controls the pay, pension and careers of great numbers of Americans it builds a political base for its own expansion. Reducing the number of Americans dependent on the State for employment is a key measure of our success in limiting the cost and power of the government. This measure also allows conservatives to assess the success or failure of a mayor, governor or president over one year or four years. It is a hard number—have government payrolls increased or decreased?
#4 – Total assets controlled by government.
Government owns more than one-third of the land in the United States. State and local governments own and control pension funds of more than $1.7 trillion dollars. The free-market environmental movement has begun to make the case that private citizens take better care of land and water than government. There is no more reason for government to own land than there is for government to own steel mills.
Today most of the 15 million state and local government employees have a defined benefit pension where they must wait ten years to “vest” in the pension system and then they receive benefits when they retire. States maintain multi-billion-dollar pension funds that are invested by government. A number of states have begun to give government employees the option of a defined contribution pension plan—a 40lK or individual retirement account that would be controlled by the worker rather than the government. Florida just passed this option for its 600,000 state and local employees. If every one of the state and local employees in the nation took this option we would increase the investor class in America from 48% of Americans to more than sixty percent. And it would take trillions of dollars out of the hands of government and put it into the hands of citizens.
Is it possible to cut government in half in one generation? Certainly.
We have already reduced the cost of national defense—one of the few legitimate functions of government—from six percent of GNP to 3 percent of GNP since victory in the Cold War. Welfare reform has dropped the number of welfare recipients by half since 1994.
We know that private schools cost half of what government schools cost. We know that less than half of the money politicians spend on public schools actually is spent in the classroom. Half of state and local spending is in the name of education. School choice through vouchers or tax credits would dramatically reduce the cost of government while greatly increasing quality.
Social Security is 22% of the cost of federal spending. If Americans were able to invest their FICA taxes in personal savings accounts we would not only create a nation of wealth owners in control of their own retirement, but we would have privatized one-fifth of federal spending.
Giving the Post Office to its employees and ending the postal monopoly on mail would privatize 900,000 jobs and transfer tens of billions of dollars into private hands.
The conservative movement has become larger and stronger over the past two generations. Institutions such as The Heritage Foundation and the state-based think tanks, the property rights movement, taxpayer groups, conservative talk radio, and the Reagan Republican Party have created an infrastructure that allows us to compete and win against the labor unions, trial lawyers and corrupt big city machines.
But central to winning is keeping score. We must keep our eye on the goal of reducing the size, scope, power and cost of government at all levels. Measuring and reporting on the trend in government spending, regulations, government employment and State ownership of property will keep us focused and let us know if we are winning or losing the struggle.
Cutting the government in half in one generation is both an ambitious and reasonable goal. If we work hard we will accomplish this and more by 2025. Then the conservative movement can set a new goal. I have a recommendation: To cut government in half again by 2050.
Mr. Norquist is President of Americans for Tax Reform, a coalition of taxpayer groups, individuals, and businesses opposed to higher federal and state taxes. Previously, he served on the National Commission on Restructuring the Internal Revenue Service and was a member of the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce.
HOW MUCH THOUGHT SHOULD GO into starting and operating a successful free market think tank? Arguably, it requires at least as much thought as the ultimate product itself—the policy studies, commentaries and events that define the organization in the public mind. A poorly conceived or poorly run operation will not likely produce a good product and can still flounder well below its potential even if it does.
The explosive growth of the state-based free market think tank movement since the 1980s is one remarkable measure of the success of sound ideas. Though a majority of states can now claim to be home to at least one such group, there is still plenty of room for growth. The states that have none are prime territory for local think tank entrepreneurs to get started. And there’s not a single existing organization that can’t benefit from following some of the same sound practices that are so crucial to the success of new start-ups.
At Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, we’ve made a few mistakes but we’ve done many things right and have learned a lot since we started twelve years ago. With our sister groups, we proudly share much of what we’ve learned about management, planning, personnel, communications, and fundraising at twice-annual “Leadership Conferences” at our headquarters (and in Costa Rica at a special session last summer). More than 150 individuals from over 30 states and 20 countries have attended. The people and organizations that have made that commitment understand the importance of taking time for training—the investment in know-how and human capital that can pay for itself many times over in future effectiveness and impact.
A few of the more important elements explained at our Leadership Conferences are offered here, particularly for the benefit of very young or prospective free market think tanks. Keep in mind that there will never be a more formative period in an organization’s history than its earliest days. That’s when the public’s image of your group is first cast, and it’s hard to later shake any bad first impressions others may get. Make a mistake in whom you hire, how you present yourself, what issues you address, or what your publications look like during this period and you may have to spend time and resources later to simply undo the harm that careful planning could have avoided.
Develop a thoughtful strategic plan. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” according to a wise old maxim. It’s both tempting and easy for a new group to fly in all directions, to chase dollars instead of focusing on key issues and core competencies, and otherwise allow spur-of-the-moment impulses to dictate their agendas. But the most successful groups are those that know precisely who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what they want to accomplish in the way of specific, measurable, short-term and long-term objectives.
Take the time with your staff, board of directors, and key supporters to develop meaningful mission and vision statements. Identify the key “customers” or intended audience for your products. From there, develop a strategic plan that lays out the steps by which your mission and vision can ultimately become reality. A thoughtful strategic plan should be a living document that keeps the organization on track and accountable. When someone suggests a new project, use the strategic plan as a guide in determining whether that new project is in keeping with your agenda or a time- and resource-consuming diversion.
Supplement your strategic plan with an in-house manual of important tasks and functions. You’ll be forever reinventing the wheel, so to speak, if you don’t keep good records of how things are done, where things are kept, what your policies and practices are, and who is responsible for what. For-profit businesses do this all the time, and it’s one good way for nonprofits to conduct their affairs in a more efficient, business-like fashion.
Get to know the media. “Print it and they will come” is not good advice for free market think tanks to get their material in the press. Nor is it a good idea to view the media as an incorrigibly hostile bunch who need to be bashed on a regular basis. Sure, there are plenty of uninformed media people who view market solutions with a skeptical eye, but your best strategy is to impress them with your friendship, integrity, scholarship, and value to the public arena.
Shortly after we started the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, I committed myself to visiting at least two editors or reporters every week. I no longer maintain that kind of a media schedule, but the benefits of having done it more than a decade ago still accrue today. Even those who disagree with you will find it hard to attack you or keep you off the op-ed pages if they’ve come to know you personally and if they regard your organization not as an angry propaganda mill but an insightful fountain of challenging, intellectually solid ideas.
Many in the media are tempted to pigeonhole organizations if those groups are too predictable or if they only run around with birds of the same feather. That’s when they tune you out. Look for opportunities to build coalitions with unlikely partners across the ideological aisle (for example, the Mackinac Center once seized an opportunity to work with Congressman John Conyers on the issue of asset forfeiture). Don’t hesitate to praise Democrats when they’re right and Republicans when they’re wrong, or you’ll be seen as nothing more than a GOP front group. Stress how your policy recommendations will help real people and actual, living families; if you’re too focused on taxpayers or bottom line dollars and cents, you’ll be dismissed as cold, heartless conservative accountants. Invest in making your publications aesthetically attractive and user-friendly because in the business of commanding attention, how you say it is often as important as what you’re saying.
Build a family of respected advisors and associates. Choose members of your board of directors with great care. Never pick someone for your board because you think that’s what will get them to contribute financially. A prospective board member should be a person with a track record of supporting you, with little public baggage and a good deal of proven ability to bring prestige, respect, and valued guidance to your organization.
You can deepen the esteem with which others regard your group if you assemble respected business and professional people into a “board of advisors” and give them opportunities to become active. We’ve organized two such boards at the Mackinac Center, according to geographic regions within the state. They are made up of very busy people in their own right, but who nonetheless make time for two local breakfast meetings per year where they get the “inside scoop” on forthcoming publications and events and are invited to provide advice.
Most if not all state-based think tanks have felt the need to assemble a “board of scholars” comprised of sympathetic academicians, researchers and authors. Don’t just add names to a list when you put one of these boards together. Demand a candidacy period before persons can join such a board and tell them all the ways in which they can be helpful and involved. If they do nothing during that period, don’t put them on your board later.
Think BIG. Remember that your “competition” is not other like-minded groups. Don’t waste time comparing yourself to them. If you’re a market-oriented think tank, your competition is composed of thousands of government employees who work to make government bigger, unions and trade associations that lobby for more government, and university faculty that teach tens of thousands of students every day that government is the answer to every problem. You need to re-educate any of your directors or contributors who think that it’s sufficient for a free market think tank to have a half dozen employees slaving away in a rented dungeon. We’ll never win on a shoestring as long as the other side has legions of public employees and piles of tax money to fight with.
Thinking “big” has ramifications for activities throughout your organization. Groups that don’t send timely thank you letters to their contributors, or that hire personnel virtually off the street because it’s quicker than conducting a thorough search, or whose employees dress and speak like they’re running a neighborhood rummage sale—scream “small” in the eyes of others.
In fundraising, have the confidence to ask for major gifts. Chicken feed is for chickens. You’re working to preserve and enhance the liberties and opportunities of a free society, and that includes a prospective donor as well as his or her children. That’s damned important, and worth a major investment of anybody and everybody.
Finally, commit yourself and your employees to excellence in everything you do. Excellence in the way you treat each other as comrades and fellow professionals, excellence in the content and presentation of both the printed and spoken word, and excellence in your dealings with the opposition as well as with your friends. The cause we are advancing is simply too important for any of us to fail for want of a commitment to do and be the very best.
Mr. Reed is President of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree
MARCH COMES TO AN END and our thoughts turn to spring, the time of renewal, re-creation and a renaissance of nature. We are reminded each springtime of the resilience of natural resources. Harsh winter temperatures, violent weather patterns, high winds and ice storms each wreak havoc on the flora and fauna…yet each and every spring we witness the miracle of renewal and rebirth. Spring should inspire awe, appreciation and a recommitment to our own sense of stewardship of the nature in which we live, raise our families and enjoy our leisure.
For many of us, this is exactly what happens although without conscious focus or special action. Now, however, we as conservatives must recognize and inspire an entire population to take a much more conscious approach to mankind’s long held special awe and appreciation for the natural resources that we have enjoyed, cared for, and indeed improved through application of human ingenuity.
This spring throughout our land conservative, free market, traditional values, family and other public policy institutes and activists can work by example, proclaim in writings and media appearances, and lead in a myriad of ways to demonstrate to our fellow Americans that ours is the true and proven environmentalism. We can seize back from the Clinton-Gore-Browner collectivists the mantle that is historically and evidenciarily ours: the mantle of conservation.
Conservatives know that people are our most valuable natural resources. As Julian Simon so eloquently documented in his writings, whenever challenges to environmental quality arise, it is people who devise the solutions. History proves that mankind is willing, able, and effective in improving the quality and condition of our environment using the arts and sciences that we have learned and acquired – so long as the core concepts involved include a commitment to rigorous standards of scientific truth, and firm reliance upon human freedom and the protection of private property rights.
Conservatives should not allow this spring to pass without an emphatic demonstration to the American people that it has been wrong for the essentially conservative issue of resource conservation to be hijacked by the one-size-fits-all environmental activists whose interest in the environment is as a political means to expand Washington’s control.
For instance, Joe Bast and the Illinois-based Heartland Institute have provided leadership in promoting Resourceful Earth Day…giving examples of the many ways in which human technologies have provided a cleaner world. Former Virginia Governor George Allen during his term in office instituted a month-long Operation Spruce-up in the spring to celebrate the coming of springtime and encourage Virginians to volunteer to care for the natural resources that we enjoy and for which we have a stewardship responsibility. Thousands of Virginians, of all ages, in community groups, scout troops and Sunday Schools took part in this celebration and challenge. Operation Spruce-up continues under Allen’s successor, Jim Gilmore and has become institutionalized in the Old Dominion.
Opportunities for similar activities as these abound across the land. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Private Conservation recently showed us all the wonderful attributes of one private conservation effort, the Natural Bridge in Virginia. Such examples serve to teach that Americans have invested in extraordinary natural sites so that they can be cared for in a way that maximizes the generations that can enjoy them. They also serve to inspire those who do care about wonderful natural sites and wilderness expanses to seek release from government barriers and intervention so that individuals and private organizations can do more in this area. Other examples of private conservation that deserve greater recognition are Mt. Vernon, Monticello, Colonial Williamsburg, Grandfather Mountain and the Corkscrew Sanctuary. States have demonstrated their willingness to protect important and valuable sites such as the Alamo in Texas and Custer State Park in South Dakota.
Heritage has provided policy guidance in its recently released Issues 2000 and the Pacific Research Institute conducts important research soon to be released with 1999 data that bears witness to the fact that Americans have continued their stewardship in ways that result in demonstrated improvement in environmental indicators.
Peter Huber has issued a challenge to all Americans in his recent writings, including his new book, Hard Green, Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists: A Conservative Manifesto. Not all conservatives will share Mr. Huber’s every sentiment. But all can agree that those who place a high premium on human liberty, who confidently champion free markets and extol the virtues and possibilities of technology are the very same people who understand that it is conservative values that have resulted in the creation of the wealth to the nation that is providing a greener, more beautiful country for everyone.
It falls to us, therefore, to take back from the collectivist Left the environmental issue. In this way even greater benefits will inure to the natural resources Americans care about and enjoy. Let America know from the eloquence of our deeds and our words that it is our conservative ideas, principles and values that will bring the greatest benefit to the natural resources that make up our environment.
Ms. Dunlop is Vice President of External Relations for The Heritage Foundation, former Secretary of Natural Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia and former Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks in the Department of the Interior during President Reagan’s administration.
WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT ten years ago that the domestic policy advisor for a leading Republican presidential candidate would be a big-city mayor, Stephen Goldsmith? Or that the prime example of 1970s-style liberalism, former California Governor Jerry Brown, would make his political comeback as a big-city mayor touting sensible, middle-of-the-road policies on education, taxes and crime? These are only two examples of perhaps the 1990s’ most important policy shift, the movement towards free-market policies as the basis for urban governance.
Such a movement would have been unimaginable twenty years ago. Mayors lining up in Washington, demanding federal handouts, were a staple of the political scene. The well-known litany of urban ills—high taxes, poor schools, rampant crime, homelessness, drugs and despair—were considered intractable. And just as importantly, virtually no one thought that cities could heal themselves. Even the most innovative conservative proposals, such as Rep. Jack Kemp’s enterprise zones, largely were initiatives calling for the federal government to pull cities out of their pitiful states.
The 1990s proved virtually everybody wrong, as mayors of all ideologies and both parties proved that cities could become better places in which to live without massive federal government assistance. None of the decade’s most well-known urban success stories—the competitive contracting and tax cutting of former Indianapolis Mayor Goldsmith and former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, the crackdown on crime of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the innovative school voucher program of Milwaukee’s John Norquist or mayoral takeover of schools pioneered by Chicago’s Richard Daley—were initiated or received significant help from the federal government. Instead, they were the consummate proof of Richard Weaver’s old dictum, “ideas have consequences.”
The result of the old way of thinking about cities is best summed up in the title to the late Professor Edward Banfield’s landmark study of urban America, The Unheavenly City. Professor Banfield noted that cities could be hell to live in despite the angelic actions of planners and bureaucrats. Why? Because many urban residents were part of a culture that focused on immediate gratification who were “present-oriented” that they attached “no value to work, sacrifice, self-improvement, or service to family, friends or community.” Banfield believed that government policies that did not take this basic fact into account, as those animating the Great Society of the 60s did not, would not do much to reduce poverty and despair.
Once one accepts this insight, the failure of the old way of thinking was predictable. Those who ran city governments when Banfield wrote believed their citizens were victims of society. They did not believe cities could repair their characters; they believed the obligation of cities was to ease their pain. So they sponsored the variety of welfare and other income support programs that financially underwrote the explosion of family breakup and illegitimacy. Their police forces did not crack down on “quality-of-life” crimes, thereby allowing neighborhoods to descend into lawless war zones. Their schools stopped expecting students to excel, making these crumbling edifices expensive places to warehouse the young. And the high taxes needed to finance this vision drove those who did not subscribe to this culture to flee to towns that embraced their values of work, family and community.
The culture of the entrepreneurial city is the antithesis to that of the unheavenly city, as well as its antidote. An entrepreneur is someone who exhibits the “future-oriented” virtues that Banfield showed produces economic growth and healthy communities. Such a person values investment in education because he expects to profit from this in the future. He is law-abiding for similar reasons, and values community because he trusts his neighbor has similar values and that mutual cooperation benefits everyone. And since these beliefs tend to produce fewer dysfunctional families and lower crime rates, the taxes needed to support such a community are significantly lower.
Today’s innovative mayors all structure their cities’ policies to reward entrepreneurial values. Look at the successful reforms noted above and they all share this commitment. Norquist and Daley expect their citizens can succeed in the future with a proper education. Giuliani’s policing strategies remove lawbreakers and restore peace to neighborhoods, allowing neighbors to trust one another again. And competitive contracting and tax reduction restores a city’s financial health, making it a more attractive place to locate a business or raise a family.
This intellectual revolution may not have the national political resonance of the supply-side revolution or free trade views, but I would argue it is just as important a development as any in the past twenty-five years. Today’s innovative mayors are showing that when it comes to the things that effect most people’s lives directly—neighborhood quality of life, a child’s education—policies that uphold traditional values and trust private enterprise produce better results. In the long run, these policies are likely to persuade people that the values that underlie them are true, and that idea is one that will have dramatic consequences.
Mr. Olsen is executive director of The Manhattan Institute’s Center for Civic Innovation.
AS WE LOOK TO A NEW YEAR, it is proper to reflect on the state of conservatism. As I look forward, I can only be optimistic about our future. I want to tell you why I am an optimist—and why optimism is the only attitude we conservatives can afford or justify.
Now, to give the pessimists their due, they can marshal plenty of statistics to worry themselves and their friends. They can cite a whole host of negative trends that began in the 1960s and ran into the 1990s: Steady increases in crime, illegitimacy, welfare, juvenile delinquency, academic failure, broken homes and more—all accompanied by a sickening decline in popular culture. They can point out that more recently, what looked like a conservative tidal wave in 1994 appears to be a conservative ebb tide in 1999.
I grant you this is a picture of a troubled past. But a troubled past does not justify pessimism about the future. Unfortunately, that fact has eluded some conservatives. During the past year, we’ve heard a few of them declare our politics has failed; conservatives have lost the culture wars; and we should separate ourselves from the institutions now occupied by the forces of political correctness.
Well, my counsel is precisely the opposite: Instead of becoming cultural isolationists, conservatives need to engage more aggressively—and more intelligently—than ever before with the institutions that have been captured by that ideology of political correctness. I say this for several reasons. I say it, first of all, because the most fundamental grounds for optimism are found not in our institutions but in ourselves—in our very nature as human beings. That theme was persuasively argued by Professor James Q. Wilson in his Heritage 25 lecture in Los Angeles on Human Nature. He said that the impulse of people to adopt moral standards arises “from within their own social nature.”
“People value families acutely [he said]; they dislike unfairness passionately; they seek temperate, prudent friends greatly. People, in short, are naturally revolted by the worst features of our culture and will search for ways to help set matters right. In this century, culture became weaker; in the next, it may become stronger.”
The impulse to reverse cultural decline is a positive inclination that stirs within us and is rooted in our nature. I offer this as the first pillar that supports my optimism. But this is not to say that we may relax and wait for nature to work its magic—because there is no magic. Reversing our cultural decline requires serious thought, rational strategies and deliberate action. People’s ability to devise and carry out such strategies depends critically on the kind of social order they happen to inhabit.
If human nature is the first pillar supporting my optimism, the second is America itself. As Americans, we live in a social order that affords us advantages unparalleled in human political history. In his Heritage 25 lecture on Leadership, George Will observed that “we have been called—rightly, in my judgment—the only country ever founded on a good idea.” Abraham Lincoln articulated that idea at Gettysburg: Our nation was “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln was speaking at a moment when a great internal war tested whether a nation “so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.” It was a terrible moment in American history, because we faced the very real prospect of seeing the world’s noblest experiment in human freedom demolished by internal conflict.
But we did survive that test and we still endure. The tests we face today seem as minor skirmishes when compared with the life-threatening challenges Americans have met and overcome in the past. And in every case, we overcame them—not in spite of our institutions—but because of them. The Founding Fathers designed our system so that our institutions could survive cultural pathologies of all kinds. Of course we must fight without reserve against the malignancy of moral relativism that besets our institutions today. But I believe it is a mistake of the first order to confuse a malignancy with the body that it threatens. When a person suffers from cancer, we don’t abandon the body; we attack the disease. If we expect to reclaim and restore our cherished institutions, we must do so through engagement, not divorce. To engage effectively, however, we must understand the principles that make America the most resilient system ever devised for human flourishing.
What is it about America that has made us the envy of the civilized world? How is it that our unique way of life has released such torrents of creative energy? These questions have many answers and one of the most fundamental came from Nobel Laureate Gary Becker in his Heritage 25 lecture. America and Americans have thrived on competition. Because our nation was conceived in liberty, we are free—more so than any other people on earth—to choose between competing alternatives in every aspect of our lives. Excepting, of course, the IRS and the undertaker. Competition in this broad sense is not just an economic concept. Gary pointed out and I quote: “Competition is the foundation of the good life and the most precious parts of human existence: educational, civil, religious, and cultural as well as economic. That is the legacy of the intellectual struggles during the past several centuries to understand the scope and effects of competition, the most remarkable social contrivance ‘invented’ during the millennium.”
Even our spiritual needs are best met through competition. It is no coincidence, as Professor Becker noted, that America is among the most religious of Western nations and also enjoys the most competitive religious environment. As we work to restore our cultural institutions, competition is one of our most potent allies, and it is the third pillar that supports my optimism. We can see the power of competition all around us. One of the core differences between liberals and conservatives is that we are committed on principle to free, competitive markets.
- Faced with failing public schools, the left says: Give them more tax money. We say: Expose them to competition, and give parents a choice.
- Faced with a failing Social Security system, the left says: Give the system more tax money. We say: Open that system to competition, and give workers a choice.
On one issue after another, this is both the great irony and the tragic flaw of modern liberalism. Rather than compete with our ideas, it offers an ideology that disdains competition. It is that flaw which has allowed conservatives to make enormous gains, and we have succeeded at this not least of all by building institutions like The Heritage Foundation and hundreds of other research and advocacy organizations.
Today the left is painfully aware of our success. Writing in an academic journal about the success of thinks tanks, Professor Kristin Luker of University of California, Berkeley, said:
The most effective in terms of shaping public discourse are the right-wing think tanks that are part of an increasingly self-confident and intellectually vigorous conservative movement. … [These institutions] can avail themselves of the benefits of shared passion, energy, commitment, and an overarching vision of society….The future may be bleak [she concluded]. Academics cannot compete with conservative think tanks on their own terms.
And so the chickens come home to roost: Liberals who have treated conservatives as unfit for academia must now admit that they cannot compete with us on our terms. That is a pessimism grounded in reality.
I believe our optimism is also grounded in reality. But the roots of my optimism run beyond reason and are nourished from a deeper place within our souls. This is our legacy, and our most valuable lesson from Ronald Reagan. He showed us the nature and power of optimism. Nowadays when we remember his leadership with appreciation, liberals tell us we are living in the past. They remind us that the Cold War is over—and that’s true. They remind us that the economy is strong—and that’s true. They note that the center of political debate has shifted dramatically to the right—and believe me, that’s also true. But they claim that because of these circumstances, the ideals that Ronald Reagan stood for are relics of the past and have no value in today’s world. And that is dead wrong, because his legacy to us transcends time, place and circumstance. His radiant example taught us what Kipling meant in the poetic lines:
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
“With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run;
“Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it.
“And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”
Ronald Reagan was our man. He was the Gipper—the coach who came in when conservatives felt dispirited—he made us believe in ourselves. He told us to envision a shining city on a hill—and then inspired us to get on with the job of building it. Too many conservatives today are wavering in their inspiration. Too many are complaining that we cannot succeed until another Reagan comes along to lead us. I have no doubt that Ronald Reagan himself would say that this is wrong. The will to succeed cannot come from another: It must come from within each of us; it must come from our own hearts. Reagan once remarked that “the history of our civilization, the great advances that made it possible, is not a story of cynics or doom-criers. It is a gallant chronicle of the optimists—the determined people … who dreamed great dreams and dared to try whatever it took to make them come true.” I am an optimist because the alternative is unthinkable. It is my great privilege to head an institution and be part of a movement that is filled with optimists—the determined people.
That is why we at Heritage adopted a vision for America that is audacious in scope: “The Heritage Foundation is committed to rolling back the liberal welfare state and building an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish.” A vision of that scope challenges us to dream great dreams—to look beyond tomorrow, beyond next year, beyond the next election, and beyond the horizon.
It has been said that the future is not something we enter, but something we create. Let us not enter a future that none of us would choose. Rather, let us create a future that all of us deserve. Don’t wait for another Ronald Reagan—but do keep his legacy of optimism alive in your heart. Dream great dreams. And dare to try to make those dreams come true.
Dr. Feulner is President of The Heritage Foundation. This article is excerpted his speech at the Heritage 25 Leadership for America closing dinner.