On February 17, 2010, at Collingwood mansion, near George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, Virginia, some 80 conservative leaders gathered to sign the Mount Vernon Statement. Reproduced in full below, the Mount Vernon Statement is an affirmation of republican self-government based on the rule of law as expressed by the Founders in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. If you believe that recent expansions in the size and scope of government call for a revival of the principles of the Constitution, please consider joining the tens of thousands of other Americans who have signed the Mount Vernon Statement. You can sign your name by visiting www.TheMountVernonStatement.com. —Editor
WE RECOMMIT OURSELVES to the ideas of the American Founding. Through the Constitution, the Founders created an enduring framework of limited government based on the rule of law. They sought to secure national independence, provide for economic opportunity, establish true religious liberty and maintain a flourishing society of republican self-government.
These principles define us as a country and inspire us as a people. They are responsible for a prosperous, just nation unlike any other in the world. They are our highest achievements, serving not only as powerful beacons to all who strive for freedom and seek self-government, but as warnings to tyrants and despots everywhere.
Each one of these founding ideas is presently under sustained attack. In recent decades, America’s principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities and our politics. The self-evident truths of 1776 have been supplanted by the notion that no such truths exist. The federal government today ignores the limits of the Constitution, which is increasingly dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant.
Some insist that America must change, cast off the old and put on the new. But where would this lead – forward or backward, up or down? Isn’t this idea of change an empty promise or even a dangerous deception?
The change we urgently need, a change consistent with the American ideal, is not movement away from but toward our founding principles. At this important time, we need a restatement of Constitutional conservatism grounded in the priceless principle of ordered liberty articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
The conservatism of the Declaration asserts self-evident truths based on the laws of nature and nature’s God. It defends life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It traces authority to the consent of the governed. It recognizes man’s self-interest but also his capacity for virtue.
The conservatism of the Constitution limits government’s powers but ensures that government performs its proper job effectively. It refines popular will through the filter of representation. It provides checks and balances through the several branches of government and a federal republic.
A Constitutional conservatism unites all conservatives through the natural fusion provided by American principles. It reminds economic conservatives that morality is essential to limited government, social conservatives that unlimited government is a threat to moral self-government, and national security conservatives that energetic but responsible government is the key to America’s safety and leadership role in the world.
A Constitutional conservatism based on first principles provides the framework for a consistent and meaningful policy agenda.
- It applies the principle of limited government based on the rule of law to every proposal.
- It honors the central place of individual liberty in American politics and life.
- It encourages free enterprise, the individual entrepreneur, and economic reforms grounded in market solutions.
- It supports America’s national interest in advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world and prudently considers what we can and should do to that end.
- It informs conservatism’s firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith.
If we are to succeed in the critical political and policy battles ahead, we must be certain of our purpose.
We must begin by retaking and resolutely defending the high ground of America’s founding principles.
Kenneth Blackwell, Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions
Morton Blackwell, The Leadership Institute
L. Brent Bozell III, Media Research Center
Herman Cain, Author and Commentator
Linda Chavez, Center for Equal Opportunity
Kellyanne Conway, the polling company
T. Kenneth Cribb Jr., Intercollegiate Studies Institute
Becky Norton Dunlop, Council for National Policy
Lee Edwards, The Heritage Foundation
Edwin J. Feulner, Jr., The Heritage Foundation
Colin Hanna, Let Freedom Ring
Kristan Hawkins, Students for Life
Terence Jeffrey, Human Events
David Keene, American Conservative Union
Curt Levey, Committee for Justice
Kathryn Jean Lopez, National Review
Jenny-Beth Martin, Tea Party Patriots
James L. Martin, 60 Plus Association
Clifford May, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
David McIntosh, Mayer, Brown, & Rowe, LLP
Mark Meckler, Tea Party Patriots
Edwin Meese III, The Heritage Foundation
Eugene B. Meyer, The Federalist Society
Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family
Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform
John O’Hara, Illinois Policy Institute
Duane Parde, National Taxpayers Union
Tony Perkins, Family Research Council
Tim Phillips, Americans for Prosperity
Patrick Pizzella, Conservative Action Project
Roger Ream, Fund for American Studies
Alfred Regnery, American Spectator
Rev. Lou Sheldon, Traditional Values Coalition
Craig Shirley, Shirley and Banister Public Affairs
Mark Tapscott, The Washington Examiner
John Taylor, Virginia Institute for Public Policy
Grace-Marie Turner, Galen Institute
Ed Whelan, Ethics and Public Policy Center
Tom Winter, Human Events
Wendy Wright, Concerned Women for America
(Titles are for identification purposes only.)
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WIDELY PROMOTED the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), more commonly called the “stimulus package,” as a means to help states balance their budgets for the 2010 fiscal year amid decreasing tax revenues. The ARRA allocated $140 billion to help states’ budgets from mid-2009 through 2011. Despite this infusion of funding from the federal government, states still face economic hardship. At least 41 states and the District of Columbia have reduced public services, and 30 states have raised taxes. As of this writing, at least 42 states still face unresolved budget shortfalls.
The disappointing results of the ARRA have led state and federal policymakers to call for more federal aid to states. This proposal obscures the larger problem behind the states’ deficits and will lead to negative long-term consequences. Federal aid provides short-term relief to states that are struggling to remain solvent but does nothing to address the systemic causes of states’ shortfalls: wasteful spending within bloated state bureaucracies. States are well advised to look very skeptically at targeted funds offered by Washington and instead focus on balancing their own budgets.
Fiscal federalism, which holds that there is a separation between the states’ budgets and the federal budget, is a defining characteristic of American federalism. It is fiscal, not legal, federalism that delineates true federalism, where sub-federal governments have legitimate sovereignty, from regionalism as is practiced in countries like England and Wales, where regions have little to no taxation or budgetary authority. The American system of federalism works only so long as states are free to tax and spend independently of one another and of the federal government, forcing them to maintain fiscal discipline and allowing citizens to move to states that offer a policy environment that suits them.
The Problem: Systemic Budget Deficits
The current, heavy-handed federal involvement in state economic issues undermines American federalism and stifles responsible fiscal policy. Federal bailouts do not address the root issue of unsustainable spending by the states. Because the constitutions in 49 states require balanced budgets (that is, spending cannot exceed revenues), these states must either reduce spending or increase taxes in years where revenues fall below projection. Bailouts temporarily patch the revenue side of the equation by moving state-level debt to the federal government’s books, but they do not address the long-term problems caused by unsustainable spending. For the sake of their long-term fiscal health, states should consider addressing their deficits on the spending side rather than on the revenue side.
These shortfalls are enormous. For fiscal year 2010, state budget shortfalls totaled $178 billion, and 2011 is expected to bring even more challenges for state policymakers. When faced with shortfalls, states have several options: raise taxes, cut expenditures, dip into reserves, or borrow by issuing bonds. All of these are politically unpalatable solutions because they require taxpayers to pay more or receive fewer government services in the present or the future.
There is a limit to the extent that states can address shortfalls by raising taxes. High tax burdens are associated with business migration to lower tax climates and reduced job creation. As a result, states are left with growing obligations and a shrinking tax base from which to draw revenues. States should consider not just the immediate but also the long-term ramifications of their tax and spending decisions. Failure to reduce spending to a level that locally raised tax revenues can support in both good and bad economic climates will force states to resort to higher taxes, debt, and fiscal gimmickry to close the resulting perpetual shortfalls.
The Problem with Federal Bailouts
There are three key problems for the states associated with accepting federal bailouts:
- Bailouts discourage long-term fiscal prudence by creating moral hazard.
- Bailouts mask underlying structural budget problems rather than fix them.
- Bailouts undermine federalism by increasing federal control over state budgets.
Moral Hazard. Federal bailouts create what economists call moral hazard. Typically discussed within the context of insurance, moral hazard occurs when people or groups make decisions they would not otherwise have made because a third party will be paying the bill. Federal bailouts of state governments create moral hazard by encouraging states to spend beyond their means, assuming that the federal government will pick up the tab if revenues decline. The rationale is simple: If states are bailed out this time, when the economy picks back up, states won’t have to think about their long-term fiscal health since the federal government will likely bail them out of deficits again.
Every single state used some percentage of its stimulus money to close budget gaps for fiscal year 2010. Stimulus dollars can help states maintain a higher level of services in the present, but looking to the future, they have merely delayed the day of reckoning when many states are going to have to address their unsustainable programs such as education aid and Medicaid. The downturn in state revenues beginning in 2007 brought state budget shortfalls to crisis levels, but many states had faced systematic budget gaps for years.
The ARRA was politically popular when it passed, but public support for increased government spending is waning. Unfortunately for state budget makers, the worst is likely yet to come, because declining state revenues generally lag behind the economy as a whole during downturns. In the coming fiscal year when Congress will be more hesitant to allocate more aid, history suggests that state budget shortfalls will be even higher than in the last fiscal year. The economic downturn could have shined light on states’ existing budget problems, but instead it has become an opportunity for state lawmakers to turn to their federal counterparts for help. Because this cash infusion was billed as a one-time occurrence, states theoretically cannot rely on it to close future budget gaps. However, now that state officials have seen that they can successfully petition for aid, Washington has effectively softened the so-called “hard budget constraint.”
Masking Structural Problems. Federal bailouts cover up rather than ameliorate structural problems. The result is that state budgets no longer act as a hard budget constraint, and deficits become not a once-in-a-lifetime anomaly but the usual state of affairs. Citizens are left unable to count on the type, quality, and quantity of public services available to them as policymakers budget on a boom-and-bust cycle.
States should not undertake spending that they cannot sustain through their own revenues over the long term. Attempts to mask unsustainable spending reduces states’ control over their own finances, passes costs to residents of other states who don’t enjoy the benefits of the spending, or pushes debt off on future residents of the state. State reliance on more federal funds is like painting over cracks in drywall: It ignores the foundational problems in the fiscal house.
Increasing Federal Control. Over the past couple decades, federal aid to states and localities has increased consistently, totaling over $400 billion in 2006. Since 1995, federal aid to states has nearly doubled, matched by similar increases in total state expenditures. Many federal aid programs, including Medicaid, require states to match all or part of the aid amount, creating incentives for states to spend more on top of the aid money that they receive. The strings attached to federal aid cause states to cede control of their budgeting process to Congress. For states to have meaningful sovereignty and control of their own budgets, and for the federalist system of states as “laboratories of democracy” to effectively function, states need to be able to raise sufficient revenues to support the level of government that citizens want.
Intergovernmental aid on the current scale jeopardizes the American system of the separation of governments. As legal scholar Ilya Somin writes: “Federal subsidization of state governments undermines three of the most important advantages of a federal system of government relative to a unitary one—responsiveness to diverse local preferences, horizontal competition between states, and vertical competition between states and the federal government.”
The state aid component of the ARRA is billed as temporary, but incentives at both the state and national levels will likely make these temporary increases in federal subsidies permanent. Federal grants are likely to induce further public spending, and supporting these additional programs after federal funding is scheduled to expire will require higher taxes, state debt, or ongoing federal aid. This will in turn increase states’ reliance on federal coffers to pay for new programs—money that will inevitably come with strings attached that further bind states’ hands. In 2009, some states identified this likely outcome but were prohibited by Congress from using stimulus money to pay down debt or invest in non-approved projects.
More stimulus in the form of state aid will benefit states in the short term at the expense of their long-term economic health. Spending levels in many states have reached the point of being unsustainable, and debt levels in many states preclude further bonding. Raising taxes might raise current revenues but will have deleterious longer-term consequences for states’ economies.
States are certainly in a difficult budget situation, facing sharply declining revenues after a decade of increasing spending. The federal government’s attempts to plug state budget shortfalls will likely decrease the ability of states to make their own fiscal decisions and increase long-term dependence on the federal government. By delaying inevitable cuts in spending or tax increases, the stimulus bill has subsidized dangerous habits.
Rather than looking to the federal government to bail them out of budget shortfalls, state policymakers should embrace their financial independence, which corresponds to their independence in other policy areas. Temporary aid packages can stave off immediate disasters, but they also create incentives for poor fiscal practices in the future. For long-term economic health, states should address the escalating costs of their programs rather than scramble to close budget shortfalls one year at a time.
Mr. Rothschild is the managing director of the Mercatus Center’s State and Local Policy Project. Ms. Washington is a graduate fellow with the Mercatus Center and a second-year MA student at George Mason University. This article is reprinted with permission from the Mercatus Center.
WITH THE WESTWARD EXPANSION of the 19th century came canals and railroads—two highly expensive forms of public transit. As states became eager to lure industry and trade, they borrowed to invest in capital construction. Many state legislatures borrowed irresponsibly. As public and legislative yearning for modern public infrastructure grew, states fell into financial distress, eventually defaulting on loans.
Nine states and several cities defaulted on bonds, sending them into bankruptcy or near insolvency. The defaulting states included Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania.
In 1825, New York completed construction of the Erie Canal, pressuring other states to look to debt to finance major public infrastructure and works. In turn, Pennsylvania and Maryland both actively sought out debts to bring more traffic into their states. By 1836, nearly every state had used debt to build railroads or canals to further compete in bringing more traffic and revenue into their state.
With the banking collapse of 1837, the economic foundation of the nation was shaken, causing a severe depression. States hoped for federal assistance with their assumed debts, and continued debt financing pushed many states into deeper financial problems, leading several to disclaim their debts.
Likewise, in the South, war-torn states borrowed heavily to recuperate from the Civil War. In 1865, Southern state assets leveled around $33 million, while state debt hovered around $112 million. With few other options, the affected states borrowed once again, using debt to pay off debt.
As financial problems worsened, states convened constitutional conventions to address the growing debt crisis. In New York, one legislator saw the inherent tension and risk between the operation of representative government and debt, noting, “[U]nless some check was placed upon this dangerous power to contract debt, representative government could not long endure.” And so it was realized: Permitting states to borrow money without limit is much like giving teenagers limitless credit cards—the result is fiscal disaster.
For most states, recovery meant raising excise and property taxes substantially. Citizens mindful of the tax strain created by public debt did not take well to increased debt obligations. Across the Union, voters amended state constitutions to prohibit exactly these sorts of boondoggles from happening again. As new territories became states, debt limits were routinely included.
Not a single state included debt limits in its constitution before 1840. By 1855, after the ravage of unchecked debt spending, 19 states had added debt limitations.
Today, more than three-quarters of state constitutions have some form of debt limit. Four states prohibit all debt. Eleven states, including Arizona, limit debt to a maximum amount. Three states limit the amount of debt but demand public referenda or legislative supermajorities, even for debt that does not exceed the named amount. Eight states permit any amount of debt, but always require a public referendum on the issue. Three states require both a legislative supermajority and a public referendum for any debt to be acquired. Likewise, three states demand only a legislative supermajority for the state to assume debt.
Debt limits have a simple purpose: to prevent the plunder of taxpayer resources. Legislatures should not have unrestrained power to incur debt guaranteed by the taxpaying public.
Mr. Barr is a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute, Arizona’s free market think tank. This article is excerpted from his paper “Living Debt Free: Restoring Arizona’s Commitment to its Constitutional Debt Limit,” published by The Goldwater Institute, January 2010.
Scientific Misconduct: The Manipulation of Evidence for Political Advocacy in Health Care and Climate Policy
IN HIS BOOK The Problem of Knowledge, A. J. Ayer argues that the scientific approach to knowledge is valuable to the extent that “one does not merely insist that factual inferences from one level to another are legitimate but seriously tries to meet arguments that show that they are not.” The development of knowledge, from the approach of science, involves repeated tests of principles we believe might be true, careful review of the results and the data used to generate them, and evaluation of the weight of evidence supporting and opposing these ideas. The knowledge used for rational economic and scientific decision-making, as Friedrich Hayek noted, “never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge.” Aggregation and evaluation of this knowledge is the critical function of science.
Scientific knowledge is a valuable but incomplete tool for the development of public policy. Its strengths and weaknesses both lie in the fact that the scientific process is based on only one value, which is the integrity of the process of generating knowledge. Science can answer whether a relationship exists between two factors that can be manipulated to create a different result, but it cannot answer the question of whether we ought to manipulate the relationship. The question of “ought” is not a matter of epistemology, but rather a decision of ethics and moral values. These types of questions are better settled by political debate that elucidates and develops a consensus of society on whether a course of action is in society’s best interest. Science can inform that process by providing an objective evaluation of the underlying reality, but it cannot replace consideration of moral values. Likewise, moral and ethical decisions made without reference to the underlying objective reality are severely handicapped.
Increasingly, however, science is being manipulated by those who try to use it to justify political choices based on their ethical preferences, and who are willing to act to suppress evidence of conflict between those preferences and the underlying reality. By undermining the processes of science through the selective inclusion or exclusion of data and arguments, advocates seek to frame a reality consistent with their personal ethical and moral framework that serves to persuade the polity that their preferred course of action is correct. This problem is not unique to government. Law professor Holly Doremus, in a 2007 article for the Texas Law Review, notes that scientists can move from “skeptical evaluation” into advocacy due to “employment by an entity with a financial stake” in a particular outcome and “other sorts of strong policy preferences.” This blurs the differences between scientific and policy debates, limits the role of science in policymaking, and, in the words of climate scientist Roger Pielke, turns scientists into “leading members of advocacy campaigns.”
This problem is clearly seen in two policy domains: health care and climate policy. In the area of health care, critics have long worried about the inordinate influence of pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers on research to show the safety and viability of new products. Recent information, however, shows that government agencies may cause more problems in this area—a worrisome development considering legislation recently passed by the United States Senate would allow federal agencies to punish organizations whose researchers publish results that conflict with what the agency feels is appropriate. In climate policy, recent revelations of e-mails from the government-sponsored Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia reveal a pattern of data suppression, manipulation of results, and efforts to intimidate journal editors to suppress contradictory studies; these revelations indicate that scientific misconduct has taken place in an effort to manipulate a social consensus to support the researchers’ advocacy of addressing a problem that may or may not exist.
The influence of interested parties on health care research has been an issue of concern for at least two decades, focusing largely on the issue of whether sponsorship of pharmaceutical research and drug trials by manufacturers has led to manipulation of data and suppression of adverse results in order to support approval of new products. Sponsorship by manufacturers has been found to be associated with a reduced likelihood of the reporting of adverse results. Likewise, a significant link has been found between industry funding and the likelihood that results of a randomized trial will support a new therapy. These biases may taint the results of meta-analyses used to guide clinical practice. Also, the American Cancer Society has been accused of organizing a campaign of misleading attacks on the integrity of researchers who published a study, originally supported by the society, which presented results contradicting the society’s stance on the health impact of environmental tobacco smoke.
One proposed solution to this problem is to increase public funding for research on therapeutic effectiveness. Ironically, that may well aggravate the problem. In July 2007, AcademyHealth, a professional association of health services and health policy researchers, published results of a study of sponsor restrictions on the publication of research results. Surprisingly, the results reveal that more than three times as many researchers had experienced problems with government funders related to prior review, editing, approval, and dissemination of research results as had experienced such problems with private funders. In addition, a higher percentage of respondents had turned down government sponsorship opportunities due to restrictions than had done the same with industrial funding. Much of the problem was linked to an “increasing government custom and culture of controlling the flow of even non-classified information.”
Of particular concern is a provision of the Senate-passed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which needs only to be approved by the House of Representatives before it receives President Obama’s signature. In a section creating a new Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to conduct comparative-effectiveness research, the bill allows the withholding of funding to any institution where a researcher publishes findings not “within the bounds of and entirely consistent with the evidence,” a vague authorization that creates a tremendous tool that can be used to ensure self-censorship and conformity with bureaucratic preferences. This appears to be an effort in part to bypass the court order in Stanford v. Sullivan, a case involving federal contractual requirements that would have banned researchers from any discussion of their work without pre-approval by the Department of Health and Human Services. The order held that such blanket bans are “overly broad” and constitute “illegal prior restraint” on speech. The language in the Senate bill attempts to overcome this hurdle by eliminating prior restraint, but using the threat of post hoc punishment as an incentive for self-censorship. As AcademyHealth notes, “Such language to restrict scientific freedom is unprecedented and likely unconstitutional.” Given the higher propensity of government agencies to try to control the dissemination of scientific information, this is an alarming threat to the scientific process and to the utility of scientific research to inform good policymaking.
Another example of manipulation of scientific processes to support preordained policy preferences is in the area of climate policy. A number of scientists who support radical political interventions to prevent climate change have engaged in a systematic attempt to alter contradictory data and intimidate journal editors into rejecting papers presenting contradictory evidence.
On November 20, 2009, the climate science Web site RealClimate.org received a large file containing e-mail, downloaded by hackers, from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which has been at the center of research on climate change and quite influential with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Those communications involved prominent climate scientists such as Michael Mann of Penn State University and Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia.
The public release of these documents created an immediate controversy, revealing data manipulation to cover inconvenient findings; efforts to intimidate editors into not publishing results that refuted their arguments; and a general contempt for opponents, including efforts to discredit them as cranks rather than address their arguments and evidence. Efforts to remove the editors of the journals Climate Research and Geophysical Research Letters for accepting research papers that raised questions about the magnitude of human-induced global warming are documented, as well as efforts to boycott Weather and other Royal Meteorological Society journals for requiring appropriate data and calculations to be submitted with all articles. The communications document resistance to the release and sharing of research data, including violations of British and American “freedom of information” requirements and the deletion of research data rather than making it available for other scientists to analyze.
The reasons behind this misconduct are clear. The tactics of those who wish to impose political change to address environmental issues consist largely of convincing the population and political leaders that the existence and threat of man-made global warming is a settled issue, based on a consensus of scientific information. The messiness of contradictory information belies that consensus. Hence the leaders of the movement have attempted to suppress such information.
The problem is not limited to the authors of the Climate Research Unit e-mails. The phenomenon has also been observed in how public agencies censor evidence to support rulemaking activities and shape public support for specific climate policies. For example, in a March 12, 2009, memorandum regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, the director of the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics forbade the author of an internal critique of the science behind the proposed findings to release his report outside the center. On March 17, the director wrote to the author, informing him that his critique would not be included or discussed, because
the time for such discussion of fundamental issues has passed for this round. The administrator and the administration has decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision. … I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office.
These cases highlight the temptations toward manipulation of scientific data to build support for favored political and economic outcomes. The purpose of systematic testing and evaluation of ideas, which we describe as “science,” is to allow us to differentiate between what Friedrich Hayek refers to as “facts” and “appearances.” Properly used, it gives us an objective means to identify the causes of problems and the potential impact of proposed policy interventions, which must also be evaluated in the context of moral and ethical values. When we abandon the values and practices of science, or pervert them to support a predetermined agenda, we elevate “appearances” and subordinate “facts.” Abandoning the objectivity of science to suppress evidence that does not favor the preferences of the censor undercuts the ability of the polity to make rational decisions. Such censorship is inconsistent with democratic ideals in that it denies venues for legitimate exchange of ideas through open debate.
While private misconduct is threatening enough, the growing practice of governmental censorship of scientific data may be even more frightening. Private censorship can be limited if a diversity of outlets exist for communication. Private organizations lack the coercive power of government, and no private organization—even large and wealthy corporations in the energy or pharmaceutical industries—possesses the power and resources of government.
Furthermore, a fundamental duty of a democratic regime is to ensure the conditions for open exchange of information and informed participation of citizens in governance. Violation of the letter and spirit of that duty undercuts the social contract that is the foundation for the legitimacy of the democratic state. Democracy depends not on the preferences of elites, but rather on a functional marketplace for ideas and vigorous debate between contending viewpoints.
Dr. Avery is an assistant professor of public health in the Department of Health and Kinesiology and the Regenstrief Center for Health Care Engineering at Purdue University. This article is © 2010 by The Cato Institute, and is reprinted by permission from Cato’s Briefing Papers Series.
ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT, if unheralded, tasks performed by the United Nations is the gathering, standardizing, and publishing of statistics on a broad variety of issues and subjects. This data is used by academics, experts, and policymakers from around the globe to ascertain and assess the extent and seriousness of a plethora of issues including war, poverty, development, health, climate, education, employment, trade, regulation, financial transfers, demographic statistics, and many more. The absence of such data would make any number of international tasks more difficult and assessing the success of various actions virtually impossible.
Having the United Nations help provide this data is enormously useful. That is why a series of troublesome incidents over the past few years wherein U.N. data was consciously manipulated to further certain policy priorities should raise great concern among U.S. policymakers.
Data Manipulation: Rare or Simply Unnoticed?
Over the past few years, data promoted by the United Nations to justify various initiatives or proposals to expand current operations have been shown to be inaccurate or deliberately exaggerated. Consider the following examples:
Global Warming. Last fall, leaked e-mails revealed that key scientists working for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which provides the authoritative “consensus” on scientific evidence and research regarding global warming—had sought to manipulate, conceal, and destroy scientific data that undermined their case for global warming.
In February, the IPCC’s prediction that the Himalayan glaciers had a high probability of melting by 2035 was revealed to be without scientific merit, and the Nobel Prize-winning U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now under fire for failing to heed warnings from scientists that the prediction was absurd.
Death Estimates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The United Nations has used a report by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) as the basis for its claims that a staggering 5.4 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a result of the 1998 war and subsequent instability. This claim made the DRC conflict the most deadly war since World War II. A new study by the Human Security Report Project at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia calculates that the deaths are less than half of the IRC’s estimate of 5.4 million. According to a report from the BBC, the United Nations may have been willing to accept the higher Congo death toll estimate without verification in order to justify increasing the U.N. presence in the country.
AIDS Epidemic. Since its establishment in the mid-1990s, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has been the lead U.N. advocate for action to address AIDS and the major international voice for increased spending to combat the disease. This dual role led independent experts to question the objectivity of the program’s estimates on the extent of the AIDS epidemic and accuse it of exaggerating claims to increase resources dedicated to combating and treating AIDS. In 2007, the United Nations was forced to acknowledge that it had long overestimated the size of the epidemic and that the epidemic has been slowing for nearly a decade.
The 0.7 Percent Aid Target. The United Nations, in an attempt to boost resources for its Millennium Development Goals (MDG), continues to argue that developed nations must provide 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product in development assistance if the MDGs are to be realized. However, the 0.7 percent aid target has no economic grounding. The Center for Global Development notes: “A look at its history shows that [the 0.7 percent target] was calculated using methods with little relevance to today’s understanding of the development process. … We find that if we apply the same assumptions that went into the original formulation to conditions present today, that the updated target would be 0.01% of rich country income—well below current aid levels for all major donors.”
It is important to note that pointing out these data problems does not imply that crises are not real or serious. Although there were likely 2 million—rather than over 5 million—deaths as a result of the DRC conflict, it is still a terrible situation; AIDS is a serious problem in need of attention and resources; lack of development is evident and resources can, in some cases, help spur development or alleviate suffering; and global environmental issues should be discussed and addressed as appropriate.
But the objectivity and reliability of U.N. data is critical. Governments use U.N. data to inform a host of policy decisions, including aid allocation and humanitarian relief, decisions to deploy peacekeepers to U.N. missions, tracking development progress under the MDGs, and verifying treaty compliance on matters ranging from the Kyoto Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. If the data are inaccurate, policy decisions will be compromised.
Moreover, if data are manipulated to exaggerate a crisis, even with the noble purpose of focusing more attention on a very real problem, it does a disservice to other problems. Other crises might be overshadowed by such exaggeration and receive less attention and resources. Worse, if the broader public believes that claims of victims or the extent of problems are exaggerated, a truly vital concern may be under-recognized and receive fewer resources than it otherwise might merit.
What other conflicts in Africa have been shortchanged in U.N. peacekeepers and resources because the DRC was deemed a higher priority based on the exaggerated death toll? Did other health problems like child mortality or diseases like malaria see fewer resources because of the exaggerated data on AIDS? How much wealth was lost in order to comply with the Kyoto Protocol based on incomplete and manipulated data? How much more could be lost under a future treaty to mitigate global warming based on such data? Has the focus on the level of development assistance diverted attention from efforts to determine how that assistance could be used more effectively? What other data or warnings by experts and scientists are being excluded and ignored because they do not suit the underlying U.N. agenda?
Trust but Verify
As misguided as the motivation to exaggerate crises may be, it is easy to see how dedicated non-governmental organizations could be tempted to promote causes dear to their hearts. Indeed, the motivation to exaggerate problems is clear. Dire predictions garner attention to preferred causes and, not incidentally, bolster donations.
But the United Nations, as an international body charged with handling multiple crises, should be more objective. Unfortunately—whether the effort is driven from the top of the U.N. bureaucracy by a few influential member states or through the efforts of issue advocates and NGOs—the United Nations has proven susceptible to using false or manipulated data to focus more attention and resources on various organizational priorities. The above examples are only the ones that have been exposed. It is an open question whether other U.N. data have been manipulated to further noble aims.
Policymakers need to know the facts if they are to assess problems objectively and allocate finite resources most effectively. U.N. member states should as a rule demand that they have full access to U.N. data, methodology, and sources and require this information to be similarly available for public scrutiny and verification. Moreover, before agreeing to fund or support U.N. initiatives, particularly those like reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that pose significant economic costs, governments should seek independent verification of data and conclusions. Such verification should be performed by competent government authorities and, critically, also by private researchers unaffiliated with the United Nations.
Mr. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at The Heritage Foundation and editor of ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009). This article is adapted from his paper published by The Heritage Foundation, January 25, 2010.
PACIFIC RESEARCH INSTITUTE PRESIDENT Sally Pipes started the Benjamin Rush Society after realizing that medical schools have the same problem as other institutions of higher learning: They tend to transmit, with little critical examination, the leftist faith in centralized control over society. On health care policy, that faith works out to support for government-run health care. The Benjamin Rush Society is an organization of medical students and doctors “who believe that the profession of medicine calls its practitioners to serve their patients, rather than the government.” One of its primary goals is to get medical students thinking critically about health care policy issues by exposing them to free-market, limited-government perspectives that they might not otherwise encounter. We talked with Pipes and Society director Jeffrey Anderson about their vision for the Benjamin Rush Society, about what doctors and medical students think, and about Obamacare.
The Insider: Who was Benjamin Rush?
Sally Pipes: He was a physician, an educator, and a very good friend of Thomas Jefferson. He signed the Declaration of Independence and attended the Continental Congress. One of the things he is very well known for is restoring the friendship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. For a time during the War of Independence, he was the surgeon general for the Continental Army. So he seemed like a person who would be a good symbol representing our mission.
TI: And what is the mission of the Society?
Jeffrey Anderson: The Benjamin Rush Society is a society primarily of medical students and doctors—and other concerned citizens—who oppose excessive government involvement in health care and who believe the practice of medicine should be one that is privately controlled (aside from a limited government role).
TI: Sally, you started the Society. Where did the idea come from?
SP: Several of my friends had children in medical school. They were studying medicine at Columbia and Harvard, and they found that the professors at the universities and the doctors in the teaching hospitals were all major proponents of single-payer health care. The students never heard any alternative view. I thought back to what Eugene Meyer had done with the Federalist Society—how justices Antonin Scalia and John Roberts and Sam Alito were strongly influenced by the Federalist Society. I thought it was very important that medical students know that there is an alternative to the government taking over the health care system.
TI: How many chapters do you have?
JA: We have about a dozen at this point, perhaps a couple more, depending on at what point you mark the establishment of a chapter. Right now we are mostly focused on debates as a way to facilitate chapter creation. We have had a number of debates that have been quite successful. We have had debates at Columbia, Harvard, George Washington University, and Texas A&M. I think the average attendance at those events has been in the range of 150, mostly medical students.
SP: The debates focused on the question: “Is universal coverage the responsibility of the federal government?” The debates were Oxford-style: We had little voting machines so that people could vote before and after, and in each case the pre-vote was around 65 percent answering yes. And then at the post-vote at Harvard, Columbia, and Texas A&M, the support went down from around 65 percent to about 62 percent. At George Washington University, the yes votes went up to around 70 percent, but it just showed me that really the students don’t know that there is another way. Afterwards several students came up and said: “You know I had never even thought about this. I voted for the resolution but I have learned a lot and I am going to start thinking about this.”
TI: Your Web site says: “We believe that the physician–patient relationship is a voluntary and mutually beneficial one. Both parties have the right to enter this relationship freely. The role of the government is to protect this freedom, not diminish it.” Is that not the typical view of doctors?
JA: I think a tremendous number of doctors, quite possibly a majority—I do not think anyone really knows for sure—oppose government control of their profession. It is hard to imagine most doctors would welcome it. I’m sure a lot of people who would be otherwise inclined to go into this profession are veering away from it out of concern for all the red tape and bureaucracy. I think the need for the society is that the limited-government view is not given voice to any great extent.
TI: But isn’t it common sense that doctors should serve their patients? From where does the disconnect come?
JA: I do not think it is doctors who have been driving a wedge between doctors and patients. It has been various other entities. The government has certainly been heavily involved. You also have the whole issue of the third-party payment system and insurance. Probably most doctors would prefer to deal directly with their patients to advise them on their care. I think most doctors would be more than happy to talk about the costs of that care and make those sorts of decisions in a rational way.
But when the patient isn’t the one controlling the purse strings, you end with a middle man who muddies the waters. The problem is especially acute when the government is the middle man, and the government ends up saying: “You need to do this and that and keep costs down in this way and report to us in the following manner.” Then you end up, to some extent, with doctors serving the government based on some sort of notion of widespread societal utility rather than serving the individual patient.
TI: What do you make of the American Medical Association’s support for Obama-care? Is it serving doctors’ interests?
SP: I think it is not. I think only about 17 percent of doctors now belong to the American Medical Association and, in particular, young doctors are not joining the AMA. I think the reason is that the AMA has become very political and is not really helping doctors and particularly young doctors. I would hope that the Benjamin Rush Society ultimately would be the alternative to the AMA and that we will be able to hold an annual conference.
TI: So what comes next, when Congress is done debating and voting on Obamacare?
SP: I think the Benjamin Rush Society becomes even more important if Obamacare doesn’t pass. We want to get these young doctors educated and thinking about the future of health care. They went into medicine to serve people and they don’t want to be prevented from providing the type of medicine they were trained to provide. But not all medical students will become practicing physicians. Some will become professors, some will work as doctors at hospitals, some will go into the Department of Health and Human Services, and some will go into state health departments. So it would be good to have people who have these kinds of views in various aspects of federal, state, and local government.
JA: Part of the problem after the defeat of Hillarycare in 1994 was that few of these sorts of organizations sprung up. Whatever happens with Obamacare, we are going to need to do a better job in the future of having these sorts of organizations in place so that next time around there is not such a fertile field for those who would like to have government control the medical profession.
TI: It sounds like you agree with the view that some conservatives made a mistake back in the ’90s by adopting the line that there is no health care crisis, rather than working to develop conservative reforms. Is that right?
JA: Yes, I feel that very strongly.
I do want to make it clear that the Benjamin Rush Society has one and only one position and that is to allow the practice of medicine to be carried out with only limited government involvement. It is up to its individual members to figure out how that applies in specific situations. I have put forth a proposal that you can see at SmallBill.org. It includes giving a tax credit to end the unfair tax on the uninsured and would allow the purchase of health care across state lines. It would move toward medical malpractice reform. It would also throw out the federal bans that keep private companies from offering lower premiums for healthier lifestyles. Another key element is funding for state-run or state-organized high-risk pools, which I think is pretty crucial—especially for the people who are in the roughest spot of having prohibitively expensive pre-existing conditions.
TI: What reforms do you support, Sally?
SP: We should change the tax code so that individuals can buy health insurance in the individual market with pre-tax dollars just like those who get insurance through their employer. I support medical malpractice reform at the state level. We have seen tremendous improvement in Texas. Since 2003, 16,000 doctors have moved to Texas, where doctors’ medical malpractice rates have gone down.
I also think people should be able to buy insurance across state lines, because if you are a young man living in New York, with all its benefit mandates plus guaranteed issue and community rating, you have the most expensive insurance in the country at about $9,000 per year for a premium. And a lot of young people don’t want $9,000 worth of insurance. They want insurance for catastrophes and that’s why the health savings accounts are such an important part of patient-centered solutions to health care.
PLANNING A BIG EVENT, such as a multi-day conference, can be a daunting task. Below are five tips that will help you navigate smoothly through the planning process.
1. Paint the Big Picture. Before you start making any arrangements, take a time-out to develop a sound strategy for your event. Below are some items to take into consideration:
- What is your desired outcome?
- Who is your target audience?
- Is the topic attractive to a broad audience?
- Is the theme in line with your organization’s mission?
- What is your budget for the event?
- What is your attendance goal?
2. Advance Planning Is Key. Planning ahead is the key to keeping your sanity and avoiding last-minute stress. The first step is to secure a venue. For a multi-day conference, you may need to reserve a hotel one to two years in advance to ensure you can get the meeting space and hotel rooms you need. For a stand-alone event, such as a single dinner or luncheon, you should aim to have a venue booked at least six months in advance. Once you have signed a contract for the event space, create detailed timelines of tasks that need to be completed, working backwards from the event date. As an example, below is a back-timed list for creating and sending out an event invitation:
- 26 weeks from event: Secure event venue and keynote speaker.
- 20 weeks from event: Compile invitation mailing list.
- 12 weeks from event: Begin designing event invitation.
- 11 weeks from event: Create online registration page.
- 9 weeks from event: Finalize invitation layout and design.
- 7 weeks from event: Print invitations.
- 6 weeks from event: Mail invitations.
Be sure to budget plenty of time to accomplish each task, as there are often unforeseen hiccups that can delay your progress.
3. Everything Is Negotiable. In these tough economic times, many organizations are feeling the squeeze, especially when it comes to event budgets. Keep in mind that nearly any event-related cost can be negotiated—all you have to do is ask! Rental fees, sleeping room rates, audio-visual costs, and menu prices can all be negotiated. For example, hotels love to charge rental fees to use their meeting space as a means of earning extra revenue. However, there is often a lot of flexibility to negotiate these fees. If you are serving a lot of food at your event (a nice dinner with wine service, for example) or using a lot of hotel sleeping rooms, a hotel will often waive the rental fee because they know they will make up the additional revenue.
You can also play one hotel off another. For example, if the Hilton is offering you $170 a night for sleeping rooms, you can challenge the Marriott to beat their price. When every penny counts, you can save a lot of money by negotiating for everything.
4. Make a List, Check It Twice. A major challenge in planning an event is keeping track of all the details. Between coordinating the load-in of multiple vendors to tracking the flights of your keynote speaker, there is a lot to keep an eye on. There are two easy tricks to help keep things straight.
First, create a master checklist covering every conceivable event-related task and the date by which each task should be completed. This will serve as a handy reminder of items to complete and will make it easy to chart your progress. The week before the event, circle back with each speaker, vendor, and hotel contact to re-confirm your arrangements.
Second, create a binder with tabbed sections covering each element of the event. This tool will keep all your vital information in one central place. Your binder should have tabs for lodging, transportation, flowers, audio-visual, menus, invitations, and conference speakers.
5. Build the Buzz. To ensure your event has maximum impact, effective marketing is important. Begin by selecting a topic and speaker with broad appeal, and give the event an interesting title that will entice participants to attend. Once you’ve pulled together a top-notch program, you need to get the word out to your target audience. Give your guests ample advance notice of the event so they can mark their calendars. Send out a “Save the Date” notice six months in advance to help build buzz. The invitations for the event should hit the mail no less than four to six weeks from the event, and follow up with e-mail reminders to encourage guests to RSVP as you get closer to the event.
Be sure to make it easy for guests to RSVP. Online registration is a great tool, but you should also give guests the option to register by mail, fax, or phone (just in case you have some guests who are not tech-savvy). Promote the event on your organization’s Web site, and include a link to the registration Web page.
You can also boost your attendance numbers by partnering with like-minded organizations—for example, members of a local Rotary club or state policy organization might be very interested in attending an event in their area. This creates a great opportunity to bring your message to a fresh new audience.
For a nuts-and-bolts guide to planning an event, the comprehensive reference is Event Planning: The Ultimate Guide to Successful Meetings, Corporate Events, Fundraising Galas, Conferences, Conventions, Incentives and Other Special Events by Judy Allen (John Wiley & Sons). Also, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Meeting and Event Planning by Robin E. Craven and Lynn Johnson Golabowski (Penguin Group) provides a good overview.
If any dignitaries will be in attendance at your events, be sure to pick up a copy of Protocol: The Complete Handbook of Diplomatic, Official and Social Usage by Mary Jane McCaffree and Pauline Innis (Devon Publishing). This book covers the protocol of seating and receiving lines as well as the proper use of titles for royalty, elected officials, and members of the military.
Ms. Kayrish is Assistant Director of Special Events at The Heritage Foundation.