The tortured saga of America’s least loved political idea


Friedman’s results were numerous, articulated in books, articles, Newsweek columns, a 1980 PBS series called Free to choose and more. Freedom is the watchword of society, he argues, and economic freedom is the gateway to political freedom and general prosperity. The competition between economic freedom and equality of outcome is zero-sum, and the former must win. Prior to Reagan’s nine-year inaugural address, Friedman wrote in Newsweek in 1972, “government is the problem, not the solution”. Taxes are bad, so are regulations, and both should always be reduced. Budget deficits are never an excuse to raise taxes. Trade unions interfere with economic freedom. Global free trade, governed by clear rules, is the boss, even when partners manipulate their own markets. Although monopolies are bad, government intervention is a cure worse than disease – so free markets should prevail. An influential proposition in his editorial of September 1970 in the New York Times Magazine asserted that the only legitimate goal of for-profit corporations is return on equity to shareholders. Obligations towards workers, customers, communities, the environment? Just say no. Just stay within the limits of the law, he warned.

In 1979, Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Deng Xiaoping in China each seized power with the Hayek-Friedman Doctrine as a key influence. In 1981, Ronald Reagan joined them, declaring in his inaugural address that “in the current crisis, government is not the solution, government is the problem.” A new era – political, cultural and economic – had opened in America and the world, and Stuart Butler had arrived just in time.

Camping with the Heritage Foundation

In 1973, a rising generation of conservative thinkers and activists formed the Heritage Foundation, conceived as a ‘think and do’, a conservative force to counter the influence of the towering Brookings Institution, the think tank of the liberal establishment. Unlike the conservative travel companions of the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution, the founders of Heritage wanted their experts and writers of reports, books and white papers to face members of Congress, offering free advice. and timely, anytime, anywhere. They refused to speak only with conservative media, preferring relations with anyone and everyone.

“Heritage was a bridge between academia and policy makers,” Butler recalls. “It was set up to combine the research functions of a Brookings with the activist approach of a [Ralph] Nader type group. “

As a young politically oriented doctoral student, Butler fit the profile of Heritage well. And Heritage matched his. As an IRS 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt organization, Heritage responded to requests for consultations without approving legislation or applicants. Their experts quickly circulated accessible research on key issues for analysis from Republican members of Congress before the votes, not after. In the 1970s, this was of unprecedented help to congressional conservatives who noticed Heritage, as did the media and a significant portion of the public. Although heavily funded in its early years by deep pockets such as Joseph Coors, Richard Scaife and other wealthy conservatives, Heritage quickly developed a large paying member base.

In 1980, shortly before Reagan’s inauguration, Heritage produced a 1,100 page “Mandate for Leadership” plan for the incoming administration, with 2,000 concrete recommendations to help them embark on dismantling the government. State of the New Deal. Butler was a contributor, and when the project was repeated for the start of Reagan’s second term in 1985, he was the lead author. He made a name for himself shaping and reshaping ideas for ambitious conservatives. In the early 1980s, he developed an American version of the concept of an “urban business zone” that offered tax advantages to companies in distressed city centers, an idea he borrowed from England and sold to political entrepreneurs, including Representative Jack Kemp (R-NY).

Later in the decade, Butler advanced the “privatization” of government services, including public housing, education, and transportation. Many government services should be privatized, he argued, to save money and improve quality. In his 1985 book, Privatizing Federal Spending: A Strategy to Eliminate the Deficit, he wrote: “I see privatization as a very powerful way to change the rules of the game. It allows us to accept that society has an obligation to provide certain services, but allows you to get out of the trap of saying that ‘they must be provided by the government. Under the Reagan administration, Butler made National newspaperList of 150 non-government officials with the greatest influence on decisions in Washington.

The enigma of health insurance

When Butler arrived in the United States in 1979 as a permanent resident, he remembers being shocked to learn that he needed health insurance. In England, access to health care was a right since 1947 through its National Health Service – no bonuses, cost sharing, enrollment, tight networks or the like that plague American consumers. This experience made a strong impression. “I went to the Blue Cross office in DC to register,” he recalls. “They asked, ‘Who is your employer?’ I said, ‘What has this to do with anything? It’s strange.'”

Joe Antos of the American Enterprise Institute considers the connection to the UK important to the evolution of Butler’s thinking: “Although he was not a huge fan of the NHS and lived under it, he could ask questions that average intelligent Americans wouldn’t think of. “

In 1982, Butler became Director of Home Policy Studies at Heritage, a position spanning several policy areas. For the first time, health policy was his responsibility and he led a team that included health specialists such as Ed Haislmaier, who had strong analytical skills, and Bob Moffit with broad connections.

In the second half of the 1980s, US health policy involving universal health insurance shifted from sleepy to overactive. In 1987, activists led by Boston physicians Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein launched Doctors for a National Health Agenda that re-energized activism for a Canadian-style “one-payer” health care system. In Congress, the Pepper Commission chaired by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) proposed national reform based on a mandate for most employers to provide health insurance to their workers. This approach gained traction with the passage in 1988 of a universal health care law in Massachusetts, signed by Democratic Governor (and presidential candidate) Michael Dukakis, which included an aggressive employer mandate, a law never implemented and repealed in 1996.


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