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The tortured saga of America’s least loved political idea


Friedman’s conclusion was varied and in books, articles, Newsweek Columns, a 1980 PBS series called Free to choose and more. Freedom is the buzzword of society, he claims, and economic freedom is the gateway to political freedom and general prosperity. The competition between economic freedom and equality of results is zero sum, and the former must win. Friedman wrote nine years before Reagan’s inaugural address Newsweek 1972 that “Government is the problem, not the solution.” Taxes are bad, so are regulations, and both should always be lowered. Budget deficits are never an excuse to raise taxes. Trade unions affect economic freedom. Global free trade, subject to clear rules, is the boss even when partners manipulate their own markets. While monopolies are bad, government intervention is a cure worse than the disease – so free markets should prevail. An influential proposition in its September 1970 in the New York Times Magazine claimed that the only legitimate purpose of for-profit corporations was to provide return on equity to shareholders. Obligations to employees, customers, communities, the environment? Just say no. Just stay within the limits of the law, he warned.

In 1979 Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain and Deng Xiaoping in China each took power with the Hayek-Friedman Doctrine as a key influence. In 1981, Ronald Reagan joined them, declaring in his inaugural address: “In the current crisis, government is not the solution, government is the problem.” A new era had dawned in America and around the world – politically, culturally, and economically – and Stuart Butler had arrived just in time.

Camping with the Heritage Foundation

In 1973 an emerging generation of conservative thinkers and activists formed the Heritage Foundation, intended as a “think and do” tank, a conservative force to counter the influence of the imposing Brookings Institution, the think tank of the liberal establishment. Unlike conservative fellow travelers at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution, the founders of Heritage wanted their experts and report, book, and white paper writers to face members of Congress and offer free, timely advice anytime, anywhere. They refused to speak only to conservative media and preferred relationships with everyone.

“Legacy was a bridge between the academic and political communities,” recalls Butler. “It was set up to combine the research functions of a brooking with the activist approach of a brooking [Ralph] Nader-type group. “

As a young, politically minded graduate student, Butler was a good fit with Heritage’s legacy. And the legacy suited him. As an IRS 501 (c) (3) tax exempt organization, Heritage responded to requests for consultations without endorsing any law or candidate. Their experts distributed readily available research on key topics to analyze most Republican members of Congress before and not after the vote. In the 1970s, this was an unprecedented aid to congressional conservatives who took notice of the legacy, as did the media and a significant segment of the public. Although heavily funded by deep pockets like Joseph Coors, Richard Scaife, and other wealthy Conservatives in its early years, Heritage quickly developed a sizable number of paying members.

In 1980, shortly before Reagan’s inauguration, Heritage created a 1,100-page draft executive mandate for future administration with 2,000 actionable recommendations to help them lay the groundwork for the dismantling of the New Deal state. Butler contributed, and when the project was repeated at the start of Reagan’s second term in 1985, he was lead author. He made a name for himself for ambitious conservatives. In the early 1980s, he developed a US version of the “Urban Enterprise Zone” concept, which offered tax breaks to companies based in distressed city centers. He borrowed this idea from England and sold it to political entrepreneurs such as Rep. Jack Kemp (R-NY)).

Later in the decade, Butler promoted the “privatization” of government services such as social housing, education, and transportation. Many government services should be privatized to save money and improve quality. In his 1985 book Privatization of Federal Spending: A Strategy to Eliminate the DeficitHe wrote: “I see privatization as a very powerful means of changing the rules of the game. It allows us to accept that society is required to provide certain services, but it gets you out of the trap of saying that they must be provided by the government. “During the Reagan administration, Butler did that National JournalList of 150 non-government officials with the greatest influence on decision-making in Washington.

The mystery of health insurance

When Butler first arrived in the US as a permanent resident in 1979, he was shocked to learn that he had to sign up for health insurance. In England, access to health care has been a right since 1947 thanks to its National Health Service – no premiums, cost-sharing, enrollment, close networks or anything like that annoying American consumers. This experience made an impression. “I went to the Blue Cross DC office to check in,” he recalls. “They asked, ‘Who is your employer?’ I said, ‘What’s that got to do with anything? That’s weird.’ “

Joe Antos of the American Enterprise Institute sees the British connection as important to the development of Butler’s thinking: “Although he wasn’t a huge fan of the NHS and had lived under it, he was able to ask questions that the average smart American wouldn’t think of. ”

In 1982 Butler became director of Heritage’s Domestic Policy Studies, a job that spanned multiple policy areas. For the first time, health policy was his responsibility and he led a team that included health professionals such as Ed Haislmaier with strong analytical skills and Bob Moffit with extensive connections.

In the second half of the 1980s, US health policy went from sleepy to hyperactive with universal health coverage. In 1987, activists led by Boston doctors Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein founded Doctors for a National Health Program that revived activism for a single payer Canadian health care system. In Congress, the Pepper Commission, chaired by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), proposed a national reform based on the mandate of most employers to provide health insurance for their employees. That approach was carried through the passage of a universal health bill in Massachusetts in 1988, signed by Democratic governor (and presidential candidate) Michael Dukakis, and which included an aggressive employer mandate, a bill that was never implemented and repealed until 1996.

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