The Production Cycle of Politics

“Which comes first,” asks Michael Turk, “ideas or the message?” That’s an easy one. Of course it’s ideas. But to understand why, let’s think about politics in the context of the production cycle.

This concept is not my original thinking. It was explained to me a couple weeks ago during a presentation on the future of conservatism as a way to grasp our shortcomings and understand the gaps of our movement.

Let’s start with the basic manufacturing production cycle, which I’ve boiled down to three essential steps: 1) obtain raw materials, 2) turn them into a product, and 3) sell that product to consumers.

Now let’s apply those three steps in the context of producing change in politics:

  1. Coming up with ideas. Academia plays an important role, albeit less significant today due the shortage of right-leaning academics. For example, think about the work of the powerhouse team of political economists at the University of Chicago (Frank Knight, Milton FriedmanGeorge Stigler) and how their ideas on free-market economics began to take shape after World War II.
  2. Turning ideas into public policies. This is role of think tanks -- and on the right there is no shortage of them. Think tanks existed prior to the 1970s, but mostly in the form of academic institutions without students (AEI, Brookings, CSIS). The Heritage Foundation (my employer) helped usher in a new approach. These new institutions (Cato, ATR, NTU) began working directly with policymakers to have an impact.
  3. Implementing policies. Here is where activist groups, media and politicians fit. The left has a superior network of implementers who are effective at shaping a coherent message (MoveOn.org) and using communications channels (full-time bloggers) to sell it. We're about to see how a politician, Barack Obama, achieves this through governing. On the right, groups like Club for Growth and online communities such as RedState fit into this portion of the cycle. Rebuild the Party is an example of an implementer.

The point of this exercise is to understand the imbalance we face on the right. There is a serious deficiency of academics and implementers. We have an abundance of think tanks. Because we lack balance, the production cycle is thrown out of whack and we’re unable to produce change.

You see, ideas alone don’t produce change. And activist groups and bloggers savvy at marketing can’t produce change if they don’t have principled public policies to back up their message. We need a more integrated structure and balanced production cycle.

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Comments

We've Got "Ideas" Already

Count me out of "reform" conservatism.  I'm not sure what the Right lacks in new "ideas" when conservatism is really rooted in the wisdom of the ages.  The reason we need to stay relevant in academia, among other institutions, is not to discover things but to make the case that the conservative worldview is as relevant today as it was in 1950.  What the Left has bred in academia is not "ideas" but "disinformation" to the extent that a conservative worldview is no longer viable today.  Funny enough, "reform" conservatism is proof that this disinformation campaign is working quite well.

The Institute for Humane Studies

I encourage those young people, who are interested in the ideas or liberty and are reading this post, to explore the educational programs offered by the Institute for Humane Studies.  IHS has been developing educational talent for many years and is constantly offering opportunities for educational development.

www.theihs.org

Liberty Fund provides a massive online library here: oll.libertyfund.org

Also students should explore the programs and online resources offered by the Foundation for Economic Education (www.fee.org) and the Mises Institute (www.mises.org).

Some more conservative scholarship sites

Those are good sites.

Premier conservative public policy think tank IMHO is Heritage:

http://www.heritage.org

ISI, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, is dedicated to advancing conservative ideals on campus - "Educating for Liberty Since 1953": http://www.isi.org/

The Claremont Institute is another source of conservative scholarship and have several related websites:

 

Problems before ideas

The production cycle starts with an entrepreneur thinking that there might be a market for some product he can make and sell at a profit.

The market is the demand for the product.  In politics, the market for gov't policy starts with a problem.

What conservatives need to agree on, more than they have recently, is the principles of effective social action to solve problems.  This social action is the total of all peaceful, voluntary, private actions, as well as force based gov't actions.

Starting with a problem, what are some conservative influenced possible actions, and what gov't policies should be pursued to encourage or force those actions?

 

The left has a superior network of implementers who are effective at shaping a coherent message.  NO! The left has a simplistic, usually false message of vague "the gov't will solve it", but they are extremely effective at pointing out the negatives of any real, non-gov't possible solution.  This is a coherent criticism of freedom, and of Republicans / conservatives / businessmen, but not a coherent message of what the solution will look like.

On the 2008 election loss issue -- the economy -- there was no concensus among conservatives of what the best policies were.  There was also no concensus among the Left on what to do, but there WAS consensus on blaming, wrongly, the Free Market. (As Obama repeatedly did in 'foreign debate' #1).

Addressing the Problem of Academic Bias

The point of this exercise is to understand the imbalance we face on the right. There is a serious deficiency of academics and implementers.

Of these two areas of deficiency, the Academic shortage is readily evident when you look at the basic stats of the number of conservative professors, notice that those few conservative professors on campus are hounded and mis-treated on a number of levels, and consider the many ways the left has managed to monopolize many areas of academic life, even to the point of making some areas, like ethnic studies, nothing more than left-liberal radical indoctrination.

The result is an academic bias akin to the media bias of the liberal MSM.

The serious problem of Academic Bias needs to be challenged on several levels. One level is to build alternative avenues for scholarship through directed funding of centers of learning focussed on areas of scholarship that inculcates the learning and values that the post-modernist left-radicals want to stamp out - like Western Civ. That leads to this program:

http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/veritas_fund.htm

The VERITAS Fund at DonorsTrust is a donor-advised fund that seeks out professors at top-tier universities who are committed to bringing intellectual pluralism to their institutions. Working with these professors, we fund "centers of academic excellence" within universities that help introduce a new generation of students to broader perspectives than are available on most campuses.
...

The VERITAS Fund's lodestar is Professor Robert George's James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. The Madison program, which is dedicated to studying American constitutional law and Western political thought, was founded in 2000 and is a powerful example of how relatively modest funding, employed tactically, can drive the development of new institutions on campus.

In its inaugural year, the VERITAS Fund raised and largely committed $2,500,000 to seeding centers on the campuses of Boston College, Brown University, the University of Colorado, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Emory University, Georgetown University, New York University, the University of Texas, and the University of Virginia. Of these programs, five were established programs that used VERITAS funds to help augment their existing efforts—often significantly. The remaining five were created from scratch, made possible only by the promise of three years of VERITAS Fund support.

If we somehow get alumni activated to give - instead of to their college/university blindly, without thought about the ideological consequences - to avenues such as a "Western Civ" center, which can then be an outpost of sanity on campus, we will have done both the University and the 'cause' a service.

It's not enough, but its a start.