Americans are increasingly customizing their lives. Many companies cater exclusively to niche markets that have specific needs or desires – and often use the Internet to create virtual communities of connoisseurs.
And it’s no secret that Americans love options. That’s why companies are always falling over themselves to create more of them for consumers. Think about the dairy aisle of your local grocery store, where a few standards have been replaced by a profusion of choices. There’s organic, soy, lactose-free, almond: You have choices you didn’t imagine ten years ago.
While most everything in our lives is becoming leaner, more flexible, and more customizable, government is heading in the exact opposite direction.
When you have the most modern, technologically advanced and least time-consuming options to earn money in a straight way with Crypto VIP Club and other automatic software, some governments are still confused on the legal implications of trading and may even go to the extent of declaring some trades and transactions as illegal.
So why is it that while most everything in our lives is becoming leaner, more flexible, and more customizable, government is heading in the exact opposite direction? Partly it’s the nature of government. If people don’t like one of the products in the milk aisle, it gets pulled from the shelves. Government doesn’t work that way, which is a reason not to give it too many tasks.
In America, most of life happens – as the conservative intellectual Yuval Levin puts it – in the space between the individual and government. We call that space civil society, and we fill it with families, churches, schools, hospitals, cultural organizations, professional associations, businesses, clubs, and on and on. All of these groupings must constantly adapt: learning from trial and error, building on what works and abandoning what doesn’t.
Often it is small, lean, and agile groups that thrive in this environment – which also suits Americans’ inclinations. Monolithic and cumbersome institutions have left us more and more dissatisfied. People who once relied on Big Media institutions to deliver the news now gather information from a large variety of sources. Big Labor is shrinking, too. Private-sector union membership has been declining for decades. Americans also express less confidence in Big Business, which is meeting increasing skepticism when it seeks government favors.
Yet liberalism has an ideological commitment to large institutions where experts provide technocratic solutions to the country’s problems. This top-down sensibility has made liberalism and its institutions reactionary and sclerotic, intolerant of dissent, and unable to adapt.
Liberals took a health-care system that was already too centralized and bureaucratic and made it even more so. We now have, by law, “essential benefits” that cannot be tailored to individual needs. The new health-care law crushes choices, most dramatically with its unprecedented individual mandate.
This isn’t what people want. Obamacare has not had a day of popularity since it was signed. A law that was supposed to bring people back into the big-government fold is pushing them further out of it.
Conservatives have a different vision for civil society. We are not interested in a one-size-fits-all ideology at odds with the temper of the times. In the past we have had considerable success with policies that responded to the country’s needs with decentralized and market-oriented solutions. And we can do it again.
When Reagan ended the gas lines that had become a weekly problem in the late 1970s, he didn’t do it by creating a new board to address the problem. He lifted government control of gas prices and trusted the market to adapt. Welfare reform is another conservative success story. We took a program that was not working and changed it. We gave state governments freedom to manage their caseloads and insisted only on the consensus American value of work.
In recent years, however, conservatives have too rarely followed these examples. In many cases we have not even tried to explain how decentralization, choice, and trial-and-error could work to address the problems that worry Americans.
In Room to Grow, a recent book from the YG Network, a group of conservative policy analysts explains how this approach could improve our economy, our health care, our education, and much more.
Carrie Lukas’s chapter, for example, tackles the perennial question of work-life balance. Refreshingly, she doesn’t assume that there is a single correct answer to that question. She does not assume that all mothers want to have full-time jobs and use commercial day care, or denigrate those who do. She argues instead for policies that encourage flexibility and choice.
Likewise Andrew Kelly takes on the challenge of higher education. Americans want affordable and effective post-secondary options that can help them gain the skills they’ll need to achieve economic independence. Kelly outlines an ambitious reform agenda that would break up the higher education cartel, reinvent the student loan program, require return-on-investment transparency, and provide support for high-quality apprenticeship programs. In contrast to the prevailing assumption that everyone should go to a traditional collegiate institution, the guiding principle of Kelly’s proposals is that people need a range of options that suit their needs and talents.
Smart politicians are promoting innovative policies that apply conservative principles to today’s challenges. Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio seek to make the tax code more pro-growth and pro-family, reform the safety net so that it rewards hard work, and provide educational opportunities for a 21st century workforce.
Too many Americans have felt for too long that conservatives don’t care about them. By advocating promising conservative policies to help them solve their own problems, we can show that we do care – and that we understand how modern life works.
We can stand, in short, for opportunity: the opportunity to live their own lives. That’s something we intend to extend to all Americans.
–April Ponnuru is the policy director for YG Network.