A New Approach to An Old Debate
By Sherry Kiesling
"Most Americans see no incompatibility between protecting the planet on which we live and private property. They see private property as a way of advancing environmental goals." That is the assessment of Dr. Fred Smith, president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Smith told farmers and ranchers at a recent meeting that public opinion is already on their side; they need only to capitalize on that public support to accomplish their regulatory reform agenda.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that actively promotes a de-regulated, free-market government. Smith is a leading spokesman on the issue of regulatory reform. He says the regulatory reform debate today is similar to the welfare debate 10 years ago. Back then, according to Smith, there was a broad consensus that the welfare system was too bureaucratic. Most elected officials thought they could legislate a solution. As a result, Smith said, the federal government tried to tinker at the edges of the welfare problem.
Meanwhile, true welfare reform began in the states. According to Smith, "It started in Wisconsin. It started in Michigan. It started at the local levels as communities were freed up to try experiments, like the welfare waiver. Some of those experiments had great potential and were used to justify a larger and larger reform effort."
Smith suggests that regulatory reform proponents might try a similar strategy. He acknowledges that passing true reforms at the federal level has been difficult, but suggests that meaningful reforms can be enacted at the state level in two to three years. Regardless of whether the issue is addressed in Washington, D.C. or at the state capitals, Smith suggests the following approach.
- Communicate the failures of the regulatory state. "We have to dramatize the failures of the regulatory state, its economic failures, its lack of efficiency, and its moral failures – the extent to which it penalizes the very people it's supposed to help."
- Have a vision of where you're going. "We need to show what the world would look like without the regulatory leviathan that now dominates our society," Smith observed.
- Organize a coalition of organizations and individuals who want regulatory reform too. Smith urges farmers and ranchers to look beyond their traditional partners and bring in intellectual allies from universities and think tanks.
- Do a better job of communicating your ideas. Smith notes that many good ideas have become bogged down in the legislative process because they're misrepresented in the media.
With a newly-elected Congress and changes in the 50 state legislatures, the 1996 elections mark a new beginning in the regulatory reform debate. And Smith says now is not the time to give up. After all, we've spent almost 100 years regulating U.S. society. It's going to take a fair amount of time to undo all the bogus regulations.
Sherry Kiesling is a writer/producer in the broadcast services department for the American Farm Bureau Federation.