RESEARCH AND OPINION

O N P U B L I C P O L I C Y
2 0 1 4 • N O. 3 • S U M M E R

THE HOOVER INSTITUTION • STANFORD UNIVERSITY

Hoover Digest

Research and Opinion on Public Policy

2014 • no. 3 • summer

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On the Cover
Sunlight bathes the bell tower
of Mission Santa Barbara in
this 1917 poster celebrating Wells Fargo’s sixty-fifth
anniversary in California. The
artist was Adolph Treidler
(1886–1981), one of the most
famous illustrators of his day,
whose artwork sold Liberty
Bonds, cigarettes, travel, and luxury cars. Treidler spent part of his youth
in San Francisco, where he created his first commercial success: a poster
advertising the then-new St. Francis Wood subdivision. Soon he would
hit the big time in New York City. See story, page 198.

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Contents

HOOVER DIGEST · 2014 · N O. 3 · S U M M E R

RUSSIA
9

A Tragic New Era
Russia once again tramples democratic values and defies the world.
Yet Putin has neither allies nor any appeal outside Russia itself. This
autocracy too shall pass. By Hoover fellow michael mcfaul, our
most recent ambassador to Moscow.

17

Lead from the Front
Under the Obama administration, the United States looks weak and
hesitant. Russia noticed. By condoleezza rice.

21

Steady Hands
Nurture a free, independent Ukraine but engage with Russia—America can, and must, do both. By george p. shultz and sam nunn.

24

Czar Vladimir?
Does Vladimir Putin want to be king—or emperor? The second ambition is more dangerous. By mark harrison.

30

The Putinist Manifesto
Putin did America a favor: he cleared up any doubt about whether
Russia is a constructive partner. (It isn’t.) By tod lindberg.

F O R E I G N P OL IC Y
35

Grand Illusions
Grand strategy in this fast-moving, multipolar world remains important—but it seems increasingly out of reach. By amy b. zegart.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

40

How to Make and Keep the Peace
If leaders believe that war is constant and inevitable they will certainly make it so. By angelo m. codevilla.

T H E E C O N O MY
46

“Too Big to Fail”? The Problem Is Still with Us
Dodd-Frank was supposed to ensure that individual institutions
could no longer threaten our entire financial system. Yet Dodd-Frank
itself has failed. We don’t need more regulations; we need deeper
bank equity. By charles w. calomiris and allan h. meltzer.

51

Flex Time
How to retain a vibrant economy in a politically dysfunctional system? Embrace flexibility. By michael spence and david w. brady.

56

The Bad News in the Good Jobs Numbers
The economy is creating more jobs, but shorter workweeks have
wiped out the gains. By edward paul lazear.

H E A LT H C A R E
59

The US Workforce, Wasting Away
Health insurance subsidies that drive Americans out of the workforce? Bad medicine. By charles blahous.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

P O LI T I CS
64

When a Majority Isn’t a Mandate
Odd though it sounds, the winner-take-all electoral system sometimes lets political parties ignore the voters’ views. Gridlock might
have a silver lining. By morris p. fiorina.

69

How to Bring Conservatives Together
Raise the banner of individual liberty and govern under it. By
peter berkowitz.

74

Why House Republicans Don’t Need the Gerrymander
Commissions can redraw district lines all they like. The GOP would
almost certainly retain a majority in the House. By jowei chen and
jonathan rodden.

WARFARE
79

Drones and the Next War
Drones revolutionized aerial warfare—but so did zeppelins. Why
strategists should exercise caution in relying on the latest weapon or
tactic. By thomas donnelly.

E D U C A T I ON
86

Learn to Spell “Compromise”
“Either/or” positions have paralyzed education reform. Let’s pull our
desks into the middle. By chester e. finn jr.

95

College Isn’t for Everyone—But School Is
How can we make school more valuable for students who aren’t college-bound? By michael j. petrilli.

102

Opportunity Knocks
Upward mobility is alive and well—at least where schools, families,
and neighborhoods flourish. By paul e. peterson.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

T H E M I D D LE EAST
105

The Struggle in the Fertile Crescent
One of the enduring mirages of the Mideast is the vision of a free,
stable Iraq. By fouad ajami.

111

Headlong Retreat
Drones are no substitute for strategy and determination. By
russell a. berman.

D E M O CR A CY
118

The Enduring Question
All the complexities of constitutional theory and American political
history come down to a single question: will citizens control their
rulers, or vice versa? By bruce s. thornton.

127

Give Them the Tools
Nations struggling toward democracy need not pressure but encouragement. By walter russell mead.

C A LI F O R N I A
131

But the River Was Dry
Water isn’t the only scarce commodity in California. So is the forethought that could have prevented shortages in a time of drought.
By victor davis hanson.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

135

Gene-spliced Crops for the Dry Years
Farms enrich California and feed much of the world. They also drink
up most of the state’s water. Crops bred to be less thirsty could save
the harvest. By henry i. miller.

141

Term-limits Two-step
Intended to encourage the emergence of citizen-legislators, term limits have simply extended the careers of seat-shopping politicians. By
carson bruno.

I N M E M ORIAM: GARY S. BEC K ER
145

An Economic Trailblazer
The late Hoover fellow gary becker followed the data to “amazing
ideas and predictions.” By john b. taylor.

150

Numbers to Live By
To gary becker, the invisible hand was inescapably human. By
edward paul lazear.

156

The Courage of His Intuition
A scholar whose penetrating questions led economists and social scientists where many had feared to tread. By michael j. boskin.

159

A Professor’s Professor
In his classroom, rigor was its own reward. By russell roberts.

162

“Markets Are Hard to Appreciate”
Academic debates will never end, but gary becker was convinced of
this: Americans don’t want to go backward on economic liberty. By
peter robinson.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

H I S T O R Y A N D C UL TURE
170

Unlike Ike
Pundits have taken to comparing President Obama with President
Eisenhower. Historian and Hoover fellow victor davis hanson says
that’s nonsense. For one thing, Ike was both diplomatic and assertive.

T H E G R E A T WAR C ENTENNIAL
179

Master of Emergencies
During the First World War and its aftermath, millions of Europeans faced starvation. Herbert Hoover took up their cause. His
work helped create the modern vision of humanitarian aid. By
george h. nash.

H O O V E R A R CHIVES
192

Picture at an Exhibition
A vivid tapestry, tucked away for decades, emerges from the archives.
By clifton b. parker.

198

On the Cover

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

R U SSI A

A Tragic New Era
Russia once again tramples democratic values and defies the world.
Yet Putin has neither allies nor any appeal outside Russia itself. This
autocracy too shall pass. By Hoover fellow Michael McFaul, our most
recent ambassador to Moscow.

The decision by President Vladimir Putin of Russia to annex Crimea ended the post–Cold War era in Europe. Since the late Gorbachev-Reagan
years, the era was defined by zigzags of cooperation and disputes between
Russia and the West, but always with an underlying sense that Russia was
gradually joining the international order. No more.
Our new era is one defined by ideological clashes, nationalistic resurgence, and territorial occupation—an era in some ways similar to the tragic periods of confrontation in twentieth-century Europe. And yet there are
important differences, and understanding the distinction will be critical to
a successful American foreign policy in the coming decades.
We did not seek this confrontation. This new era crept up on us, because
we did not fully win the Cold War. Communism faded, the Soviet Union
disappeared, and Russian power diminished. But the collapse of the Soviet
order did not lead smoothly to a transition to democracy and markets
inside Russia, or Russia’s integration into the West.
Some Russians pushed forward on this enormous agenda of revolutionary change. And they produced results: the relatively peaceful (so far)
Michael McFaul is the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
at Stanford University, and a Stanford professor of political science. He recently
served as US ambassador to Russia.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

9

collapse of the Soviet empire, a Russian society richer than ever before,
greater protection of individual rights, and episodically functioning democratic institutions.
But the simultaneity of democracy’s introduction, economic depression, and imperial loss generated a counterrevolutionary backlash—a
yearning for the old order and a resentment of the terms of the Cold
War’s end.
Proponents of this perspective were not always in the majority. And the
coming to power of an advocate of this ideology—Putin—was not inevitable. Even Putin’s own thinking changed over time, waffling between
nostalgia for the old rule and realistic acceptance of Russia’s need to move
forward.
And when he selected the liberal, Western-leaning Dmitri A. Medvedev as his successor in 2008, Russia’s internal transformation picked up
the pace. Though Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 isolated Russia
for a time, its integration into the existing international order eventually
regained momentum.
In my first years in government, I witnessed President Medvedev cooperating with President
Obama on issues of mutual benefit—a new
START treaty, new sanctions against
Iran, new supply routes through
Russia to our soldiers in Afghanistan, and Russian membership in
the World Trade Organization. These
results of the “reset” advanced several American vital national
interests. The Amer-

10

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

Illustration by Taylor Jones for the Hoover Digest.

ican post–Cold War
policy of engagement
and integration, practiced by Democratic
and
Republican
administrations
alike, appeared
to be working
again.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

11

When Putin became president again in 2012, this momentum slowed,
and then stopped. He returned at a time when tens of thousands of Russians were protesting falsified elections and more generally against unaccountable government. If most Russians praised Putin in his first two
terms, from 2000 to 2008, for restoring the state and growing the economy, some (not all) wanted more from him in his third term, and he did
not have a clear response.
Vladimir Putin’s thinking changed. He wavered between nostalgia for the
old rule and realistic acceptance of Russia’s need to move forward.

Putin was especially angry at the young, educated, and wealthy protesters in Moscow who did not appreciate that he (in his view) had made
them rich. So he pivoted backward, instituting restrictions on independent behavior reminiscent of Soviet days. He attacked independent media,
arrested demonstrators, and demanded that the wealthy bring their riches
home.
In addition to more autocracy, Putin needed an enemy—the United
States—to strengthen his legitimacy. His propagandists rolled out clips on
American imperialism, immoral practices, and alleged plans to overthrow
the Putin government. As the ambassador in Moscow, I was often featured
in the leading role in these works of fiction.
The shrill anti-Americanism uttered by Russian leaders and echoed on
state-controlled television reached a fanatical pitch with Putin’s annexation of Crimea. He has made clear that he embraces confrontation with
the West, no longer feels constrained by international laws and norms,
and is unafraid to wield Russian power to revise the international order.
Putin has made a strategic pivot. Guided by the right lessons from our
past conflict with Moscow, the United States must, too, through a policy
of selective containment and engagement.
The parallels with the ideologically rooted conflicts of the past century
are striking. A revisionist autocratic leader instigated this new confrontation. We did not. Nor did “Russia” start this new era. Putin did. It is no
coincidence that he vastly weakened Russia’s democratic institutions over

12

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

the past two years before invading Crimea, and has subsequently moved
to close down independent media outlets during his Ukrainian land grab.
Also, similar to the last century, the ideological struggle between autocracy and democracy has returned to Europe. Because democratic institutions never fully took root in Russia, this battle never fully disappeared.
But now, democratic societies need to recognize Putin’s rule for what it
is—autocracy—and embrace the intellectual and normative struggle
against this system with the same vigor we summoned during previous
struggles in Europe against antidemocratic governments.
And, as before, the Kremlin has both the intention and capacity to
undermine governments and states, using instruments like the military,
money, media, the secret police, and energy.
These similarities recommend certain policy steps. Most important,
Ukraine must succeed as a democracy, a market economy, and a state.
High on its reform list must be energy efficiency and diversification,
as well as military and corruption reforms. Other exposed states in the
region, like Moldova and Georgia, also need urgent bolstering.
Putin was especially angry at the young, educated, and wealthy protesters
who did not appreciate that he (in his view) had made them rich.

Also, as during the twentieth century, those states firmly on our side
must be assured and protected. NATO has moved quickly already, but
these efforts must be sustained through greater placement of military hardware in the front-line states, more training and integration of forces, and
new efforts to reduce NATO countries’ dependence on Russian energy.
And, as before, the current regime must be isolated. The strategy of
seeking to change Kremlin behavior through engagement, integration,
and rhetoric is over for now. No more membership in the Group of Eight,
accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or missile-defense talks. Instead there must be sanctions, including
against those people and entities—propagandists, state-owned enterprises,
Kremlin-tied bankers—that act as instruments of Putin’s coercive power.
Conversely, individuals and companies not connected to the government

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

13

RETURNING: US Ambassador Michael McFaul visits the Russian Foreign Ministry building
in Moscow last year. McFaul, a Hoover senior fellow, returned to Stanford in February after
stepping down from his diplomatic post. McFaul reflects that “the ideological struggle
between autocracy and democracy has returned to Europe,” while pointing out that
“Putinism has little appeal beyond Russia.”

must be supported, including those seeking to take assets out of Russia or
emigrate.
Finally, as during World War II and the Cold War, the United States
and our allies can cooperate with Putin when our vital interests overlap.
But this engagement must be understood as strictly transactional, and not
as a means to pull Russia back into accepting international norms and
values. That’s how he will see this engagement. So should we.
At the same time, many important differences distinguish this new
confrontation in Europe from the Cold War or interwar eras. Most help
us. A few do not.
For one thing, unlike communism or even fascism, Putinism has little
appeal beyond Russia. Even inside Russia, brave civil society leaders still
defy autocracy, war, and nationalist fervor, and have managed to mobilize
14

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

© Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

tens of thousands against Putin’s intervention, while a larger but quiet section of society will lament the advent of this new era.
I met these silent skeptics—in government, business, and society—
every day in my last job. Citizens rally round the flag during crises, and
propaganda works. But Putin’s nationalism is fueled primarily by a crude,
neo-Soviet anti-Americanism. To continue to spook Russians about
American encirclement and internal meddling will be hard to sustain.
They are too smart.
Second, Putin’s Russia has no real allies. We must keep it that way. Nurturing Chinese distance from a revisionist Russia is especially important,
as is fostering the independence of states in Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Another difference is that Russian military power is a shadow of Soviet
might. A new global conflict is unlikely. But Russia’s military can still
threaten Russian border states, so Europeans must bolster their defenses,
and Western governments and companies must stop assisting Russia’s military modernization.
One obvious difference is that the Internet did not exist during the
last standoff. Recent Kremlin moves to cut off citizens from independent
information are disturbing, but the communications revolution ensures
that Russians today will not be as isolated as their grandparents.
Greater exposure to the world gives Russians a comparative analysis
to judge their situation at home. This is a powerful tool, which needs
to be nurtured through educational exchanges, peer-to-peer dialogues,
and increased connectivity between the real Russian private sector and its
international partners.
A revisionist autocratic leader instigated this new confrontation. We did not.

But there are two important differences that weaken our hand. First,
the United States does not have the same moral authority as it did in the
past century. As ambassador, I found it difficult to defend our commitment to sovereignty and international law when asked by Russians, “What
about Iraq?” Some current practices of American democracy also do not
inspire observers abroad. To win this new conflict, we must restore the
United States as a model.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

15

Second, we are enduring a drift of disengagement in world affairs.
After two wars, this was inevitable, but we cannot swing too far. As we
pull back, Russia is pushing forward. Leaders in Congress and the White
House must work together to signal that we are ready to lead the free
world in this new struggle.
Especially in educated, rich, urban societies like Russia, democracy
eventually takes hold.

The United States—together with Russians who want to live in a prosperous and democratic Russia—will win this new conflict in Europe. Over
the past century, democracies have consolidated at a remarkable pace,
while autocracies continue to fall. Especially in educated, rich, urban societies like Russia, democracy eventually takes hold. A democratic Russia
will not always define its interests as we do, but it will become a more
stable partner with other democracies.
We cannot say how long the current autocratic government in Russia
will endure. But a sober, realistic strategy to confront this new threat will
help to shorten the tragic era we just entered.
Reprinted by permission of the New York Times. © 2014 The New York Times Co. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is The
Troubled Birth of Russian Democracy: Parties,
Personalities, and Programs, by Michael McFaul and
Sergei Markov. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

16

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

R U SSI A

Lead from the Front
Under the Obama administration, the United States looks weak and
hesitant. Russia noticed. By Condoleezza Rice.

“Meet Viktor Yanukovych, who is running for the presidency of Ukraine.”
Vladimir Putin and I were standing in his office at the presidential dacha in late
2004 when Yanukovych suddenly appeared from a back room. Putin wanted
me to get the point. He’s my man, Ukraine is ours—and don’t forget it.
The “Ukrainian problem” has been brewing for some time between the
West and Russia. Since Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, the United States and
Europe have tried to convince Russia that the vast territory should not be a
pawn in a great-power conflict but rather an independent nation that could
chart its own course. Putin has never seen it that way. For him, Kiev’s movement toward the West is an affront to Russia in a zero-sum game for the loyalty
of former territories of the empire. The invasion and annexation of Crimea on
trumped-up concerns for its Russian-speaking population was his answer to us.
The immediate concern must be to show Russia that further moves
will not be tolerated and that Ukraine’s territorial integrity is sacrosanct.
Diplomatic isolation, asset freezes, and travel bans against oligarchs are
appropriate. The announcement of air-defense exercises with the Baltic
states and the movement of a US destroyer to the Black Sea bolster our
allies, as does economic help for Ukraine’s embattled leaders, who must
put aside their internal divisions and govern their country.
Condoleezza Rice is the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on
Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, a member of Hoover’s Shultz-Stephenson
Task Force on Energy Policy, a professor of political economy at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, and a professor of political science at Stanford.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

17

The longer-term task is to answer Putin’s statement about Europe’s
post–Cold War future. He is saying that Ukraine will never be free to
make its own choices—a message meant to reverberate in Eastern Europe
and the Baltic states—and that Russia has special interests it will pursue
at all costs. For Putin, the Cold War ended “tragically.” He will turn the
clock back as far as intimidation through military power, economic leverage, and Western inaction will allow.
Putin is saying that Ukraine will never be free to make its own choices,

After Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, the United States sent ships into
the Black Sea, airlifted Georgian military forces from Iraq back to their
home bases, and sent humanitarian aid. Russia was denied its ultimate
goal of overthrowing the democratically elected government, an admission made to me by the Russian foreign minister. The United States and
Europe could agree on only a few actions to isolate Russia politically.
But even those modest steps did not hold. Despite Russia’s continued occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the diplomatic isolation waned and
then the Obama administration’s “reset” led to an abrupt revision of plans to
deploy missile-defense components in the Czech Republic and Poland. Talk
of Ukraine and Georgia’s future in NATO ceased. Moscow cheered.
This time has to be different. Putin is playing for the long haul, cleverly exploiting every opening he sees. So must we, practicing strategic
patience if he is to be stopped. Moscow is not immune from pressure.
This is not 1968, and Russia is not the Soviet Union. The Russians need
foreign investment; oligarchs like traveling to Paris and London, and there
are plenty of ill-gotten gains stored in bank accounts abroad; the syndicate
that runs Russia cannot tolerate lower oil prices; neither can the Kremlin’s budget, which sustains subsidies toward constituencies that support
Putin. Soon, North America’s bounty of oil and gas will swamp Moscow’s
capacity. Authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline and championing naturalgas exports would signal that we intend to do precisely that. And Europe
should finally diversify its energy supply and develop pipelines that do not
run through Russia.
18

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

© AFP-Getty Images/Alexander Nemenov

and that Russia will pursue its “special interests” at all costs.

PARTNERS: Ukraine’s then-president Viktor Yanukovych winks at Russian President
Vladimir Putin at a ceremony last December. Two months later, protests forced Yanukovych
to flee to Russia; soon afterward, Russia occupied Crimea and then absorbed its territory.

Many of Russia’s most productive people, particularly its well-educated youth, are alienated from the Kremlin. They know that their country
should be more than an extractive-industries giant. They want political and
economic freedoms and the ability to innovate and create in today’s knowledge-based economy. We should reach out to Russian youth, especially students and young professionals, many of whom study in US universities and
work in Western firms. Democratic forces in Russia need to hear American
support for their ambitions. They, not Putin, are Russia’s future.
Most important, the United States must restore its international standing, which has been eroded by too many extended hands of friendship to
our adversaries, sometimes at the expense of our friends. Continued inaction in Syria, which has strengthened Moscow’s hand in the Middle East,
and signs that we are desperate for a nuclear agreement with Iran cannot
be separated from Putin’s recent actions. Radically declining US defense
budgets signal that we no longer have the will or intention to sustain

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

19

global order, as does talk of withdrawal from Afghanistan whether the
security situation warrants it or not. We must not fail, as we did in Iraq,
to leave behind a residual presence. Anything less than the American military’s requirement for ten thousand troops will say that we are not serious
about helping to stabilize that country.
Countries are not trying to “balance” American power. Instead they are
pouncing on signals that we are exhausted and uninterested.

The notion that the United States could step back, lower its voice about
democracy and human rights, and let others lead assumed that the space
we abandoned would be filled by democratic allies, friendly states, and the
amorphous “norms of the international community.” Instead, we have seen
the vacuum being filled by extremists such as Al-Qaeda reborn in Iraq and
Syria; by dictators like Bashar al-Assad, who, with the support of Iran and
Russia, murders his own people; by nationalist rhetoric and actions by Beijing that have prompted nationalist responses from our ally Japan; and by
the likes of Vladimir Putin, who understands that hard power still matters.
These global developments have not happened in response to a muscular US foreign policy; countries are not trying to “balance” American
power. The developments respond to signals that we are exhausted and
uninterested. The events in Ukraine should be a wake-up call to those on
both sides of the aisle who believe that the United States should eschew
the responsibilities of leadership. If it is not heeded, dictators and extremists across the globe will be emboldened. And we will pay a price as our
interests and our values are trampled in their wake.
Reprinted by permission of the Washington Post. © 2014 Washington Post Co. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is State
of Disrepair: Fixing the Culture and Practices of the
State Department, by Kori N. Schake. To order, call
800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

20

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

R U SSI A

Steady Hands
Nurture a free, independent Ukraine but engage with Russia—
America can, and must, do both. By George P. Shultz and Sam Nunn.

Russia took over Crimea and threatens further aggression. Now is the time to
act but also to think strategically. What basic strategic approach should the
United States and its allies take, and how can that approach be implemented
over time so that the tactical moves benefit our long-term interests? Is it possible to avoid the re-emergence of a full-fledged Cold War psychology, which
is encouraged by Russia developing an “I can get away with it” mentality?
Thankfully, nuclear weapons are not part of today’s conflict. Ukraine
gave them up in 1994, partly in exchange for reassurance of its territorial
integrity by the United States, Britain, and Russia. Now, one of those “reassurers” has taken Crimea. What are the implications for proliferation? These
are difficult questions, but we must describe the situation in realistic terms.
Perceptions are important. Whatever his long-range intent, Vladimir Putin
has Russia’s neighbors fearing and many Russians believing that he has, in
effect, announced his objective to bring the former Soviet space once again
under Russian influence, if not incorporated into the Russian state. He has
stationed troops and other military assets in proximity and has indicated a
willingness to use them. The resentment and fear his moves have created in
Ukraine and other neighbors will, over time, set in motion countermoves and
activities that will diminish Russia’s own security. Putin has demonstrated his
George P. Shultz is the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow
at the Hoover Institution, the chair of Hoover’s Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on
Energy Policy, and a member of Hoover’s Working Group on Economic Policy.
Sam Nunn is co-chair and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

21

willingness to cut off supplies of the large quantity of oil and gas Russia ships
to Ukraine and the countries of Western Europe and to play games with prices. Russia has also developed important trading and financial dealings with
Western countries, particularly Germany, Britain, and France.
But these assets are also potential liabilities. The Russian economy depends
on these trading and financial arrangements and on income from oil and gas
sales that are now taking place at historically high prices. Moreover, Russia has
a demographic catastrophe looming in its low fertility and astonishingly low
longevity rates for men, including men of working age. Many young Russians
are emigrating. There is an open rebellion in the Caucasus. Russia shares a
long border with China, with hardly anyone and large resources on one side
and a lot of people on the other. Putin also has a restive population.
Meanwhile, the United States and its European allies have considerable
strength, particularly if exerted over time in a determined way. So what should
our agenda be? The United States and others with easy supply lines to Europe
have increased capacity to generate oil and gas. The United States should speed
up exports of oil and gas and encourage the development of these resources
in other countries. The attraction of more representative government and less
corrupt and open markets has underlying strength and appeal; Ukraine must
be helped to move firmly into that world, based on improving economic prospects and honest and credible governance so that Ukrainians can make their
own choices about political and economic relations.
Financial markets could be the source of tremendous leverage if access
to Russia is denied and the ruble starts to lose value. Unlike Soviet interventions during the Cold War, the recent aggression will affect Russian
markets, investments, and the Russian people’s standard of living. The
United States and our European allies must ensure that our military
capacity is strengthened and our commitment to Article 5 of the NATO
treaty is unquestioned and enhanced. It is essential that European allies
get serious about their defense capabilities.
The world works better when governments have a representative quality, when the corrupt brand of excessive bureaucracy is lessened, and when
economies are open to imports and exports in competitive markets. Recent
history has shown the damage done to global security and the economic
commons by cross-border threats and the uncertainty that emanates from
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Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

them. As far as Russia is concerned, the world is best served when Russia
proceeds as a respected and important player on the world stage. Russia
has huge resources and outstanding music, art, literature, and science,
among other attributes, and can be a positive force when it keeps its commitments and respects international law.
A key to ending the Cold War was the Reagan administration’s rejection of the concept of linkage, which said that bad behavior by Moscow
in one sphere had to lead to a freeze of cooperation in all spheres. Linkage
had led to the United States being unable to advance its national interests
in areas such as human rights and curbing the arms race.
Although current circumstances make it difficult, we should not lose
sight of areas of common interest where cooperation remains crucial to
the security of Russia, Europe, and the United States. This includes securing nuclear materials and preventing catastrophic terrorism, as well as
destroying Syrian chemical stockpiles and preventing nuclear proliferation by Iran and others. We should also focus on building a framework
for mutual transatlantic security by applying a cooperative, transparent
approach to the region’s security challenges and building trust over time.
We need to engage with Russia against the background of realism and
development of our strengths and our agenda. We can use our strategic
advantages, combined with a desire to see Russia as part of a prosperous
world dominated by representative governments. But our willingness to
use our assets with a steady hand and to vigorously pursue our strategy
must also be clear. With all due respect to the importance of tactical
moves, this is the time for strategic thinking and implementing a strategic
design. It is also a time for maximizing cooperation at home and with our
allies abroad. Our hand is strong if we play it wisely.
Reprinted by permission of the Washington Post. © 2014 Washington Post Co. All rights reserved.
New from the Hoover Institution Press is Issues on My
Mind: Strategies for the Future, by George P. Shultz. To
order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

23

R U S SIA

Czar Vladimir?
Does Vladimir Putin want to be king—or emperor? The second
ambition is more dangerous. By Mark Harrison.

Does Vladimir Putin want primarily to be king in Russia or emperor of All
the Russias? We don’t know, and it will make a big difference.
If Putin wants to be king, the result of his invasion of Crimea will be to consolidate his rule, at least for a while, but any further implications are limited.
If Putin wants to be emperor, a protracted and dangerous international
conflict has already begun; only resolute deterrence will avert tragedy.
We need to understand Russia better, but Russia is not easy to understand. Why? The most important reason is that Russia’s politics lack transparency and accountability.
Consider the following. The Russian invasion of Crimea was clearly
well planned, yet took the world by surprise. It was undertaken despite
a near-total absence of popular support; according to a VTsIOM poll
published on February 24, only 15 percent of Russians endorsed military
intervention in Ukraine, with 73 percent opposed. Although there was
no popular enthusiasm for military intervention, Russia’s parliamentarians mandated it unanimously. Although there would appear to be clear
blue water between the administration and public opinion, the administration’s action met with little or no popular reaction.
Russia, in short, is free of the public agonizing that signals a vibrant
democracy. Nothing could show more clearly that Moscow’s decisions are
Mark Harrison is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a professor of
economics at the University of Warwick, and an associate of Warwick’s Centre
for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy.

24

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

made in a secretive, unaccountable way, so that ordinary people expect to
have no voice and to remain passive.

D A N G E R O U S AND U NPR E D I CTAB LE
Two related factors only add to the difficulty we face in trying to interpret
Russia’s behavior. One is that the Kremlin understands the value of surprise. The sudden and unexpected character of the Russian action in Crimea
deprived Russia’s opponents of the chance to react promptly in a calculated
way. The result was confusion and indecision in Kiev and Western capitals.
While Ukrainian and Western leaders pondered their best responses, Moscow consolidated its gains. The result is an analyst’s paradox. A capacity for
unpredictable action is valuable, but can be maintained only by preventing
adversaries from understanding how Russia will decide its next move, and
therefore from predicting it. Thus, Russia’s leaders must continue to behave
unpredictably, avoiding any clear or systematic pattern.
Russia invaded Crimea with virtually no public support.

A second related factor stems from the fact that while Russia’s action in
Crimea was extremely successful in exploiting surprise to achieve a bloodless coup, the bloodless nature of the intervention could not have been
predicted. Any panicky self-defense by Ukrainian troops or Tatar civilians would have led to a bloodbath. One must suppose that Putin and
his cabinet anticipated this possibility, but discounted it and went ahead
regardless. As things turned out, the risk of bloodshed was not realized,
but this was just luck.
In other words, Russia’s leaders were prepared to take a very substantial
risk. A propensity for risky behavior is characteristic of rulers who have a
great deal at stake but also fear that time is running out. The wait-and-see
option has low value for them or is seen as also highly risky, so they act
now despite the risks.
What is at stake for Russia in Ukraine that is of such value? What is
Russia’s action designed to achieve? Here I see two possibilities, and the
opaque, unaccountable nature of Russia’s politics makes it hard to discern
which is dominant.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

25

I take it for granted that Russia’s action in the Crimea was designed to
help bring about a lasting change in the balance of forces. I cannot see that
any lesser objective would justify invading a sovereign neighbor whose
borders are guaranteed by two other nuclear powers (the United States
and Britain, the third being Russia itself ). But which hostile forces was
the Russian action designed to counter? Does Putin mean to change the
balance of forces within Russia or in the world beyond Russia? Again we
ask: is Putin content to be king in Russia more or less as it is today, or does
he mean to become the new emperor of All the Russias?
Russia has none of the public agonizing that signals a vibrant democracy.

I F I W E R E EM P ER O R  . . .
There is a case for thinking that Putin just wants to be king, and his
primary objective is to offset potential domestic opposition. Among Russians, his legitimacy rests on a narrative of Russia, weakened by the collapse of the Soviet Union, plundered by domestic and foreign thieves,
and encircled by enemies at her borders. When Putin’s position at home
is weakened by stories of election-stealing or corruption, he portrays his
opponents as fraudsters and agents of foreign powers and he deters many
critics by putting a few of the more important out of circulation.
Putin’s narrative has been sustained by the turmoil of Ukraine’s unfinished
transition from communism and by worsening relations with the West. On
this interpretation, Putin’s goal in Ukraine has been to stoke international tension for awhile and so change the balance of forces domestically, within Russia. He has used the Ukrainian events to try to teach Russians that Ukraine’s
26

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

© ZUMA/Mikhail Metzel

Explanatory note: “All the Russias” means Great Russia (Russia proper) plus
Little Russia (inland Ukraine) plus New Russia (Ukraine’s seaboard) plus White
Russia (Belarus). All the Russias would be a smaller territory than the old Russian empire (which extended to Poland, Finland, the Baltic, the Caucasus, and
Central Asia) and also smaller than the Soviet Union (which lost Poland and
Finland), but it would reunite all the Slavic nationalities under one authority.
Some observers have suggested that even this project would be incomplete without the Russian-speaking territories of eastern Latvia and northern Kazakhstan.

ANOINTED: Patriarch Kirill I embraces Russian President Vladimir Putin at
an Orthodox Easter celebration in Moscow. Some analysts suspect Putin
is seeking to bring Ukraine and Belarus back under the banner of “All the
Russias,” a move that would reunite the Slavic nationalities under one
authority and create a buffer of neutralized states along Russia’s new borders.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

27

movement is not “anti-corruption” or “pro-democracy” or “pro-Europe” but
“anti-Russia.” And anyone in Russia who campaigns against corruption or
vote-rigging is now vulnerable to proscription as anti-Russian.
If it is Putin’s strategy to weaken domestic opponents and so shift the
domestic balance of forces in his favor, then he has already largely succeeded.
All that is required is for the West to put up a show of resistance, and Putin
will have achieved his objective, which is to confirm that Russia is embattled
and he is the Russians’ only defender. He does not need a war to prove it.
He will take no more risks, and he will stop here. It’s hard to say how long
the effects will last; they might be relatively short-lived. As for Crimea, the
outcome can be some messy compromise that will poison Ukrainian politics
and store up future conflict, which will also serve Putin’s domestic purposes.
Risky behavior is characteristic of rulers who have a great deal at stake
but who also fear that time is running out.

Alternatively, and much more seriously, Putin’s final objective may be to
weaken external adversaries, and so to shift the balance of forces in Europe.
To do this permanently would mean to redraw frontiers by creating a new
empire of all the Russias with a cordon sanitaire of neutralized states on its borders. A first step is to expose the powerlessness of the EU, to divide Europe
from the United States, and so to divide NATO. But in this case he has only
just begun. He will continue to work to subordinate Ukraine and Belarus in
a Eurasian Union, while isolating and neutralizing all Russia’s less-compliant
neighbors, which include Georgia, Poland, and the Baltic states. If that is
Putin’s grand project, it is probably shared by others around him.
If Putin wants to be emperor, it is hard to see how confrontation can be
avoided at some point. If Europe and NATO signal accommodation, for
example, and express only token resistance to the Russian annexation of
Crimea, then Putin will drive on towards his ultimate goal by undertaking
other adventures, perhaps by going deeper into Ukraine or by setting out to
humiliate other neighbors. On the other hand, to the extent that Europe and
NATO show unity and put up resistance, Putin’s objective will become more
distant and, because time is not on his side, he will be willing to take more
risks to achieve it. Only resolute deterrence will prevent violence and tragedy.
28

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

As I see it, whatever Putin’s motivation, the immediate policy implications are limited. In 1994, Britain guaranteed the security of Ukraine’s borders. In return, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons. Whatever Russia’s
motivation for breaking its word, we cannot honorably walk away from
our own guarantee. There are many steps that Britain, Europe, and NATO
should now take that fall well short of destabilizing military intervention.
In fact, there is reason to argue that it is better to err on the side of overreaction. One must assume that before occupying Crimea Putin calculated the
West’s best response in terms of the likely diplomatic and economic sanctions
(and no military action), internalized the costs to Russia, and went ahead
anyway. If his calculation was correct, therefore, the West’s best response can
have no effect on the situation he has created. Only unanticipated Western
reactions can change the Kremlin’s view. This makes it extremely important
that the West should not underreact by doing less than Putin anticipated. In
fact, it is desirable that the West should surprise Putin by overdoing it a bit,
even if the response exceeds what would have previously appeared to be the
West’s best response—in other words, even if the West’s response is somewhat
costly to us (as well as to Russia or some Russians). The reason this is now in
our best interest, even if it was not so before, is that a surprising response will
create uncertainty in the Kremlin as to how far the West is prepared to go next
time, and will therefore make Putin more cautious.
It troubles me, however, that we do not know how Russia will respond.
If Putin’s objective is to affect the domestic balance of forces, nothing
much more will follow, except that his regime will be consolidated for a
while. If his objective is to redraw Europe’s boundaries, then a game has
begun with many unpredictable and dangerous moves in store. We cannot
make it less dangerous by failing to respond.
Special to the Hoover Digest. Adapted from Mark Harrison’s blog (https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/markharrison).
Published by the Yale-Hoover Series on Stalin, Stalinism,
and the Cold War is Guns and Rubles: The Defense
Industry in the Stalinist State, edited by Mark Harrison.
To order, call 800.405.1619 or visit http://yalepress.yale.
edu/yupbooks/order.asp.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

29

R U S SIA

The Putinist Manifesto
Putin did America a favor: he cleared up any doubt about whether
Russia is a constructive partner. (It isn’t.) By Tod Lindberg.

Vladimir Putin has thoroughly dashed all hope of Russia emerging as a
partner of the United States and a constructive contributor to a liberal
international order. The armed takeover and annexation of Crimea and
the threat of further military incursion into eastern Ukraine have established beyond doubt that the United States needs to approach Russia first
and foremost as a security challenge.
The Obama “reset” of policy toward Russia was, in my view, worth a try,
whether one was optimistic about the prospects for Russia as a responsible
member of the international community, as were most Obama administration officials, or pessimistic, as were most internationally minded
Republicans. The reset was as clear a test of Russian intentions as one
could imagine. If, indeed, relations between the United States and Russia
had turned sour as a result of unnecessarily antagonistic Bush administration policy or rhetoric, the reset was an opportunity to put aside hard
feelings and get down to constructive business.
Another useful element of the reset was the educational effect it was
going to have, one way or the other. Had it gone well, and had Russia
become the partner the Obama administration wanted in coping with
such pressing matters as Iran’s nuclear program, the reconstruction of the
Balkans, and the war in Afghanistan, Republicans would have had to concede that maladroit diplomacy and the lingering (if diminishing) unilateralism of the Bush administration had indeed taken a toll. On the other
Tod Lindberg is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

hand, an unsuccessful reset would seem to require an admission from
Democrats that the primary source of America’s troubles in the world was
not Bush’s policies but the troubles of the world.

“ GI A N T S T EP B ACKWAR D S”
Well, Putin has cleared matters up for us rather decisively. Here is the
remarkable assessment of my friend and Hoover Institution colleague
Michael McFaul, who served in the Obama White House as one of the
architects of the reset and subsequently as Obama’s ambassador to Moscow (a post he left just after the Sochi Olympics and before Putin’s takeover of Crimea):
I am very depressed today. For those of us, Russians and Americans alike,
who have believed in the possibility of a strong, prosperous, democratic
Russia fully integrated into the international system and as a close partner
of the United States, Putin’s recent decisions represent a giant step backwards. Tragically, we are entering a new period with some important differences, but many similarities to the Cold War. The ideological struggle
between autocracy and democracy is resurgent. Protection of European
countries from Russian aggression is paramount again. Shoring up vulnerable states, including first and foremost Ukraine, must become a top
priority again for the United States and Europe. And doing business with
Russian companies will once again become politicized. Most tragically, in
seeking to isolate the Russian regime, many Russians with no connection
to the government will also suffer the effects of isolation. My only hope is
that this dark period will not last as long as the last Cold War.
If Russia had legitimate concerns about ethnic Russians in Ukraine, it
could have taken them to the Security Council.

McFaul, who has been a tireless champion of democracy and liberal
reform in the post–Cold War era, is right that whether we like it or not,
we are engaged in a strategic competition with Russia grounded in a contest of hard power. We awakened to this fact as a result of Russia’s insertion
of thousands of special-forces troops in unmarked uniforms into Crimea

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

31

at the same time we had been winding down our wars, diminishing our
military footprint abroad, and severely reducing our defense budget. We
must acknowledge that Russia has stolen a march into this new era, for
which we were unprepared.
Much rethinking will be necessary. We could probably do worse than to
start by reassessing Russia’s recent claims and grievances about the international system in light of Putin’s willingness to use force to redraw national
borders and to do so in flagrant disregard of a century’s worth of treaty
and customary international law on the conduct of military operations.
We should give no quarter to any Russian claims about the legitimacy
of its annexation of Ukrainian territory. Russian officials like to talk about
the supposed risk to ethnic Russians in Ukraine as a result of the ouster
of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych, who had become Russia’s man
and whose government opened fire on demonstrators in Kiev’s Maidan
Square. It’s a mistake to engage Russia on the substance of these claims,
for the simple reason that Russia proffered them in an entirely unserious
fashion.

WH ER E W A S T HE SE CU R I TY CO U NCI L?
If Russia had legitimate concerns about ethnic Russians in Ukraine, it
could have taken them to the Security Council to see if they could be
addressed there. Under the UN Charter, the Security Council has “primary responsibility” for maintaining international peace and security, and
Russia is a permanent member with a veto. Russia chose instead to bypass
the Security Council and act unilaterally.
Nor was this the first time. In 2008, Russia moved militarily against
Georgia, citing as a pretext a need to protect ethnic Russians in two Georgian provinces. If Russia had harbored serious concerns, as opposed to
naked territorial ambitions as well as Putin’s personal loathing of Georgian
then-president Mikheil Saakashvili, the Security Council would have been
the proper venue for raising them. (Now we also need to see Georgia 2008
as a prologue to Ukraine 2014.)
Everything Russia says about Ukraine has to be evaluated in light of its
unwillingness to present and discuss the matter even in a forum where it is
a privileged member. And of course the Security Council voted 13-1, with
32

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

China abstaining and Russia exercising its veto, on a resolution condemning the bogus referendum Russia staged as a pretext to annex Crimea.
Similarly, Russia deserves no quarter from the United States or its allies
on Russian claims of hypocrisy. It’s true that the United States has taken
military action without the explicit authorization of the Security Council. But the United States has always gone to the Security Council first,
before taking action. The United States tried to get the ethnic cleansing
and imminent slaughter in Kosovo addressed at the Security Council in
1998–99, but Russia balked. Only then did the United States and its allies
take military action. There were numerous Security Council resolutions
demanding Saddam Hussein’s compliance and threatening consequences
in the run-up to the 2003 war. But Russia did nothing to engage the Security Council on Ukraine before taking military action.
The United States tried to address the Kosovo ethnic cleansing in 1998–99,
but Russia balked. Only then did we intervene militarily.

What is more, Russia now stands condemned over Crimea by numerous governments, such as in Germany and France, that opposed the USled military action against Iraq in 2003. Russia has acted on its own and
has garnered no international support for its actions beyond a tiny number of autocratic governments beholden to it, whereas the condemnation
of its actions has been widespread and consistent with international law.
The United States also needs to reassess the failure of the Security
Council to address the civil war in Syria in light of Russia’s move into
Crimea. It’s unclear whether the United States was ever serious about
doing anything to protect Syrian civilians from Bashar al-Assad. But in
blocking action at the Security Council, Russia was not acting out of the
offense it took over the toppling of Muammar Gadhafi under cover of a
Security Council resolution to protect Libyan civilians. Rather, Russia was
using all means at its disposal to prop up its Syrian ally. The United States
must not straitjacket itself in a forum Russia is using solely to advance a
power-politics agenda.
We have no Russian partner in Syria. Putin’s intervention at the eleventh hour with a proposal for Assad to give up his chemical weapons

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

33

rather than suffer a US military strike for using them on his people served
to relieve the Obama administration of a burden it did not want to bear.
But it also bound the United States, Russia, and Syria together as partners
in a disarmament process. Russia understood the implications of this—
freezing US options in Syria while the disarmament process was under
way—even if the United States did not. Under the circumstances, the
United States must punish Assad militarily for any noncompliance with
his chemical disarmament obligations, including noncompliance related
to timetables.
We have no Russian partner in Syria or Iran.

We should also recognize that we have no Russian partner in Iran. In
fact, the administration’s Iran policy is in serious trouble, not because Russia was ever going to be helpful enough to get Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program but because Iran has seen what is happening in Ukraine,
which returned its Soviet-era nuclear weapons to Russia in exchange for
paper guarantees of security. Iran’s determined pursuit of a nuclear weapon is a position Putin likely respects.
Meanwhile, we have NATO allies to reassure about the seriousness of
our commitment to their defense and two decades’ worth of rhetoric and
policy in pursuit of “Europe whole, free, and at peace” to uphold against
what has become a serious Russian challenge. Senator Richard Lugar once
said that in the post–Cold War era, NATO would either go “out of area or
out of business.” Now it’s time for NATO to get back to basics and back
in business.
Reprinted by permission of the Weekly Standard (www.weeklystandard.com). © 2014 The Weekly Standard
LLC. All rights reserved.
Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Perjury:
The Hiss-Chambers Case, third edition, by Allen
Weinstein. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

34

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

F O R E I G N PO L I CY

Grand Illusions
Grand strategy in this fast-moving, multipolar world remains
important—but it seems increasingly out of reach. By Amy B. Zegart.

Grand strategy has always been seductive because it promises policy coherence in the face of complexity. Yet the sorry truth is that American grand
strategies are usually alluring but elusive. Containment during the Cold
War, the example most often cited of grand-strategy success, is a recent,
lonely exception that has driven political scientists and policy makers to
keep hope alive. That hope is misguided. In the post-9/11 world, forging
a successful grand strategy is unlikely and dangerous.
Grand strategies must be grand. That is, able to anticipate and articulate a compelling future state of the world and galvanize the development
of policies, institutions, and capabilities at the domestic and international
level to get us there. That’s hard enough. A second challenge is the strategic-interaction part of grand strategy, which requires predicting, evading, blocking, and otherwise adjusting to the countermoves of principal
adversaries.
Grand strategy is not a game of solitaire, where we come up with all
the moves and the cards just lie on the table. It’s not all about us and
our big ideas. Instead, grand strategy is a multiplayer game with powerful
Amy B. Zegart is a Davies Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution,
co-chair of Hoover’s Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy, and
a member of the Hoover task forces focusing on national security and law, Arctic
security, military history, and intellectual property and innovation. She is also the
co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford
University.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

35

adversaries who are seeking their own future state of the world to serve
their own interests. Successful grand strategy, then, hinges on knowing the
number and identities of these key adversaries, what they want, how they
operate, and what damage they can inflict.
In this light, containment was a comparatively easy grand strategy to
develop. I don’t mean to take anything away from George Kennan, who
brilliantly articulated many of containment’s cornerstone ideas. But I do
mean to suggest the reason that nobody has repeated Kennan’s feat. From
the earliest days of the Cold War, American leaders knew full well that
there would be only one principal adversary. They knew exactly who it
was and where it was, and had pretty good ideas about Soviet interests and
ideas. They also knew the threat to American lives and interests was existential. The number and targets of Soviet nuclear missiles left little doubt.
The post-9/11 threat environment is vastly different. Today, the number, identity, and magnitude of dangers threatening American interests
are all wildly uncertain. Exactly how many principal adversaries does the
United States have? Who are they and what do they want? What could
they do to us? These first-order questions are hotly debated by academics
and policy makers alike. Is the terrorist threat increasing, decreasing, or
plateauing? What exactly does “the terrorist threat” or the Obama administration’s favorite catchall, “Al-Qaeda and its associated forces,” encompass anyway? Is China a rising great power rival or a responsible stakeholder? Where do Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and Russia rank on the
adversaries list?
Grand strategy isn’t a game of solitaire, where we come up with all the
moves and the cards stay put.

Then there is the magnitude issue: how likely is a “digital Pearl Harbor” that disables US strategic nuclear forces or brings down US financial
institutions, power systems, and other critical infrastructures? What is the
probability and potential toll of a biological attack by a state or nonstate
actor? A nuclear strike? Nobody really knows.
President Obama’s 2010 nuclear posture review concluded that the risk of
a global nuclear war had declined, but the risk of any other kind of nuclear
36

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

37

Illustration by Taylor Jones for the Hoover Digest.

attack had increased. Eliminating the possibility of Armageddon still leaves
plenty of room to wonder about how bad all these other threats could be.
To be sure, uncertainty is a fact of life in international politics. Wars
have always occurred because both sides see advantages to fighting and at
least one of them is wrong. But there’s uncertainty and then there’s uncertainty. Each day, it seems, we are told to be very afraid about something
different and vaguely sinister. In the past five years alone, the director of
national intelligence has declared three top threats to US national security: terrorism, the global economic crisis, and cyber vulnerabilities. We
live in a hazy world of threat du jour. This is too complex and uncertain
for grand strategy to handle.
Grand strategy requires a second key ingredient: the ability to forge
domestic and international institutions that galvanize people’s talents and
move policy forward. Here, too, complexity overwhelms capacity.
In the Cold War, the United States had the advantage of writing new
international and domestic organizational arrangements—the United
Nations, NATO, the Bretton Woods system, the Department of Defense,
the CIA, and the National Security Council system—on an almost
entirely blank slate. That is no longer the case. Instead, new organizations
are springing up alongside creaky old ones, creating a dense thicket of
obsolete, overlapping, and overspecialized arrangements that make policy
coherence and coordination all the more difficult.
Each day, it seems, we’re told to be very afraid about something different
and vaguely sinister.

Before 9/11, for example, there were twelve major federal US intelligence
agencies. Now there are seventeen, plus a hundred FBI joint terrorism task
forces and seventy-plus interagency “fusion centers” across the country. In
the State Department and White House, scores of coordinators, czars, and
special envoys have been created, all operating with, against, and beside
the existing bureaucracy. “What would Moscow think?” has been replaced
by “we need a special coordinator for that.” This organizational geometry
is not good: when policy coordination and coherence are so important,
creating more offices to coordinate is not a winning plan.
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Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

These same strains can be seen in the international landscape. The
United Nations and International Monetary Fund are showing their age,
mired in outdated governance systems that are out of whack with current power realities. NATO is struggling for relevance while the European
Union continues to struggle in the aftermath of the great recession. Meanwhile new international arrangements are proliferating—the G-20, the
Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, to name just a few—with varying
gaps between aspirations and capabilities. The upshot of all this is that
rationalizing and modernizing institutional arrangements, both domestically and internationally, will grow harder by the day. Grand strategy
requires the ability to forge effective organizations, and the prospect of
forging effective organizations is not hopeful.
If grand strategy is too grand an ambition in the current threat environment and organizational landscape, what can be done?
The first step is obvious but important: give up on grand strategy. We
should strive for what Stephen Krasner calls orienting principles—policy
ideas that lie between ad hoc reactions to the day’s events and grand visions
of how the future should unfold. Orienting principles aren’t glamorous.
But they hold out the prospect of something better than foreign policy à
la carte or a grand strategy that mis-estimates the threat environment and
misunderstands the organizational requirements for success. In a world of
rampant complexity, this is the best we can do.
Reprinted from Defining Ideas (www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas). © 2014 by the Board of
Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Eyes on
Spies: Congress and the United States Intelligence
Community, by Amy B. Zegart. To order, call
800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

39

F O R EIGN P OLIC Y

How to Make and
Keep the Peace
If leaders believe that war is constant and inevitable they will
certainly make it so. By Angelo M. Codevilla.

Achieving “a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations”
is statesmanship’s proper goal. It is also naturally indivisible, because peace
with foreigners guards tranquillity among fellow citizens and nothing so
incites domestic strife and fosters the loss of liberty as do war’s despotic
necessities. Domestic harmony is as precarious as it is precious, everywhere. But nowhere as much as in America, our “nation of many nations,”
where so much diversity offers so much occasion for division. Nor are any
people so jealous of liberty as are Americans. Fear of war’s effect on peace
and liberty at home is the reason why our founding statesmen, beginning
with George Washington, were willing to sacrifice so much for peace and
agonized so deeply over war.
Among later generations of statesmen, however, other concerns gradually obscured that healthy caution. The illusion of serving noble causes by
making foreign quarrels our own has lured the past century’s statesmen to
abandon their predecessors’ sharp distinction between war and peace and
to fight wars mindless of war’s first principle: that it is an extraordinary
Angelo M. Codevilla is a member of the Hoover Institution’s Working Group
on the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict and a professor emeritus
of international relations at Boston University. He is the author of To Make and
Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations (Hoover Institution Press,
2014), from which this article is drawn.

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Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

event conceived to end in peace. The result, intended to be ordinary and
permanent, has been violent “nation building” abroad plus “homeland
security” in America, enforced by a national security–homeland security
complex whose very size fits it for use as an instrument of partisan strife.
“Peace among ourselves and with all nations” is beyond the horizon of
twenty-first-century American statesmen.
It is essential to recover an understanding of peace as the practical lodestar by which the American people and statesmen may navigate domestic
as well as international affairs on any given day. In these affairs, which
include preparing for wars and all too often fighting them, the compass
of peace is the surest guide. What is to be America’s peace? How is it to be
won and preserved in our time?
Peace is statesmanship’s natural focus. Our civilization teaches that all
human activity aims at some end natural to itself. Plato reminds us of the
obvious: shoes are the proper end of shoemaking, and food is the natural
end of farming. What, he asks, is the natural, the proper product of the
statesman if not fostering man’s highest, most peculiar functions? Aristotle, echoed by Saint Augustine, wrote that victory—the establishment of
one’s own peace—is the natural end of war. War itself may be understood
only in terms of the peace from which it starts and of the peace in which
it ends. Just as farmers plow not for the sake of plowing but for specific
crops, real statesmen fight wars not for the sake of fighting but rather to
achieve the peace that suits them, or to avoid the enemy’s version of peace.
In the end, some peace there must be.
Because peace is the precondition for enjoying the good things of life,
peace must be statecraft’s proximate objective. The United States of America, by virtue of its size, strength, and location, has unusually great latitude for determining what kind of peace it can choose for itself. Pity that
American statesmen in the past hundred years have given so little thought
to what is to be America’s peace. Since the turn of the twentieth century,
American statesmen and academics have so focused on abolishing war in
general, have sponsored so many “peace processes,” and have so supported
or opposed all manner of causes that they have diverted attention from
earning our peace in any particular circumstance—from ending this war,
to avoiding that war. Often do our statesmen contemplate commitments

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

41

to conflicts, but seldom how to end them in ways that benefit the American people.
Paradigmatically, President Woodrow Wilson opposed entry into the
Great War while opposing efforts to end it unless and until he saw what
he imagined an opportunity to craft perpetual peace; similarly, Franklin
Roosevelt characterized the onset of World War II as an impersonal “epidemic,” and then aimed America’s war at abolishing humanity’s “ancient
evils, ancient ills.” By such generalities have our statesmen avoided their
responsibility for America’s peace.

I S W A R N O W A P E R MANE NT STATE ?
In our time, inattention to what peace is and what it requires is all
the more remarkable because, in the past hundred years, Americans
have enjoyed it only during two brief periods (1919–41, 1992–2001).
Since 9/11, the American body politic seems to have come to terms
with its leaders’ contention (never argued fully) that henceforth the
permanent, normal state of life defies dictionary definitions of war
and peace.
Real statesmen fight wars not for the sake of fighting but rather to
achieve the peace that suits them.

The dictionary is the least of things that our time is supposed to have
repealed. The US government’s academic venues (and most universities) teach that since war is diplomacy by violent means, human intercourse is a seamless continuum between garden-variety business and
mutual destruction—that there is no clear line between peace and war.
This Cliffs Notes version of Carl von Clausewitz has deprived many
otherwise thoughtful Americans of the capacity to distinguish peace
from war.
Mainstream American statesmen and academics no longer think
about how to restore peace, in part because they have invested mind,
heart, and personal interest—as well as the nation’s blood and treasure—in the quarrels of countless contending states and parties all over
the globe. While it is difficult to tell on which side of these contests
42

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

lies the American people’s interest, if any, or how, when, or whether
any contest might end, it is beyond doubt that the US government’s
involvement has resulted in more hostility and less respect for America
on the part of some if not all of the nations and parties involved.
The resulting dynamic recalls Pericles’s warning to war-weary Athenians that “to recede is no longer possible,” because “the animosities
incurred in the exercise [of empire] . . . is the lot of all who have
aspired to rule others.”
Our statesmen often contemplate commitments to conflicts, but seldom
how to end them to the benefit of the American people.

We cannot know whether America can ever live in peace again, what
kind of peace we may win for ourselves, or what peace we may end up
having to endure. But we do know that our statesmen and academics have
ceased even to think about such things. The time has come to rekindle
such thoughts.
Our statesmen and academics befog the realities of peace and war, victory
and defeat, with intellectual oxymorons such as “exit strategy.” Nevertheless,
they make clear that the new, permanent state of non-peace, non-war grants
them the discretionary powers that pertain logically to military commanders in the face of enemies-in-arms. But if military discretion—inherently
unlimited and despotic—is to be forever untethered to any operation or to
any outcome, if neither victory nor peace is ever again to be, then war powers have become the ordinary rule of life among ourselves.
The post-9/11 hostilities—at least our manner of thinking about
and waging them—seem to have defeated the very ideas of limited
government, or of peace.

If so, the contemporary invocation of war powers creates a wholly new,
short constitution: rulers may do whatever they can get away with at home
and abroad now and forevermore.
Exemplar of this constitution, Section 1021 of the National Defense
Authorization Act of 2011, purports to empower the president to desig-

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

43

nate any American as an enemy, to hold him incommunicado indefinitely,
or to kill him. This constitution is surely alien to that of 1789, conceived
by and for a people living ordinarily in peace and liberty, and waging war
occasionally. Hence, the post-9/11 hostilities—or at least the manner of
thinking about and waging them that we have uncritically adopted—seem
to have defeated the very idea of limited government, as well as of peace.
To whose benefit, to whose detriment will our increasingly unlimited
government’s powers be put? Answering that question calls forth evermore-violent partisan strife. That reality calls us to consider anew what it
will take for us to restore our peace.

H O P E IS N O T EN OU G H
The post-9/11 hostilities having left some thirty thousand Americans
crippled for life, private groups have nobly undertaken to raise money
to palliate their condition. One of their solicitations is accompanied by
a plaintive song that asks Americans to “say a prayer for peace.” Surely,
prayer to God is in order always and everywhere. But earthly peace is one
of those earthly goods the production of which we reasonably expect from
the persons whom we hire to produce them.
We don’t pray for plumbers to fix our pipes. Why then do we pray for
statesmen to bring about peace?

Had we been paying plumbers to fix our house’s pipes, praying God
to stop continuing leaks would bespeak severe judgment on the plumbers. Praying for peace after our statesmen have spent trillions of dollars
and killed uncounted thousands without producing peace acknowledges
that those statesmen and their “bench” in the universities and think tanks
either don’t know how to produce it, or have other priorities.
Relief from such experts begins with firing them. Relief requires understanding the problem enough to hire people who will do the job.
We need to re-establish Western civilization’s, and specifically American statecraft’s, understanding of peace: what it takes to make it and keep
it. Americans need to be reminded why, precisely, our founding generation placed the pursuit of peace ahead of all other objectives, excepting the
44

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

“quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” that they believed
peace would allow the American people to live.
John Quincy Adams ended his 1821 celebration of American statecraft with: “Go ye and do likewise.” Whoever might wish in our time to
refocus American statecraft on peace might well take from the past century an equally succinct exordium: “Look ye and do pretty close to the
opposite.”
Excerpted from To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations, by Angelo M. Codevilla
(Hoover Institution Press, 2014). © 2014 Angelo M. Codevilla. All rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is To Make and
Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations, by
Angelo M. Codevilla. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit
www.hooverpress.org.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

45

T H E EC ONOM Y

“Too Big to Fail”? The
Problem Is Still with Us
Dodd-Frank was supposed to ensure that individual institutions could
no longer threaten our entire financial system. Yet Dodd-Frank itself
has failed. We don’t need more regulations; we need deeper bank
equity. By Charles W. Calomiris and Allan H. Meltzer.

The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 mandated hundreds of major regulations to
control bank risk-taking. It aimed to keep taxpayers from having to bail out
“too big to fail” financial institutions again. The regulations were added to
many other rules adopted after the 2008 financial crisis to make banks more
secure. Yet in January, when Senator Elizabeth Warren asked a bipartisan
panel of four economists (including Allan Meltzer) whether Dodd-Frank
would end the problem of too-big-to-fail banks, everyone answered no.
Dodd-Frank’s approach to regulating bank risk has two major flaws.
First, its standards and rules require regulatory enforcement instead of
Charles W. Calomiris is a co-chair of the Hoover Institution’s Regulation and
the Rule of Law Initiative and the coauthor (with Stephen Haber) of Fragile By
Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit (Princeton
University Press, 2014). He is the Henry Kaufman Professor of Financial Institutions at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and a professor at
Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. Allan H. Meltzer is a
co-chair of Hoover’s Regulation and the Rule of Law Initiative, a distinguished
visiting fellow at Hoover, and a professor of political economy at Carnegie Mellon
University.

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Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

giving bankers strong incentives to maintain safety and soundness of their
own institutions. Second, the regulatory framework attempts to prevent
any individual bank from failing, instead of preventing the collapse of the
payments and credit systems.
The principal danger to the banking system arises when fear and uncertainty about the value of bank assets induces the widespread refusal by
banks to accept each other’s short-term debts. Such refusals can lead to a
collapse of the interbank payments system, a dramatic contraction of bank
credit, and a general loss in confidence by consumers and businesses—all
of which can have dire economic consequences. The proper goal is thus
to make the banking system resilient enough so that no single failure can
provoke a general collapse.
Part of the current confusion over regulatory means and ends reflects
a mistaken understanding of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. The collapse of interbank credit in September 2008 was not the automatic consequence of Lehman’s failure. Rather, it resulted from a widespread market
perception that many large banks were at significant risk of failing. This
perception didn’t develop overnight. It evolved steadily and visibly over
more than two years, while regulators and politicians did nothing.
Citigroup’s equity-to-assets ratio, measured in market value—the best
single comprehensive measure of a bank’s financial strength—fell steadily
from about 13 percent in April 2006 to about 3 percent by September
2008. And that low value reflected an even lower perception of fundamental asset worth because the 3 percent market value included the value
of an expected bailout. Lehman’s collapse was simply the match in the tinderbox. If other banks had been sufficiently safe and sound at the time of
Lehman’s demise, then the financial system would not have been brought
to its knees by a single failure.
To ensure systemwide resiliency, most of Dodd-Frank’s regulations
should be replaced by measures requiring large, systemically important
banks to increase their capacity to deal with losses. The first step would be
to substantially raise the minimum ratio of the book value of their equity
relative to the book value of their assets.
The Brown-Vitter bill now before Congress (the Terminating Bailouts
for Taxpayer Fairness Act) would raise that minimum ratio to 15 percent,

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

47

roughly a threefold increase from current levels. Although reasonable
people can disagree about the optimal minimum ratio—one could
argue that a 10 percent ratio would be adequate in the presence of
additional safeguards—15 percent is not an arbitrary number.
At the onset of the Great Depression, large New York City banks
all maintained more than 15 percent of their assets in equity, and
none of them succumbed to the worst banking-system shocks in US
history from 1929 to 1932. The losses suffered by major banks in
the recent crisis would not have wiped out their equity if it had been
equal to 15 percent of their assets.
Bankers and their supervisors often find it mutually convenient to
understate expected loan losses and thereby overstate equity values.
The problem is magnified when equity requirements are expressed relative to “risk-weighted assets,” allowing regulators to permit banks’ models to underestimate their risks.

Illustration by Taylor Jones for the Hoover Digest.

Large banks should be forced to hold larger cash reserves.

This is not a hypothetical issue. In December 2008, when Citi was
effectively insolvent and the market’s valuation of its equity correctly
reflected that fact, the bank’s accounts showed a risk-based capital ratio of
11.8 percent and a risk-based Tier 1 capital ratio (meant to include only
high-quality, equity-like capital) of about 7 percent. Moreover, factors
such as a drop in bank fee income can affect the actual value of a bank’s
equity, regardless of the riskiness of its loans.
For these reasons, large banks’ book-equity requirements need to be
buttressed by other measures. One is a minimum requirement that banks
maintain cash reserves (New York City banks during the Depression
maintained cash reserves in excess of 25 percent). Cash held at the central
bank provides protection against default risk similar to equity capital, but
it has the advantage of being observable and incapable of being fudged by
esoteric risk-modeling.
Several researchers have suggested ways to supplement simple equity
and cash requirements with creative contractual devices that would give
bankers strong incentives to make sure they maintain adequate capital.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

49

In the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance (2013), Charles Calomiris
and Richard Herring propose debt that converts to equity whenever the
market value ratio of a bank’s equity is below 9 percent for more than
ninety days. Since the conversion would significantly dilute the value of
the stock held by existing shareholders, a bank CEO would have a big
incentive to avoid it.
Most of Dodd-Frank’s regulations should be replaced by requirements
that large, systemically important banks increase their capacity to deal
with losses.

There is plenty of room to debate the details, but the essential reform is
to place responsibility for absorbing a bank’s losses on banks and their
owners. Dodd-Frank institutionalizes too-big-to-fail protection by explicitly permitting bailouts via a “resolution authority” provision at the discretion of government authorities, financed by taxes on surviving banks—
and by taxpayers should these bank taxes be insufficient. That provision
should be repealed and replaced by clear rules that can’t be gamed by bank
managers.
Reprinted by permission of the Wall Street Journal. © 2014 Dow Jones & Co. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is
Bankruptcy, Not Bailout: A Special Chapter 14, edited
by Kenneth E. Scott and John B. Taylor. To order, call
800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

50

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

T H E E CO N O M Y

Flex Time
How to retain a vibrant economy in a politically dysfunctional system?
Embrace flexibility. By Michael Spence and David W. Brady.

Governments’ inability to act decisively to address growth, employment,
and distributional challenges has emerged as a major source of concern. In
the United States in particular, political polarization, congressional gridlock, and grandstanding have attracted much attention, and many people
worry about the economic consequences.
But as a recent analysis has shown, there is little correlation between a
country’s relative economic performance in several dimensions and how
“functional” its government is. In fact, in the six years since the global
financial crisis erupted, the United States has outperformed advanced
countries in terms of growth, employment, productivity, and unit labor
costs despite a record-high level of political polarization at the national
level.
Of course, one should not paint with too broad a brush. Unemployment is lower in Germany, Canada, and Japan. And America’s income disMichael Spence is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a professor of
economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business, and the Philip H.
Knight Professor Emeritus of Management in the Graduate School of Business at
Stanford University. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic
Sciences in 2001. David W. Brady is deputy director and a Davies Family
Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is also the Bowen H. and Janice
Arthur McCoy Professor of Political Science and Leadership Values at Stanford
University’s Graduate School of Business and a professor of political science at
Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

51

A D AP T IN G T O RAPI D CH ANG E
Our premise is that the global integration and economic growth of a wide
range of developing countries has triggered a multidecade process of profound change. These countries’ presence in the tradable sector of the global economy is affecting relative prices of goods and factors of production,
including both labor and capital. At the same time, declining semiconductor costs have encouraged the proliferation of information and communication technologies that are replacing labor, trimming intermediaries
in supply chains, and reducing routine jobs and lower-value-added jobs
on the tradable side in advanced economies.
These are secular trends that call for forward-looking assessments and
long-term responses. Relatively myopic policy frameworks may have
worked reasonably well in the early postwar period, when the United
States was dominant, and when a group of structurally similar advanced
countries accounted for the vast majority of global output. But they cease
working well when sustaining growth requires behavioral and structural
adaptation to rapid changes in comparative advantage and the value of
various types of human capital.
Whatever the merits of government action, what governments don’t do is
also important.

What, then, accounts for the US economy’s relatively good performance in the post-crisis period? The main factor is the American economy’s underlying structural flexibility.
Deleveraging has occurred faster than in other countries and, more
important, resources and output have quickly shifted to the tradable sector to fill the gap created by persistently weak domestic demand.
52

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

© Reuters/Juan Medina

tribution is more unequal than in most advanced countries, and is trending
the wrong way. Still, in terms of overall relative economic performance, the
United States clearly is not paying a high price for political dysfunction.
Without dismissing the potential value of more decisive policy making,
it seems clear that other factors must be at work. Examining them holds
important lessons for a wide range of countries.

STALKED: Graffiti in central Madrid highlight the problem of joblessness in Spain, which is
among the highest of the eurozone countries. Structural rigidities, including vested interests, limited competition, and social-protection mechanisms, block economic reform in
many countries. By contrast, America’s policy framework seems to have ensured the US
economy’s relatively greater resilience.

This suggests that whatever the merit of government action, what governments do not do is also important. Many countries have policies that
protect sectors or jobs, thereby introducing structural rigidities. The cost
of such policies rises with the need for structural change to sustain growth
and employment (and to recover from unbalanced growth patterns and
shocks).
No country is frictionless in this regard, but there are substantial differences. Relatively speaking, Germany, Northern Europe, the United
Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States are
relatively free of structural rigidities. Japan intends to get there. Southern Europe has a substantial agenda of flexibility-enhancing reform
ahead of it.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

53

Removing structural rigidities is easier said than done. Some stem from
social-protection mechanisms, focused on jobs and sectors rather than
individuals and families. Others reflect policies that simply protect sectors from competition and generate rents and vested interests. In short,
resistance to reform can be substantial precisely because the results have
distributional effects.
Such reform is not market fundamentalism. The goal is not to privatize everything or to uphold the mistaken belief that unregulated markets
are self-regulating. On the contrary, government has a significant role in
structural transitions. But it must also get out of the way.

E U RO P E M U S T A D JU ST
Relative to the United States, Europe has two sets of problems. One is
the need, especially in several southern European countries, to enhance
structural flexibility and boost productivity. In the euro’s first decade, the
southern economies’ unit labor costs diverged from those in Germany
and the north, with growth sustained either by excess public debt and the
government component of domestic aggregate demand or, in the case of
Spain, by a leveraged housing bubble. In the absence of the exchange-rate
mechanism, resetting the system to allow the tradable sectors to generate
growth involves painful relative deflation, a process that takes longer in a
low-inflation environment.
Clearly the United States isn’t paying a high economic price for political
dysfunction.

Second, the eurozone permits these divergences because policies that
affect growth are decentralized. The common currency and monetary
policy are in constant tension with decentralized policy making on taxation, public sector investment, and social policies—all of which affect
countries’ structural flexibility. Moreover, the single market is relatively
complete in goods but not in services.
This is not a stable situation. Europe eventually must gravitate either
toward deeper political, fiscal, and policy integration or toward a structure

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Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

that includes adjustment mechanisms—for example, greater labor mobility—to accommodate divergences in productivity.
Many countries, not only in Europe, must undergo structural adjustment to achieve sustainable growth patterns. All advanced economies’
structures and portfolios of employment opportunities are facing similar
competitive and technological forces, and all are tending to shift income
toward the upper end of the distribution and toward owners of capital.
The cross-country differences in performance partly reflect past policy
choices affecting the speed of adjustment. Initial conditions matter, and
in this respect America’s policy framework seems to have ensured the US
economy’s relatively higher resilience not only to the global crisis, but also
to domestic political volatility.
Structural flexibility is not the whole answer; higher levels of public
sector investment would also help generate sustainable recovery, especially
in the advanced countries. But, with severe fiscal constraints in many
countries likely to delay that element of the policy response, flexibilityenhancing reforms are the right place to start.
Reprinted by permission of Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org). © 2014 Project Syndicate Inc.
All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Death
Grip: Loosening the Law’s Stranglehold over Economic
Liberty, by Clint Bolick. To order, call 800.888.4741 or
visit www.hooverpress.org.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

55

T H E EC ONOM Y

The Bad News in the
Good Jobs Numbers
The economy is creating more jobs, but shorter workweeks have
wiped out the gains. By Edward Paul Lazear.

The length of the average workweek is a key statistic for understanding the
labor market, although it is often overlooked. Small changes in the average
workweek imply large changes in total hours worked.
The average workweek in the United States fell to 34.2 hours in February from 34.5 hours in September 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor
Statistics. That decline, coupled with mediocre job creation, implies that
the total hours of employment actually decreased over the period, despite
job-creation numbers that some found encouraging.
Job creation rose from an initial 113,000 in January (later revised to
129,000) to 175,000 in February. The February number was cheered, even
though it was below the prior twelve-month average of 189,000, and most
commentators viewed it as an indication that the labor market is on a favorable
growth path. But a more careful reading, taking the workweek into account,
shows that employment fell as it had in four of the previous six months and in
more than one-third of the months during the past two years.
The labor market’s strength and economic activity are better measured by the number of total hours worked than by the number of people
Edward Paul Lazear is the Morris Arnold and Nona Jean Cox Senior Fellow
at the Hoover Institution, co-chair of Hoover’s Conte Initiative on Immigration
Reform, and the Jack Steele Parker Professor of Human Resources Management
and Economics at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

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Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

employed. An employer who replaces 100 forty-hours-per-week workers
with 120 twenty-hours-per-week workers is contracting, not expanding,
operations. The same is true at the national level.
The total hours worked per week is obtained by multiplying the reported average workweek hours by the number of workers employed. The
decline in the average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm
payrolls by 0.3 hours—offset partially by the increase in the number of
people working—means that real labor usage on net fell by the equivalent
of 100,000 jobs since September.
Here’s a fuller explanation. The job-equivalence number is computed
simply by taking the total decline in hours and dividing by the average
workweek. For example, if the average worker were employed for 34.4
hours and total hours worked declined by 344 hours, the 344 hours would
be the equivalent of losing ten workers’ worth of labor. Thus, although the
US economy added about 900,000 jobs since September, the shortened
workweek is equivalent to losing about a million jobs during this same
period. The difference between the loss of the equivalent of a million jobs
and the gain of 900,000 new jobs yields a net effect of the equivalent of
100,000 lost jobs.
One possible explanation for the declining workweek is the Affordable
Care Act.

The decline of a tenth of an hour in the average workweek—say, to
34.2 from 34.3, as occurred between January and February—is like losing
about 340,000 private nonfarm jobs, which is approximately 80 percent
greater than the average monthly job gain during the past year. The reverse
is also true. In months when the average workweek rises, the jobs numbers understate the amount of labor growth. That did occur earlier in the
recovery, with a general upward trend in the average workweek between
October 2009 and February 2012.
What accounts for the declining average workweek? In some instances—but not this one—a minor drop could be the result of a statistical
fluke caused by rounding. Because the Bureau of Labor Statistics only
reports hours to the nearest tenth, a small movement, say, to 34.449 hours

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

57

from 34.450 hours, would be reported as a reduction in hours worked to
34.4 from 34.5, vastly overstating the loss in worked time. But the sixmonth decline in the workweek, to 34.2 from 34.5 hours, cannot be the
consequence of a rounding error.
The reverse is also true: when the average workweek rises, the jobs
numbers understate labor growth.

Was it the harsh winter in much of the United States? One problem
with that explanation is that the numbers are already seasonally adjusted.
Imperfections in the adjustment method can result in weather effects, but
the magnitude is far from clear, especially given that parts of the West, Midwest, and South experienced milder-than-normal weather, with fewer business-reducing storms. Also, the shortening of the workweek began before
the winter set in, with declines in hours from September to October.
Another possibility for the declining average workweek is the Affordable Care Act. That law induces businesses with fewer than fifty full-time
employees—full-time defined as thirty hours per week—to keep the
number of hours low to avoid having to provide health insurance. The
jury is still out on this explanation, but research by Luis Garicano, Claire
Le­Large, and John Van Reenen (National Bureau of Economic Research,
February 2013) has shown that laws that can be evaded by keeping firms
small or hours low can have significant effects on employment.
The improvement in average weekly hours worked was reason for celebration after the recovery began. The recent decline is cause for concern.
It gives us a more accurate but dismal picture.
Reprinted by permission of the Wall Street Journal. © 2014 Dow Jones & Co. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is
Government Policies and the Delayed Economic
Recovery, edited by Lee E. Ohanian, John B. Taylor, and
Ian J. Wright. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

58

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

H E AL T H CAR E

The US Workforce,
Wasting Away
Health insurance subsidies that drive Americans out of the workforce?
Bad medicine. By Charles Blahous.

In February, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report
that instantly became the focus of intense controversy and competing political spin. The report found that the Affordable Care Act (the
ACA, or ObamaCare) would reduce US employment by the equivalent of 2 million full-time workers by 2017 and 2.5 million by 2024.
This news landed amid the polarizing politics surrounding the health
care act, with commentators choosing sides according to their attitudes toward the law.
When the CBO findings are viewed from the lens of our larger economic-policy challenges, it becomes clear that this consequence of the ACA is
unambiguously bad, as well as unnecessary and warranting of bipartisan
correction. ObamaCare supporters are certainly justified in pointing to
the good that comes from the law’s provision of subsidized health coverage
to low-income Americans (this good would be greater if the ACA’s focus
were solely on health rather than health insurance, but that is a debate
for another day). But a law that causes many Americans to stay out of the
workforce altogether to retain insurance subsidies is unequivocally a problem, irrespective of one’s general attitude toward the law.
Charles Blahous is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center, and one of two public trustees for the Social
Security and Medicare programs.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

59

To clarify, let’s step back from the debate over the ACA for a moment
and examine the state of our economy.

CO N V E R G I N G P RO B LE MS
Our prosperity derives from two basic factors: first, how much Americans
work, and second, how productive we are while working. Anything that
systematically reduces either factor lowers the standard of living Americans experience as a group; it means that our economy will be smaller,
federal deficits will be larger, financing shortfalls in programs like Social
Security will be larger, and so on.
Perhaps America’s biggest economic problem right now is that workers
are leaving the labor force by the millions. Part of the worker drain is due
to an aging population and was widely anticipated. But other factors make
the exodus much worse than foreseen.
In 2007, we knew we had a significant problem on the horizon: the
baby boomers would begin to leave the workforce. The net annual growth
of our labor force would slow and our economic growth would slow right
along with it. Unfortunately, the labor force has shrunk much more than
we anticipated. The number of workers dropped through the floorboards,
and economic growth fell alongside it. The current expectation—some
would say hope—is that these numbers will rebound in the middle of the
current decade. Even so, the increases would be nowhere near enough to
offset recent damage both to the labor force and to the economy.
Part of the explanation for the drops in economic growth and the labor
force is the arrival of the great recession, which caused unemployment to
rise just as many boomers were starting to retire. But other phenomena
also entered the picture.
Persuading Americans to stay out of the workforce altogether to retain
insurance subsidies is a problem, no question.

Social Security disability awards skyrocketed, as often happens (albeit
usually to a lesser extent) during a recession. This means that many people
who otherwise would have continued to look for work are now extremely
unlikely ever to return to the labor force.
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Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

Our sagging economy also caused net immigration to plummet,
further depressing the ranks of workers. People are much less likely
to arrive within our borders—whether legally or illegally—to join an
economy in which it is tough to find work. Recently immigration has
recovered, but not nearly enough to replace the immigrants lost from
2007 to 2011.
On top of those changes, there is a deeply concerning phenomenon of
“discouraged workers”—those who have simply given up finding work.
Put all these factors together and we now have an economy with far too
few workers. The CBO’s latest projections for labor-force participation are
sobering indeed.
Early in the War on Poverty, federal assistance to the poor disrupted their
movement up the ranks of the workforce. We must remember that lesson.

Inadequate labor-force participation has long been a central concern of
economists on both sides of the political aisle. The problem of individuals heading into permanent retirement undesirably early has prompted
efforts by myself, former Obama OMB director Peter Orszag, former
Obama OMB official Jeff Liebman, former acting SSA deputy commissioner Jason Fichtner, and many other esteemed economists to correct
flawed work incentives facing middle-aged Americans.

I N C EN T IV E S F O R WO R K
Those who leave the workforce at younger ages constitute an even more
serious problem. Former Bureau of Labor Statistics commissioner Keith
Hall has noted how important it is for young adults’ prospects that they
join the workforce soon after leaving school. The left-leaning Center for
American Progress think tank expressed similar concerns:
Some of the negative impacts of high youth unemployment are already
clear: young people are increasingly failing to make payments on their
student loans, delaying saving for retirement, and moving back home
with their parents. Other consequences will be felt long into the future.
According to our analysis, a young person who experiences a six-month

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

61

period of unemployment can expect to miss out on at least $45,000 in
wages—about $23,000 for the period of unemployment and an additional $22,000 in lagging wages over the next decade due to time spent
unemployed.

Until the recent CBO report was released, the Obama White House
had also been a part of the bipartisan consensus that employment is the
key to economic advancement. National Economic Council director
Gene Sperling said this in January:
I think there’s no question over the past fifty years things have been done
wrong, but I think we’ve learned from lessons. I think that both Democrats and Republicans have learned . . . to make sure about the incentives you’re creating and that policies are better if they are designed to
reward work. One of the reasons the earned-income tax credit has been
so important is that it’s an incentive for work. You get that assistance as
you are working.

Both Sperling and the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers chair, Jason Furman, have routinely emphasized the importance of
government’s helping those who are “actively looking for work.” This is
no accident. Earlier in the War on Poverty, federal assistance to the poor
was structured with insufficient attention to whether it disrupted Americans’ movements up the ranks of the workforce, contributing to a cycle
of despair and unrest. Federal policy makers learned something from that
experience about how to assist those in need. It is especially important
now to remember those lessons.
Many people who otherwise would have kept looking for work are now
unlikely ever to return.

The ACA did not by itself cause our declining labor-force problem,
though it is now understood to be making it worse. Importantly, the
labor-force decline is not—as some have claimed—a desirable effect of
ending “job lock” (being stuck in a bad job because of the need to maintain health insurance). Alternative reform proposals would have enhanced

62

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

health insurance portability, lessening the dependence of insurance on
employment status, without having anti-employment effects. Former
president George W. Bush and presidential candidate John McCain made
such proposals. They would not have imposed a high marginal tax rate on
employment income.
Given the central role of the ACA in our national political dialogue, it’s
inevitable that advocates will try to spin the CBO report according to how
they want the ACA to be perceived. But when the spinning is done, there’s
no avoiding reality: we simply cannot afford policies that drive our sagging labor-force participation even further downward.
Reprinted by permission of e21. © 2014 Economic Policies for the 21st Century. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Pension
Wise: Confronting Employer Pension Underfunding—
And Sparing Taxpayers the Next Bailout, by Charles
Blahous. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

63

P O L IT IC S

When a Majority Isn’t
a Mandate
Odd though it sounds, the winner-take-all electoral system sometimes
lets political parties ignore the voters’ views. Gridlock might have a
silver lining. By Morris P. Fiorina.

Frustration with the current state of American government is widespread
in the electorate, the commentariat, and the academic community. Public
appraisal of government in general and Congress in particular plumbs
new depths. The public and the media agree that the current Congress is
“the worst ever.” Academic commentators consider—and in some cases
advocate—significant institutional reforms, even constitutional revisions.
Although I share in the general frustration, I am loath to support the
large-scale institutional changes proposed by some of our colleagues. In
fact, institutional changes that reduce the checks on today’s governing
majorities may have the paradoxical effect of moving public policy further
from what a majority of voters would prefer.
One widely discussed argument runs along the following lines. In recent
decades the United States has evolved responsible parties that historically are
more characteristic of parliamentary democracies. Such parties are highly
cohesive and reflexively oppose any policies advocated by their opposition.
While other democracies may function satisfactorily with such parties, the
United States does not have the institutional structure of a parliamentary
democracy. In two-party (an important caveat) parliamentary democracies
Morris P. Fiorina is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Wendt
Family Professor of Political Science at Stanford University.

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Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

such as Britain and Germany, the party that wins the most seats in the legislature automatically wins the executive (except, inconveniently, when there
are a bit more than two parties, as is currently the case in both countries). In
parliamentary democracies, parliamentary majorities toe the line set by the
executive, and there are no powerful independent judiciaries. The majority
can govern—and be held accountable.
The United States, in contrast, has checks and balances and powers
shared by presidents, representatives, and senators, all of whom are independently elected (set aside the unusually powerful courts for this discussion).
The system abounds with veto points that enable organized interests and
intense minorities to block action. If one accepts this argument, the obvious
solution is to simplify the institutional structure to drastically reduce the
number of veto points and instill a common purpose in elected officials. So,
abolish the filibuster. Restrict campaign finance. Make House and Senate
terms the same length, and elect representatives and senators at the same
time as the president. Empower the presidency. Unleash the majority.
“Letting the majority rule” when clear majorities don’t exist might
strengthen minor parties.

But what if there is no majority? In the terminology of political science,
our single-member, simple-plurality electoral system manufactures majorities. But the fact that the winners in two-party competition get more votes
or seats than the losers by no means guarantees that the winners’ positions
are those actually favored by a majority of the voters, only that those positions are likely to be preferred to those of the losers. Consider abortion. The
2012 Republican platform plank stated essentially: never, no exceptions.
The Democratic platform plank stated the opposite: any time, for any reason. How many Americans would want a government in which either a
powerful Democratic or Republican government was able to enact its abortion platform plank? Given public opinion on the issue, 75 to 80 percent
would answer in the negative. Unleashing the majority would unleash a
policy with nothing approximating majority support among voters.
Abortion may be an extreme issue, but public-opinion data suggest
that on other issues as well—immigration, deficit reduction, environmen-

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

65

tal and energy issues—majorities of Americans would prefer something
between the polar programs advocated by the bases of the two parties.
This has contributed to the voter backlash observed in recent episodes of
unified control of government.
Roughly speaking, Democrats build their electoral coalition from
the left and Republicans from the right, but given the generally centrist
distribution of public opinion, each
must capture enough of the
center to win. Once in
office, if the

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Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

Illustration by Taylor Jones for the Hoover Digest.

party governs as its base demands, marginal members of the electoral
majority defect. The result of this party overreach is the 2006 Republican
“thumpin’ ” and the 2010 Democratic “shellacking.”
The preponderance of political-science thinking about responsible
party government reflects the experience of twentieth-century Britain, a
far more homogeneous society than the United States, where political
conflict took place largely across a simple economic redistribution divide.
Such conditions provided a maximal opportunity for elections to produce
clear majorities. Nevertheless, in my undergraduate courses decades ago,
professors noted the instability of British policy (let’s nationalize, no—
denationalize, then nationalize again) as a reason to prefer American institutions to British.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

67

Moreover, the old thinking may well be dated. In their recent elections the winning parties in Britain and Germany failed to win a majority
of seats and were forced into protracted negotiations and uncomfortable
compromises before forming governments. Perversely, the result of “letting the majority rule” when clear majorities do not exist might well be
the strengthening of minor parties.
There’s no guarantee that a majority of voters actually favor the winners’
positions.

The current state of American government reflects a cumulation of economic and demographic developments that have created new tensions
and problems and strained old political coalitions. Unlike the true believers who dominate the two parties, many Americans have lost faith in the
old solutions but are uncertain about what new paths to follow.
By no means am I happy with the status quo. This country faces serious
problems. How long before the political system seriously addresses the
problems of pensions and health care, immigration, an increasingly inefficient tax system, and a variety of other problems? But failing to deal with
them may be no worse than attempting to deal with them in ways that do
not have anything approaching majority support in the electorate. However unsatisfying the present state of affairs, voters may prefer muddling
along to ping-ponging between two minorities that attempt to govern
entirely by their own lights.
Reprinted by permission of the Washington Post. © 2014 Washington Post Co. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is TwoFer: Electing a President and a Supreme Court, by
Clint Bolick. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

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Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

PO L I T I CS

How to Bring
Conservatives Together
Raise the banner of individual liberty and govern under it. By Peter
Berkowitz.

American conservatism has the opportunity to become a governing majority, but it confronts a fateful choice. President Obama put on a brave face
in his latest State of the Union address, but his administration is flailing.
It shows few signs of regaining control over a domestic agenda in disarray
and a foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, vacillating incoherently between sentimental moralism and a cynical realism. The president’s
approval ratings suggest that a majority of Americans are open to an alternative.
A sober and reform-minded conservatism could very well fit the bill. It
would focus on promoting opportunity and economic growth. It would
present alternatives—rooted in the free market and in the laboratories of
democracy of the state capitals—for expanding health insurance coverage
and lowering health care costs. It would reconstruct America’s massive and
debt-ridden entitlement programs.
It would repair a broken educational system. It would ensure that the
associations of civil society—family, religious institutions, and the thousands of voluntary associations Americans form—have the breathing
space they need to serve as an expression of and training ground for freePeter Berkowitz is the Tad and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, chair of Hoover’s Jean Perkins Task Force on National Security and Law,
and a member of Hoover’s working groups on military history and foreign policy.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

69

dom. And it would reground US foreign policy in a realistic assessment
of the threats America faces, the capabilities America can marshal, and
the responsibilities—flowing from its interests and ideals—that America
should shoulder.

CO R RO S I V E OP P O SI TI O N
However, if conservative commentators, candidates, and officeholders
indulge their penchant for angry bravado and self-righteous speechifying,
they may consign their movement—and the Republican Party—to the role
of permanent opposition. It is hard to see how such a choice would advance
the public interest, especially as conservatives understand it. Petulant sniping from the sidelines at progressive majorities will do little to halt the
expansion of government or the accompanying increase in the dependency
of individuals on laws and regulations promulgated in Washington.
In a wise essay in the winter issue of National Affairs, “A Conservative
Vision of Government,” Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson and
Ethics and Public Policy Center senior fellow Peter Wehner argue that if
conservatives opt to become the party of no, they will do more than commit electoral suicide. They will also betray their finest principles, deepest
commitments, and best historical achievements.
Gerson and Wehner appreciate the temptation, “given the provocations
of the last five years,” for many of those who vote Republican to decry
the Obama administration’s “federal power grabs” and huge run-up of the
national debt. “In many ways,” the authors write, “the populist and libertarian reactions to the Obama presidency are understandable, helpful, and
quintessentially American.”
Conservative commentators, candidates, and officeholders need to rein in
their penchant for angry bravado and speechifying.

Yet protests against the increasing size, scope, and cost of government
are not enough, the authors maintain, and in many cases conservatives
have taken them too far. The proper conservative response to left-liberal
government overreach is not “the fierce antigovernment fervor” that has
marked so much right-wing rhetoric of late, but rather a positive govern70

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

ing vision based on a sound understanding of government’s proper role in
the American constitutional tradition.
The tea party movement, Gerson and Wehner emphasize, has performed
an immensely salutary service by insisting on the importance of returning
to the Constitution and recovering an understanding of the form of government that it establishes and the principles it institutionalizes.
Tea party activists, however, have also promulgated two profound misunderstandings of the Constitution. First, while rightly insisting on the
importance to the founders of limited government, they have neglected
the significance the framers also attached to a national government supple
and strong enough to carry out its essential tasks.
Second, while contending that close attention should be paid to the
original meaning of constitutional text, tea party leaders have often
confused original meaning with a crude literal interpretation of that
document.

P E R M A N EN T PR I NCI PLE S, NE W APPR OAC HES
To determine the original meaning of constitutional provisions it is
important to appreciate the theory of politics and government on which
the Constitution is based. For this understanding, there is no better single
source than the exposition and defense of the Constitution provided, fast
on the heels of the Philadelphia convention of 1787, by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison in The Federalist.
For example, The Federalist teaches that the original Constitution embodied numerous compromises—between small states and large states, between
proponents of a more powerful central government and critics of government’s
centralizing tendencies, and, most painfully, between opponents and defenders of slavery—all while structuring government to promote compromise.
It explains how the Constitution recognizes and, to the extent possible,
seeks to ease, tensions characteristic of free societies and it illuminates the
flexibility that the founders built into the joints of government. It also
highlights the vital capacity the Constitution confers on the three branches, in their cooperation and competition, to apply permanent principles
of liberty and self-government in novel ways to meet the exigencies arising
out of ever-changing circumstances.
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71

Gerson and Wehner remind us that “no president revered the founders
as much” as Abraham Lincoln, who combined a devotion to individual
liberty with an appreciation of government’s larger national purposes.
Accordingly, Lincoln believed that it was in keeping with the founders’ design for the federal government to promote liberty by building
the transcontinental railroad, creating land-grant colleges, passing the
National Banking Act, and imposing temporary federal personal income
taxes to finance the cost of the Civil War.
The aim of reforming government is not to immobilize it.

Lincoln waged war to affirm limits on state sovereignty, establish federal government supremacy, and preserve the Union. Our sixteenth president thereby overturned the founding compromise on slavery in favor of
the view that treating human beings as property was irreconcilable with
the truth expressed in America’s other great founding document, namely
that all human beings are by nature free and equal.

A SP I R I T OF C ONSE R V ATI V E R E FO R M
Conservatives today are wary, and rightly so, about left-liberal ambitions
to use the government to advance pet Democratic Party programs. Nevertheless, Gerson and Wehner urge conservatives not to draw the extreme
conclusion that government must maintain strict moral neutrality. While
government’s role in shaping character through law is necessarily limited
in a free society, some influence is unavoidable.
For example, laws regarding civil rights, crime and incarceration, welfare, marriage, and religious liberty cannot help but mold citizens’ habits
of heart and mind. Responsible conservative lawmakers will take this reality into account in designing laws that bolster, or at least avoid weakening, those institutions—particularly the family, schools, and local community—that play so large a part in shaping the moral habits on which
free societies depend.
Conservatives, the authors maintain, justly focus on equality of opportunity and resist the left-liberal quest to use government to bring about
equality of result. But conservatives would be wrong to suppose that equal72

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

ity of opportunity implies no task for government, or merely the exercise of
restraint by government. Instead, conservatives must take to heart that level
playing fields do not occur naturally. They are made by the collaborative
and deliberate efforts of human beings, including government efforts.
In 2014, maintaining level playing fields for a diverse nation of 320 million souls requires a variety of reforms constructed to advance individual
liberty and consistent with limited government. These include, according
to Gerson and Wehner, achieving broad access to modern health care;
decreasing extreme economic inequality while increasing social mobility;
renovating the nation’s physical infrastructure; streamlining the tax code;
modernizing immigration laws; and fitting entitlement programs with
contemporary interests and enduring constitutional principles.
Gerson and Wehner find the spirit of conservative reform alive and well
at the state level. They laud Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s transformation of the laws governing public sector workers; Ohio governor John
Kasich’s job creation and budget balancing; Louisiana governor Bobby
Jindal’s promotion of school choice; and New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s imposition of fiscal order and strengthening of public education.
Conservatism can advance the public interest—and its own—by bringing this spirit of reform to the national level. Conservatives should continue to lead the way in reforming government by restraining and re-limiting it. The aim of reforming government is not to immobilize it, but
rather to make it more capable of enacting and executing the wide-ranging
and constantly shifting reforms necessary for the enjoyment and defense
of liberty.
Reprinted by permission of Real Clear Politics. © 2014 RealClearPolitics. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Israel and
the Struggle over the International Laws of War, by Peter
Berkowitz. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

73

P O L IT IC S

Why House
Republicans Don’t
Need the Gerrymander
Commissions can redraw district lines all they like. The GOP would
almost certainly retain a majority in the House. By Jowei Chen and
Jonathan Rodden.

Do the Republicans owe their current congressional majority to gerrymandering? At first glance, it seems self-evident that they do. In the 2012
election, the Democrats won the popular votes for the presidency, the
Senate, and the House of Representatives. But somehow in the House—
for whose seats Republicans controlled the redistricting process in many
crucial states—the Republicans managed to end up with a sixteen-seat
majority despite losing the popular vote.
The presumption among many reformers is that the Democrats would
control Congress today if the 2012 election had been contested in districts
drawn by nonpartisan commissioners rather than politicians.
But is this true? Another possibility is that Democrats receive more
votes than seats because so many of their voters reside in dense cities that
Democratic candidates win with overwhelming majorities, while RepubliJowei Chen is a W. Glenn Campbell and Rita Ricardo-Campbell National
Fellow at the Hoover Institution and an assistant professor of political science at
the University of Michigan. Jonathan Rodden is a senior fellow at the Hoover
Institution and a professor of political science at Stanford University.

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Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

can voters are more evenly distributed across exurbs and the rural periphery. Perhaps even a nonpartisan redistricting process would still have delivered the House to the Republicans.
To examine this hypothesis, we adapted a computer algorithm that we
recently introduced in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science. It allows
us to draw thousands of alternative, nonpartisan redistricting plans and
assess the partisan advantage built into each plan. First we created a large
number of districting plans (as many as one thousand) for each of fortynine states. Then we predicted the probability that a Democrat or Republican would win each simulated district based on the results of the 2008
presidential election and tallied the expected Republican seats associated
with each simulated plan.
Many Democratic voters live in dense cities that Democratic candidates
win overwhelmingly. Republican voters are more evenly distributed
across exurbs and rural areas.

The results were not encouraging for reform advocates. In the vast
majority of states, our nonpartisan simulations produced Republican seat
shares that were not much different from the actual numbers in the last
election. This was true even in some states, like Indiana and Missouri,
with heavy Republican influence over redistricting. Both of these states
were hotly contested and leaned only slightly Republican overall, but
of the seventeen seats between them, only four were won by Democrats
(in St. Louis, Kansas City, Gary, and Indianapolis). While some of our
simulations generated an additional Democratic seat around St. Louis or
Indianapolis, most of them did not, and in any case, a vanishingly small
number of simulations gave Democrats a congressional seat share commensurate with their overall support in these states.
The problem for Democrats is that they have overwhelming majorities
not only in the dense, poor urban centers but also in isolated, far-flung
college towns, historical mining areas, and nineteenth-century manufacturing towns that are surrounded by and ultimately overwhelmed by rural
Republicans.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

75

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Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

Illustration by Taylor Jones for the Hoover Digest.

A motivated Democratic cartographer could produce districts that
accurately reflected overall partisanship in states like these by carefully
crafting the metropolitan districts and snaking districts along the historic
canals and rail lines that once connected the nonmetropolitan Democratic
enclaves. But such districts are unlikely to emerge by chance from a nonpartisan process.
On the other hand, a Republican cartographer in these and other Midwestern states, along with some Southern states like Georgia and Tennes-

see, could do little to improve on the advantage bestowed by the existing
human geography.
By no means does this imply that critics of gerrymandering are always
wrong. In the states most frequently derided as overt Republican gerrymanders, our analysis shows that gerrymandering has indeed given the
Republicans additional seats beyond the already pro-Republican average
of our simulations. Most notable are North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Michigan.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

77

But keep in mind that Democrats play this game too. For example,
by artfully dividing up Chicago into pie-sliced districts extending from
Lake Michigan into the suburbs, the Illinois Democrats have done better for themselves than the outcome of our nonpartisan simulations. The
Democrats have achieved something similar in Maryland. And in what
will come as a surprise to many in the reform community, California’s
redistricting commission produced multiple Democratic seats beyond the
predictions of our simulations. Evidently the enormous and sophisticated
lobbying efforts of California Democrats were successful.
All told, the Republican seat share emerging from the 2012 election
exceeds our simulation predictions by only a small handful of seats: not
nearly enough to deliver Congress to the Democrats.
California’s redistricting commission produced more Democratic seats
than our simulations predicted.

In short, the Democrats’ geography problem is bigger than their gerrymandering problem. We do not mean to imply that the absurd practice
of allowing incumbents to draw electoral districts should continue. Rather, we suggest that unless they are prepared to take more radical steps that
would require a party’s seat share to approximate its vote share, reformers
in many states may not get the results they are expecting.
Reprinted by permission of the New York Times. © 2014 The New York Times Co. All rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is The New Deal
and Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry,
by Gordon Lloyd and David Davenport. To order, call
800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

78

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

WAR F AR E

Drones and the Next
War
Drones revolutionized aerial warfare—but so did zeppelins. Why
strategists should exercise caution in relying on the latest weapon
or tactic. By Thomas Donnelly.

In 1907, just four years after the Wright brothers had flown a few hundred yards across the beaches of North Carolina, H. G. Wells imagined
The War in the Air. In Wells’s dark fantasy, the German empire employs
a fleet of airships to pre-emptively attack the United States, its only
potential scientific, industrial, and geopolitical peer. The German target
was New York.
Something had dropped from the aeroplane, something that looked small
and flimsy. A little man was sprinting along the sidewalk within half a
dozen yards, and two or three others and one woman were bolting across
the roadway. They were odd little figures, so very small were they about
the heads, so very active about the elbows and legs. It was really funny to
see their legs going. Foreshortened, humanity has no dignity. . . .
Then blinding flames squirted out in all directions from the point of
impact, and the little man who had jumped became, for an instant, a
flash of fire and vanished—vanished absolutely. The people running out

Thomas Donnelly is a member of the Hoover Institution’s Working Group
on the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict. He is the director
of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise
Institute.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

79

into the road took preposterous clumsy leaps, then flopped down and lay
still, with their torn clothes smouldering into flame. . . .
In this manner the massacre of New York began. She was the first of the
great cities of the Scientific Age to suffer by the enormous powers and
grotesque limitations of aerial warfare.

The experience of World War I, in which the limitations of air power
quickly became apparent, did little to stem the enthusiasm for what was
thought to be a revolution in the art of war. Even supposedly professional
military literature tended toward a combination, as Phillip Meilinger has
written, of “boy’s adventure story and the apocalyptic vision of future
war.” Thus Major General James E. Fechet, who had been the chief of the
US Army Air Corps, could write in 1933:
It takes no gazing into a crystal ball to visualize a huge trade center such as
New York City completely paralyzed if not entirely destroyed, razed, and
depopulated in a single day by a very few flying machines. . . . Obviously
the airman, riding so high above the earth that cities look like anthills, cannot aim his deadly cargo at armed males. All below will be his impartial
target . . . the women and children and working men, extra-military, are
the ones who will suffer. Extended areas will be completely depopulated.
We may safely forecast that the next war will be won or lost by air effort.

British Air Commodore L. E. O. Charlton put Fechet in the shade by
writing three books on “how air attack would turn urban populations into
panic-stricken mobs,” in Meilinger’s words. By the time of 1937’s The Menace of the Clouds, Charlton “had so frightened himself with these tales of
catastrophe” that he called for complete air disarmament, with the League
of Nations commanding an international air force lest any country attempt
a Wellsian pre-emption.
Nothing has captured the public imagination or excited the futurists more
than remotely guided systems.

The present day has been equally disposed to see epochal change on the
horizon. The “revolution in military affairs” of the 1990s ushered in the pro80

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

liferation of information technologies, leading to a “transparent battlefield”
dominated by long-range precision strike systems. In 2001, newly elected
president George W. Bush selected Donald Rumsfeld to be his “secretary of
transformation” at the Pentagon. In place of an assertion of traditional US
national security goals or an assessment of external threats, Rumsfeld called
for a “capabilities-based approach.” In Foreign Affairs, he explained: “It’s like
dealing with burglars: you cannot possibly know who wants to break into
your home, or when. But you do know how they might try to get in.”
Most drones can’t survive in contested airspace, in the face of
functioning—let alone sophisticated—modern air defense systems.

The failures of the Rumsfeld way of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have
done nothing to quell the impulse to view modern war as a profound
departure from the past. Even the terrorists and insurgents—who used the
Internet for everything from recruiting to command and control, airliners
as guided missiles, and car bombs as improvised explosive devices—were
thought to be uniquely innovative. And the Internet itself has become a
new domain of “cyberwar.”
But nothing has captured the public imagination or excited the futurists
more than unmanned systems. The Star Wars series has come to life in the
age of drone wars. And like H. G. Wells and the air-power advocates of the
early twentieth century, today’s drone-power theorists combine hyperbole
with analysis. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Robert Latiff and Patrick
McCloskey warned that “America [was] approach[ing] the Robo-Rubicon”
and that the increasing use of unmanned systems was “part of a revolution in
war-fighting.” David Cortright led a debate sponsored by the Cato Institute
by declaring that the “accelerating use of drones has opened a new chapter in
the history of warfare.” Anna Mulrine wrote of “war’s remote-control future”
in the Christian Science Monitor. Even the relentlessly sober Economist predicts that “the future of air power belongs to unmanned systems.”
While there’s no question that unmanned systems, particularly aerial systems, have played a large role in the counterterrorism campaign of the past
decade, it’s critical to distinguish between which features of the drone war are
contingent and thus likely to be transitory and which indicate a larger trend.

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FI LL IN G T HE S K IE S
The increase in the use of unmanned aircraft by the US military over the past
decade has been truly stunning. The number of drones fielded by the four
American services numbers in the thousands. There is a huge variety of aerial
vehicles, but the flagships and workhorses of the unmanned fleet, without
question, are the MQ-1 Predator and its big brother, the MQ-9 Reaper, both
built by the aeronautical branch of General Atomics, which itself was once a
division of General Dynamics known for nuclear research. These two aircraft
were originally used as reconnaissance systems, but with the addition of various munitions, beginning with the laser-guided Hellfire missile—an antitank
missile developed for the Apache attack helicopter—the hunter also became a
killer. The larger Reaper has a payload several times that of the Predator.
The Predator and Reaper combine a particular set of capabilities, but
especially the ability to loiter slowly over a small area, that
suited the needs of both the US intelligence

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Illustration by Taylor Jones for the Hoover Digest.

And, indeed, what may prove
most permanent is the way in which the use of
unmanned systems is changing American and Western attitudes about the
use of military power. This last point may contain the real revolution.

community and the military
as operations in Afghanistan and Iraq
became protracted, irregular conflicts intertwined with the
global hunt for Osama bin Laden and other senior terrorist leaders. The
Obama administration, always looking to emphasize counterterrorism over
counterinsurgency, turned to drones in an even bigger way. By the end of
2011, the US Air Force had established a requirement for two hundred and
forty drone “orbits” or CAPs—combat air patrols—each consisting of four
Predators or Reapers. Taking into account spares, losses, and maintenance
requirements, the total would exceed five hundred aircraft.
The Air Force also has built a number of larger drones with longer
range and more sophisticated capabilities. The most prevalent is the RQ-4
Global Hawk, but there is also a rapidly evolving family of long-range,
low-observable “Tier III” unmanned aircraft: the RQ-3 DarkStar, the
RQ-170 Sentinel (which crashed in Iran in December 2011), and now
the RQ-180, the subject of much speculation in the aviation and defense
press. The need for these Tier III aircraft also points out one of the critical
limitations of the Predator and Reaper: they cannot survive in contested
airspace, in the face of functioning—let alone sophisticated—
modern air defense systems.

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Thus, as the mission winds down in Afghanistan, in particular, the Air
Force and the other services have an unbalanced fleet, with far too many
low-end drones and not enough high-end ones of the sort that would be
most useful for operations in East Asia, for example.
Current drone operations demand clear airwaves and clear, near-earth
space as well as clear skies. Even the most sophisticated and stealthy
unmanned aircraft are controlled from command centers such as Creech
Air Force Base in Nevada. Video and other signals sent by the drones must
be relayed—mostly by satellite—to the center, and instructions, including
firing commands, must flow back to the aircraft. Already these signals are
subject to latency, or a time lag, because of the great distances involved,
and the satellites themselves are vulnerable to electronic warfare, dazzling,
or antisatellite weapons.
We have become dangerously addicted to the unmanned way of war.

In sum, the cost and effectiveness of drone operations is a much more
complex equation than enthusiasts care to consider. The cost of a Predator
is indeed a fraction of an F-16 or an F/A-18, but so is its utility. Global
Hawks are more expensive than these “fourth generation” planes, and the
costs of the Tier III drones are probably equal to or greater than a “fifth
generation” F-35. Developing an unmanned capability—not only an air
vehicle but the network to operate it—that could counter the kinds of
anti-access or area-denial challenges posed by China’s military modernization is years away and at least tens of billions of dollars distant.

A H O L D I N G P A T TE R N
The US armed forces have developed a dominant drone force for the wars
they are trying to end. It’s not clear that the legacy fleet can be easily
adapted for use against an Al-Qaeda that is growing and metastasizing,
and the fleet is certainly a wasting asset in more challenging technological
scenarios. The revolution is still incomplete.
Nonetheless, the United States has become dangerously addicted to
the unmanned way of war. The attraction of a technology that combines
seeming precision and low risk, particularly to American military lives, is
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understandable. But to some, this reduction in risk sparks fears about the
dehumanization of combat. “When robots rule warfare, utterly without
empathy or compassion,” argue McCloskey and Latiff—a retired major
general—“humans retain less intrinsic worth than a toaster—which can
at least be used for spare parts.” A UN special rapporteur on the subject
divined “a ‘PlayStation’ mentality to killing” that would transfix a “callous” public with dreams of “costless warfare.”
On the other hand, the use of unmanned systems, at least by the United
States, has made war less bloody, requiring less and less killing. As Joshua
Goldstein, author of Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide, observes, “Armed drones now attack targets [such as those
in Pakistan] that in the past would have required an invasion with thousands of heavily armed troops, displacing huge numbers of civilians and
destroying valuable property along the way.”
Less bloody does not mean more effective. Drones may make the conduct of war more pleasant for Americans and Westerners, but it’s not clear
whether they make war sufficiently unpleasant for those on the receiving
end. And to the degree that war remains an act of violence to compel our
enemy to do our will, drones have not yet proven themselves to be a decisive or revolutionary form of violence.
Subscribe to the Hoover Institution’s online journal Strategika (http://www.hoover.org/taskforces/militaryhistory/strategika), where this essay first appeared. © 2014 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland
Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is The
Consequences of Syria, by Lee Smith. To order, call
800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

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ED U C AT ION

Learn to Spell
“Compromise”
“Either/or” positions have paralyzed education reform. Let’s pull our
desks into the middle. By Chester E. Finn Jr.

The world of K–12 education brims with debates and dichotomies that
get us into all manner of needless quarrels and cul-de-sacs, thus messing
up every reform initiative and retarding progress. In every case, both sides
are certain that they speak the whole truth; convinced that opposing views
are misguided, perhaps even evil; and insistent that necessary changes will
go awry unless their side prevails.
These philosophical struggles lead to paralysis akin to what we witness
today in Congress and many legislatures. Of them we ask, “Why can’t you
compromise, split the difference, make a deal, take the best of both positions, and get something done?”
The ten education dichotomies outlined below should be seen in a
similar light. Neither side owns the truth—and the approach that would
do kids the greatest good is an intelligent middle ground that melds the
best of both views.
• Skills vs. knowledge: Back in 1987, in What Do Our 17-Year-Olds
Know?, Diane Ravitch and I tackled a pair of overlapping “false dichotomies”: skills vs. content and concepts vs. facts. They were prevalent in the
Chester E. Finn Jr. is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, chairman of
Hoover’s Koret Task Force on K–12 Education, and president of the Thomas B.
Fordham Institute.

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education profession then and remain front and center today—indeed, are
highlighted by the challenges of implementing (and assessing) the Common Core State Standards, which at first look skills-centric but which also
make clear that success hinges on deployment of a rich, sequential, contentfocused curriculum. Already influenced by the analysis of E. D. Hirsch Jr.
and the cognitive science that he had exhaustively mined, Diane and I wrote,
“It is neither possible nor desirable to teach reading skills without regard to
background knowledge.” For a more recent discussion of the inseparability
of “deep learning” and “content knowledge,” see Robert Pondiscio’s fine
essay “There Are No Shortcuts: Mending the Rift between Content Knowledge and Deeper Learning.”
• “Sage on the stage” vs. “guide on the side”: The wording of this
faux dilemma is cute, but the intimation that it’s a choice teachers must
make does their pupils no favor. The implication of “sage on stage” is that
a teacher knows all—that she’s a jug brimming with knowledge and skills
to be poured into the heads of essentially passive students. “Guide on the
side” implies that children must figure things out for themselves (it’s frequently called “discovery learning”) and often that they must decide for
themselves what’s worth learning, with teacher playing the role of consultant, prompter, and adviser rather than “instructor.”
The truth, once again, lies at the intersection. Kids benefit from both.
Of course they should be active learners, but that doesn’t mean they must
figure out for themselves why the Civil War was fought or how to divide
42 into 7,538 or what atoms comprise a molecule of water. It’s not their
job to re-create human knowledge. It’s their job to internalize much that
has been figured out by others—and to use it themselves, both for purposes of their own devising and for purposes that adults place before them.
To accomplish this, they need both sage and guide. That’s what we
mean—or ought to mean—by “teacher.”
• Who’s in charge: the parents or the state? Every debate about school
choice eventually comes down to whether the shape of a child’s education
is best decided by his parents or by “society” via a government-run school
system. This parallels the ancient debate among economists over whether
education is a private or a public good.

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Illustration by Taylor Jones for the Hoover Digest.

It’s both, of course, and that’s part of why decisions about the best education for a given child are properly treated as a blend of his own preferences/needs/aspirations (as gauged by his parents) and a set of needs, priorities, and capacities determined by the larger society (which in practice
means a public-education “system” at the district or state level).
Nobody should be confined to a bad school or one that’s wrong for them;
on the other hand, society has sound reasons to insist that every school
provide a solid core curriculum that spans the skills and knowledge that
everyone should acquire. And if the public is paying for it, the public (via its
elected agents)
has the

right to demand acceptable levels of efficiency and effectiveness from all
schools—among which parents, in turn, should be free to choose.
• Evaluating teachers: use student results or peer judgments? Few now
deny that teachers, like everybody else, ought to have their performance
evaluated and that such appraisals should have some bearing on their future
in the field (as well as their professional development, maybe their compensation, and so on). But how should those evaluations be done?
Until Bill Sanders developed Tennessee’s “value-added assessment system” two decades ago, teacher evaluation was typically done by school
principals, department heads, and peers. That’s partly because “pro-

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fessionals” usually do it that way, partly because unions didn’t want it done
any other way, and partly because there was no defensible mechanism for
gauging teacher effectiveness in relation to student learning.
Today, we’re awash in achievement data, and many ed-reformers and elected officials want evaluations to be based in large part on how much learning
a teacher adds to her pupils in the course of a year. This is, however, fiercely
resisted on multiple grounds by teacher groups and a number of analysts.
It turns out that each approach, taken alone, has serious limits as well
as controversies. And the most compelling research—such as the Measures of Effective Teaching study (MET), funded by the Gates Foundation—makes clear that evaluations are best done via a blend of the two
approaches (augmented by student surveys and such).
• Assessing achievement: use test scores or pupil “performance”? How
to know whether students have learned what they should—or, for that
matter, learned anything of value? Is this best done via the reviled “standardized” tests, by asking them to demonstrate their accomplishments, or
by something else?
Once again, each approach has both positives and negatives. Welldesigned tests can efficiently appraise the learning of many students (and
schools, districts, states, etc.) and lend themselves to comparisons that
(with suitable fussing) are comparable and reliable. But even the best tests
can’t elicit everything worth knowing about what pupils can and cannot
do, and they have difficulty dealing with kids and schools that are different from each other in powerful ways.
“Performance” assessments can take account of such differences while probing deeper for creativity, understanding, the ability to apply what one knows,
and so on. But they’re expensive, time-consuming, harder to compare across
individuals and institutions, and problematic when it comes to reliability—
hence, they are hard to defend in the court of public opinion or a court of law.
So—surprise—we’re advised to do both, with each approach tailored
and deployed for what it does best.
• Gauging pupil progress: use grade level or competency? What does
it mean to be “on grade level”? What triggers advancement from, say, grade
five to grade six or from middle to high school? One’s birthday? Passing one’s
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courses? Clearing a testing hurdle? And what happens if you earn a passing
score in reading and honors in history but fail math?
Should we gauge a child’s education progress by the grade she’s in, correlated mainly to her age and number of years in school, or by evidence
that she has learned what’s needed to succeed at the next level or course in
a particular subject?
The latter approach—often called “competency-based education”—is
easy to synchronize with sequential standards and curricula, lends itself to
individualized instruction (including different levels in different subjects),
avoids “social promotion” (as well as the boredom that afflicts gifted kids
who learn faster than their classmates), and harmonizes with online and
blended learning opportunities.
Yet it wreaks havoc with traditional school structures, demands much
(by way of differentiated instruction) from teachers, may separate children
from their friends and age mates, and frazzles parents who want to know
whether Janie is in fourth or fifth grade. It also makes life difficult for
data-gatherers and analysts.
Combining pure versions of both is hard, but acceptable amalgams can
be devised via team teaching, smart use of technology, grade “bands” that
span several years, and careful explanation to parents that eleven-year-old
Janie may be doing fourth-grade work in English, sixth-grade work in science and math, and fifth-grade work in social studies (and gym, art, and
home room).
• Enhance learning with technology or human beings? Wouldn’t kids
learn better and more enthusiastically, move along at their own speed, and
cost taxpayers less if education resembled a video game and most or all of
it took place online? That’s the approach and, presumably, the conviction
of our burgeoning online-education industry.
To this, others respond, “But what about their socialization? What
about music and PE? Basketball and Christmas pageants? How about children’s relations with adults and other kids—and the teacher’s role not just
in answering their curricular questions and helping them understand the
lesson but also seeing what excites their minds, how they’re behaving, and
what may be going awry in other parts of their lives?”

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Yet teacher-dependent education is expensive and depends heavily on the
caliber and knowledge (as well as character and commitment) of those who fill
these jobs. It’s also hard to individualize, meaning it often bores the fast and frustrates the slow, while the teacher focuses on those in the middle. What’s more,
small schools may not have enough teachers to offer all the courses and content
that students need (or yearn) to learn, and kids stuck in troubled schools may
get taught only by newbies without enough pull to move elsewhere.
We’re well advised, once again, not to put all our education eggs in
either basket. Online and “blended” learning brings palpable advantages—but so do great teachers.
• Diversity vs. uniformity: Should everybody learn the same things in
the same ways in cookie-cutter schools, or should education accommodate a host of “diversities,” from curricular enthusiasms, career goals, and
ethnic and religious preferences to individual “learning styles” and school
options?
Surely the right answer is “yes, within limits.” A well-functioning society depends on citizens with considerable shared knowledge, cultural
understandings, language, and values. A robust economy depends on a
workforce with a well-developed body of skills, behaviors, and knowledge.
Yet across a big country like the United States—indeed, within any state
or metropolitan area—we see that people and groups differ, as do neighborhoods, family aspirations, and resources, not to mention children’s
needs, talents, and enthusiasms.
Primary-secondary education must thread this needle, supplying everyone
with a common core of learning while accommodating, even celebrating,
significant variability. That’s why Hirsch, for example, has long insisted that
his “Core Knowledge” sequence should occupy just half of the K–8 curriculum—and that, if it’s done well in those years, the high schools can embrace
many strands and interests. The Common Core State Standards go through
grade twelve, but they’re just standards, not curriculum or pedagogy, and they
focus on just two subjects. They leave ample scope for being different.
• Is education best run by professionals or “civilians”? Ought decisions about education be entrusted to professional educators or, like the
military, be subject to “civilian control?”
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K–12 education is a vast public-sector industry that costs more than
half a trillion dollars annually and employs more than six million people.
It is inevitable that elected officials will make major decisions on behalf of
citizens and taxpayers about how it operates.
But nobody wants a legislator or mayor in charge of a classroom containing twenty-four thirteen-year-olds, deciding how to teach reading to
a dyslexic child, or selecting lab protocols for an Advanced Placement
chemistry course. These and thousands more decisions are best made by
expert educators—albeit within a framework of structures, resources, and
rules set by representatives of the “general public.”
Yes, there’s friction. Educators often press lay decision makers to
look after their interests more than those of their pupils, just as elected
officials frequently strive to make the schools advance their interests.
The lines of demarcation could be clearer. But it would be crazy to suggest that either “side” should be all-powerful. We need them working
in tandem.
• Local or centralized control? Should K–12 education be ruled by each
community, or should decisions be made at the state (or national) level?
The phrase “local control of the schools” rolls glibly off the tongues of
most Americans. It dates to earlier times, when schools were (or weren’t)
created and paid for by individual towns. Not until the late nineteenth
century did states begin to play a role.
Today, however, every state has a constitutional responsibility for educating its citizens, and states pay the lion’s share of the public-schooling
bill. They make such key decisions as who is eligible to teach, what should
be learned in seventh-grade math, and what students must study before
earning a diploma. We may also question the meaning of “local control”
when the governance unit operates hundreds of schools and enrolls many
thousands of children residing across vast distances. (The districts belonging to the Council of the Great City Schools average 174 schools each.)
Uncle Sam also plays a growing role in sundry education decisions via
multiple funding streams, rules, and enforcement authorities. Although
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Further complicating the picture, many “virtual” schools now operate
statewide, even in multiple states, and don’t truly belong to any district.
And more than five thousand charter schools are largely free from traditional local control—answerable to voters and taxpayers, yes, but often
not to districts. Many of their key education decisions are made at the
building level (or by school networks that cross district and state lines).
In these fast-multiplying situations, nineteenth-century structures of
local control don’t make much sense—but neither does rigid central control that cannot handle bona fide differences and distinctions.
How to have it both ways? Not the way we do it today, with governance
arrangements that resemble marble cakes more than layer cakes. Such proliferation fosters deadlock as every unit seeks both to exert its own authority and to resist decisions made by other units with which it doesn’t agree
but which it cannot overrule.
This time, the right answer is not to pledge allegiance to any one level in the system but to recognize that the whole Rube Goldberg edifice
would benefit from a top-to-bottom renovation.
© © ©
Modern US politics leave scant middle ground where compromise or synthesis
can be forged. But it should be the job of serious education reformers to plant
their policy banners—and themselves—on whatever demilitarized territory
can be found. Dichotomies such as those sketched above may keep bloggers,
debaters, and partisans busy. They are grist for plenty of articles, books, panels,
speeches, and campaigns. But they don’t, in the end, do kids any good.
Reprinted by permission of the Education Gadfly Weekly. © 2014 The Thomas B. Fordham Institute. All
rights reserved.
New from the Hoover Institution Press is What Lies
Ahead for America’s Children and Their Schools, edited
by Chester E. Finn Jr. and Richard Sousa. To order, call
800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

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E D U CAT I O N

College Isn’t
for Everyone
—But School Is
How can we make school more valuable for students who aren’t
college-bound? By Michael J. Petrilli.

It’s an article of faith in the school reform community that we should
strive to prepare all students for success in college—if not a four-year
degree, then some other recognized and reputable postsecondary credential. The rationale is clear and generally compelling; as a recent Pew
study reiterated, people who graduate from college earn significantly
more than those who do not. Other research indicates that low-income
students in particular benefit from college, becoming nearly three times
as likely to make it into the middle class as their peers who earn some
(or no) college credits. And it’s not just about money: college graduates
are also healthier, more involved in their communities, and happier in
their jobs.
Thus, in the reformers’ bible, the greatest sin is to look a student in the
eye and say, “Kid, I’m sorry, but you’re just not college material.”
But what if such a cautionary sermon is exactly what some teenagers
need? What if encouraging students to take a shot at the college track—
Michael J. Petrilli is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, executive editor of Education Next, and executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham
Institute.

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despite very long odds of reaching its terminus—does them more harm
than good? What if our own hyper-credentialed life experiences and ideologies are blinding us to alternative paths to the middle class? Including
some that might be a lot more viable for a great many young people?
What if we should be following the lead of countries like Germany, where
“tracking” isn’t a dirty word but a commonsense way to prepare teenagers
for respected, well-paid work?
What if our hyper-credentialed life experiences are blinding us to other
paths to the middle class?

Here’s a stark fact: according to research by Georgetown’s Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl, fewer than 10 percent of poor children now graduate with a four-year college degree. Imagine that all of our reform efforts
prove successful, from initiatives to bolster the prenatal health of disadvantaged babies, to high-quality early-childhood experiences, to dramatic
improvements in K–12 education, to serious interventions and supports
at the college level. Push the pedal to the metal and assume that nothing
crashes. Where do we get? Maybe in the course of a generation, we could
double the proportion of poor children making it to a college diploma.
Tripling it would be a staggering accomplishment. Anything approaching
that would be an enormous achievement, unprecedented in the annals of
social progress.
Yet that would still leave two-thirds or more of low-income youngsters needing another path if they’re truly going to access the middle
class.

R E M E D I A L P A T H TO NO WH E R E
Let’s see how this works from the perspective of a student. Imagine that
you’re finishing ninth grade at a large comprehensive urban high school.
The year hasn’t gone very well; because you are reading and doing math
at a sixth-grade level, much of your coursework is a struggle. Nor have
you had much of an opportunity to develop the “noncognitive skills” that
would help you to remediate the situation. You are foundering, failing
courses, and thinking about dropping out.
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Though we should be working hard to improve elementary and middle schools so that you don’t reach this point, the fact remains that you
have. A rational system would acknowledge that with just three years until
graduation, the likelihood of you getting to true “college readiness” by the
end of twelfth grade is extremely low. Even if all the pieces come together
in dramatic fashion—you get serious help with your basic skills, someone
finds you a great mentor, your motivation for hitting the books increases
significantly—you probably aren’t going to make it. You need another
pathway, one with significantly greater chances of success and a real payoff
at the end—a job that will allow you to be self-sufficient. You need highquality career and technical education, ideally the kind that combines
rigorous coursework with a real-world apprenticeship, and maybe even a
paycheck, and results in an industry-recognized credential. (Granted, even
these programs require that students possess decent academic and social
skills, so they aren’t for our very least prepared teenagers.)
To be sure, your long-term earnings will probably be lower than if you
squeak out a college degree. But that’s a false choice, because you’re almost
surely not going to get that degree anyway. The decision is whether to follow the college route to almost certain failure, or to follow another route
to significant success.
But our system isn’t rational, and it doesn’t like to acknowledge long
odds. Perhaps it used to, but this sort of realism was judged to be deterministic, racist, and classist. And for sure, when judgments were made
on the basis of ZIP code or skin color, the old system was exactly that.
Those high school “tracks” were immutable, and those who wound up
in “voc. ed” (or, at least as bad, the “general” track) were those for whom
secondary schooling, in society’s eyes, was mostly a custodial function.
How do low-income students who start community college in remedial
courses fare? Fewer than 10 percent earn a degree within three years.
Most never get past the remedial work.

But making sure that there are real options for our young people—
options that include high-quality career and technical education—is a

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Illustration by Taylor Jones for the Hoover Digest.

totally different proposition. We shouldn’t force
anyone into that route,
but we also shouldn’t
force kids with low odds
of college success—
regardless of their race
or class—to keep trudging through academic
coursework as teens. Yet
it appears that we are
doing just that; according
to Kate Blosveren Kreamer
of the National Association of State Directors of
Career Technical Education
Consortium, only 20 percent
of high school students “concentrate” in career and technical
education, even though that’s a

better bet for many more of them. Then, even when students graduate
from high school with seventh-grade skills, we encourage them to enroll
in college, starting with several semesters of “developmental” education.
This might be the greatest crime. How do low-income students who
start community college in remedial courses fare? According to the college-access advocacy group Complete College America, fewer than 10
percent complete a two-year degree within three years. Most won’t ever
get past their remedial courses. Almost certain failure.
College access advocates look at those numbers and want to double
down on reform, seeking to improve the quality of remedial education
or skip it entirely, encouraging unprepared students to enroll directly in
credit-bearing courses, or to offer heavy doses of student support. All are
worth trying for students at the margins. But few people are willing to
admit that perhaps college just isn’t a good bet for people with seventhgrade reading and math skills at the end of high school.
Unfortunately, our federal education policy encourages schools and
students to ignore the long odds of college success. Federal Pell Grants,
for instance, can be used for remedial education; institutions are more
than happy to take the money, even if they are terrible at remediating
students’ deficits, which is why I’ve proposed making remedial education ineligible for Pell financing. On the other hand, Pell
can be used for vocational education only when it
takes place through an accredited college or
university; job-based training, and most
apprenticeships, do not qualify.
That should change.
I have no desire to punish
students or deprive them of
opportunity. Quite the
contrary. My aim is to
stop pretending that
high school or college students with
very low basic skills
have a real shot of

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earning a college degree—so that they might follow an alternative path to
success. A college graduate will generally outearn a high school graduate,
to be sure. But a worker with technical skills will outearn a high school
or college dropout with no such skills. That’s the true choice facing many
students.
Furthermore, for kids facing the toughest challenges of poverty, it
makes sense to think about opportunity over multiple generations.
College might catapult prepared low-income kids into the middle
class in one fell swoop, but using high-quality career and technical
education to give low-income youngsters who are not ready for college
a foothold on the ladder to success is a victory as well. If they can
escape poverty and all the social ills that come with it, their children
have a significantly better shot at the college path. After all, that’s
how upward mobility in America has generally worked: not in one
bounce but slowly and surely over decades.

A CO M M O N S EN S E LE SSO N
Happily, this sort of common sense is starting to re-enter the conversation (thanks, in part, to the persistence of the folks at Harvard’s Pathways to Prosperity initiative, who called in 2011 for a broader approach
to education reform, one that includes high-quality career and technical
education). In an important Politico piece, Stephanie Simon shows how
lawmakers, especially in red states, are starting to worry that the “college
for all” ideology is doing material harm to students. Asking all students
to pass algebra II makes a ton of sense if you expect them all to go to college. But when you are willing to acknowledge that that’s a fool’s errand,
you start to see such mandates as barriers to opportunity.
It’s particularly urgent that those of us who support the Common
Core be willing to speak honestly about these issues. If the new Common Core assessments set the high school graduation bar at true college
readiness—meaning students are on track to take credit-bearing courses
from day one—the country is likely to learn that scarcely one-third of
all students, and many fewer low-income students, are at that level now.
Even Massachusetts, our shining star, gets just half its young people to
that level.
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By all means, we should do everything we can to boost those numbers, starting as early as possible, and including commonsense reforms
like reintroducing serious academic content to the elementary and
middle school curriculum and replicating “no excuses” charter schools.
At the same time, however, rather than pretend that we’re going to get
all students to “climb the mountain to college,” we should build a system
that helps many students find another road to the middle class—a path
that starts with a better education from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade,
and then adds strong technical and interpersonal skills in high school and
community colleges. This is an honorable path, and it’s much sturdier
than the rickety bridges to failure that we have now.
Reprinted by permission of Slate. © 2014 The Slate Group LLC. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is The Best
Teachers in the World: Why We Don’t Have Them
and How We Could, by John E. Chubb. To order, call
800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

101

ED U C AT ION

Opportunity Knocks
Upward mobility is alive and well—at least where schools, families,
and neighborhoods flourish. By Paul E. Peterson.

When the president declared in his latest State of the Union address that
“social mobility has stalled” and “our job is to reverse these trends,” he
overlooked six major findings from two economic-opportunity studies
recently released by Harvard economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues.
A close reading of the report’s texts, tables, and figures reveals the following:
1. America remains a thriving equal-opportunity country.
2. Incomes earned by the top 1 percent may help, and certainly pose
no obstacle, to higher economic-mobility rates.
3. Teenagers should be encouraged to find a job.
4. Economic mobility is sustained by active engagement in religious
and civic institutions.
5. Good schools foster equal opportunity.
6. And, crucially, the single-parent family is the country’s fiercest
enemy of equal opportunity.

Paul E. Peterson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a member of
Hoover’s Koret Task Force on K–12 Education, and the editor in chief of Education Next. He is also the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and
the director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard
University.

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Chetty and his colleagues flatly contradict President Obama’s claim,
made last December, that the United States has had a “decades-long trend
[of ] dangerous lack of upward mobility.”
In his State of the Union speech, Obama slightly revised his thesis to say
that upward mobility had “stalled.” However, the scholars find no downward shift since 1980; if anything, the trend line leans slightly toward
greater equality of opportunity.
That single finding, based on tax records supplied by the Internal Revenue Service, knocks into a cocked hat the president’s assertion that “decreasing mobility” poses “a fundamental threat to the American dream.”
It turns out that 1 percenters help the equal-opportunity cause. If the
very rich live close by, those who start out in the bottom 20 percent group
have a better chance of success. The connection is slight, but it points in a
direction opposed to the conventional political wisdom.
If a child lives in a community where those between the ages of 14 and
16 are more likely to be working, the chances of getting ahead later in life
improve sharply. In other words, social mobility is put at risk when the minimum wage is raised to levels that deter employers from hiring young people.
Social mobility is greater in communities where people participate in
religious life and in other civic organizations. Conservatives and thoughtful liberals have long embraced these deep-seated American traditions.
Now we learn that community and religious engagement should be
celebrated for its impact on equal opportunity as well as for its own sake.
Not surprising to anyone is the connection between good schools and
equal opportunity—that has always been part of the American dream. The
Chetty studies show that student test-score performance (adjusted for family
income), not class size or expenditures per pupil, drives economic mobility.
Critically, single parenthood is the greatest menace to equal opportunity. The percentage of children in the United States growing up in singleparent families has risen from 20 percent in 1980 to 30 percent in 2009,
a growth rate of no less than 50 percent.
Chetty and his colleagues show that no other factor—not racial segregation, not income inequality, not even high school dropout rates, is anywhere near as connected to economic mobility as the number of parents
in the household.

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It is dead wrong—as well as racist—to claim that the percentage of
families who are headed by a single parent is simply a euphemism for the
percentage of the population that is black. When adjusted for other things,
race has little impact on social mobility, while the one-parent household
connection remains huge.
Admittedly, the Chetty team’s analysis is only descriptive, not causal,
so the results do not prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the major
impediment to social mobility in the United States today is the growing
number of children being raised in single-parent families.
Social mobility is healthier where teenagers work and where civic and
religious engagement thrives.

However, the relationship between family structure and equal opportunity is so strong that it is disconcerting that the president failed to mention in his State of the Union address—not even once—the risks children
face when raised in a single-parent family. Hopefully, the Chetty study
will persuade the administration to rethink its position and offer ways
to redesign our public policies so they encourage—not discourage—the
formation of healthy two-parent families.
He would not have to dig deeply into the conservative agenda to find
some clues about what to do: celebrate the traditional family, expect men
to bear responsibility for the children they father, deplore the Hollywood
glorification of the single lifestyle, support work instead of non-work, and
alter the marriage-destroying welfare laws now on the books.
But even now, conservatives and liberals alike should celebrate the actual degree of equal opportunity in the United States.
Reprinted by permission of the Washington Times. © 2014 The Washington Times LLC. All rights reserved.
Available from the Hoover Institution Press is The Future
of School Choice, edited by Paul E. Peterson. To order,
call 800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

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T H E M I D D L E E AST

The Struggle in the
Fertile Crescent
One of the enduring mirages of the Mideast is the vision of a free,
stable Iraq. By Fouad Ajami.

Editor’s note: As this issue was going to press, we were saddened to learn that
our friend and colleague Fouad Ajami had succumbed to cancer. The next
issue of the Hoover Digest will include reflections of Dr. Ajami’s life and
work. In this issue, we offer a timely excerpt from Dr. Ajami’s last book,
The Struggle for Mastery in the Fertile Crescent.
The shadow of resourceful powers lies across the Fertile Crescent—the
stretch of geography that runs from the Iranian border with Iraq to the
Mediterranean. These are not the Western powers that enjoyed decades of
primacy in the region. In their place, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia have
stepped into the vacuum left by the retreat and uninterest of the West.
The disorder of the Fertile Crescent—a magnet that draws outsiders—can
be traced to the weakness of Sunni Islam here.
In the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, and North Africa, mainstream Sunni
Islam is ascendant. The fault line that bedevils those lands is between secularists, who want to keep the faith at bay, and Islamists, who have stepped forth
in recent decades to assert the hegemony of the sacred over the political.
The Fertile Crescent presents a different landscape. Here, Sunni Islam
was ascendant in the cities, and centuries of Ottoman rule augmented
Fouad Ajami was a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and co-chair of Hoover’s
Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order.

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O ST R A C IS M I N I R AQ
The Shia of Iraq lived through a history of humiliation and defeat. A
Sunni expression provided a fair reflection of the standing of the Shia:
Lanna al hukum walakkum al-latm (We have the dominion and you have
the self-flagellation). In his 2005 book, Al-Iraq al-Amriki (American Iraq),
Hassan al-Alawi, a sophisticated diplomat, accurately described the two
groups as the sect of the rulers and the sect of the ruled. The ascendency
of the Sunnis in the Ottoman provinces was a natural fact of life, and the
modern Iraqi state Britain built in 1921 simply codified that dominion.
A big revolt had broken out against the British in the middle Euphrates,
in the south of Iraq, in 1920. This eruption would become legendary, but
its harvest was the destruction of Shia power and Anglo-Sunni rule over the
new kingdom. Out of the rebellion, the British occupation emerged with an
aversion to the Shia “divines” in Najaf and Kerbala and a suspicion of their
links to Persia. Hassan al-Alawi described the outcome of this revolt in stark
terms: the Sunnis got a political kingdom, while the Shia were left with the
“rusty old rifles” of the Marsh Arabs and the tales of heroism.
In the new Hashemite kingdom that the British had midwifed, pride
of place went to a political class of ex-Ottomanist officers and bureaucrats
who rode the British coattails and accompanied the Hashemite prince,
King Faisal I, into a kingdom where he had never set foot before. An
HAUNTED: In 1921, Faisal I became the ruler of Iraq, a kingdom where he
had never set foot before. The Arab nationalists of the day picked Faisal’s
Iraq as the Prussia of their imagination, the country that would unite the
Arabs and keep the Persians at bay. Years later, the Americans would
entertain similar grand ideas about Iraq. As one Iraqi would remark, “Iraq
is a graveyard for all dreams.”

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Library of Congress/George Grantham Bain Collection

Sunnism. Arab nationalism, too, had been a prop of Sunni primacy. But
the edifice of Sunni power was fragile, and it would be toppled in the
course of the second half of the past century. The military despotism of
the Alawis in Damascus and the rise of the Shia in Beirut and Baghdad
were a challenge that Sunnism felt as a great violation.

uncompromising doctrine of Arab nationalism was the perfect ideology
for a ruling elite estranged from the Shia tribal notables and seminarians
and from the Kurds. There would be no happiness in this new realm—
King Faisal I was a decent and prudent man, but he despaired of the new
century and its feuds. He bore the Shia no animus. But it was different
with the men who claimed and hoarded power in this new country. The
holy Shia cities in Najaf and Kerbala were loathed by this bureaucratic
elite, as were the Shia rituals of grief and lamentations. In the cruelest of
ironies, the ex-Ottomanist rulers “Persianized” the Shia of Iraq, writing
them off as a tributary of the Persian state next door.
Faisal lamented, “In Iraq there is still—and I say this with a heart full of
sorrow—no Iraqi people.”

The Shia, with a few exceptions, quit the political realm and turned to
commerce. They were to fill the void left by the expulsion of Iraqi Jews
in 1950–51. But the state would eventually come into dominion of the
market, and Shia merchants would be stripped of their leadership of the
chambers of commerce in Baghdad and Basra.
The fall of the monarchy in 1958 posed new dilemmas for the Shia.
The military officers who dominated the new realm were men of Tikrit
and Fallujah, Baquba and Mosul. They were mainly men of the poorer
strata, alienated from the Shia merchants of Baghdad. With oil money,
state terror, and the exalted claims of Arab nationalism, they left little
room for the Shia. In time, the whirlwind of Iraqi politics brought to the
fore a despot bereft of mercy and subtlety, Saddam Hussein. He offered the
Shia seminarians and their leaders, and the Marsh Arabs in the south, the
option of servitude and quietism. He deported at will to Iran thousands
who had known no other home than Iraq. He imposed a reign of terror
in Najaf and Kerbala. In a searing episode in 1980, his regime executed
a Shia cleric of noble descent, Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Sadr, along
with the cleric’s sister, Bint al-Huda, an accomplished poet and thinker.
Saddam closed up the political universe in Iraq. But in a variation on
the quintessential theme of Shia dispossession and sudden redemption,
the Tikriti despot ran afoul of a mighty power looking to avenge the terror
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inflicted on it by a band of Arab death pilots. The United States was in no
mood for fine distinctions between Arabs guilty of those hideous attacks and
others who had winked at the terror. Saddam drew the short straw, as it were.
The United States did not strike Iraq to empower the Shia and rid them
of the Sunni ascendancy. But history has its own cunning. Baghdad, the
seat of the Abbasid caliphate, would come under Shia rule. The Sunni
Arab states recoiled at this outcome, but they could not reverse it.

R E V E R S I N G HI STO R Y
On paper, today’s Iraq has the potential for a workable national compact. The
treasury of the state, thanks to its vast oil reserves, might be deployed with skill
and generosity to calm the tempest in the Sunni stronghold of western Iraq.
Blood has been shed in Iraq, to be sure, but the rancid hate that separates the
Alawis and the Sunnis of Syria is alien to Iraq. Many tribes in Iraq have Sunni
and Shia “branches,” and a ruler more skillful than the one the country has
been afflicted with in recent years could see his way to a national compact.
The Sunni ascendancy—an Ottoman-British gift—was toppled by an
American war and Shia demography. For their part, the Shia, after the
heady acquisition of power, will have to accept the burdens and the limitations that come with newfound power.
The rulers of Saddam’s age, wielding oil money, state terror, and the
exalted claims of Arab nationalism, left little room for the Shia.

In truth, Iraq has always been a disappointment. It had vast oil reserves,
abundant water, agricultural land, and a sophisticated professional class.
The British who, in their heady moments, invented Iraq, thought it
would serve as a model for other Arab states to follow. Gertrude Bell, the
“kingmaker” of the Hashemite order that prevailed from 1921 to 1958,
once spoke unabashedly of her protégé, Faisal I, ruling the region from
Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean. The Arab nationalists picked it as the
Prussia of their imagination, the country that would unite the Arabs and
keep the Persians at bay. Those who spoke of Iraq as the “eastern gateway”
of the Arab world endowed it with that mission. And, truth be told, the
Americans, too, in their brief regency after 2003 entertained ideas of a

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109

big regional role for Iraq, a balance to Iran, and perhaps an alternative to
Saudi Arabia—less xenophobic, more open to American influence.
But the Iraq that emerged from the American stewardship has gone its
own way. Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s Iraq—and one can speak of it thusly—
turned out to be a sectarian and a personal tyranny. Maliki was not particularly impressive, but the Shia heartland took to him. The hope that
Baghdad would balance Tehran was set aside as Maliki sought patronage
in Iran against his rivals in the Shia political class.
I am reminded of a young Iraqi who was, effectively, my tutor as I tried
to make sense of the country for a book I was writing after the American
invasion. “Iraq is a graveyard for all dreams,” he said. The remark was
sweeping. It took in British, Arab, Iranian, and American dreams.
Statehood remains elusive. And after the ordeal of Iraq in 2013—more
than eight thousand Iraqis killed in the violence of that year—one can be
forgiven the thought that fate haunts that country. King Faisal I penned
some dark thoughts about Iraq shortly before his death in 1933. These
retain their power and merit quoting at length:
In Iraq there is still—and I say this with a heart full of sorrow—no Iraqi
people but unimaginable masses of human beings, devoid of any patriotic idea, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected by
no common tie, giving ear to evil, prone to anarchy, and perpetually
ready to rise against any government whatever. Out of these masses we
want to fashion a people which we would train, educate, and refine. . . .
The circumstances being what they are, the immenseness of the efforts
needed for this [can be imagined].
Excerpted from The Struggle for Mastery in the Fertile Crescent, by Fouad Ajami (Hoover Institution Press,
2014). © 2014 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.
Forthcoming from the Hoover Institution Press is
The Struggle for Mastery in the Fertile Crescent, by
Fouad Ajami. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

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T H E M I D D L E E AST

Headlong Retreat
Drones are no substitute for strategy and determination. By Russell
A. Berman.

The US departure from a part of the world where America has provided
security and stability for more than a half-century is not only a limited
strategic decision—although it certainly includes specific geopolitical
miscalculations. It is also a much broader phenomenon: a secular diminishment of politics and a disdain for politicians and the possibilities of
domestic civic life.
This renunciation of political vision translates into a reduction of foreign-policy ambitions. The exit from the Middle East is a prime example.
The generalized flight from politics, which has supported an isolationist
reorientation of the American mind, has multiple causes: some profound,
rooted deeply in the shifts of post–Cold War culture, and some the direct
effect of the character of the Obama administration. The significance of this
withdrawal from the world becomes clear through first stepping back to consider the potentials of politics along with the sources of antipolitical sentiment.
Politics involves collaboration, working together to formulate strategies
through conflict and compromise and then participating in their execution. Politics entails partnerships—alliances, allies, coalitions, caucuses—
where deliberation and argument play out in order to reach decisions. It’s
Russell A. Berman is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a member of
Hoover’s Herbert and Jane Dwight Working Group on Islamism and the International Order, and the Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford
University. He is the author of In Retreat: America’s Withdrawal from the
Middle East (Hoover Institution Press, 2014), from which this essay is adapted.

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no wonder that politics, on one level, is tied closely to rhetoric: politicians
have to persuade, and once the persuasion and negotiation conclude by
achieving a program, action can be taken to carry it out. The crux of
politics is the deliberation, whether among free citizens within a state or
among representatives of sovereign states in international affairs.
Renouncing political vision means reducing foreign-policy ambitions.

The art of politics, the capacity to search for compromise and build
cooperation, has always faced threats from twin antipolitical tendencies: economic reductionism and instrumentalist violence. These forms
of depoliticization undermine democracy. Yet in contemporary American
culture, one cannot help but note a similar antipolitical mood, a degradation of public deliberation, whether it is gridlocked in Congress or polarized on the radio. A retreat from politics mars contemporary American
culture, magnified by the specific character of the Obama administration,
and this provides part of the explanation of the great American retreat
from a political role in the Middle East. Giving up on politics, we, as a
culture, are giving up on political ambitions, including the capacity to act
strategically in the world and, especially, the Middle East.
One wonders whether today’s Washington can envision any grand
strategy, let alone carry it out.

R O BU S T RE S P O NSE
It was not always so. Leaving aside the long history of American achievements since the end of the Second World War, one can cite examples
of recent success, including the extraordinary accomplishments of US
policy in bringing the Cold War to an end. American diplomacy played
an indispensable role in redesigning Europe in a way that has led to the
European Union and a peaceful continent. Whatever the fiscal problems
within the eurozone, the EU itself has proven an enormous success when
measured against what preceded it: a divided Europe, with Russian troops
and weapons in the middle of Germany.
Bringing the Cold War to an end was a victory of American foreign
policy during the Republican administration of George H. W. Bush, and
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ending the bloodshed in the Balkans represented a comparable achievement of US diplomacy during the Democratic administration of Bill
Clinton. Not that long ago, then, America engaged robustly in the world
in ways that contributed indisputably to the good. Without that American commitment to political engagement, the map of Europe might look
quite different today, and the lands of the former Yugoslavia might still
seethe with violence.
An inclination to retreat from an engaged foreign policy had already
begun to emerge during the first months of the George W. Bush presidency, with its initial resistance to the nation-building policies associated
with its predecessor. Yet in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September
11, 2001, the prosecution of the war on terror pulled the United States
into the Middle East and Central Asia, redefining foreign-policy goals
toward the ambitious project to spread democracy. While this policy turn
resulted primarily from the terrorist attacks and the pursuit of Al-Qaeda,
it is important to note how the democracy agenda also displayed a striking
continuity with the emphasis on human rights from the Clinton years as
well as from the Republican legacy of Ronald Reagan, all of which based
foreign-policy goals on understanding American values as having universal validity.
In contemporary American culture we see an antipolitical mood, a
degradation of public deliberation, whether in Congress or on the radio.

The US experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq and the US responses to
Iran and Syria all have their own character and deserve detailed study. Yet
we should not overlook the forest for the trees: a long-term process has
been unfolding in recent years, marked by a devaluation of politics and an
amplified reliance on technology.
Consider this trajectory of American foreign policy: after the unification of a democratic Europe, the opposition to genocide in the Balkans,
and vocal advocacy for human rights, followed by the democracy agenda
of the Bush years, Obama’s Washington has turned to an ever-shrinking
engagement, symbolically represented by the deployment of the weapons
system that most symbolizes the absence of a human element: drone war-

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113

fare. No drone ever won hearts and minds. Yet drone technology has come
to define the US presence in the region, in a way the president explicitly
endorsed in his notorious remark that “I’m really good at killing people,”
as reported by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann in their account of the
2012 election, Double Down.
Not long ago, America—and presidents of both parties—engaged robustly
in the world and contributed indisputably to the good.

The aversion to politics is especially clear in the grand trade-off the
Obama administration has pursued, rejecting regime change to pursue
arms control. Recall how the administration twice faced moments when
popular democratic movements had burgeoned into significant threats to
dictatorial regimes hostile to the United States: the Green Movement in
Iran in 2009 and the beginning of the revolution in Syria in 2011. Yet the
Obama administration provided nothing more than meager verbal support for the democratic opposition; and it failed to subject the regimes to
any noticeable pressure to refrain from crushing their critics.
For the Obama administration, a political outcome that would have
entailed regime change has always been too frightening to pursue. In the
end, it has staked its own reputation on the durability of the mullahs in
Tehran and the house of Assad in Damascus. The call for democracy, a
leitmotif in US foreign policy from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush,
has been silenced by the Obama administration.

A L OS S OF L E A DE R SH I P
As much as politics requires collaboration among multiple participants, it
also demands leadership. The leader takes initial steps to set a process in
motion. Without leadership, politics runs the risk of devolving into inertia
and bureaucracy. This holds as much in a town-hall meeting as it does in
the halls of Congress, and there is an analogous necessity of leadership in
international relations. International challenges abound, but they will not
be addressed unless some nation or nations first direct attention to them.
The strongest and wealthiest nations are great powers, and these are
the international actors with the greatest responsibility because they have
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the potential to influence the outcomes most effectively. To act as a great
power requires a generous vision that surpasses one’s narrowest and most
self-interested ambitions by taking into consideration the greater good of
the international system. A great power should not pursue its parochial
interests selfishly. However, when a great power refrains from acting in the
international interest and chooses, instead, not to act at all, it betrays its
responsibility to the world.
The international order that has prevailed in the wider Middle East for
nearly seventy years is unraveling, leading potentially to a band of failed
states stretching from Afghanistan through Syria and Egypt to Libya and
Algeria. The explanations are multiple, including distinctly indigenous
causes as well as broadly international developments: the spiraling effects
of the end of the Cold War and, related to that, the rise of Islamist militancy and its Shiite corollary, the fifth columns of the Iranian revolution.
Yet the rapidity with which the unraveling is proceeding can be explained
only by America’s grand retreat. As the Obama administration retreats from
politics, it also renounces traditional American claims on leadership. Without the international leadership that only Washington could provide, the
center does not hold and things fall apart across the Middle East.

R E T R E A T F R O M D E MO CR ACY
In addition to the retreats from politics and leadership, American withdrawal from the Middle East has also involved a retreat from democracy.
There is no more stunning difference between the Bush and the Obama
administrations than this. In his second inaugural address, President Bush
clearly outlined an emphatic commitment to pursue democracy abroad.
He grounded it in American history, ideals, and security needs:
Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a
slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our nation. It is
the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.

Given those imperatives, he drew the explicit policy conclusion: “So it
is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of demo-

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cratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the
ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”
In Cairo, President Obama explicitly distanced himself from democracy promotion:
I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in
recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq.
So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed
upon one nation by any other.

While he continued to express his commitment “to governments that
reflect the will of the people,” he gave priority to the distinctiveness of
different traditions. Western-style liberal democracy, so he suggested, may
not be appropriate in other cultural contexts.
Lately, Washington has treated the prospects for democracy in Syria as
a problem it hopes will go away, an attitude consistent with its abandonment of the Green Movement in Iran in 2009. The timid predisposition
of the administration is to respect the legitimacy and sovereignty of existing states, as it did with Iran, no matter how brutal the character of the
regime.
No drone ever won hearts and minds. Yet drone technology has come to
define the US presence in the Mideast.

Pulling back from the democratic aspirations of the past, the Obama
administration has been fundamentally revising the mission of the United
States and its role in the Middle East. Because the United States cannot be
counted on as an advocate for democracy and rule of law, a profound shift
has begun to unfold in the region. Because the United States has abandoned its historic commitment to the universalism of liberal modernity,
democratic forces—in Iran, Syria, and Egypt—are no longer looking as
much toward Washington.
Of course the region has its own indigenous capacity for democracy,
as evidenced by the Arab Spring and the masses of demonstrators and
rebels. Yet as the United States responds to cries for democracy only with
apathy, political actors have begun to make new calculations. Dwindling
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US commitment to the politics of the region and an abdication of leadership for democratic change leave space for new powers to emerge and
compete: the regional aspirations of Turkey, the rising star of a hegemonic
and nuclear Iran, and the cold hand of Putinist Russia rebuilding the lost
Soviet empire.
Our deepest allegiances belong to peoples struggling for freedom.

There is a price to pay for the grand retreat. Whatever its motivations,
whether driven by a changing American culture or the particular preferences of the Obama administration, US withdrawal from the region
could have long-term consequences as other forces step forward to fill the
vacuum.
Yet the withdrawal is not a foregone conclusion. The American political
landscape may change, and a new administration could pursue different
policy options. While it is true that large parts of the American public
grew weary of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the president has not been
making the case for the importance of either campaign. More important,
in response to the democracy movements in the Middle East—in Tehran,
Damascus, and Cairo—the American public responded spontaneously
with a high degree of sympathy. Our deepest allegiances as a nation always
belong to peoples struggling for freedom.
How to translate that popular sentiment into effective policy could be
the challenge of the next president.
Adapted from In Retreat: America’s Withdrawal from the Middle East, by Russell A. Berman (Hoover
Institution Press, 2014). © 2014 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All
rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is In Retreat:
America’s Withdrawal from the Middle East, by Russell
A. Berman. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

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D EM OC RAC Y

The Enduring Question
All the complexities of constitutional theory and American political
history come down to a single question: will citizens control their
rulers, or vice versa? By Bruce S. Thornton.

The media and pundits treat politics like a sport. But politics rightly
understood is not about the contest of policies or politicians. It’s about
the philosophical principles and ideas that create one policy rather than
another—at least that’s what it should be about.
From that point of view, the conflict between Democrats and Republicans concerns the size and role of the federal government, which is no
surprise. But more important are the ideas that ground arguments for or
against limited government. These ideas include our notions of human
nature and what motivates citizens when they make political decisions.
Our political conflicts today reflect the two major ways Americans have
answered these questions.
The framing of the Constitution itself was predicated on one answer,
best expressed by the Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli: “It is necessary to whoever arranges to found a republic and establish laws in it,
to presuppose that all men are bad and that they will use their malignity
of mind every time they have the opportunity.” Throughout the debates
during the constitutional convention, the state ratifying conventions, and
the essays in The Federalist, the basis of the Constitution was the view that
human nature is flawed.
Bruce S. Thornton is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a member of
Hoover’s Working Group on the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict,
and a professor of classics and humanities at California State University, Fresno.

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As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 6, men are “ambitious,
vindictive, and rapacious,” and are motivated by what James Madison
called “passions and interests.” These destructive passions and selfish interests were particularly predominant among the masses, whose ignorance of
political theory and history left them vulnerable to demagogues. Hence
the people “are daily misled into the most baneful measures and opinions
by the false reports circulated by designing men,” as Elbridge Gerry said
during the constitutional convention debates.
This low estimation of the people partly explains the “democracy
deficit” in the original Constitution, which allowed the people to elect
directly only the House of Representatives. But unlike Plato, who proposed an elite with superior wisdom to run the state justly and efficiently,
early Americans believed that the flaws of human nature were universal, and that all people, no matter their wealth or intelligence, were corruptible. More important, they were firm believers in the tendency of
concentrated power to corrupt, for power is “of an encroaching nature,”
as George Washington and James Madison said, and is ever striving to
increase its scope. Vanity, greed, pride, and selfishness, John Adams wrote,
“are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when
unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty.”
The basis of the Constitution is the view that human nature is flawed.

Universal human depravity thus precluded any simple form of government, whether democratic, monarchical, or aristocratic. The solution of the framers was the mixed government in which the democratic
House of Representatives, the aristocratic Senate (chosen by the state
legislatures), and the monarchical president (chosen by the Electoral
College) would, along with the judiciary, divide the powers and functions of government and thus check and balance the tendency of each
branch to maximize its power at the expense of the people’s freedom.
As James Madison explained in Federalist No. 51, the “separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government” would allow each
branch “to resist the encroachment of the others,” for “ambition must be
made to counteract ambition.”

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Illustrations by Taylor Jones for the Hoover Digest.

Equally important was the principle of federalism, the protection of
the power of the states evident in giving state legislatures the responsibility for selecting senators and the presidential electors. Given the variety
of conflicting interests among the states, Madison wrote in Federalist No.
10, there will be a “greater security afforded by a greater variety
of parties, against the event of any one party being able
to outnumber and oppress the rest,” and “greater
obstacles opposed to the concert and accomplishment of the secret wishes of an
unjust and interested majority.”
Any selfish interest or violent
passion “will be unable to
spread a general
confla-

gration through the other states,” Madison wrote, and “the variety of
sects dispersed over the entire face of it [the nation] must secure the
national councils against any danger from that source.”
Just as the variety of interests and passions among the people will check
and balance each other, so too will the variety of state interests check and
balance the power of the federal government.

T HR O W OU T TH E O LD
Starting in the late nineteenth century, a different view of human nature
and its motivations developed. The Progressive movement rejected
the founders’ assumption of the universal depravity of human
nature. Progressives believed human nature could
be improved under the environmental
pressures of technologi-

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cal, scientific, and economic changes. New “sciences” like sociology and
psychology had developed and were discovering the material causes of
human behavior, whether social, economic, or political. From this knowledge came the technical means of alleviating the social and economic disruptions attending these changes. Masters of this new knowledge and the
techniques for applying them, if given power, could apply these insights
into governing and managing the state, and solving the new problems that
had arisen from industrialization and technological change.
“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” Madison wrote.

From the Progressive perspective, the Constitution and its structure of
checks and balances were outmoded. Industrialization and technological
development had created new problems that required a different form of
federal government. According to Progressive president Theodore Roosevelt in his 1901 State of the Union speech, “The old laws, and the old
customs which had almost the binding force of law, were once quite sufficient to regulate the accumulation and distribution of wealth. Since the
industrial changes which have so enormously increased the productive
power of mankind, they are no longer sufficient.”
Woodrow Wilson made the same argument. Politics must now be
understood as a Darwinian process, and the Constitution must evolve
to meet new circumstances. “All that progressives ask or desire,” Wilson
wrote in 1913 in The New Freedom, “is permission—in an era when ‘development,’ ‘evolution,’ is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution
according to the Darwinian principle.”
The limited government of the founders, then, was incapable of
effective government given the developments in economic and social
life that were changing human nature. The national interest could no
longer be served by the state governments, the free market, or civil
society. A bigger and more powerful national government was necessary to control big business and corporations, and to more equitably distribute wealth and improve the general welfare. The clash of
the various interests and passions of individuals and factions must be
neutralized, and national unity must be created through a national
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government and its technocratic administration. The individual rights
enshrined in the Constitution had to be redefined in terms of the
larger society and its welfare.
The right to property, for example, so crucial for the framers, now must
be “subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to
whatever degree the public welfare may require it,” as Theodore Roosevelt
said in his famous “New Nationalism” speech delivered during the 1912
presidential campaign. Enforcing this concern for the “general right of the
community” required a “policy of a far more active government interference with social and economic conditions.”
The founders’ main goal in crafting our government was not to create
utopia. It was to protect everyone’s freedom from the dangers of
concentrated power, whether embodied in a majority or a minority.

In his last State of the Union speech, Roosevelt said, “The danger to
American democracy lies not in the least in the concentration of administrative power in responsible and accountable hands. It lies in having
the power insufficiently concentrated” to serve the unified interests of the
collective people. Wilson concurred. Imagining in The New Freedom the
Progressive utopia that would come into being once the existing politicosocial order had been rebuilt by what Wilson calls political “architects”
and “engineers,” he describes it as a structure “where men can live as a
single community, cooperative as in a perfected, coordinated beehive.”
To achieve these aims, the federal government had to grow, with agencies and bureaus created to administer the laws and regulations presumably made necessary by new economic and social conditions. “There is
scarcely a single duty of government which was once simple which is not
now complex,” Wilson wrote in his essay “The Study of Administration.”
He went on to write:
The functions of government are every day becoming more complex and
difficult, they are also vastly multiplying in number. Administration is
everywhere putting its hands to new undertakings. . . . Whatever holds

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of authority state or federal governments are to take upon corporations,
there must follow cares and responsibilities which will require not a little
wisdom, knowledge, and experience.

This wisdom, knowledge, and experience would be the purview of those
schooled in the new sciences, not the traditional wisdom and practical
experience of the people pursuing their various and conflicting interests.
As Progressive journalist Walter Lippmann wrote in 1914, “We can no
longer treat life as something that has trickled down to us. We have to deal
with it deliberately, devise its social organization, alter its tools, formulate its method, educate and control it. In endless ways we put intention
where custom has reigned. We break up routines, make decisions, choose
our ends, select means,” which we can do because “the great triumph of
modern psychology is its growing capacity for penetrating to the desires
that govern our thought.”
Wilson asked for “permission . . . to interpret the Constitution according
to the Darwinian principle.”

The instrument of this process necessarily must be the federal government, now enriched by the Sixteenth Amendment, which in 1913 instituted a national income tax.

N EV E R P ER F E CT
The Progressives, then, discarded the founders’ vision of an eternally
flawed human nature. Also discarded was the constitutional architecture
that balanced and checked the tendency for people and factions to pursue
their interests and maximize their power at the expense of others. Now a
more powerful federal government––currently comprising over five hundred agencies and offices, with 2.3 million employees costing $200 billion
annually––armed with new knowledge and backed by coercive federal
power, will organize, regulate, and manage social and economic conditions to improve life and create a more just and equitable society.
But the founders’ main motive in crafting the government they did was
not to create utopia, but to protect the freedom of all from the dangers
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of concentrated power, whether embodied in the majority or a minority.
As Alexander Hamilton said in Federalist No. 85, “I never expect to see
a perfect work from imperfect man. The result of the deliberations of all
collective bodies must necessarily be a compound, as well of the errors and
prejudices, as of the good sense and wisdom, of the individuals of whom
they are composed.” A powerful minority of federal technocrats unaccountable to the people is no exception to the maxim that “power is of an
encroaching nature,” its growth always coming at the expense of freedom.
These are the two visions behind the politics of debt and government
spending, much in the news lately, that are necessary to finance a technocratic big government. The outcome of budget negotiations will reflect
which idea prevails: that of government limited to protect the autonomy
and freedom of flawed humans, or that of big government creating a better world for perfectible humans through entitlement spending financed
by taxes and debt. That is the debate we need to be having.
Reprinted from Defining Ideas (www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas). © 2013 by the Board of
Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Forthcoming from the Hoover Institution Press is
Democracy’s Dangers and Discontents: The Tyranny
of the Majority from the Greeks to Obama, by Bruce
S. Thornton. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

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D E M O CR ACY

Give Them the Tools
Nations struggling toward democracy need not pressure but
encouragement. By Walter Russell Mead.

“It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of
democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with
the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” So said President
George W. Bush in his second inaugural address in 2005. The goal was—
and is—a noble one. Unfortunately, neither Bush’s efforts nor those of
his successor have met with the success democracy advocates would wish.
In Thailand, the streets have been filled with demonstrators demanding
the replacement of an elected government with an appointed council. In
Egypt, the largest and most important Arab country, the 2011 revolution
and much-ballyhooed “transition to democracy” ended in a military coup.
President Obama’s lead-from-behind approach to Libya has ushered in
anarchy, and Pakistan’s transition from one democratically elected set of
powerless and corrupt politicians to another, widely cheered in Washington, has had no discernible positive impact on anything.
A democratically elected government in Hungary is flirting with fascists. Meantime, political reforms in Myanmar led to waves of religious
violence against that country’s Muslim minority.
According to Freedom House’s 2014 Freedom in the World report, 2013
was the eighth year in a row in which freedom lost ground. Yet the decade
of freedom’s retreat was also a decade of unprecedented effort on the
part of governments and nonprofit organizations to help freedom thrive.
Walter Russell Mead is the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs
and Humanities at Bard College and editor at large of the American Interest.

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© AFP-Getty Images/Christophe Archambault

Between 2006 and 2012, the US government alone spent $18.6 billion on
democracy promotion, partly because of stepped-up efforts in Afghanistan and the Middle East. This is a substantially higher rate of spending
than during the post–Cold War years, when the former Warsaw Pact states
were moving toward democracy.
The gloomy prospects for democratic self-government in many parts of
the world should not come as a surprise. Building democracy took generations in much of the Atlantic world, and most revolutions didn’t succeed
in establishing stable democratic regimes.
Some, like the Hungarians’ in 1848 and again in 1956, failed to hold
power and were overthrown. Others, like the French and Russian revolutions, gained power only to install dictatorships worse than the ones they
overthrew. The South American revolutions against Spain, like many anticolonial movements in the twentieth century, succeeded against the imperial power—but then failed to build stable, democratic governments in
its place. Egypt’s transition didn’t fail because Egypt’s democrats attended
too few conferences on democracy building. It failed because the weight
of their nation’s history, economics, religion, and culture was too heavy for
the relative handful of true democrats to lift.
This should be sobering. While breakthroughs can sometimes occur,
the construction of open, democratic systems in many countries is likely
to be slower and harder than many of us thought.
This doesn’t mean that democracy advocates should wring their hands
and stand aside, but it does mean we need to think about promoting
deeper social change over longer periods. To become and remain democratic, countries need to develop cultural values hospitable to the rule
of law, protection of private property, transparency, and peaceful transitions of power that are grounded in their own religious and cultural
identities. That is not, ultimately, a process foreigners can orchestrate
or control.
A more sustainable and effective democracy agenda would start with
education. Helping talented young people get access to good education
will, over time, do more to promote democratic ideals than anything else.
This doesn’t just mean offering more students more opportunities to study
abroad. Many countries, like Egypt, have terrible postsecondary systems.

KEEPER OF THE FLAME: A Thai activist carries a virtual candle at an election rally in
Bangkok in January. A political crisis has been simmering in Thailand since last year. In
many parts of the world, the creation of stable democratic systems could be the work of
decades or generations. Countries must develop values that spring from their own religious and cultural identities to support the rule of law, private property, transparency, and
peaceful transitions of power.

Founding new schools, helping existing ones, and promoting partnerships
between Western and foreign institutions can go a long way.
In many countries, the lack of access to good English-language instruction at an early age is one of the great barriers. Teaching English to large
numbers of people from poor backgrounds is ultimately a political act:
as their language skills help them get better educations and better jobs,
internal pressure for a fairer society will increase.
At the same time, democracy advocates can address one of the biggest
barriers in our allegedly flat world: people who don’t read English or a

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handful of other languages live in a different information universe. John
Locke, Edmund Burke, Thomas Macaulay, Montesquieu, Thomas Paine,
Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin—the works of these thinkers need to
be well-translated and widely available. People who read only Urdu, Burmese, Arabic, or Punjabi need readily accessible editions of important
books (cheap print or web-based) in their own languages so that people
beyond elite circles have access to the ideas and the histories that matter.
Smart people from different cultural backgrounds should be commissioned
to write introductions and other materials that can give readers in nondemocratic countries the context they need to make sense of these crucial texts.
Others should write books about how South Korea, Taiwan, Poland, and other countries became democratic. And leading magazines, opinion journals,
and policy reports should be translated into languages where they can be more
widely read. English may be the world’s lingua franca, but democracy building
will be grueling in many countries until more people have the ability to follow
global news and policy debates in their native tongues.
We cannot change the reality that the creation of stable democratic societies
in much of the world is going to take time. It took Christian theologians hundreds of years to reconcile democratic and liberal ideas with traditional Christian
thought; for Muslims, too, this could be the work of decades or generations.
The United States cannot control the pace of this change. What it can do
is to ensure that as many people as possible have unfettered access to the rich
historical and intellectual literature that advocates freedom. “Give us the
tools and we will finish the job” is what Winston Churchill said to American
democrats during the dark days of World War II. Let’s make it easier for
people around the world to inform themselves about the nature of freedom
and the history of its emergence. They will figure out the rest.
Reprinted by permission of the Wall Street Journal. © 2014 Dow Jones & Co. All rights reserved.
Forthcoming from the Hoover Institution Press is
The Weaver’s Lost Art, by Charles Hill. To order, call
800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

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CAL I F O R N I A

But the River Was Dry
Water isn’t the only scarce commodity in California. So is the
forethought that could have prevented shortages in a time of drought.
By Victor Davis Hanson.

Sporadic spring rains failed to rescue California from one of the worst
extended droughts in its brief recorded history. There is little snow in
the towering Sierra Nevada, the source of much of the surface water that
supplies the state’s populated center and south. The vast Central Valley
aquifer is being tapped as never before, as farms and municipalities deepen
wells and boost pump size. Too many straws are now competing to suck
out the last drops at the bottom of the collective glass.
The vast four-million-acre farming belt along the west side of the Central Valley is slowly drying up. Unlike valley agriculture to the east that
still has a viable aquifer, these huge farms depend entirely on surfacewater deliveries from the distant and usually wet northern part of the
state. So if the drought continues, billions of dollars of westside orchards
and vineyards will die, row cropland will lie fallow, and farm-supported
small towns will dry up.
There is a terrible irony to all this. Never have California farm prices
been higher, given huge Pacific export demand. Never have California
farmers been more savvy in saving water to produce record harvests of
nutritious, clean, safe food. And never has farming been so central to a
state suffering from the aftershocks of a housing collapse, chronic high
Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the
Hoover Institution and the chair of Hoover’s Working Group on the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict.

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Illustration by Taylor Jones for the Hoover Digest.

unemployment, overregulation,
and the nation’s highest sales,
income, and gas taxes.
Yet there are really two
droughts: nature’s, and its
manmade twin.
In the early 1980s, when
the state was not much more
than half its current population,
an affluent coastal corridor grew
complacent amid its world-class
universities, the dot-com riches of

Silicon Valley, the year-round temperate weather, and the booming entertainment, tourism, and wine industries. Apparently, Pacific corridor residents from San Diego to Berkeley grew so affluent that they didn’t have to
worry so much about old concerns such as keeping up freeways and airports—or their parents’ brilliantly designed system of canals, reservoirs, and
dams that had turned their state from a natural desert into a manmade
paradise. They came to resemble the rarified Eloi of science-fiction writer H.
G. Wells’s The Time Machine, people who live dreamy existences and have
no clue how to supply their own daily necessities.
We could see surreal things in California: towns without water, farms
reverting to scrub, majestic parks with dead landscaping.

Californians have not built a major reservoir since the New Melones
Dam more than thirty years ago. Even as the state subsequently added
almost twenty million people, its leaders assumed that it was exempt from
creating any more “unnatural” Sierra lakes and canals to store precious water during California’s wet years.
Short-sightedness soon became conceit. Green utopians
went further and demanded that a three-inch bait fish in the
Delta receive more fresh oxygenated water. In the past five
years, they have successfully gone to court to force the diversion of millions of acre-feet of contracted irrigation water
from farms, letting it flow freely out to sea.
Others had even grander ideas of having salmon again in
their central rivers, as they recalled fishing stories of their
ancestors from when the state’s population was a fifth of its
present size and farming a fraction of its present acreage. So
they too sued to divert even more water to the sea in hopes
of having game fish swim from the Pacific up to arid Fresno County on their way to the supposedly ancestral Sierra
spawning grounds.
The wages of both nature’s drought and human folly are
coming due. We could see surreal things in California—

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towns without water, farms reverting to scrub, majestic parks with dead
landscaping—fit for a Hollywood disaster movie.
Instead of a mature state with millions of acre-feet of water stored in
new reservoirs, California exhibits an adolescent culture that believes that
it has the right to live as if it were in the age of the romantic nineteenthcentury naturalist John Muir—amid a teeming twenty-first-century megalopolis of forty million people.
Never has farming been so central to a state suffering from the
aftershocks of a housing collapse, chronic unemployment, overregulation,
and high taxes.

The California disease is characteristic of comfortable postmodern
societies that forget the sources of their original wealth. This state may
have the most extensive reserves of gas and oil in the nation and the largest
number of cars on the road—along with the greatest resistance to drilling
for fuel beneath its collective feet. Last summer’s forest fires wiped out a
billion board-feet of timber, but we are still arguing over whether loggers
should be allowed to salvage such precious lumber or whether it should
be left to rot.
In 2014, nature has yet again reminded California just how fragile—
and often pretentious—it has become.
Reprinted by permission of Tribune Content Agency. © 2014 Tribune Content Agency, Inc. All rights
reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Entitlement
Spending: Our Coming Fiscal Tsunami, by David Koitz. To
order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

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CAL I F O R N I A

Gene-spliced Crops for
the Dry Years
Farms enrich California and feed much of the world. They also drink
up most of the state’s water. Crops bred to be less thirsty could save
the harvest. By Henry I. Miller.

Water is in increasingly short supply in many parts of the United States.
The problem is acute in California, where at least two-thirds of the state
is experiencing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought after one of the worst
rainy seasons on record. Reservoir levels are dropping, the snowpack was
far below normal, and many communities have already imposed restrictions on water usage. In Santa Cruz, for example, restaurants can no longer serve drinking water unless diners request it; Marin County residents
have been asked not to clean their cars or to do so only at “eco-friendly”
carwashes; and lawn watering is limited in towns in Mendocino County.
But the state’s premier industry—farming—will feel the pinch most. In
an average year, farmers use 80 percent of the water used by people and
businesses, according to the Department of Water Resources.
During a January press conference at which he declared a water emergency, Governor Jerry Brown said of the drought, “This is not a partisan
adversary. This is Mother Nature. We have to get on nature’s side and not
abuse the resources that we have.”
Drought may not be partisan, but it does raise critical issues of governance, public policy, and how best to use the state’s natural resources. It
Henry I. Miller, MD, is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and
Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.

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BIG GULP: A freeway sign urges Southern California motorists to conserve
water amid the state’s most serious drought in recorded history. Irrigation for agriculture accounts for roughly 70 percent of the world’s fresh
water consumption, so plants that are less thirsty would allow water to
be freed up for other uses. New varieties of crops could also accommodate salty soils and brackish water sources.

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also offers an example of the law of unintended consequences: Santa Cruz,
Mendocino, and Marin counties—all of which boast politically correct,
far-left politics—are among the local jurisdictions that have banned a key
technology that could conserve huge amounts of water.

T H E S C IE N C E O F CO NSE R V I NG WATE R
The technology is genetic engineering performed with modern molecular techniques, sometimes referred to as genetic modification (GM) or
gene-splicing, which enables plant breeders to make old crops do spectacular new things, including conserve water. In the United States and
about thirty other countries, farmers are using genetically engineered crop
varieties to produce higher yields, with lower inputs and reduced impact
on the environment.
Even with R&D being hampered by resistance from activists and discouraged by governmental overregulation, genetically engineered crop
varieties are slowly but surely trickling out of the development pipeline
in many parts of the world. Cumulatively, over 3.7 billion acres of them
have been cultivated by more than 17 million farmers in thirty countries
during the past fifteen years—without disrupting a single ecosystem or
causing so much as a tummy ache in a consumer.
Fully one-third of irrigated land worldwide, including much of California,

© AFP-Getty Images/Robyn Beck

is unsuitable for crops because of salt.

Most of these new varieties are designed to be resistant to herbicides,
so that farmers can adopt more environment-friendly no-till farming
practices and more benign herbicides; or to be resistant to pests and
diseases that ravage crops. Others are more nutritious than the older
plants. But the greatest boon of all, both to food security and to the
environment in the long term, will probably be the ability of new crop
varieties to tolerate periods of drought and other water-related stresses.
Where water is unavailable for irrigation, the development of crop
varieties able to grow under conditions of low moisture or temporary
drought could both boost yields and lengthen the time that farmland
is productive.

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Even where irrigation is feasible, we need plants that use water more
efficiently. Because irrigation for agriculture accounts for roughly 70 percent of the world’s fresh water consumption, plants that grow with less
water would allow much of the water to be freed up for other uses. Especially during drought conditions, even a small percentage reduction in the
use of water for irrigation could result in huge benefits.
Certain jurisdictions known for far-left politics have banned a key
technology that could conserve huge amounts of water.

Plant biologists have identified genes that regulate water use and transferred them into important crop plants. These new varieties grow with
smaller amounts of water or with lower-quality water, including sources
that have been recycled or are high in natural salts. For example, Egyptian
researchers showed a decade ago that by transferring a single gene from
barley to wheat, the plants can tolerate reduced watering for a longer period. This new, drought-resistant variety requires only one-eighth as much
irrigation as conventional wheat, and in some deserts can be cultivated
with rainfall alone. One genetically engineered, drought-resistant variety
of corn has been commercialized in the United States and many more are
in advanced field testing.
Aside from new varieties that have lower water requirements, pest- and
disease-resistant genetically engineered crop varieties also make water use
more efficient indirectly. Because much of the loss to insects and diseases
occurs after the plants are fully grown—that is, after most of the water
required to grow a crop has already been applied—disease resistance
means more agricultural output per unit of water invested. We get more
crop for the drop.
The use of molecular genetic engineering technology can conserve
water in other ways as well. Salty soil is the enemy of agriculture: fully
one-third of irrigated land worldwide, including much of California, is
unsuitable for growing crops because of the presence of salt, and every
year nearly half a million acres of irrigated land is lost to cultivation.
Repeated fertilization, growing seasons, and cultivation cause this accumulation of salts. Scientists have enhanced salt tolerance in crops as
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diverse as tomatoes and canola. The transformed plants not only grow in
salty soil but also can be irrigated with brackish water, conserving fresh
water for other uses.
Incredibly, in spite of the intensive, safe, and successful cultivation
of genetically engineered plants for almost two decades, four California
counties have banned them entirely, either via legislation or referendums.
These actions in Trinity, Mendocino, Marin, and Santa Cruz counties represent political leadership and voter ignorance at their absolute worst. The
measures are unscientific and logically inconsistent, in that their restrictions are inversely related to risk: they permit the use of new varieties
of plants and microorganisms that have been crafted with unpredictable,
imprecise techniques, but ban those made with more precise and predictable ones.

T A N G L ED VI NE S O F R E G U LATI O N
California’s senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, who both favor
mandatory labeling of foods with genetically engineered ingredients—
which activists have admitted is only a stalking horse for eliminating the
technology entirely—proclaim a sense of urgency about the drought. They
sent a letter to President Obama requesting that he “appoint a drought task
force and federal drought coordinator to parallel efforts at the state level.”
The endless opposition to genetically modified plants suffocates research
and development.

A good start would be regulatory reform at the federal level: even where
genetically engineered crops are being cultivated, unscientific, overly burdensome regulation by the EPA and USDA has raised significantly the
cost of producing new plant varieties and kept many potentially important genetically engineered crops from ever reaching the market. The discriminatory and excessive regulation—which flies in the face of scientific
consensus that gene splicing is essentially an extension, or refinement, of
earlier techniques for crop improvement—adds millions of dollars to the
development costs of each new genetically engineered crop variety. These
extra costs and the endless, gratuitous controversy over cultivating and

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consuming these precisely crafted and highly predictable varieties—to say
nothing of outright bans—strongly discourage investment in research and
development.
Brown said in this year’s State of the State speech that “life is local.” The
absence of drought-resistant, genetically engineered plants is going to cause
life in many California localities to become a lot more expensive and less
pleasant. The irresponsible public policy that has discouraged the use of
molecular genetic engineering techniques to conserve water should provide
food for thought. Meanwhile, California farmers’ crops and profits dry up,
our lawns turn brown, and the costs of food and water increase.
Special to the Hoover Digest.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is To
America’s Health: A Proposal to Reform the Food and
Drug Administration, by Henry I. Miller. To order, call
800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

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CAL I F O R N I A

Term-limits Two-step
Intended to encourage the emergence of citizen-legislators, term
limits have simply extended the careers of seat-shopping politicians.
By Carson Bruno.

In November 1990, Californians imposed term limits on their state-level
elected officials through Proposition 140, backed by 52 percent of voters.
Lawmakers could no longer exceed three, two-year assembly terms or two,
four-year senate terms.
Proposition 28, which came along in June 2012 and attracted 61
percent of voters, was sold as “punishing” lawmakers—reducing their
Sacramento tenure from fourteen to twelve years—but in fact was a
ballot sleight-of-hand. It actually rewarded assembly and state senate
members by allowing them to spend the entire decade-plus in one
chamber.
Fourteen years after they were first imposed, term limits clearly have
failed to live up to their supposed potential in California. They have also
probably encouraged more bad governance.
All the arguments in favor of term limits focus on removing entrenched
incumbents. They cite these goals:
1. To reduce the number of career politicians serving in the legislature
2. To make legislative elections more competitive
3. To remove the power of special interests over the state legislature
4. To increase diversity among representatives
Carson Bruno is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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However, with hindsight and political-science research, we now know
that none of these hopes came true—and in some cases, the problem got
worse.
• Reduce career politicians: Term limits have done nothing to reduce
the number of career politicians in Sacramento. If anything, the number
has increased as elected officials engage in political musical chairs. Take
the example of California’s current state treasurer, Bill Lockyer, who has
managed to piece together sixteen years in state constitutional offices.
After being termed out of the state senate in 1998, Lockyer succeeded in
getting himself elected state attorney general. After that, state treasurer.
Before he announced his retirement, the expectation was that he would
make a run for state controller in 2014 to secure an additional eight years
in office (politicians can serve two, four-year terms in a state constitutional
office such as governor, treasurer, or attorney general).
Political-science research backs up the phenomenon of seat-shopping
and office-hopping. As Gary Moncrief, Richard Niemi, and Lynda Powell
note in a 2011 study, “there is also a strong relationship between the presence of term limits and interchamber movement.” Additionally, Jeffrey
Lazarus notes, in a 2006 study, “I find that those who wish to pursue a
long-term political career are not, in general, stopped by term limits.”
Seth Masket and Jeffrey Lewis conclude in their 2007 study of California’s
term-limits laws that “rather than being supplanted by citizen legislators,
career politicians have simply adapted to the constraints imposed by term
limits.”
• Increase electoral competitiveness: Term limits have failed to increase
electoral competition and, in some cases, have actually limited competition. While early studies of term limits suggested they had succeeded in
making elections competitive, more recent reports, with more data available, have suggested otherwise. As Masket and Lewis note, “in terms of
electoral competitiveness, state legislative incumbents are in no more danger of losing seats today” than before term limits became law and “openseat races are not any more competitive under term limits than before.”
Furthermore, in a 2006 paper, Erik Engstrom and Nathan Monroe find
that “the vote loss suffered by the incumbent party is smaller in term142

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limited seats than in voluntary open seats,” providing evidence that “quality incumbent-party replacements run disproportionately in term-limited
seats.” This lack of competition isn’t entirely surprising. A serious competitor would rather wait until there is an open seat than challenge a sitting
incumbent, and term limits ensure that an open seat isn’t too far off.
• Rein in special interests: Probably the most compelling argument for
term limits is to curb the influence of special interests. But examining the
power of groups like the California Teachers Association or the California
Correctional Peace Officers Association suggests that term limits backfired
in this regard too. With new politicians cycling through consistently, the
members no longer hold institutional knowledge, which is, instead, held
by their support system of aides and government bureaucrats.
According to a 2001 study by Gary Moncrief and Joel Thompson,
“term limits have caused the political influence structure to shift away
from the legislature and toward the governor, administrative agencies, and
interest groups.” John Carey, Richard Niemi, and Lynda Powell, as early
as 1998, found that “term limits appear to be redistributing power away
from majority-party leaders and toward governors and possibly legislative
staffers.” The issue of empowered executive agencies could be solved with
effective legislative oversight, but research shows that not only is legislative oversight not effective before term limits, but it gets even less effective
under term limits.
• Increase legislative diversity: Because California is diverse—since
2011 it has been a “majority minority state”—one would expect its political leadership to cover a broad ethnic spectrum. Indeed, over the years
California’s legislature has become more diverse in background, gender,
and race. However, research suggests that this is not due to term limits.
A 2011 study by John Carey, Richard Niemi, Lynda Powell, and Gary
Moncrief concludes that term limits “have virtually no effect on the types
of people elected to office—whether measured by a range of demographic
characteristics or by ideological predisposition.” Similarly, a 2003 paper
by a group of political scientists suggests that term limits are not the root
cause of increased minority representation in state legislatures. This finding shouldn’t be surprising. Voters are likely to vote for someone who

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looks like them, acts like them, and has a similar background. As voters
become more diverse, they are more likely to elect diverse representatives,
independent of term limits.
Beyond the failed promises, term limits also contribute to bad governance.
While some term-limits supporters expressed hope that they would
increase voter participation, evidence strongly suggests otherwise. In the
five California general elections before Proposition 140 (excluding special
elections), statewide turnout averaged about 53 percent. In the five general, non-special elections immediately after Proposition 140’s passage,
statewide voter turnout was 49 percent. In the five most recent general, non-special elections, average statewide turnout was just 51 percent.
Research reinforces this decline and its link to term limits. Kimberly
Nalder, a political scientist, found evidence in a 2007 study that state legislative term limits “not only fail to achieve [increased voter participation],
but they, in fact, decrease voter turnout.”
Not only are voters failing to turn out to vote for their representatives,
but term limits have been shown to degrade lawmakers’ sense of accountability. The evidence includes an increase in state spending under termlimited versus non-term-limited legislatures, as well as legislation becoming prohibitively complex and far more opaque.
In the end, term limits do the exact opposite of what reformers intend:
they incentivize bad governance and otherwise add very little value to the
legislative process. A first step toward better governance in Sacramento
would be to lift this restriction altogether.
Reprinted from the Hoover Institution publication Advancing a Free Society (www.advancingafreesociety.
org). © 2013 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is
Constitutional Conservatism: Liberty, Self-Government,
and Political Moderation, by Peter Berkowitz. To order,
call 800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

144

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IN M E M O R I AM : G AR Y S. B E CKE R

An Economic
Trailblazer
The late Hoover fellow Gary Becker followed the data to “amazing
ideas and predictions.” By John B. Taylor.

Gary Becker was “the greatest social scientist who has lived and worked in
the last half century.” So declared Milton Friedman a decade ago, and when
Gary died earlier this year at eighty-three the outpouring of praise from his
friends and colleagues reminded us why: his unique style of economic analysis, firmly rooted in facts, yielded a host of truly amazing ideas and predictions. They ranged from the growth effects of investment in human capital to
recent changes in the distribution of income and intergenerational mobility.
Many of his ideas—including that free, competitive markets help combat discrimination and that simple cost-benefit calculations applied to
children help determine fertility rates—were originally controversial, but
are now widely accepted. I regularly teach them to beginning students in
the Economics 1 course at Stanford.
In the rush to describe Gary’s contributions to economics we sometimes forget his deep interest in economic policy. He took economics very
Gary S. Becker was the Rose-Marie and Jack R. Anderson Senior Fellow at the
Hoover Institution. He was also the University Professor of Economics and Sociology at
the University of Chicago and the recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic
Sciences in 1992. John B. Taylor is the George P. Shultz Senior Fellow in Economics at the Hoover Institution, the chair of Hoover’s Working Group on Economic
Policy and a member of Hoover’s Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy,
and the Mary and Robert Raymond Professor of Economics at Stanford University.

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© University of Chicago

seriously, no less so when he applied it to public policy. For Gary, more
than for most economists, economics and economic policy were inseparable. When he talked to a politician running for office or to a public
official already in office, his policy recommendations would be exactly the
same as if he were speaking to a student, a colleague, or the readers of his
Businessweek columns, blogs, and research papers. There was no difference
between his economics and his school of economics.
This close connection between economics and economic policy was
most apparent to me during the times of year when he was in residence
at the Hoover Institution, which itself has had a focus on policy. For several decades Gary would spend a number of weeks or months each year
at Hoover, and he kept in touch with Hoover policy research projects at
other times, from joining in op-ed columns with other Hoover fellows
to commenting on their ideas. His Hoover office was next to mine, and
I will miss him, his advice, and our conversations greatly, as will many of
his other good friends.
Gary’s association with the Hoover Institution began in the 1970s
when he served on the influential Domestic Policy Advisory Committee
along with Milton Friedman, George Stigler, and James Buchanan, all of
whom would also become Nobel Prize winners. He officially became a
Hoover senior fellow in 1990.
During his stints on the West Coast Gary regularly attended the annual
Economists Weekend at Villa Cyprus on the Monterey Peninsula hosted
by George Shultz. There he would interact and vigorously debate the hot
policy topics of the day with Shultz, Friedman, and other economists, but
also with practical business people engaged in economics and finance,
such as Walter Wriston of Citibank and Dick Kovacevich of Wells Fargo.
Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners became serious seminar-like policy con-

EXPLORERS: The namesakes of the Becker Friedman Institute for
Research in Economics at the University of Chicago. Gary S. Becker,
left, was Milton Friedman’s student and colleague, and together the two
Hoover senior fellows changed economic thinking.

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versations with rejuvenating breaks to play tennis or hike along the rocks
and surf. Policy topics would change over the years, but the seriousness
with which Gary confronted them did not.

TR U E T O T HE DATA
Another example of Gary’s focus on economic policy was the 1996 presidential campaign, in which Gary was a key economic adviser to candidate Bob Dole. He focused mainly on education and training issues, but
weighed in on all other economic issues from the budget to tax policy.
From my vantage point as another adviser, I can tell you that Gary’s advice
could not have been more closely aligned to his economic research, with
absolutely no hedging or bending if politics threatened to push out good
economics.
For Gary, more than for most economists, economics and economic policy
were inseparable.

In a campaign memo, he wrote: “The value of education, training, and
other human capital is no less than that of machines and other physical capital, and almost certainly it is larger,” adding to another memo
that “we have seen income distribution widen in the United States and
other countries” and that reflects “a particular problem with the education and training of those at the lower end of the income distribution.”
He advised that “the aim of policy reforms in this field should be to help
stimulate economic growth by encouraging better quality and more effective schooling and training, especially for those at the bottom and middle
of the human capital distribution.” This “will both raise economic growth
and also reduce inequality in earnings.”
So, long before its recent popularity in policy and political circles,
Gary was diagnosing and looking for solutions to income distribution problems. Indeed, some of his most recent work at the Hoover
Institution was on income distribution. In a paper presented at the
Hoover Economic Policy Working Group last year, he applied his
unique approach to the problem—one could say he Beckerized the
problem—and uncovered a natural connection between changes in
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the cross-sectional distribution of income and changes in intergenerational income mobility.

A D O W N - T O- E AR TH O PTI MI ST
The recent financial crisis led many to question basic economic principles, but Gary fought back. In a September 2011 Wall Street Journal
article headlined “The Great Recession and Government Failure,” he said
that “the origins of the financial crisis and the Great Recession are widely
attributed to ‘market failure.’ . . . Government behavior also contributed
to and prolonged the crisis. The Federal Reserve kept interest rates artificially low in the years leading up to the crisis. . . . Regulators who could
have reined in banks instead became cheerleaders for the banks. . . . ‘Government failure’ added greatly to its length and severity, including its continuation to the present. In the United States, these government actions
include an almost $1 trillion in federal spending that was supposed to
stimulate the economy.”
Long before its recent popularity in policy and political circles, Gary was
diagnosing and looking for solutions to income distribution problems.

The “blame the markets, not the government” mantra was enough to
discourage anybody. I remember going into his office and griping about
it. But Gary could see people’s perceptions changing, and he was pleased
that the revival of a highly interventionist approach to economic policy
had not captured all of the profession. Gary remained optimistic to the
end, and that should be an inspiration to us all.
Special to the Hoover Digest.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is The
Essence of Friedman, edited by Kurt R. Leube. To order,
call 800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

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I N M EM ORIAM : GARY S. BE CKE R

Numbers to Live By
To Gary Becker, the invisible hand was inescapably human. By
Edward Paul Lazear.

When Gary Becker died, the world lost one of the great economists of
the past century—and one of its most significant social scientists. Becker
believed that economics could be used to explain all social behavior. He
proved it by analyzing topics believed at the time to be beyond economic
analysis. His work was so revolutionary that it was viewed as heretical
when it first appeared in the late 1950s, but it was eventually recognized
with the Nobel Prize in economics in 1992.
Thinking of a child as an economic good, as Becker did, or theorizing
that discrimination was a conscious choice that traded off a preference for
discrimination against profits, seemed to many to be odd and immoral.
Once the skeptics recognized the power of his ideas in explaining the real
world, most of them changed their views. Becker’s work had important
policy implications that would work to the betterment of humankind.
With his doctoral dissertation in 1955, Becker sought to understand
both how discrimination would affect its victims and when discrimination’s effects would be most pernicious. Becker treated discrimination as
the reflection of a taste for one group over another but recognized that
not everyone had the same preferences. As a consequence, markets would

Edward Paul Lazear is the Morris Arnold and Nona Jean Cox Senior Fellow
at the Hoover Institution, co-chair of Hoover’s Conte Initiative on Immigration
Reform, and the Jack Steele Parker Professor of Human Resources Management
and Economics at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

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ensure that the disfavored employees would work first for those companies that had the least distaste for them.
This implied that when there were large numbers of individuals in the
disfavored group, their wages would be much below that of the favored
group, because they would be forced to work even for those who disliked
their kind. When the disfavored group had few members, the wage difference between the favored and disfavored would be very small or nonexistent because they could find employers who had little distaste for them.
Thus, for example, African-Americans suffered more from discrimination
than did Jews because blacks constituted a much larger population. The
difference in discrimination experienced by the two groups held true even
when comparing individuals with the same education and skills.

T HE “ C O S T OF A CH I LD ”
Becker’s economics of demography was among his most important theories. He observed that in the nineteenth century, high-income families
were larger than low-income families, but in the latter part of the twentieth century the pattern reversed. Rather than resorting to circular, tastebased explanations, Becker reasoned that rearing a child combined both
goods and time, primarily the mother’s. The goods component included
food, clothing, shelter, and the standard expenditures that one makes raising a child. The time cost varied with the mother’s wage rate.
His insight also showed how important education and teachers are
to society.

The “cost of a child” was lower for low-wage women because the value of
their time in the labor market was lower than that of a high-wage woman.
As a result, Becker postulated that families in which the mother has low
wages are likely to be larger than families with high-wage mothers. In the
nineteenth century, the pattern was the opposite because high-wage women
did not work and the value of their time outside the home was low.
His theory about family size—which has been found to be true almost
universally—had dramatic policy implications. The most effective way to
reduce population growth is to educate girls so they will have a better

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© Pressens Bild of Sweden/Jan Collsioo

opportunity to earn high wages as adults, which induces them to have
fewer children. This view now informs development policy throughout
the world.
In the 1960s, Becker also developed a theory of human capital that
stressed the value of formal schooling and learning on the job. The theory yielded very specific predictions for wage patterns over the life cycle.
Because skills are acquired as a career progresses, wages rise with experience but at a decreasing rate. Human capital grows rapidly in the first
years on the job and more slowly later because the most important skills
are learned first.
Consequently, raises for young workers are larger than those for old
workers, and eventually earnings may even decline as human capital
deteriorates with age. The theory also implied that turnover rates for
young workers, who had fewer skills that made them valuable to a
particular firm, would be higher than those of more senior workers.
These predictions are borne out in data from many countries and time
periods.
Becker also emphasized the wage-enhancing benefit of formal schooling. The educational establishment was at first hostile to this view, resenting a theory that treated education as a mere income-producer. As evidence mounted that education is the single most important factor in
raising income, the establishment came around. His insight showed how
important education and teachers are to society.

F A M IL Y BU S I NE SS
A Treatise on the Family (1981) was a comprehensive view of family life
that also used economics to reason through behavior. He understood that
NOBEL PRIZE: “Economics surely does not provide a romantic vision of
life,” Gary Becker said in a speech after accepting his prize in 1992.
“But the widespread poverty, misery, and crises in many parts of the
world, much of it unnecessary, are strong reminders that understanding economic and social laws can make an enormous contribution to the
welfare of people.”

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BRADLEY PRIZE: “I am confident that the economic approach to human behavior will
continue to take much of the mystery out of economic life,” Gary Becker said after receiving the Bradley Prize in June 2008 (Hoover senior fellow Victor Davis Hanson was also
awarded the Bradley Prize that year). Becker also was honored with the National Medal of
Science in 2000, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, and the John Bates Clark Medal
of the American Economic Association in 1967.

caring for children was an act of altruism and an investment. He studied
gifts, bequests, and primogeniture (giving all of an estate to the firstborn).
He examined family formation and dissolution in the context of human
capital. His theories of marriage and divorce reasoned that those who had
more “family-specific capital” were more likely to stay together, which is
why families with children have lower divorce rates than those without,
why divorce rates fall with years of marriage, and why couples who are
well-matched in education, religion, and other characteristics are more
likely to stay together.
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Becker’s family economics was, like his other theories, resisted. Yet its
predictions were confirmed in many different real-world settings, winning
over most of his critics to the extent that Becker’s view is now considered
mainstream. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in large part for his work
on the family.
Gary Becker’s theory about family size had dramatic implications. It
showed that the best way to reduce population growth is to educate girls

© Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation

so they will have better opportunities to earn high wages as adults.

Becker also made seminal contributions to understanding the trade-off
between punishment and crime detection as deterrents to crime, how the
behavior of one individual affects peers, how advertising affects consumer
preferences, and how to provide organs for transplants in the most efficient way.
Gary Becker was a giant who used his genius to make sense of issues
that had formerly resisted analysis. He integrated economics into more
general social science and won over his critics. He demonstrated that analytic thinking and economic analysis were the social scientist’s most powerful tools. He went beyond scholarship, using his ideas and knowledge to
inform policy, which resulted in his being awarded the Presidential Medal
of Freedom in 2007. There is no doubt that his ideas will influence scholarly research for generations.
Reprinted by permission of the Wall Street Journal. © 2014 Dow Jones & Co. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is The
Essence of Becker, edited by Ramon Febrero and Pedro
S. Schwartz. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

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I N M EM ORIAM : GARY S. BE CKE R

The Courage of His
Intuition
A scholar whose penetrating questions led economists and social
scientists where many had feared to tread. By Michael J. Boskin.

Gary Becker constantly focused on the main forces driving human
behavior and on how people interacted in both market and non-market
activities. His economic analyses reflected his deep belief in the power
of incentives to lead people, in pursuit of their own interest, to achieve
great things with minimal government input. In this sense, he was very
much in the tradition of the great eighteenth-century Scottish economist Adam Smith, whose writings Becker regarded as one of the greatest
influences on his career.
Like many others, I first met Becker by reading his seminal works
Human Capital and The Economics of Discrimination. It was remarkable
how he applied his penetrating insights, especially concerning economic
incentives, to issues that had been mostly underexplored by economic
analysis. These included viewing education as an investment, asking who
gained and lost from discrimination, examining how families allocated
their time, and explaining women’s fertility decisions.
His research on any one or two of these issues might well have won him
a Nobel Prize on its own; to develop important insights into such a wide
range of questions is truly remarkable.
Michael J. Boskin is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a member of Hoover’s
Shultz-Stephenson Task Force on Energy Policy and Working Group on Economic
Policy, and the T. M. Friedman Professor of Economics at Stanford University.

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Early in Becker’s career, his work was often criticized for being overly dependent on economic analysis in dealing with big social problems,
sometimes touching raw nerves on very sensitive issues. For example, the
notion of modeling children as a durable good seemed crass to some but
led Becker to analyze the allocation of parental time and financial resources. He showed how this insight could predict trends in female labor-force
participation and birth rates, and led to the policy conclusion that the best
way to lower high birth rates in poor countries was to educate women.
Better education would raise women’s wages, making staying at home
more costly, and would lead to higher female labor-force participation
and a voluntary decline in birth rates.
Equally off-putting to some was the notion that education was an
investment. The education establishment recoiled at what it considered a
less-than-noble reason to seek higher education.
And the idea that one could model the economics of racial discrimination as rational, if deplorable, behavior and trace out the implications was
sometimes misconstrued as paying insufficient attention to the character
and behavior flaws of those who discriminate.
Truth will out, as Shakespeare reminds us, and eventually even Becker’s
harshest early critics came around to appreciating his insights and conclusions. For example, the education industry now touts the economic value
of a college degree. And governments around the world conduct vast surveys of how households use their time.
Incentives hold the power to lead people to achieve great things with
minimal government input, Gary Becker believed.

Few economists today work on these and related problems without
building on Becker’s foundations or laboring under his strong influence.
On a personal note, some of my early research on the best way to tax
families and on the effects of taxes on human-capital investment built on
Becker’s insights.
Becker relied on rigorous standards in evaluating government policy.
He knew, and documented, that government solutions to market failures
could themselves fail, with the cure turning out to be worse than the dis-

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157

ease. He sought to compare what was likely to be the actual government
program, tax, or regulation to the problem it purported to solve, not to
the idealized textbook solution academics favor but that is rarely adopted.
The basic economic analysis that Becker developed was applicable everywhere, for everyone, and for all time. Conditions in the United States in
the nineteenth and late twentieth centuries—or in North America and
Europe and developing Asia, Africa, or Latin America—might differ, but
the same economic models could be used to understand changing events
and circumstances.
Truth will out, as Shakespeare reminds us, and eventually even Becker’s
harshest early critics came around to appreciating his insights.

In this sense, Becker was a great economist and a truly remarkable social
scientist. His work stands as a testament to the power of deep thinking
and the courage to follow it to its logical conclusions. That seems especially relevant in today’s world, in which technology tempts us merely to
scratch the surface of so many issues. He was a tremendous colleague at
the Hoover Institution, a true and supportive friend, and admirably humble despite his incredible intellectual influence. He will be missed.
Adapted from an essay distributed by Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org). © 2014 Project
Syndicate Inc. All rights reserved.

Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Eric Hoffer:
The Longshoreman Philosopher, by Tom Bethell. To
order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.hooverpress.org.

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IN M E M O R I AM : G AR Y S. B E CKE R

A Professor’s Professor
In his classroom, rigor was its own reward. By Russell Roberts.

Gary Becker was my PhD adviser at the University of Chicago. We graduate students were in awe of him and more than a little afraid of him. He
had a very big brain and was never one for casual conversation or chitchat.
In class, Becker would often glance up at the ceiling while he lectured,
wandering back and forth in front of the class, seemingly not paying attention. We always wondered what he saw up there—his lecture notes? His
next great idea? Then he would stop and pause, barking out a student’s last
name followed by a question, usually a question about whether a change
in one variable would cause another to go up or down. Or stay the same.
Often, the student would ask Becker to repeat the question as a way to
stall for time, mental wheels spinning furiously, hoping to find the right
response. Knowing we might be called on, we paid close attention to the
lecture, desperately trying to figure out the implications of the analysis so
we could be ready to answer if we were called on.
They were not easy questions. Mostly he was patient with our imperfections. The only exception I remember was when a student declared that
Becker didn’t understand Coase’s work. A collective gasp filled the air. We
half-expected a lightning bolt to come down through the roof and kill the
student on the spot. What followed as Becker sparred with the student
seemed close enough to the same result.
Why were we so nervous? We respected him so much; we hoped to earn
just the smallest amount of respect in return.
Russell Roberts is the John and Jean De Nault Research Fellow at the Hoover
Institution.

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AND THE ANSWER IS . . . ? University of Chicago economics professor Gary S. Becker both
awed and intimidated his classes, recalls Hoover fellow Russell Roberts, a former student.
But “he gave all of us intellectual license to pursue economics to wherever it might lead,”
Roberts says. “His confidence in economics inspired us.”

When I was working on my dissertation and I wanted to see Becker, I
would go to his secretary, Myrna Hieke, and she would give me a fifteenminute time slot. When the time came, I would sit across from him and
he would greet me with something like “Well?” That was not an invitation
to tell him about my weekend. I was there to get some help with whatever
I was struggling with in my research. Then he would tell me how I could
fix it. Even in that casual setting, the laser-like quality of his mind was
something to behold. I usually didn’t use the whole fifteen minutes.
When I completed my dissertation, his summary remark was that it
made “some contribution.” It was a phrase Becker used occasionally. He
did not mean the word “some” the way it’s used in a phrase like “Koufax
had some fastball.” It was more like a grudging admission that there was
something there worthwhile. “Modest” would be the best translation. A
grudging concession. Coming from him, though, it was high praise.
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© University of Chicago

When you presented your paper at his workshop, the expectation was
that all of the participants had read your paper and there was no need
for you to present it. You were given five minutes to mention anything
you felt might be of interest and then the participants grilled you for
ninety minutes. Becker was the main griller. His copy of the paper being
presented had a special look that we students envied. It was covered in
comments, but more than that, it looked as if it had been run over by a
car a few times. The workshop was a scary place for a student to present,
but we were helped by the fact that a lot of illustrious guests from outside
Chicago also seemed to find it somewhat challenging.
He wasn’t a warm and fuzzy guy from a student’s perspective. But he
was never mean or arrogant. He just had high expectations of what it
meant to be an economist and we wanted to meet them.
I will always be grateful for the support he gave me as a student and
in my career. His interview on EconTalk, my weekly podcast, was the
ninth episode of what is now more than four hundred episodes. It was a
kindness on his part that helped me recruit other guests. We talked last
fall about doing another interview, but it fell through. I wish I had tried a
little harder to make it happen.
He exuded honesty and a relentless desire to discover the truth about
every aspect of human behavior. He gave all of us intellectual license to
pursue economics to wherever it might lead. His confidence in economics
inspired us. His curiosity and his reasoning powers were unparalleled.
George Stigler liked to say about economics and economists that there is
only one social science and we are its practitioners. Gary Becker, more
than anyone, gave empirical support to Stigler’s claim. He was a giant. I’ll
miss him.
Special to the Hoover Digest.
Available from the Hoover Institution Press is Failing
Liberty 101: How We Are Leaving Young Americans
Unprepared for Citizenship in a Free Society, by William
Damon. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

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161

I N M EM ORIAM : GARY S. BE CKE R

“Markets Are Hard to
Appreciate”
Academic debates will never end, but Gary Becker was convinced of
this: Americans don’t want to go backward on economic liberty. By
Peter Robinson.

Editor’s note: In this 2010 interview with Hoover Digest editor Peter Robinson, Gary Becker spoke about his optimism that free markets would prevail,
come economic downturn or hostile public opinion.
“No, no. Not at all.”
So says Hoover senior fellow Gary S. Becker when asked if the financial
collapse, the worst recession in a quarter century, and the rise of an administration intent on expanding the federal government have prompted him
to reconsider his commitment to free markets.
Becker is a founder, along with his friend and teacher the late Milton
Friedman, of the Chicago School of economics. More than four decades
after winning the John Bates Clark Medal and almost two after winning
the Nobel Prize, he occupies an unusual position for a man who has spent
his entire professional life in the intensely competitive field of economics: he has nothing left to prove. Which makes it all the more impressive
that he works as hard as an associate professor trying to earn tenure. He
publishes regularly, carries a full-time teaching load at the University of
Chicago, and engages in a running argument with his friend Judge RichPeter Robinson is the editor of the Hoover Digest, the host of Uncommon
Knowledge, and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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ard Posner on the Becker-Posner Blog, one of the best-read websites on
economics and the law.
When his teaching schedule permits, Becker visits Hoover, where he
has been a fellow since 1988. The day he and I meet in his Hoover office,
Becker has already attended a meeting with former treasury secretary
Hank Paulson and spent several hours touring Apple headquarters down
the road in Cupertino with his wife, Guity Nashat, a historian of the
Middle East, and their grandson. “I guess you’d call our grandson a computer whiz,” he explains proudly. “He’s just fourteen, but he has already
sold a couple of apps.”

H E A L T H C A R E AND LO ST O PPO R TU NI TIES
I begin with the obvious question. “The health care legislation? It’s a bad bill,”
Becker replies. “Health care in the United States is pretty good, but it does
have a number of weaknesses. This bill doesn’t address them. It adds taxation
and regulation. It’s going to increase health costs, not contain them.”
Drafting a good bill would have been easy, he continues. Health savings
accounts could have been expanded. Consumers could have been permitted to purchase insurance across state lines, which would have increased
competition among insurers. The tax deductibility of health care spending could have been extended from employers to individuals, giving the
same tax treatment to all consumers. And incentives could have been put
in place to prompt consumers to pay a larger portion of their health care
costs out of their own pockets.
“Once people begin spending substantial sums from their own pockets, they
become willing to shop around. Ordinary market incentives begin to operate.”

“Here in the United States,” Becker says, “we spend about 17 percent
of our GDP on health care, but out-of-pocket expenses make up only
about 12 percent of total health care spending. In Switzerland, where
they spend only 11 percent of GDP on health care, their out-of-pocket expenses equal about 31 percent of total spending. The difference
between 12 percent and 31 percent is huge. Once people begin spending
substantial sums from their own pockets, they become willing to shop

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around. Ordinary market incentives begin to operate. A good bill would
have encouraged that.”
“People understand that entrepreneurs and investors . . . just try to
make money, not act on behalf of the greater good. . . . There’s always a
temptation to believe that markets succeed by looting the unfortunate.”

TH E IN T ER E S T GR O U PS JO STLE
Bad legislation, maintained by self-seeking interest groups. Back in 1982,
I point out, the economist Mancur Olson published a book, The Rise and
Decline of Nations, predicting just that trend. Over time, Olson argued,
interest groups would form to press for policies that would almost invariably prove protectionist, redistributive, or antitechnological. Policies, in a
word, that would inhibit economic growth. Yet since the benefits of such
policies would accrue directly to interest groups while the costs would
be spread across the entire population, very little opposition to such selfseeking would ever develop. Interest groups—and bad policies—would
proliferate, and the nation would stagnate.
Olson may have sketched his portrait during the 1980s, but doesn’t it
display a remarkable likeness to the United States today? Becker thinks
for a moment, swiveling toward the window. Then he swivels back. “Not
necessarily,” he replies.
“The idea that interest groups can derive specific, concentrated benefits from the political system—yes, that’s a very important insight,” he
says. “But you can have competing interest groups. Look at the automo164

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The White House

Despite the damage this new legislation appears certain to cause, Becker believes we’re probably stuck with it. “Repealing this bill will be very,
very difficult,” he says. “Once you’ve got a piece of legislation in place,
interest groups grow up around it. Look at Medicare and Medicaid. Originally, the American Medical Association opposed Medicare and Medicaid.
Then the AMA came to see them as a source of demand for physicians’
services. Today the AMA supports Medicare and Medicaid as staunchly as
anyone. Something like that will happen with this new legislation.”

FREEDOM: President Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to
Hoover senior fellow Gary S. Becker on November 5, 2007.

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bile industry. The domestic manufacturers in Detroit want protectionist
policies, but the auto importers want free trade. So they fight it out. Now
sometimes in these fights the dark forces prevail, and sometimes the forces
of light prevail. But if you have competing interest groups you don’t end
up with a systematic bias toward bad policy.”
“The American people don’t want an expansion of government. They
want more of what Reagan provided. They want limited government and
economic growth.”

Once again, he reflects, then smiles wryly. “Of course, that doesn’t
mean there isn’t any systematic bias toward bad policy. There’s one bias
that we’re up against all the time: markets are hard to appreciate.”
Capitalism has produced the highest standard of living in history,
and yet markets are hard to appreciate? Becker explains: “People tend to
impute good motives to government. And if you assume that government
officials are well meaning, then you also tend to assume that government
officials always act on behalf of the greater good. People understand that
entrepreneurs and investors, by contrast, just try to make money, not
act on behalf of the greater good. And they have trouble seeing how this
pursuit of profits can lift the general standard of living. The idea is too
counterintuitive. So we’re always up against a kind of inbuilt suspicion of
markets. There’s always a temptation to believe that markets succeed by
looting the unfortunate.”
As he speaks, Becker appears utterly at ease. He wears loose-fitting
clothes and slouches comfortably in his chair. His hair, wispy and white,
sets off his most striking feature—penetrating eyes so dark they seem
nearly black. Yet those dark eyes display not foreboding, but contentment.
He does not have the air of a man contemplating national decline.

“I ’ M N OT T HA T PE SSI MI STI C”
I read aloud from an article by historian and Hoover senior fellow Victor Davis Hanson that had appeared in the morning newspaper. “We are
in revolutionary times,” Hanson argues, “in which the government will
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grow to assume everything from energy to student loans.” Next I read
from a column by economist Thomas Sowell, another Hoover senior fellow. “With the passage of the legislation allowing the federal government
to take control of the medical system,” Sowell asserts, “a major turning
point has been reached in the dismantling of the values and institutions
of America.”
“They’re very eloquent,” Becker replies, his equanimity undisturbed.
“And maybe they’re right. But I’m not that pessimistic.” The temptation
to view markets with suspicion, he explains, is just that: a temptation.
Although voters might succumb to the temptation temporarily, over time
they know better.
“One of the points Secretary Paulson made earlier today was how outraged—how unexpectedly outraged—the American people became when
the government bailed out the banks. This belief in individual responsibility—the belief that people ought to be free to make their own decisions,
but should then bear the consequences of those decisions—this remains
very powerful. The American people don’t want an expansion of government. They want more of what Reagan provided. They want limited government and economic growth. I expect them to say so in the elections
this November.”
Even if ordinary Americans still want limited government, I ask, what
about those who dominate the press and universities? What about the
molders of received opinion who claim that the financial crisis marked the
demise of capitalism, rendering the Chicago School irrelevant?
“During the financial crisis,” he replies, “the government and markets—or rather, some aspects of markets—both failed.”
The Federal Reserve, he explains, kept interest rates too low for too
long. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae made the mistake of participating in
the market for subprime instruments. And as the crisis developed, regulators failed to respond. “The Fed and the Treasury didn’t see the crisis coming until very late. The SEC didn’t see it at all,” he says.
“The markets made mistakes, too. And some of us who study the markets made mistakes. Some of my colleagues at Chicago probably overestimated the ability of the Fed to smooth disruptions. I didn’t write much
about the Fed, but if I had I would probably have overestimated the Fed

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myself. As the banks developed new instruments, economists paid too
little attention to the systemic risks—the risks the instruments posed for
the whole financial system—as opposed to the risks they posed for individual institutions.
“I learned from Milton Friedman that from time to time there are
going to be financial problems, so I wasn’t surprised that we had a financial crisis. But I was surprised that the financial crisis spilled over into the
real economy. I hadn’t expected the crisis to become that bad. That was
my mistake.”
Once again, Becker reflects. “So yes, we economists made mistakes.
But has the experience of the past few years invalidated the finding that
markets remain the most efficient means for producing economic growth?
Not in any way.
“Yes, we economists made mistakes. But has the experience of the past
few years invalidated the finding that markets remain the most efficient
means for producing economic growth? Not in any way.”

“Look at growth in developed countries since the Second World War.
Even after you take into account the various recessions, including this one,
you still end up with a good record. So even if a recession as bad as this
one were the price of free markets—and I don’t believe that’s the correct
way of looking at it, because government actions contributed so greatly to
the current problem—but even if a bad recession were the price, you’d still
decide it was worth paying.”
“Or look at developing countries,” he says. “China, India, Brazil. A
billion people have been lifted out of poverty since 1990 because their
countries moved toward more market-based economies—a billion people.
Nobody’s arguing for taking that back.”

PR OM IS E S T O K EE P
My last question involves a little story. Not long before Milton Friedman’s
death in 2006, I tell Becker, I had a conversation with Friedman, who was
also a Hoover senior fellow. He had just reviewed the growth of spending
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that was then taking place under the Bush administration, and he was not
happy. After a pause during the Reagan years, Friedman had explained,
government spending had once again begun to rise. “The challenge for
my generation,” Friedman said, “was to provide an intellectual defense of
liberty.” Then Friedman looked at me. “The challenge for your generation
is to keep it.”
What was the prospect, I asked Becker, that this generation would
indeed keep its liberty? “It could go either way,” he replies. “Milton was
right about that.”
He recites some figures. For years, federal spending remained level at
about 20 percent of GDP. Now federal spending has risen to 25 percent
of GDP. On current projections, federal spending would soon rise to 28
percent. “That concerns me,” Becker says. “It concerns me a great deal.”
“But when Milton was starting out,” he continues, “people really
believed a state-run economy was the most efficient way of promoting
growth. Today nobody believes that, except maybe in North Korea. You
go to China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, even Western Europe. Most
of the economists under fifty have a free-market orientation. Now there
are differences of emphasis and opinion among them, but they’re oriented
toward the markets. That’s a very, very important intellectual victory. Will
this victory have an effect on policy? Yes. It already has. And in years to
come, I believe it will have an even greater impact.”
The sky outside has begun to darken. Becker stands, places some papers
into his briefcase, then puts on a tweed jacket and cap. “When I think of
my children and grandchildren,” he says, “yes, they’ll have to fight. Liberty can’t be had on the cheap. But it’s not a hopeless fight. It’s not a hopeless fight by any means. I remain basically an optimist.”
This interview appeared in the Hoover Digest in summer 2010.
Available from the Hoover Press is Leviathan: The
Growth of Local Government and the Erosion of Liberty,
by Clint Bolick. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

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H I S TORY AND C ULTURE

Unlike Ike
Pundits have taken to comparing President Obama with President
Eisenhower. Historian and Hoover fellow Victor Davis Hanson says
that’s nonsense. For one thing, Ike was both diplomatic and assertive.

In critique of the George W. Bush administration, and in praise of the
perceived foreign-policy restraint of President Obama’s first five years in
the White House, a persistent myth has arisen that Obama is reminiscent
of Dwight D. Eisenhower—in the sense of being a president who kept
America out of other nations’ affairs and did not waste blood and treasure
chasing imaginary enemies.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Andrew Bacevich, Fareed Zakaria (“On Foreign Policy, Why Barack Is Like Ike” in Time), and a host of others have
made such romantic, but quite misleading, arguments about the good old
days under the man they consider the last good Republican president.
Ike was no doubt a superb president. Yet while he could be sober and
judicious in deploying American forces abroad, he was hardly the noninterventionist of our present fantasies, the figure so frequently used and
abused to score partisan points.
There is a strange disconnect between Eisenhower’s supposed policy of
restraint, especially in reference to the Middle East, and his liberal use of
the CIA in covert operations. While romanticizing Ike, we often deplore
the 1953 coup in Iran and the role of the CIA, but seem to forget that it
was Ike who ordered the CIA intervention that helped lead to the ouster
Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the
Hoover Institution and the chair of Hoover’s Working Group on the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict.

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of Mohammad Mossadegh and bringing the shah to absolute power. Ike
thought that he saw threats to Western oil supplies, believed that Mossadegh was both unstable and a closet communist, sensed the covert hand
of the Soviet Union at work, was won over by the arguments of British oil
politics, and therefore simply decided Mossadegh should go—and he did.
Ike likewise ordered the CIA-orchestrated removal of the leaders of
Guatemala and the Congo. He bequeathed to JFK the plans for the Bay of
Pigs invasion, which had been born on his watch. His bare-faced lie that
a U-2 spy plane had not been shot down in Russia did terrible damage to
US credibility at the time.

D O M IN OS A ND B R I NKSMANSH I P
The Eisenhower administration formulated the domino theory, and Ike
was quite logically the first US president to insert American advisers
into Southeast Asia, a move followed by a formal SEATO defense treaty
to protect most of Southeast Asia from communist aggression. This was
one of the most interventionist commitments of the entire Cold War,
and it ended with more than fifty-eight thousand Americans dead in
Vietnam and helicopters fleeing from the rooftop of the US embassy in
Saigon.
Eisenhower’s “New Look” foreign policy placed greater reliance on
threats to use nuclear weapons, unleashing the CIA, and crafting new
entangling alliances. It may have fulfilled its short-term aims of curbing
the politically unpopular and costly use of conventional troops overseas,
but its long-term ramifications became all too clear in the 1960s and
1970s. Mostly, Ike turned to nuke-rattling because of campaign promises to curb spending and balance the budget by cutting conventional
forces—which earned him the furor of generals Omar Bradley, Douglas
MacArthur, and Matthew Ridgway.
In many ways, Eisenhower’s Mideast policy lapsed into incoherency,
notably in the loud condemnation of the 1956 British-French operations
in Suez after Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal. Those operations might otherwise have weakened or toppled Nasser. This stance of
Eisenhower’s (he was up for re-election) may also have contradicted tacit
assurances to the British that the United States would look the other way.
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VIGILANT: Dwight D. Eisenhower, the general turned president, authorized
US action in places such as Iran, Guatemala, and the Congo. He also left
his successor the plans for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba and
formulated the anticommunist domino theory. With such a record, Eisenhower is not easily remade into a model noninterventionist.

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© Keystone Pictures USA/Zuma Press

The unexpected American opposition eroded transatlantic relations for
years and helped topple the Eden government.
Somehow, all at once, the United States found itself humiliating its two
closest allies, empowering Nasser, and throwing in its lot with the Soviet
Union and the oil blackmailers of Saudi Arabia—with ramifications for
the ensuing decades.
Yet just two years after the Suez crisis, Ike ordered fifteen thousand
troops into Lebanon to prevent a coup and the establishment of an antiWestern government—precisely those anti-American forces that had been
emboldened by the recent Suez victory of the pan-Arabist Nasser.
We forget that Ike was nominated not just in opposition to the noninterventionist policies of Robert Taft but also as an antidote to the purportedly milquetoast Truman administration, which had supposedly failed to
confront global communism and thereby “lost” much of Asia.
Eisenhower gave wonderful speeches about the need to curtail costly
conventional forces and avoid overseas commitments, but much of his
defense strategy was predicated on a certain inflexible, dangerous reliance
on nuclear brinksmanship. In 1952 he ran to the right of the departing
Harry Truman on the Korean War, and unleashed Nixon to make the
argument of Democratic neo-appeasement in failing to get China out of
Korea. Yet when he assumed office, Eisenhower soon learned that hinting
at the use of nuclear weapons did not change the deadlock near the 38th
Parallel. Over 3,400 casualties (including perhaps 800 dead) were incurred
during the Eisenhower administration’s first six months. Yet the July 1953
cease-fire ended the war with roughly the same battlefield positions as
when Ike entered office. Pork Chop Hill—long before John Kerry’s baleful notion about the last man to die in Vietnam—became the emblem of
a futile battle on the eve of a negotiated stalemate.

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The Eisenhower administration gave birth to the domino theory.

As a footnote, Eisenhower helped marginalize the career of Ridgway,
the most gifted US battlefield commander of his era. Ike bore grudges
and was petty enough to write, quite untruthfully, that General James
Van Fleet, not Ridgway, had recaptured Seoul—even though the former
had not yet even arrived in the Korean theater. That unnecessary snub was
reminiscent of another to his former patron George Marshall during the
1952 campaign. Ridgway, remember, would later talk Eisenhower out of
putting more advisers into Vietnam.

SE RM ON S , N O T S TR ATE G Y
The problem with the Obama administration is not that it does or does
not intervene, given the differing contours of each crisis, but rather that it
persists in delivering loud sermons that bear no relationship to the actions
that do or do not follow.
“Red lines” in Syria are followed by Hamlet-like deliberations and
acceptance of Vladimir Putin’s bogus WMD removal plan; there are
flip-flop-flips in Egypt; “leading from behind” in Libya, followed by the
Benghazi attack and chaos; deadlines and sanctions for Iran turning into
no deadlines and no sanctions; resets with Russia; public scapegoating of
his predecessors, especially Bush; missile defense in Eastern Europe and
then no missile defense; Guantánamo, renditions, drones, and preventive
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Illustrations by Taylor Jones for the Hoover Digest.

Ike’s occasional opportunism certainly turned off more gifted field
generals like Matthew Ridgway. Ridgway found it ironic that candidate
Ike had cited a lack of American resolve to finish the Korean War with
an American victory, only to institutionalize Ridgway’s much-criticized
but understandable restraint after his near-miraculous restoration of
South Korea. In addition, Ridgway deplored the dangerous false economy of believing that postwar conventional forces could be pruned while
the United States relied instead on threatening to use nuclear weapons.
He almost alone foresaw, rightly, that an emerging concept of mutually assured destruction would make the conventional Army and Marine
Corps as essential as ever.

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detentions condemned in 2008 but apparently essential in 2009; civilian
trials for terrorists, and then none; and Orwellian new explanations.
We might remember the non-interventionist policies of Jimmy Carter, which ended abruptly, replaced by his bellicose “Carter Doctrine”—
birthed after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, American hostages were
taken in Tehran and Khomeinists had taken power, China had gone into
Vietnam, and communist insurgencies had swept Central America.
Eisenhower’s foreign policy emphasized threats to use nuclear weapons,
unleashing the CIA, and crafting new entangling alliances.

As for Dwight Eisenhower, of course he was an admirable and successful
president who squared the circle of trying to contain expansionary Soviet
and Chinese communism at a time when the postwar American public was
rightly tired of war, while balancing three budgets, building infrastructure,
attempting to deal with civil rights, and promoting economic growth. Yet
the Republican Ike continued for six months the identical Korean War policies of his unpopular Democratic predecessor, Harry Truman, and helped to
lay the foundation for the Vietnam interventions of his successors, Democrats John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Korea and Vietnam were
bookends for his own interventionist Cold War policies.

T HE “ E I S E N HO WE R E R A” MY TH
George W. Bush was probably no Ike (few are), and certainly Obama is
not one either. But it is a complete distortion of history to score contemporary political points against one and for the other by reinventing Eisenhower into a model noninterventionist.
So should we laugh or cry at the fantasies offered by Andrew Bacevich?
He writes: “Remember the disorder that followed the Korean War? It was
called the Eisenhower era, when budgets balanced, jobs were plentiful,
and no American soldiers died in needless wars.”
In fact, the post–Korean War “Eisenhower era” was characterized by only
three balanced budgets (in at least one case with some budget gimmickry)
out of the remaining seven Eisenhower years. In 1958 the unemployment
rate spiked at over 7 percent for a steady six months. Bacevich’s simplistic
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notion that “jobs were plentiful” best applies to the first six months of 1953,
when Ike entered office and, for the only time during his entire tenure,
the jobless rate was below 3 percent—coinciding roughly with the last six
months of fighting the Korean War. This was an age, remember, when we
had not yet seen the West German, South Korean, and Japanese democratic
and economic miracles (all ultimately due to US interventions and occupations), China and Russia were in ruins, Western Europe was still recovering
from the war, Britain had gone on a nationalizing binge, and for a brief time
the United States was largely resupplying the world, and mostly alone—
almost entirely with its own oil, gas, and coal.
Eisenhower was an admirable and successful president who squared the
circle of trying to contain expansionary Soviet and Chinese communism
when the postwar American public was rightly tired of war.

Eisenhower’s term also was characterized by intervention in Lebanon,
fighting for stalemate in Korea, CIA-led coups and assassinations, the
insertion of military advisers into Vietnam, new anticommunist treaty
entanglements to protect Southeast Asian countries, a complete falling
out with our European allies, abject lies about spy flights over the Soviet
Union, serial nuclear saber-rattling, and Curtis LeMay’s nuclear-armed
overflights of the Soviet Union—in other words, the not-so-abnormal
stuff of a Cold War presidency.
The idea that, to quote Doris Kearns Goodwin, Eisenhower “could
then take enormous pride in the fact that not a single soldier had died in
combat during his time” is, well, unhinged.
Reprinted by permission of National Review Online. © 2014 National Review, Inc. All rights reserved.
New from the Hoover Institution Press is Iraq after
America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance, by Joel
Rayburn. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

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T H E G R E AT WAR CE N T E N N I AL

Master of Emergencies
During the First World War and its aftermath, millions of Europeans
faced starvation. Herbert Hoover took up their cause. His work helped
create the modern vision of humanitarian aid. By George H. Nash.

This summer the nations of Europe and North America will begin to mark
the centenary of the First World War. The commemoration will largely be a
somber one, haunted by memories of soldiers subsisting in muddy trenches
and by the ghastly statistics of millions of lost lives. But there was another
dimension of the Great War (as it was then called) that should not be overlooked, for out of it something positive came. At its center was the man who
founded the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace.
On August 10, 1914, Herbert Hoover turned forty years old. A prosperous American mining engineer living in London, he was at the pinnacle of his profession, with business interests on every continent except
Antarctica. He was also restless, confiding to a friend that “just making
money isn’t enough.” He wanted, he said, to “get in the big game somewhere”—the “big game” of public life.
His opportunity arose in circumstances he could never have envisaged.
In the month of his fortieth birthday, most of Europe plunged into the
greatest armed conflict in a hundred years. On August 4, as Great Britain declared war on imperial Germany, Hoover wrote to a friend: “If my
judgment of the situation is right, we are on the verge of seven years of
considerable privation.”
George H. Nash is a historian, lecturer, and authority on the life of Herbert Hoover.
He is the editor of The Crusade Years, 1933–1955: Herbert Hoover’s Lost Memoir of the New Deal Era and Its Aftermath (Hoover Institution Press, 2013).

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The American resident of London was prophetic. For the next seven
years, war, revolution, and the battle against privation determined the
direction of his life. In the chaotic early weeks of the fighting, he and
other leading Americans in London organized emergency relief assistance
for more than one hundred thousand American travelers fleeing the continent of Europe for London and, they hoped, safe passage home. Hoover’s
efficient leadership of this effort won the gratitude of the American ambassador to Great Britain, Walter Hines Page, who, along with others, soon
tapped Hoover for a far greater mission of mercy.
When war broke out, Hoover told a friend: “If my judgment of the situation
is right, we are on the verge of seven years of considerable privation.”

In the summer of 1914 the small, hitherto neutral nation of Belgium
was overrun by an invading German army. Dependent on imported food
for most of its consumption, yet trapped between a hostile occupier and
a British naval blockade of its German enemy, the civilian population of
Belgium faced starvation unless sustenance could somehow be obtained
from the outside world.
With the approval of Ambassador Page and the acquiescence of the
warring British and German governments, Hoover established a neutral,
benevolent entity called the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) to
purchase, transport, and deliver food to the beleaguered Belgian populace.
Initially no one anticipated that his campaign would last more than a few
months. Had not the Kaiser of Germany predicted that the war would
be over by Christmas? Instead, the clash of giant armies quickly degenerated into a gruesome stalemate on the Western Front. Inside isolated
Belgium, Hoover’s emergency, ad hoc relief program turned into an elaborate enterprise without precedent in human history: an organized rescue
of an entire nation from starvation. Before long he and his fellow CRB
volunteers were responsible for feeding not only more than seven million
Belgians but also more than two million French civilians living behind the
German lines.
In the course of these exertions, Hoover, working without pay, became
an international hero, the embodiment of a new force in global politics:
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Poster Collection—Hoover Institution Archives

OCCUPIED: A British poster shows families in German-occupied Belgium
waiting for food. With the permission of the warring nations, Herbert
Hoover established a neutral agency called the Commission for Relief in
Belgium to sustain a population cut off from its imported food supplies.
By the time the war ended in 1918, even more Europeans were in danger
of starvation. The successor agency headed by Hoover, the American
Relief Administration, distributed food in more than twenty nations.

American benevolence. In 1916 Lord Eustace Percy of the British Foreign Office described him as “the advance guard and symbol of the sense
of responsibility of the American people towards Europe.” That same
year Brown University in the United States awarded him his first honorary degree.
When the United States entered the war a year later, Hoover left dayto-day supervision of the CRB to subordinates and returned to America.

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Poster Collection—Hoover Institution Archives

In short order he was appointed head of the US Food Administration,
a special, wartime agency created by the federal government to stimulate American food production, repress inflation of food prices, and create surpluses for export to America’s allies. “Food Will Win the War”
became Hoover’s motivational slogan. The word “hooverize” (meaning
to economize on food consumption) entered the American vocabulary.

R E B U I L DI N G O N TH E R U I NS
Shortly after the armistice in November 1918, President Woodrow Wilson dispatched his able food administrator to Europe to take charge of
food distribution to a continent exhausted by war and threatened by hunger and disease. By now, little Belgium was not the only nation at risk.
While Wilson and Allied leaders labored to draft a peace treaty at the
Versailles conference, Hoover, as director-general of relief and head of the
American Relief Administration (ARA), orchestrated the disbursement of
food to hungry people in more than twenty nations. In the process, he
helped to quell the danger of communist revolutions in Austria and other
vulnerable countries.
Hoover’s far-flung operations involved much more than keeping a step
ahead of famine. Economic recovery, he knew, was crucial if Europe was
to bind up its wounds. Many of his initiatives in 1919 were designed
to accomplish this objective. He arranged, for example, for the deployment of teams of technical advisers to the nascent governments of Poland,
Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Austria. There they worked to improve
agriculture, reorganize transportation systems, and reform currencies,
among other tasks. He also aided in reopening the vital Danube River

“SEND FUNDS LARGE OR SMALL”: This American food-relief poster highlights an appeal by Herbert Hoover, a mining engineer, to miners. From
1914 to 1923, government and private organizations delivered nearly
thirty-four million metric tons of food to people afflicted by the Great War
and its consequences. Reckoned in today’s currency, the value of this aid
exceeded $60 billion.

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basin for peacetime commerce. In Silesia his agents strove to resolve labor
disputes and increase the mining of coal.
At first no one expected Hoover’s food-relief campaign to last more than a few
months. Hadn’t the Kaiser predicted the war would be over by Christmas?

After the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, Hoover’s postwar relief and reconstruction activities changed course. The governmentfunded American Relief Administration was reconstituted as a nongovernmental organization with Hoover himself at the helm. It became part of
an expanding empire of philanthropy that he and his associates developed
to cope with the Great War’s aftermath. The ARA’s European Children’s
Fund, for instance, concentrated on providing daily meals to an estimated
three million children in Eastern and Central Europe in the early 1920s.
With leftover money from the CRB, Hoover and his colleagues founded
in 1920 an institution known today as the Belgian American Educational
Foundation. For nearly a century it has provided exchange fellowships to
Belgian and American scholars studying in each other’s countries.
Economic recovery, not just food, was crucial if Europe was to bind up
its wounds.

Not all of Hoover’s humanitarian endeavors were focused on noncommunist territories. One of his most remarkable initiatives occurred
in a country whose leaders and ideology he loathed. In 1921, more than
two years after the Great War ended, the worst famine in Europe since
the Middle Ages broke out in the Volga River region of Soviet Russia.
Millions died. Fearful that the regime itself might not survive, Russia’s
communist dictatorship appealed to the world through the writer Maxim Gorky for assistance. Hoover, although an outspoken anticommunist, responded. After successfully negotiating that any ARA personnel
sent to Russia would be free to select the Russian workers they wanted,
and free to distribute food “without regard to race, religion, or social or
political status,” Hoover’s apparatus took charge. In the next two years
the ARA shipped several hundred thousand tons of foodstuffs to the
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affected areas, where as many as twenty million people were fed under
American supervision.
In all, between 1914 and 1923, the CRB, the US Food Administration,
the ARA, and numerous other governments and private organizations delivered nearly thirty-four million metric tons of food to the nations and peoples afflicted by the Great War and its consequences. Reckoned in today’s
currency, the value of this aid exceeded $60 billion. For most of this unparalleled undertaking, the man with supreme responsibility was Hoover.
Hoover’s operation fed perhaps twenty million people in Russia, even
though he loathed communism.

No one will ever know how many people owed their lives to his deeds.
A possibly conservative estimate puts the number in the tens of millions.
Whatever the precise figure, his standing in the annals of humanitarianism is beyond dispute. As someone observed a generation or more ago,
Herbert Hoover was responsible for saving more lives than any other person in history.
Thus did this orphaned son of an Iowa blacksmith defeat what he later
called “the greatest famine of all time.” Thus did he earn his epithets the
“Great Humanitarian” and “Master of Emergencies.” Thus did he embark
upon what he labeled “the slippery road of public life”—a path that led
him to the presidency of the United States.

A N UN EA S Y P E ACE
In September 1919 the humanitarian hero came home to the United
States. Despite his prodigious accomplishments in the preceding ten
months, he was a troubled man. As one of President Wilson’s senior
advisers at the peace conference, he had watched with dismay as Allied
leaders forged a peace settlement marred by vengefulness and myopia.
He had seen as well the attempts by communists and other radicals to
impose by violence a Marxist social order. An unabashed believer in
American exceptionalism, he increasingly saw his native land in contrast
to the Old World. At Versailles, he came to believe, he had observed “the
collision of civilizations that had grown three hundred years apart.” After
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disembarking from his ocean liner in New York City, he told a reporter:
“I hope never to go back to Europe again.”
“For thousands of years,” Hoover wrote, “the question ‘Am I my brother’s
keeper?’ has echoed in the conscience of mankind. The American people

Less than a generation later, however, the bloody quarrels and humanitarian tragedies of the Old World beckoned him. When World War II
broke out in 1939, Hoover organized private relief agencies in the United
States to raise money and funnel assistance to the distressed civilian populations of war-ravaged Poland and Finland. Many of the men who assisted
him had been his colleagues in relief work twenty years before. In 1940
and 1941, as the war in Europe expanded, he attempted to reprise his
World War I success in Belgium by creating a new relief commission,
this time for the imperiled civilians of five small European democracies,
four of which had been overrun by Nazi Germany. Fearing that such a
humanitarian intervention behind enemy lines would benefit the Nazi
occupiers, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt blocked his efforts.
The “Master of Emergencies” of World War I was compelled to spend
most of World War II on the sidelines, without governmental responsibility, enduring what he called “four years of frustration.”
Yet Hoover’s humanitarian reputation and expertise were not entirely
ignored. Shortly after World War II, he was a catalyst for the creation of
the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
One of his associates in the CRB in World War I, Maurice Pate, became
UNICEF’s first executive director. Pate later declared that it was Hoover
who “originally had the idea” of setting up the fund “in the framework of
the United Nations.” Thanks in considerable measure to Hoover’s initiative
and persistence, another institution for succor of the innocent was born.
In 1946 and 1947, as countless millions of people in war-torn Europe
and Asia faced what Hoover called “the greatest famine in all history,”
the aging humanitarian traveled round the world to thirty-eight countries on an arduous, famine relief, food survey mission undertaken at the
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© NurPhoto-SIPA USA/ Mark Cristino

were the first in history to accept that obligation as a nation.”

ONWARD AND UPWARD: The UNICEF logo glows on a hot-air balloon at a festival in the Philippines last April. Herbert Hoover was a catalyst for the creation of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, one of many modern relief agencies. One of Hoover’s
associates in the Commission for Relief in Belgium, Maurice Pate, became UNICEF’s first
executive director. Pate declared that it was Hoover’s idea to set up the fund “in the framework of the United Nations.”

request of President Harry Truman. Hoover’s meticulous fact-finding
and high-profile consultations with global leaders helped to expedite the
shipment of surplus food to suffering nations, thereby helping to avert
mass starvation.
Nor did the Great Humanitarian’s solicitude for the victims of war and
revolution diminish as he grew older. In 1956, at the age of eighty-two, he
sponsored an organization that assisted refugees from the recent Hungarian uprising against that country’s Soviet overlords.
It was the memory of World War I, however, that increasingly weighed
upon his memory in his final years. Turning historian, in 1958 he published The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson, a perceptive account of President

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Wilson’s diplomatic struggles at Versailles and of Hoover’s own struggles
as American relief administrator.
That same year, at President Eisenhower’s invitation, the elderly humanitarian-statesman represented the United States at the Brussels World’s
Fair. There the people of Belgium honored the man who had saved so
many of their lives during the ordeal of 1914–18. He in turn reflected on
the CRB’s historical significance. It had brought “lasting benefits” to the
world, he averred. It had “pioneered the methods of relief of great famines,” and it had developed a system for “maintenance and rehabilitation”
of children during war and other upheavals.
The Commission for Relief in Belgium and its successors were more than
a minor episode. They were pioneers in global philanthropy.

Between 1959 and 1964, as Hoover neared the age of ninety, he published a history of the American-led “enterprises in compassion” that had
dispensed food relief to millions in the era of the two world wars. He titled
his four-volume work An American Epic. He wanted his fellow Americans
to remember their extraordinary humanitarian achievements in the twentieth century. “For thousands of years,” he wrote, “the question ‘Am I my
brother’s keeper?’ has echoed in the conscience of mankind. The American people were the first in history to accept that obligation as a nation.”
He worried that the public’s consciousness of this saga was disappearing.

A G I F T T H A T K E E PS O N G I V I NG
One hundred years after the outbreak of World War I, it seems at times
that his fear has been realized. Few Americans today have more than a
hazy awareness of the First World War, let alone of the “Master of Emergencies” and his “American Epic.” Nor have historians as a class done
much better. In many recent histories of the war, Hoover and his myriad
relief enterprises are barely mentioned, if at all.
In part this lacuna is due to the understandable tendency of historians
to focus on the war’s battles and tangled statecraft, not on those individuals, like Hoover, who attempted to ease the suffering of helpless noncombatants. Moreover, the coming in 1939 of a second, and even more
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sanguinary, world war (in which Hoover’s humanitarian “comeback” was
largely thwarted) has further attenuated our collective memory of the earlier conflict, in which his role was so notable and admired.
But if time and the conventions of academic historiography have
dimmed our awareness of the humanitarian response to the Great War of
1914–18, the centennial of the war’s outbreak provides a fitting opportunity for remembrance. For the work of the Commission for Relief in
Belgium and its successors was more than a minor episode in that conflict.
It was in fact a pioneering effort in global philanthropy.
Hoover and his team were not alone. Thousands of other American
civilians journeyed to Europe during the war on voluntary missions of
mercy—as ambulance drivers on the Western Front, as nurses and surgeons, as members and leaders of organizations like the Salvation Army
and the Red Cross.
But Lord Percy was essentially correct: it was Hoover who became “the
advance guard and symbol” of this awakening. It was Hoover’s ARA in
1919 that President Wilson labeled the “Second American Expeditionary Force to Save Europe.” The CRB, the ARA, and Hoover’s other relief
endeavors between 1914 and 1923 were the forerunners of the vast network of transnational, nongovernmental, benevolent organizations with
which we are familiar today.
Amid the horrors of 1914–18, there emerged a profound and determined
impulse to mitigate suffering and heal the wounds of war.

A century after “the war to end war,” the world has grown accustomed
to determined efforts to save civilian lives in the midst of armed strife
and social upheaval. A civil war in Kosovo or Syria, a famine in Somalia or Darfur: in the aftermath—or even in the midst—of such disasters,
humanitarian experts and assistance, often led by Americans, will be there.
One reason for this expectation, one reason for its acceptance, is the precedent created nearly one hundred years ago by Hoover and his fellow
volunteers.
Looking back at the summer and autumn of 1914, when Hoover burst
upon the world scene amid a convulsive war, one is tempted to ask: could

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his experience be repeated on a similar scale today? Could anything like a
Commission for Relief in Belgium be replicated in our time, should another
great conflict arise among the nations? The answer is: probably not. The
CRB was founded at a moment when the period of hostilities was expected
to be brief, and before the contending armies on the Western Front realized
that they had become trapped in a murderous quagmire. Hoover’s mission
took shape, in short, before the conflict had been transmogrified into a total
war, fueled by uncompromising passions of hate.
In the autumn of 1914 it was still possible for Hoover, as an American, to appeal to residual humanitarian sentiment among the belligerent
European powers and to their desire to avoid the enmity of the neutral
United States. This gave him just enough leverage to build an institution that neither Germany nor the Allies dared thereafter to destroy, lest
they offend American public opinion and drive America into the arms of
their enemy. In 1914 it was possible for Hoover, a master of publicity, to
maneuver successfully through the diplomatic minefield and create what
a British official called “a piratical state organized for benevolence.” If he
had tried, from scratch, just a year or two later, in all likelihood the CRB
would never have come into being.
A century after “the war to end war,” the world has grown accustomed to
determined efforts to save civilian lives amid armed strife and social upheaval.

The CRB, then, was the product of special, and probably unrepeatable, circumstances. But if nothing as all-embracing as the CRB is apt to
arise again, in an enemy-occupied nation caught up in a total war, there
is another, and happier, way of viewing the commission’s legacy. Hoover’s
response to emergency in 1914 and the ensuing “years of privation” not
only saved millions of lives. His example and that of his institutions
also made a constructive and enduring mark upon the Western world.
Amid the horrors of 1914–18, there emerged a profound and determined
impulse (cultivated by Hoover and others) to mitigate suffering and heal
the wounds of war. This impulse did not abate when the guns fell silent.
Although conflicts and atrocities have continued to torment the world
in the century since then, the humanitarian commitment that Hoover
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exemplified has become ever more organized and pervasive: in groups
today like Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, World Vision,
and innumerable others. There is now a multitude of nongovernmental,
humanitarian institutions that conduct, on a smaller scale, the kind of
work that the CRB pioneered.
Some years ago the historian Peter Viereck declared that the First World
War was “the worst single catastrophe in human history.” In the next few
years we will have many occasions to ponder its appalling costs. But let us
also remember the humane ventures initiated and sustained by Herbert
Hoover and by others who assisted and followed him. Here is one legacy
of the Great War that can comfort and inspire.
Special to the Hoover Digest.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is The Crusade
Years, 1933–1955: Herbert Hoover’s Lost Memoir of
the New Deal Era and Its Aftermath, edited by George
H. Nash. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

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191

H O O VER ARC HIVES

Picture at an Exhibition
A vivid tapestry, tucked away for decades, emerges from the archives.
By Clifton B. Parker.

A work of art from Stanford’s golden past has just been unfurled in Belgium. It is a tapestry, and not just any tapestry. It is enormous—physically, semantically, and historically. Measuring 16.5 feet high and 18.5
feet wide, the tapestry bears the title The United States Saved Belgium from
Starvation During the War and When Peace Came They Helped to Rebuild
the Country and Its Scientific Institutions.
The tapestry was unveiled March 20 at the Leuven Museum in Belgium. Created by Belgian artist Floris Jespers, it is part of the museum’s
exhibition Ravaged: Art and Culture in Times of Conflict, which commemorates the one-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War
I and the particular devastation it wrought on Leuven, a small Belgian
university town (for information about the exhibit: www.ravage1914.be/
en).
The tapestry, which has been housed for many years at the Hoover
Institution, will stay at the exhibition through September 1 and then
return to Stanford. It honors Herbert Hoover and the Commission for
Relief in Belgium, which Hoover founded in 1914 to bring food to Belgium and northern France, both then under German occupation.
“The primary role of preservation is to ensure the care of and access
to our shared cultural heritage,” said Rayan Ghazal, head of preservation
for Hoover. “The scope of this endeavor has been a rewarding and educational experience.”
Clifton B. Parker writes about the social sciences for the Stanford Report.

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Hoover Institution Archives

HISTORICAL ECHO: Former president Herbert Hoover attends a ceremony
in 1953 in which the Belgian ambassador to the United States donates the
tapestry to Stanford University. In the background is the burning Leuven
Library, which was torched by German troops after they invaded Belgium
in 1914, and the likeness of Hoover, who led US efforts to provide famine
relief for Europe during World War I. The tapestry was one of five created
for the 1939–40 World’s Fair in New York. They were intended to be
returned to Belgium, but the outbreak of World War II forced a change of
plans. The tapestries were sent to Stanford for safekeeping in 1940; four
went home to Belgium in 1953.

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EASY DOES IT: Workers in Belgium carefully maneuver the twenty-foot-long, purpose-built
crate containing the Hoover tapestry. The artwork, which had been stored in the Hoover
Archives for many years, made its transcontinental journey accompanied by Hoover conservation staff.

Completed in 1939 for placement at the World’s Fair in New York, the
tapestry depicts American soldiers sailing to fight in Belgium and the food
shipments during the war. In the center, Herbert Hoover stands next to
the burning University of Leuven, whose library was destroyed by German troops in the summer of 1914 and which Hoover helped rebuild.
The destruction of Leuven and its priceless artifacts sent shock waves
around the world and heralded the tragic use of cultural resources as a
twentieth-century warfare strategy.
Woven by the manufacturer Chaudoir in 1939 for the Belgian
Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair (1939–40), the tapestry was
shipped to the United States before Belgian citizens were able to see
it. The plan was to send it back at the end of the fair and display
it in Belgium. Instead, in 1940, with war raging there once again,
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the tapestry—as well as four others hanging in the Belgian Pavilion
to celebrate Belgian-American friendship—was sent to Stanford for
safekeeping.
The destruction of Leuven and its priceless artifacts in 1914 sent shock

Hoover Institution Archives

waves around the world.

In 1953, the four others were returned to Belgium, but the one
now on loan to the Leuven Museum was donated to Stanford by the
Belgian ambassador to the United States, Baron Robert Silvercruys.
The ceremony, hosted by the Stanford Board of Trustees and then–
Stanford President Wallace Sterling, took place on March 10, 1953,
in the reading room of the Hoover Tower (where the tapestry was
then hanging) in the presence of former president Hoover and several
dignitaries.
In recent months the Hoover Institution’s preservation department,
along with Leuven Museum curators and officials, oversaw the work
of textile conservators and shippers, and personally accompanied the
twenty-foot-long, purpose-built museum crate to Belgium.
Ghazal said the Hoover Institution worked with a textile conservator,
an appraiser, and fine-art shippers, and was able to maintain oversight and
control of every step along the way. Hoover conservation staff also couriered the tapestry from door to door.
The tapestry was shipped to the United States in 1939, but war kept it
from returning. Now Belgians are seeing it for the first time.

Eric Wakin, director of the Hoover Institution Library and Archives,
emphasized the enduring image of Herbert Hoover standing next to the
burning university library, which Hoover helped rebuild after the war.
“We just knew this tapestry would be a stunning addition to the exhibition and were happy to collaborate with our Belgian colleagues to making
this work,” he said.
On its arrival in Belgium, the tapestry was prepared for display
by Royal Manufacturers De Wit, world-renowned for its restoration

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REMEMBRANCE: Measuring 16.5 feet high and 18.5 feet wide, the Jespers
tapestry takes up its place in the Leuven Museum. As depicted in the
artwork, the United States not only fed Belgians and sent soldiers to their
defense but rebuilt the Leuven university library. The exhibit uses the
burning of the library in 1914 as a starting point for an examination of the
ravages of war. It also touches on how images of destruction—such as
pictures of the gutted library—can be used to arouse public indignation
against a foe.

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of tapestries and textiles, and now hangs in a room by itself to full
effect.
Linda Bernard, the Hoover Institution’s deputy archivist, said, “Before
being rolled up for shipping, the tapestry was laid out in a large room in
the Hoover Tower for all the staff to see. Now it’s the Belgians’ turn, at last,
to admire this amazing piece of art.”

© Museum Leuven/Dirk Pauwels

Reprinted by permission of the Stanford Report. © 2014 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford
Junior University. All rights reserved.

New from the Hoover Institution Press is Women of
the Gulag: Portraits of Five Remarkable Lives, by Paul
R. Gregory. To order, call 800.888.4741 or visit www.
hooverpress.org.

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197

On the Cover
Sunlight bathes the bell tower of Mission Santa Barbara in this 1917 poster
celebrating Wells Fargo’s sixty-fifth anniversary in California. Three companion posters in this series of ads trumpet the banking and express company’s
presence along Puget Sound, in Alaska, and in Washington, DC—a reach
as wide-open as the country itself. In these Americana posters, Wells Fargo
found an artist to match its ambitions.
The artist was Adolph Treidler (1886–1981), one of the most visible illustrators of his day. Born poor in Colorado, the young Treidler moved with his family to San Francisco, where he would survive the 1906 earthquake and fire. His
father, a German immigrant, died when Treidler was fifteen. “I think he died
of a sense of failure,” Treidler told an interviewer in 1980. “I suppose, hearing
him and knowing that, I probably was determined to reverse his experience.”
Treidler studied briefly at the California School of Design in San Francisco
under Arthur Frank Mathews, a prominent advocate of the California decorative
style, which was inspired by the arts and crafts movement. But soon he abandoned formal education and went off to Chicago, and then New York, to establish his career. He never learned to spell, he later confessed. But he could sell.
His subjects were many: female war workers, Chesterfield cigarettes, cruise
ships sailing to Bermuda or to France. Countless magazine covers, notably
Collier’s. A long and rewarding contract for Pierce-Arrow automobiles (the
first official car of the White House). His signature style in his early years
features women with calm grey eyes, classical features, and elegant hats.
Long, black motorcars swanning past deferential traffic cops. And “an almost
uncanny ingenuity in the manipulation of shadows,” according to Charles
Matlack Price, an authority on visual design.
Treidler, recalling his poor family, marveled in an interview in Car Collector magazine about his facility at portraying a vehicle favored by the rich and
tasteful, in a milieu he had never known: “Lord only knows how I did it. I
guess I was eager for life and success.”
His Santa Barbara mission painting echoes his first commercial success, also
on a California theme. In 1913, he painted Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the
Franciscan monks who established the missions. According to the San Francisco
Call, his “striking representation” of the barefoot saint feeding the birds won
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him a $500 prize offered by the Mason-McDuffie Company, a San Francisco–based mortgage concern still active today. Mason-McDuffie wanted to
put the saint’s likeness on brochures to sell lots at St. Francis Wood, a stylish
new subdivision taking shape in southwest San Francisco. Treidler painted
the friar with a distinctive Bay Area cypress and seascape in the background.
Then, in 1915, he earned national acclaim in a poster contest hosted by
the city of Newark, New Jersey, to celebrate its 250th birthday. He won
$1,000 for his depiction of Quaker pioneer Robert Treat landing his followers on the Jersey shores in 1666. “Above all it is a poster of dignity,” according to the commemorative book the city issued afterward.
Treidler would find financial success in the interwar years, when his love
for travel dovetailed with a rising demand for tourism ads in his newly breezy
style. He was also famous for home-front posters in both wars—“Make
every minute count for Pershing,” “Have you bought your bond?”—but,
as he pointed out, those images were a mixed blessing. In 1914, the Society
of Illustrators, in a stalwart decision fortified by much drinking, offered its
artists’ services to the government for free, and he had to go along. Patriotic
though he was, that didn’t sit well with him.
“I went broke during that First World War,” he told a visitor late in life.
During the Second World War, it was he who led the illustrators’ committee. And he insisted that the graphic artists be paid.

— Charles Lindsey

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hoover institution on war, revolution and peace

Board of Overseers
Marc L. Abramowitz
Victoria “Tory” Agnich
Frederick L. Allen
Jack R. Anderson
Martin Anderson
Barbara Barrett
Robert G. Barrett
Donald R. Beall
Stephen D. Bechtel Jr.
Peter B. Bedford
Peter S. Bing
Walter E. Blessey Jr.
Joanne Whittier Blokker
William K. Blount
James J. Bochnowski
Wendy H. Borcherdt
William K. Bowes Jr.
Richard W. Boyce
James J. Carroll III
Robert H. Castellini
Rod Cooper
Paul L. Davies Jr.
Paul Lewis “Lew” Davies III
John B. De Nault
Steven A. Denning*
Dixon R. Doll
Susanne Fitger Donnelly
Joseph W. Donner
Herbert M. Dwight
William C. Edwards
Gerald E. Egan

200

Charles H. “Chuck” Esserman
Jeffrey A. Farber
Carly Fiorina
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Paul G. Haaga Jr.
Arthur E. Hall
Everett J. Hauck
W. Kurt Hauser
John L. Hennessy*
Warner W. Henry
Sarah Page Herrick
Heather R. Higgins
Allan Hoover III
Margaret Hoover
Preston B. Hotchkis
Philip Hudner
Gail A. Jaquish
Charles B. Johnson
Franklin P. Johnson Jr.
Mark Chapin Johnson
John Jordan
Steve Kahng
Mary Myers Kauppila
David B. Kennedy
Raymond V. Knowles Jr.
Donald L. Koch
Richard Kovacevich

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Henry N. Kuechler III
Peyton M. Lake
Carl V. Larson Jr.
Allen J. Lauer
Bill Laughlin
Howard H. Leach
Walter Loewenstern Jr.
Robert H. Malott
Frank B. Mapel
Shirley Cox Matteson
Richard B. Mayor
Craig O. McCaw
Bowen H. McCoy
Burton J. McMurtry
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Mitchell Milias
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Charles T. Munger Jr.
George E. Myers
Robert G. O’Donnell
Robert J. Oster
Joel C. Peterson
James E. Piereson
Jay A. Precourt
George J. Records
Christopher R. Redlich Jr.
Kathleen “Cab” Rogers
James N. Russell

Hoover Digest  N  2014 · No. 3

Richard M. Scaife
Roderick W. Shepard
Thomas M. Siebel
George W. Siguler
William E. Simon Jr.
Boyd C. Smith
James W. Smith, MD
John R. Stahr
William C. Steere Jr.
Thomas F. Stephenson
Robert J. Swain
W. Clarke Swanson Jr.
Curtis Sloane Tamkin
Tad Taube
Robert A. Teitsworth
L. Sherman Telleen
Peter A. Thiel
Thomas J. Tierney
David T. Traitel
Victor S. Trione
Don Tykeson
Nani S. Warren
Dody Waugh
Jack R. Wheatley
Paul H. Wick
Norman “Tad” Williamson
Richard G. Wolford
Marcia R. Wythes
*Ex officio members of the Board

201

The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace was established at Stanford University
in 1919 by Herbert Hoover, a member of Stanford’s pioneer graduating class of 1895 and the
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Significant gifts for the support of the Hoover Digest
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Joan and David Traitel

The Hoover Institution gratefully acknowledges generous support
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American Institutions and Economic Performance

Tad and Dianne Taube
Taube Family Foundation
Koret Foundation
and a Cornerstone Gift from

Sarah Scaife Foundation

Professional journalists are invited to visit the Hoover Institution to share their
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are acknowledged from

William K. Bowes Jr.
William C. Edwards
Charles B. Johnson
Tad and Cici Williamson

H OOVER DIGEST · 2014 · N O. 3
Russia
Foreign Policy
The Economy
Health Care
Politics
Warfare
Education
The Middle East
Democracy
California
In Memoriam: Gary S. Becker
History and Culture
The Great War Centennial
Hoover Archives

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