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1995: The Year in Ideas
Think Tank Transcripts:1995 - The Year in Ideas
ANNOUNCER: 'Think Tank' has been made possible by Amgen, arecipient of the Presidential National Medal of Technology. Amgen,bringing better, healthier lives to people worldwide throughbiotechnology.
Additional funding is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation, theRandolph Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
MR. WATTENBERG: Hello, I'm Ben Wattenberg. As the late historianRichard Weaver once wrote in his book, 'Ideas Have Consequences,'ideas have consequences. After much deliberation, the editorial boardof 'Think Tank' has decided that the most consequential ideas of 1995-- the envelope, please -- were shame, the anxious class, devolution,and the new thinking of race.
Joining us to sort through these four ideas are: Judge Robert Borkof the American Enterprise Institute and author of the forthcomingbook, 'Slouching Toward Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and AmericanDecline'; Jodie Allen, editor of 'The Washington Post' Outlooksection, which makes her one of America's prominent intellectualtrend spotters; James Pinkerton, lecturer in political management atGeorge Washington University and author of 'What Comes Next? The Endof Big Government and the New Paradigm Ahead'; and Yvonne Scruggs,director of the Urban Policy Institute at the Joint Center forPolitical and Economic Studies.
The topic before this house: 1995, the year in ideas. This week on'Think Tank.'
What were the most significant ideas in 1995? First, shame made abig comeback this year, and some say not a minute too soon. This ideawas stressed repeatedly by prominent political scientists andhistorians like James Q. Wilson and Gertrude Himmelfarb. Presidentialcandidate Robert Dole put some specifics to it.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE (R-KS): (From videotape.) The mainstreaming ofdeviancy must come to an end, but it will only stop when the leadersof the entertainment industry recognize and shoulder theirresponsibility. Those who cultivate moral confusion for profit shouldunderstand this: We will name their names and shame them as theydeserve to be shamed.
MR. WATTENBERG: Bob Bork, you are writing a book called 'SlouchingToward Gomorrah.' That relates to this concept of shame, I assume.
MR. BORK: It relates to the concept of a civilization or a culturesliding downhill, and I think all the talk this year about shame,about stigma, about the comeback that Satan is making is arecognition that something has gone badly wrong. Of course, torecognize that something has gone badly wrong is not the same as torectify it. So whether the talk about shame will in fact have anyreforming effect or not, I don't know. Probably the most significantthing is the possibility that we are witnessing a religiousreawakening in this country, and if so, that may bring the concept ofshame and right and wrong back more strongly.
MR. WATTENBERG: What about this idea that Senator Dole mentionedin the clip of naming names, of shaming names? Is that a good idea?
MR. BORK: Oh, I think it's an excellent idea. Whether it would beenough, I don't know. You have a large part of the public which is --likes the products that are being put out, the debased products thatare being put out.
MR. WATTENBERG: Some people I know smoke cigarettes, for example.Is that -- should we shame the cigarette manufacturers -- and JudgeBork is one of them.
MR. BORK: Sure. I quit 18 days ago, so --
MR. WATTENBERG: Did you quit 18 days --
MR. BORK: Yes, so go ahead and shame me. (Laughter.)
MR. WATTENBERG: That's really good news. I congratulate you. Yes?
MR. PINKERTON: Audiences are picking up on this, too, I think.Some of the movies coming out of the same Hollywood that Doledenounces show that the public is making some judgments on some ofthese things, about good and evil, for example. 'The Scarlet Letter'came out and they put a dumbed-down Hollywood happy ending onHawthorne's great novel of guilt and repentance, and that was a bomb.Meanwhile, movies that really do deal with evil and Satan, like '7'or 'Copycat' are hits because people really do kind of want to seethese issues played out before them and even see them come to ahappy, just conclusion.
MS. SCRUGGS: Well, you know, those kinds of movies always sort offrighten me to death so that I can't see them, but it's kind ofdifficult not to hear the boomboxes with some of the rap lyrics whichsome groups have really -- and I've been involved in this -- havebeen really taking off after the producers, saying that these arekids, that this kind of misogynist talk is not -- shouldn't berewarded with contracts and with money and that they ought to beashamed of themselves for encouraging this kind of thing.
MS. ALLEN: And it's working. I mean, gangsta rap is not the bighit that it was a year ago. I'm no great authority on this, but I amtold that softer kinds of groups are rising up. And I think Dole wasright, you have to start trying to make people ashamed. It won'thappen all at once. Social norms change slowly, but they changefaster than you think. Now, to be sure, you get the Calvin Klein, wholaunched a very cynical ad campaign, and it sold a lot of jeans, I'mafraid.
MS. SCRUGGS: Well, that's because people complained about thecampaign, probably.
MS. ALLEN: Right, but I think that the -- that while the jeans mayhave been sold, that the net effect was to raise people'sconsciousness about the terribly trashy kinds of things that we havetaken for -- come to take for granted in our public space.
MR. PINKERTON: And there needs to be an economic theory whichcovers this, the corollary to the Adam Smith invisible hand, whichsays that boycotts and public information and criticism ala Bennettand Lieberman, and so on, has a valid role to play in shaping themarket.
MR. WATTENBERG: As the professional shame meister, why don't youwrap this up now?
MR. BORK: I think the possibility of getting shame back into thissociety -- for example, there should be a stigma on divorce, not justillegitimacy -- I think the possibility of getting shame back as acontrolling force in this society is really going to depend upon areligious revival. I don't think -- you know, our morality has beenassociated with religion throughout our history -- and I say this asa rather secularized person -- but if you would just observe it, Ithink without a religious revival, we're not going to have --
MR. WATTENBERG: We had something called 'the great awakening.'When was that?
MR. BORK: We had a couple of them. We had one before theRevolution and one in the early 1800s, as I recall. And there's athought that one is going on now, with the Promise Keepers, ChristianCoalition, and the Jewish group, Toward Tradition. And it may be thatone is starting now, but I think that would be the best hope.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Our second major idea concerns incomestagnation and income inequality. Are the rich getting richer and thepoor getting poorer? Have wages stopped going up? Liberal economistslike Robert Cutner and Lester Thurow brought this idea to publicprominence. A recent book, 'The Winner-Take-All Society,' put anexclamation point on the idea. Labor Secretary Robert Reich made thecase.
ROBERT REICH (Secretary of Labor): (From videotape.) Now, for adecade and a half, ordinary families have been working harder andgetting less, puzzled that somehow they have been disinherited fromthe American dream. Our middle class, as I have noted and as I notedon Labor Day, has become an anxious class.
MR. WATTENBERG: Jodie Allen, the anxious class and theirrelationship to the winner-take-all society?
MS. ALLEN: Well, no doubt, as Reich points out, many Americans areanxious. We've had three million job layoffs in the last seven years,and a new spurt just now. But it's not the anxious Americans that myauthors Robert Frank and Philip Cook, two economists from Cornell andDuke, are worried -- are concerned about. They're concerned about theoverly optimistic young Americans who are crowding into what theycall winner-take-all segments of the society. These are not just thetraditional sectors of arts and entertainment and sports, whererelatively small differences in performance produce enormousdifferences in compensation. They point out that this phenomenon hasspread as a result of mass technology, global communication, to awhole bunch of other areas of the economy -- law, medicine, evenaccounting and sales.
MR. WATTENBERG: We have here at least two market-orientedphilosophers, Judge Bork and Mr. Pinkerton here, who I assume one ofyou would like to take on that notion.
MR. BORK: Well, I don't understand the worry about inequality. Ican understand the worry about people who are having trouble gettingby, but that is independent of how much somebody else is making. Youknow, the fact that I don't have a yacht is not due to the fact thatsomebody else has one.
MS. ALLEN: They're not worried about it per se, either. They'remaking a productivity argument. No matter which data you look at,some 20 to 40 percent of the people have gotten all the gains, andthe rest of have stagnated or lost income. Now, the authors recognizethat a certain amount of income inequality is essential to promoteinvestment and productivity. They're not Luddites and they're not --they are economists. But they say there are diminishing returns here,and they argue sector by sector, quite carefully, that we havedistorted our patterns of investment as a result of thiswinner-take-all economy.
MR. PINKERTON: I think these guys make an interesting argument,and in many ways it's persuasive. I mean, intuitively, something isgoing on in the world economy where people at the top can sell to aglobal market that's now five billion people, and everybody else isleft competing for the global market of five million competitorsworking, making the same manufacturing, so on and so on. So somethingis clearly happening. I think that the better policy prescriptionstill is to focus on how can we improve education and skills trainingfor people at the bottom end so that they can get thehigher-value-added jobs needed for this. And this is an argument --
MR. WATTENBERG: But everybody can't fill a few finite number ofsuperstar jobs, by definition.
MS. ALLEN: That's right.
MR. PINKERTON: That's right, so therefore --
MS. ALLEN: They don't buy --
MR. PINKERTON: -- I mean, these guys want to work on theinequality part, which is an interesting argument. I think still theheart of the argument, though, the thing that really grinds thesocial conscience of Americans, is when they see, you know, kidscoming out of the Newark schools, which spend $12,000 a year per kidand have a 7 percent graduation rate. I mean, the disconnect betweenthe amount of money we spend on public education and job training andthe results we get is so enormous that I think the most urgentnational priority to deal with the symptoms of inequality is to helppeople get into the productive work force.
MR. WATTENBERG: Yvonne Scruggs.
MS. SCRUGGS: Yeah, but the notion of the inequality hasramifications in other ways. You're talking about the school system,but a lot of the kids who are not being well educated also are notmotivated, and they're not motivated because there's not this middleground of opportunity that is well publicized, touted and presentedto them as a career opportunity.
MR. BORK: I'm not quite sure what it has to do withwinner-take-all, however. And I don't see law as a --
MR. PINKERTON: Well, and if there's --
MS. ALLEN: No. Actually, you have to look at the data, and if youlook at them, you'll see that the legal profession has becomebimodal. The average lawyer, in fact, doesn't do very well. But atthe top, there are these superstars making enormous -- as a result ofclass action suits as much as anything. And they call for tortreform. So I mean they look at it sector by sector.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Our third big idea of 1995 goes under therubric devolution, that is, the return of certain powers andfunctions from the federal government to the states. The idea ofreinventing government was boosted by thinkers like David Osborne,Ted Gaebeler and James Pinkerton, who is on our panel. The RepublicanCongress made devolution a key component of its 'Contract WithAmerica.' Republicans are trying to send federal programs likeMedicaid, Medicare and welfare back to the states.
Jim Pinkerton, tell us what it's all about and where it's going.
MR. PINKERTON: Well, everywhere you look, markets are crushingpolitics. The budget deal is being driven by Wall Street, and this isjust a reality. Everywhere the markets are coming into play you'reseeing more diversity, more decentralization. And our politics in thelast decade or so have been a lagging indicator behind this greattrend, and it's inevitable that politics will have to catch up. Andthe Republicans in the 104th Congress are beginning that process ofdevolving power out of the mainframe to the equivalent of 50 PCsacross the country.
MS. SCRUGGS: You know, when you start talking about devolution andabout the benefits that you see, I'm reminded of a very old book thatyou may even be too young to remember. It's called 'The Cities andthe Federal System,' by Roscoe Martin, where the whole process bywhich states lost the ability to manage resources occurred, and thatwas 60 years ago. And when you look at what's going on now in localgovernments, there are maybe 10, 12 states that are up to the taskthat is being assigned to them, and the rest of them are pretty muchwhere they were in the '30s, when the federal government began takingover. So --
MR. WATTENBERG: But doesn't that presuppose the idea that thefederal government is doing a good job? And do you think that?
MS. SCRUGGS: Well, I think that there certainly are many thingsthat have to be improved. Clearly, there's no -- I don't thinkanybody in his right mind would argue otherwise. But the fact of thematter is that without preparations, like anything else, you cannotjust assign a responsibility to someone who's not prepared to carryit out, and in most instances, the states really are not. And theyare deceived, too, because they think they're going to get a lot ofmoney, and we know, for example, the state of Texas is going to losetwo billion dollars.
MS. ALLEN: Ben, money is key. I think there's also a generalmisconception in the public as to who actually runs the programsright now. Almost all of the big social programs are run, with theexception of Social Security, which runs rather well -- the rest ofthem are in fact run by states and localities. Now they run Medicaid,they run AFDC, they administer food stamps. Now, it's true thatfederal regulations can either improve or impede what they do, and Ithink it is that -- on that that Jim was focusing.
MR. WATTENBERG: Do they run Medicare?
MS. ALLEN: They don't run Medicare -- of course, that runs ratherwell, too -- but they run Medicaid, they run welfare in all itsparticulars. They run food stamps. MS. SCRUGGS: Ninety-three percentof the federal programs are -- federal social service programs arefunneled through the states.
MS. ALLEN: And they've always run the job programs, which havenever run very well, either.
MR. PINKERTON: Well, let's take on -- first of all, SocialSecurity and Medicare prove the point that the federal government, ifleft to its own devices for another 10 or 15 years, will bankrupt usall. I mean, you know -- MS. ALLEN: But they run them pretty well.
MR. BORK: You mean so far.
MS. ALLEN: They may be too expensive, they may be too generous,but they --
MR. PINKERTON: Well, they run them pretty well except for thebankruptcy. I mean, in other words, we have to remember, the moneyhas to --
MR. WATTENBERG: But those aren't the program managers. Those areyour friendly legislators who overspend. I mean, Jodie's point is agood one. Given the budgets they are told to manage with, SocialSecurity does a pretty good job.
MR. PINKERTON: Okay. Forgive me -- who cares? The issue is that --
MR. WATTENBERG: I do.
MR. PINKERTON: -- you've created this giant trust fund in SocialSecurity and Medicare which of course doesn't exist, it's entirely anotional accounting concept, and the politicians in Washington havefelt free to spend actuarially 10 or 20 times what they should bespending on these programs. And now we're looking at the entitlementprograms consuming a hundred percent of the federal budget early inthe next century. This is what happens when you centralize. Youcreate a cookie jar in one place. This goes back to Plato. Eventuallythe political system will find a way to loot it and we'll all bebankrupt.
MR. WATTENBERG: Judge Bork.
MR. BORK: Also to let --
MR. WATTENBERG: Former federal judge -- (laughter) -- what do youthink of this -- the federal behemoth?
MS. SCRUGGS: Well, you undermined his response right there.(Laughter.)
MR. BORK: The great advantage of devolution, I would think, is totake the regulations off, a lot of the regulations off these programsand find out whether certain states can know how to do it. There'llbe a lot of experimentation. You get Michigan, Wisconsin and soforth, which are experimenting already.
MR. WATTENBERG: In welfare reform, basically.
MR. BORK: Yeah, and maybe one or two or three states will come upwith programs that are much better than anything the federalgovernment is directing be done now. And if that's true, then allstates can trend towards those solutions.
MR. WATTENBERG: Jim, wasn't that true before the great evolutionor ascent of power to the federal government? I mean, you had these50, or at that point 48 laboratories of democracy, and in theory somewere better than the other, and yet the -- as Yvonne has pointed out,it was running in such a grungy fashion that we decided to move itupward in the feeding chain.
MR. PINKERTON: Well, to base our public policy on what was true inthe days when radios and vacuum tubes and Model-Ts and so on -- Imean things have changed so much, I mean we've learned so much. Themedia is so different, the distribution of power and resources is sodifferent. I mean it's crazy to keep saying, well, if we devolvepower from Washington in 1995, where the federal government iscurrently in the process of bankrupting the nation, to say, well, ifwe give authority to people in Texas or California, that willimmediately wreck everything, I mean that -- we are really guardingthe wrong door of the fortress.
MR. WATTENBERG: We come now to our fourth and final idea, thedilemma of race. This idea has attracted great scrutiny from manyleading American intellectuals, ranging from liberals like CornellWest and Andrew Hacker to conservatives like Charles Murray andDinesh D'Souza. 1995 was an especially tumultuous year regarding racein America. The O.J. Simpson trial, the Million Man March, DineshD'Souza's 'End of Racism,' Colin Powell for president -- almost, theywere all headline grabbers. And 1995 marked the first timeaffirmative action was openly challenged on a national level.
SEN. PHIL GRAMM (R-TX): (From videotape.) Our Constitutionguarantees equal justice under law. And as president, by executiveorder, I will end quotas, preferences and set-asides.
MR. WATTENBERG: Yvonne Scruggs, what happened in the racialsituation in the United States in 1995?
MS. SCRUGGS: Well, the short answer to that is the American publicsuddenly realized that race and racism, which have been discounted asa major dynamic in this country, is in fact a major dynamic. Youmentioned the O.J. Simpson trial, which I would hope that -- hadhoped you wouldn't mention, but you did so -- (laughter) -- and whatwe're concerned about --
MR. WATTENBERG: I mean, I should have mentioned it, shouldn't Ihave? I mean it played a lot of --
MS. SCRUGGS: Well, yeah, that's right. But the difference invalence of that and the Million Man March is tremendous, and yet bothof these events signaled a real recognition of the intractability ofracism and the different perceptions that Americans have.
MR. WATTENBERG: You are saying that there has been a rise in theintensity of race consciousness. Yet at the same time, the big policythrust has been toward color-blindness in terms of eliminating ordiminishing affirmative action. Now, can those two things coexist?
MS. SCRUGGS: Well, there is a problem with the latter becauseanyone who lives in this country who believes that policy is beingimplemented or even, at this stage in our evolution as a country, canbe implemented in a color-blind way doesn't understand the world as Isee it and seems to me to be living in a world different from the onethat I live in.
MR. WATTENBERG: Well, is it appropriate then to benon-color-blind? Is to pick people for jobs or school on the basis ofrace, gender or ethnicity --
MS. SCRUGGS: Yeah, but you see, that's to misinterpret what theintention of affirmative action was. I certainly agree that in somecase examples, the implementation has gone well beyond what wasintended, but the fundamental intention of affirmative action was tolevel the playing field, to provide access where access has beendenied. I think we tend to forget that affirmative action didn't justemerge out of some vacuum. It was in response to clear demonstrationthat people of color were being unequally treated, had unequal accessand needed to have those things adjusted.
MR. BORK: I think that's not quite right. I'm sure there wasdiscrimination, but this actually came out of the -- affirmativeaction I think actually came out of a government agency which deviseda way to get around the law, which said there shall be no distinctionon the basis of race.
MS. SCRUGGS: Yeah, I mean that's a narrow interpretation. If youforget that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of1965 were the fundamental grounding for affirmative action, then Idon't know what --
MR. BORK: No, they weren't. I don't think so. That's why Idisagree with you. I think they were a statement ofnon-discrimination.
MS. SCRUGGS: But affirmative action is an implementation of thefundamental principle that all Americans ought to have equal accessto the benefits of the society, and it has been clearly establishedthat all Americans did not -- and particularly African Americans didnot.
MR. PINKERTON: Hold on. Hold on a second. Hubert Humphrey stood onthe floor of the Senate in 1964 and said, 'I'll eat the pages of thislegislation if anybody tells me that the 1964 Civil Rights Act willever lead to quotas and categories.' And of course it did. If we arenot a color-blind society and if we have never been a color-blindsociety, it is all the more imperative that we start to become onebecause, look around from Bosnia to Quebec. We're seeing what happenswhen multiculturalism runs rampant, and it's a catastrophe and itwill be the end of this civilization.
MR. WATTENBERG: Let me just -- we are running out of time. Let mego around the room once, starting with Bob Bork, and ask for a finalthought as to whether or not you discern a relationship between ourfour ideas.
MR. BORK: At least three out of four I think relate to a feelingwe have that our society is fracturing. It's fracturing along raciallines, it's fracturing to some extent along gender lines, it'sfracturing to another extent along this question of incomedistribution and class warfare, which we hear about. It's fracturingalong moral lines, about sense of right and wrong. I think maybedevolution fits in there, I'm not sure, but I think the other threetopics --
MR. WATTENBERG: Fracturing between federal and state.
MR. BORK: Well, that's called federalism.
MR. WATTENBERG: Right, that's called federalism. All right, thefractured society. Jodie, do you have a --
MS. ALLEN: I think the common theme is the importance of socialnorms and the building of community values, both as they apply tocontrolling extremism in the racial context, in building support forprograms at the local level that actually do meet the communityvalues and try to operate in a reasonably efficient fashion, indriving out shameful behavior, and also in controlling markets. Oneof the big themes of 'The Winner-Take-All Society' is what has brokendown is a bunch of norms that used to be actually more efficient.
MR. WATTENBERG: Jim.
MR. PINKERTON: Fifty years ago, an economist who, lamentably, cannever be on 'Think Tank,' the late Joseph Schumpeter --
MR. WATTENBERG: Not my fault he's not on our show. He's the late,right. Okay, go ahead. Right. (Laughter.)
MR. PINKERTON: -- coined the phrase 'creative destruction,' thatcapitalism, the markets create and destroy at the same time, and thisrequires us all to think about some new social covenant, contract,whatever, to help us deal with the fact that the economic money wheelis revolving so much faster than it used to.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Yvonne.
MS. SCRUGGS: I see this whole anxiety issue as being maybe at thecore of these other arguments. For example, if everyone were notfeeling so threatened and insecure, I wonder to what extent --particularly middle-class people, who are not the winner-take-all --I wonder to what extent we might as a country be able to integrateeach other in an acceptable construct that would not make race anissue, would not make income an issue, would in fact see anopportunity for improving government by involving the local levelrather than the federal. But we're all so threatened.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Thank you, Yvonne Scruggs, Jodie Allen, JimPinkerton, and Robert Bork.
And thank you. Please send your comments and questions to: NewRiver Media, 1150 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20036. We can alsobe reached on the World Wide Web at www.thinktank.com or via e-mailat firstname.lastname@example.org.
For 'Think Tank,' I'm Ben Wattenberg.
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