Priorities

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.


Priorities

Earlier this week, we held our first Board of Directors meeting of the year. Our Board meetings are always valuable, but the first meeting of the year is especially important.

That’s because it gives my management team and me an opportunity to sit down with our Board and discuss the projects and initiatives we have planned for the year ahead. And as we do so, we’re guided by a sometimes-frustrating but highly crucial truth: We can’t do it all.

There is an endless list of project ideas that have at least some merit. But the reality is that, given the limitations on our time and resources, we have to identify those areas where we can really make a significant difference on behalf of our organization’s principles, and we have to stay disciplined in concentrating our efforts on those things. In short, we need to prioritize.

In the year ahead, the majority of our work will focus on a few key areas: educating the public on the destructive economic impact of the proposed margin tax; continuing to inform union workers of their right to leave their union if they so choose; making government more transparent and accountable to those who fund it; and a fourth issue that I’ll get to in a moment. My job, as the Institute’s president, is to make sure that all of our departments and staff members understand what those priorities are and what they’re expected to do to help us achieve our goals.    

So if Geoff Lawrence, our fiscal-policy guru, were to propose a study on, say, recent trends in the migration habits of the ruby-throated hummingbird, I’d have to suggest to him that such an analysis didn’t quite fit with our organizational priorities. If Chantal Lovell, our new deputy communications director, decided that half our media budget should be spent on hiring a skywriter to paint “Go Seahawks” in the air above the Shetland Islands, I’d likely express my concern that such a move would take us “off message.” Those might both be fine ideas. But not for NPRI. And of course, neither Geoff nor Chantal would ever suggest those things because they both understand what this Institute’s priorities are.

Unfortunately, that clarity of purpose often escapes government bureaucrats and politicians.

The purpose of government is to perform a few core functions that only it can perform and which maximize the freedom individuals have to pursue their own interests and happiness. One example of a legitimate government function is ensuring public safety by maintaining a police force and fire department. For an example of something government should not be doing, on the other hand, let’s turn to Colorado, where a proposed ballot initiative would require couples to take marriage-education classes before tying the knot (and the required number of education hours goes up if you’re trying to remarry after a divorce). Is taking those classes a good idea?

Maybe. But that’s not a question the government should be in the business of answering.

Now, it’s easy to identify the above as a case of government overreach, in large part because there’s something almost comical about the idea. But there are lots of cases where the proposed idea doesn’t necessarily sound silly, but is bad nonetheless.

In an example that’s closer to home, the City of Las Vegas has been considering a proposal to use taxpayer money to help fund a new sports arena downtown. As regular readers know well, I’m a big sports fan, and I’d love to see a major sports team in our state. And it may well be that having an arena in Las Vegas would be of some benefit to the local economy.

But deciding which projects are worthy of funding isn’t the government’s job. If a developer wants to build an arena, here or anywhere, he should do so either with his own money, with private investments, or with some combination of the two — just like MGM is already doing.

It’s the job of consumers to pick the winners and losers in an economy. When the government tries to do so, it’s acting outside of its proper role. And this isn’t a merely philosophical point, either. The track record of publicly funded arenas, in terms of living up to their supposed economic promise, is not a good one.

It’s not surprising that government so often succumbs to mission creep. When you have the power to take your funding by force, you’re going to feel less inclined to be efficient and responsible in how you spend it. Here at NPRI, we have to earn financial investment in our work, which means we have to consistently demonstrate that we’re spending money wisely. If we blow a big chunk of it on inappropriate projects like bird-migration studies and skywriting, we can’t simply force our members to contribute more so that we can still pay for the important things. But the government can — and often does.

Educating the public on the need to restore government to its proper role is an extremely important task, and it’s perhaps the most critical challenge we as a people face today. And that, as you’ve probably guessed by now, will be NPRI’s fourth priority area in the year ahead.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.

Andy Matthews
NPRI President


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