On March 1, I began my new role as president of the Ethan Allen Institute. I am honored to be a part of EAI's stellar team whose pragmatic solutions and thought leadership infuse much needed color into the gray echo chambers of Vermont policymaking and media. I am especially grateful to my predecessor Rob Roper and the Board of Directors for this important opportunity to shape the next chapter of Vermont’s premier center-right think tank.
The middle class, once the backbone of the U.S. economy and personification of the American dream, has been shrinking across the nation and is teetering on extinction in Vermont. The Green Mountain State is run by gargantuan bureaucracies in the state apparatus, health care, education, and the billion dollar non-profit world that acts as a shadow government. The governance motto, to seek power without accountability, has impoverished the state and led to a brain drain and youth exodus.
We have a very wealthy elite and a growing welfare-dependent underclass, which is the blueprint of a third world society. All citizens, especially those in the middle class, deserve opportunities and the freedom to build prosperity, to build the lives that we desire for our families and ourselves. This conviction has shaped my professional life from policy research and opinion journalism to grassroots advocacy. And, it is why I am here today.
Changing the Climate of Opinion
Friedrich Hayek was working on his latest book at the London School of Economics in the summer of 1945 when, one day, there was a knock at the door. Businessman Antony Fisher entered and introduced himself. “I share all your worries and concerns expressed in The Road to Serfdom,” he said, “I am going into politics so I can put your ideas into practice.”
To Fisher’s great dismay, the Austrian economist said, “Don’t waste your time. Do not go into politics.” “Politicians always lag behind public opinion,” Hayek explained, “and public opinion always lags behind the tide of intellectual thought. If you want to make a difference, then change the climate of opinion.” On Hayek’s advice, Fisher founded the first free-market think tank in London and helped create many influential think tanks in the United States.
Since the 1970s, conservative think tanks have built an alternative intellectual infrastructure to the left’s monopoly in academia and other opinion-making fields like journalism and the media. National organizations like the Heritage Foundation, and state-based institutes like EAI, provide an institutional context for conservative thought and policy solutions. Think tanks have played a key role in forging American conservatism into a coherent political identity whose defining principles are – individual freedom, free market capitalism, limited government, strong national defense, and traditional social values.
In thinking about the next phase for EAI, two questions come to my mind. 1) What is the ultimate goal? 2) What do we need to achieve it? The ultimate goal, in my assessment, is not only to influence public opinion in the marketplace of ideas, but also to change the social and political institutions of Vermont in the direction of our guiding principles. To achieve this goal, we need to grow our annual revenue and our followers by reaching new audiences.
Vermont is widely known as the left's laboratory, where the worst legislation is tested before unleashing it onto the rest of the nation. There are many donors – individuals and groups, large and small – that want to help us fight the left in the trenches of Vermont. We need to reach them with messages that resonate. I see fundraising as a key responsibility of my position. The greater our resources, the more effective our efforts.
A think tank occupies the space at the intersection of the academic, political, economic, and media fields. Leading it calls for a complex balancing act between the functions of these disciplines. Deep dives and rigorous analyses underscore EAI’s intellectual prowess. We will continue being the number one resource for insightful research and robust policy solutions.
Further, it is essential that we connect knowledge production with public outreach. In the Information age, where everyone has become a content creator, we now have the tools to control our own narrative. By owning our own space in the media universe – through social media content production, podcasting, and peer-to-peer campaigns – we can spread our ideas in spite of the left’s media monopoly and growing censorship.
Onward and Upward
Looking ahead, the Ethan Allen Institute will occupy the heart of Vermont’s center-right universe by linking intellectual heft with multimedia public outreach that will allow us to spread our ideas, strengthen ties with our followers, reach new demographics, forge new coalitions, and shape public opinion and policy outcomes. By connecting with like-minded Americans in our state and beyond, we will grow our financial resources and expand our team so that we are in a formidable position to influence the way Vermont is governed.
As president, I look forward to working with my EAI colleagues to realize this strategic vision and plan.