The Battle of Ideas

The Economist, May 23, 2006.


It would be foolish to underestimate Mr Murray’s ability not just to stir debate but to steer policy: 12 years after “Losing Ground” was dismissed as the work of a wild-eyed fanatic, Congress had passed the welfare reform act.

Just as intriguing as what Mr Murray says is the fact that he says it at all. America now far outclasses Europe in its ability to produce intellectuals with root-and-branch schemes for improving society. There are lots of reasons for this. One is that America is much less consensus-orientated than Europe, especially when it comes to policymaking. In Europe policy is overwhelmingly made by the civil service or by political parties (which tend to be hierarchical and centralised). In America independent policy entrepreneurs have lots of chances to influence it—partly because the civil service is weak and partly because the political process has lots of entry points, from the states to the federal government, from the White House to Congress. Policy intellectuals can bend the ears of congressmen, who are always on the look out for the innovation that will make their name.

The Economist