How often have you heard someone from government say, "The government can't solve this problem"? Or "This isn't the government's job in a free society"? Or "Government intervention on this matter has just caused bigger problems"?
Occasionally, such admissions do occur, but more common statements are, "This is a serious problem, and, of course, the government must act!" Or "Past government efforts were disappointing, but with more money and staff, we can do better next time."
A recognition of the limits of government is even rarer in most of the media, where it is often assumed that solutions to problems big and small run through city halls, state capitols, and Washington. Similarly, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foundations, and public policy groups insist the government should have a bigger role in controlling the economy and overseeing our individual choices.
Some public policy organizations, including IRET, apply economic analysis to explain why the big-government mindset is usually wrong. This page offers links to a dozen of these organizations.
IRET and the public policy groups listed here find that while governments can usefully perform some important core functions, governments today have expanded far beyond those limits. Too often, government tax, spending, and regulatory programs weaken the economy, slow the advancement of living standards and opportunity, and infringe on individual liberty. In addition to analyzing whether various government programs are worthwhile, the organizations listed here compare public policy options and often develop their own proposals.
The list below is in alphabetical order. It has been kept short to provide a quick tour, which means omitting many excellent organizations.
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
AEI is one of the oldest and largest public policy organizations in Washington. It is often described as centrist based on the range of viewpoints taken by its researchers. Many of its scholars have a strong free-market perspective, and they have done top-notch work in areas such as financial market reform and health-care economics.
The Cato Institute
Known for following its libertarian principles, Cato backs up its analyses with rigorous, insightful research and frequent, thought-provoking conferences. It covers a broad range of issues, including government spending, taxation, regulation, monetary policy, and defense.
Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW)
This grassroots organization highlights wasteful, inefficient, and sometimes corrupt government spending. If its recommendations were followed, the government would use citizens' tax dollars more carefully and total government spending would be considerably smaller.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI)
CEI focuses on government regulation. Its analyses are lively, informative, and explain how government environmental, health, consumer, and other regulations that are touted as being economical and helpful often have large hidden costs and frequently reduce individuals' safety and convenience.
The Galen Institute
Galen focuses on health care. Its work explains how government spending programs and tax policies have driven up health care costs, and how many of the top-down government "solutions" being proposed would push costs still higher or control costs through health-care rationing. Galen recommends spending and tax reforms to better empower individuals to make their own health-care decisions.
The Heritage Foundation
Heritage covers a broad range of issues, including defense, budget policy, taxation, regulation, and specific spending programs. The Heritage Foundation was an innovator in producing timely and well-reasoned analyses, with clear recommendations, that are relevant to the issues concerning elected officials and their staffs. It is still one of the most relied upon public policy organizations in Washington.
The Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI)
Through its publications and conferences, IPI promotes less distortionary government policies and greater reliance on free-market solutions in areas such as tax reform, Social Security reform, and property rights.
The Lexington Institute
The Lexington Institute concentrates on defense issues, but it also produces short, readable papers on issues like education and Postal Service reform. Lexington believes the federal government's role should be limited to the core functions and powers enumerated in the U.S. Constitution.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy
The Mackinac Center, which is based in Michigan, is part of a flourishing movement of regional public policy organizations. Although most of the Center's work concerns the Michigan economy, many of its studies are of interest to a wider audience because of the clear and principled economic reasoning its researchers employ.
The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA)
NCPA examines many government policy issues. Two of its areas of concentration are health care, where it has done pathbreaking work with innovative ideas like Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and continues to produce a stream of constructive analyses and proposals, and Social Security.
The Property and Environment Research Center (PERC)
PERC concentrates on environmental issues. Using fact-based examples and an analysis of the very different incentives in the private and government sectors, it explains that market-based solutions generally provide better long-term stewardship of land and other natural resources than does government ownership and control.
The Tax Foundation
The Tax Foundation, which has been in operation since the 1930s, provides a wealth of data on federal, state, and local taxes. Best known for tracking Tax Freedom Day, the Foundation consistently provides perceptive and useful analyses of tax issues at all levels of government.
Also of interest, the Heritage Foundation offers an excellent on-line resource,
, for locating organizations and policy experts by policy area, name, location, and affiliation. Policy Experts has an easy-to-use format and is packed with information.