Photo by Yeshi Kangrang, Unsplash.com
The year 2022 marks the ten-year anniversary of right-to-work in Michigan. It also represents a personal milestone: I joined the Mackinac Center in August 2012. (The two events are unrelated, though I like to point out my excellent timing.)
These milestones prompt me to reflect on what’s changed in the public policy world. I recently spoke to a group of young professionals at the State Policy Network’s annual conference. My topic for these rising leaders: “In what ways is today’s public policy environment different from 10, 15 or 20 years ago?”
I shared six trends:
1. As consumers, we are more demanding
A cultural inflection point is upon us. Gen X (born 1965 to 1980) was the last generation that bought the whole album to get the single. Napster, a pioneer in audio streaming, was launched in 1999. Apple’s iTunes store came online in 2003. Suddenly fans could listen to any song at any time without spending $15 for an entire album.
How does this relate to policy? Subsequent generations — Millennials, Gen Z — expect on-demand, customized service as a norm. Consider how that reality will influence their expectations for education, just to name one issue.
2. People strongly distrust elites and institutions
Arbitrary and ever-changing rules imposed during the COVID pandemic revealed this in spades, but it started at least two decades earlier, with growing access to digital information and networks.
3. The cacophony in the public square is louder
My colleague Michael Van Beek notes it is easier today to place an issue on the public’s radar — an advantage we have over the Mackinac Center of 1987. That said, there are more voices today and thus more competition for attention and loyalty.
4. Key issues are migrating across the political spectrum
Education innovation and reform used to be a bipartisan goal. But increasingly, Democratic politicians resist school choice, despite the revealed preferences of their constituents. (About half of Detroit schoolchildren attend a charter school.) Free speech was once the undisputed domain of the Left, but this is changing.
Meanwhile, some Republicans have embraced forms of protectionism (trade restrictions, tariffs, etc.).
5. National issues are debated and resolved in the states
This has long been true, given our federalist system of government. That said, today’s major national issues percolate through the states. The country’s response to COVID-19 was decided by governors and state legislatures. The U.S. Supreme Court sent abortion back to the states, and it was recently on ballots across the country. Even our federal elections (and reforms thereto) are administered by the states.
6. Bipartisanship has taken a hit
My colleagues Lindsay Killen and David Guenthner both have extensive experience working with legislative chambers, translating free-market ideas into law. Both note changing attitudes about bipartisanship. Says Guenthner: “A decade ago, divided government rewarded compromise. Today, divided government rewards confrontation.”
Each of these trends has implications for how we secure tomorrow’s policy wins.