Mercatus More than Nobels
In “Nobel Rewards” in the January/February Briefly Noted section, you mention the outstanding work being done at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, with the support of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Unfortunately, you quoted me such that readers may have misunderstood the foundation’s support and come away with a narrow vision of Mason’s scholarship and community service.
As you rightly note, the university’s Mercatus Center, with which Nobel laureate Dr. Vernon Smith is closely associated, has provided economic analyses of various federal regulations in response to the Office of Management and Budget’s request for public comments. That is a valuable service, but Mercatus serves society in many other ways. In fact, Mercatus’s Regulatory Studies Program, under which the regulatory research was conducted, is only one of many programs that take academic scholarship and apply it to real-world problems.
Through its Capitol Hill Campus, for example, Mercatus offers fundamental economic education to Hill staffers so they can apply the principles of economic analysis to their daily public policy challenges. Making use of top academic talent from around the country, Mercatus educated more than 2,100 staffers last year-one-third of the entire Hill staff community-in bipartisan programs that attracted both Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, chiefs of staff and legislative assistants.
Mercatus is also home to the Government Accountability Program (GAP) directed by Maurice McTigue. McTigue was a principal player in New Zealand’s miraculous economic turnaround 15 years ago and served that nation as a member of parliament, cabinet minister, and ambassador to Canada. GAP’s programs include its annual Performance Scorecard of federal agencies. Through the Performance Scorecard, McTigue and his team of researchers evaluate each agency based on the transparency of its reporting to Congress, the specificity of its documentation of tangible public benefits, and the extent of its forward-looking leadership. McTigue also works with federal agency leaders to help them focus their agencies and become more effective in delivering value to taxpayers. The proof of the pudding, after all, is in the eating not the spending.
Mercatus is also a font of research into social change so that social entrepreneurs, whether philanthropists or activists, can more effectively bring about improvements in our communities. In these efforts Mercatus works closely with Dr. Smith and the members of his Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science at George Mason, as well as with Nobel laureate Douglass North at Washington University and many other cross-disciplinary scholars from leading universities around the country. This catholic approach reflects the Mercatus mission of integrating academic theory with real-world practice so that the ideas of market-oriented scholars can have the greatest positive impact on society. A promising example of such work is Mercatus’s Global Prosperity Initiative, directed by Dr. Peter Boettke. The program sends economics scholars to developing countries for intensive study of their laws and institutions and applies that knowledge in advising policy makers on how best to harness the tools of markets to bring peace and prosperity to citizens.
In short, this broad array of scholarship and training provided by Mercatus exemplifies the potential of universities to contribute to our well-being and, by extension, the potential of philanthropists to do good by supporting institutions of higher education.
— Kelly R. Young
Vice President, Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation
John Miller’s “Winning with Awards” (May/June 2003) neglected to mention one of the most important: the Goldman Environmental Prizes established by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund of San Francisco. A $125,000 prize is given to individual grassroots leaders and heroes on each of six continents, making the yearly award a total of $750,000, surely one of the most lucrative. Winners are nominated by more than 50 national and international environmental organizations. The award ceremony, an annual event for more than a decade, is attended by literally thousands of people in San Francisco’s Opera House where the United Nations Charter was signed. The Goldman Prize has truly established itself as the “Nobel Prize for the Environment.”
— Dr. Stephen Dobbs
San Rafael, California
John J. Miller responds:
My article was not intended to list every notable prize but to explain how philanthropists may achieve their goals by conferring awards. The Goldman Environmental Prizes are listed on the annual register published by the International Congress of Distinguished Awards, a distinction they share with more than a dozen other prizes that focus on the environment, which suggests “the environment” is a crowded field when it comes to “distinguished awards.”