• Heritage Action
  • More

Heritage Expert

Stuart M. Butler, Ph.D.

  • Distinguished Fellow and Director, Center for Policy Innovation

Stuart M. Butler, a nationally recognized architect of public policy, directs the Center for Policy Innovation. This new division of The Heritage Foundation is charged with designing the next generation of breakthrough ideas.

Butler envisioned the Center for Policy Innovation, or CPI, as the “iPod division” of Heritage--a small, loosely structured group assembled to research and develop radically innovative solutions to some of America’s toughest challenges.

“Think of CPI as a think tank within a think tank,” Heritage President Edwin J. Feulner said in announcing the division. “It will be a freewheeling research laboratory dedicated to thinking ‘outside the box’ to devise landmark policy recommendations consonant with time-tested, conservative principles.”

Before taking the helm of CPI in August 2010, Butler guided Heritage’s domestic policy research for almost 30 years. As vice president for domestic and economic policy studies, he helped shape the debate on critical issues from health care and Social Security to welfare reform and tax relief.

Butler, who remains on Heritage’s senior management team, sees the Center for Policy Innovation as a mechanism for assembling “virtual think tanks,” each dedicated to addressing a seemingly intractable problem.

An early project, he said, will be “breaking the congressional paralysis” on solving the federal government’s long-term fiscal crisis. He plans to form specialized teams of policy experts from think tanks, academia and the private sector to come up with creative solutions. He expects to assemble political scientists, game theorists and others to devise strategies and legislative procedures to break the impasse.

Butler has a reputation for developing transformative ideas that attract bipartisan support.

“Stuart is rightly regarded as the father of enterprise zones and one of the intellectual prime movers behind welfare reform and the school choice movement,” Feulner said. “These ideas have helped reshape America for the better, and they exemplify the kind of groundbreaking work we expect from the new center.”

By the 1980s, National Journal, Washington's premier magazine of politics and policy, had named Butler as “one of 150 individuals outside government who have the greatest influence on decision-making in Washington.” He remains in the thick of the action.

National Journal recently noted Butler's influence once more, calling him one of Washington’s 12 “key players” on health care. In the debate over President Obama’s health proposals, Butler and other Heritage experts argued for an alternative based on consumer choice and state-led efforts, not federally directed ones. That effort continues.

In health care as in other areas of policy, Butler has been a leading proponent of reaching across the ideological spectrum to find bipartisan ways to achieve reform. For instance, Butler and Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution authored a major article encouraging some of the most liberal members of Congress, as well as some of the most conservative, to craft House and Senate bills to foster bold state initiatives for reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

Butler has been published in leading newspapers, including The New York Times, as well as in leading academic journals such as Journal of the American Medical Association, New England Journal of Medicine and Health Affairs (where he is a member of the editorial board). He has testified before Congress dozens of times, been the subject of a profile in The Washington Post, and appeared as a guest commentator on all of the major television networks.

In recent years, Butler became a regular speaker on the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour. He joined a team of nonpartisan, ideologically diverse budget realists who traveled the country seeking to build public support for tackling the growing threat posed by runaway federal spending on the “Big Three” entitlement programs--Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

Featuring former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker and experts from Heritage, the Brookings Institution and the Concord Coalition, the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour visited dozens of cities to meet with editorial boards, business leaders, academics and town hall gatherings of regular citizens. Even before the recession took hold, regional and national media--including CBS’ 60 Minutes--devoted attention to the effort.

Butler joined Heritage in 1979, when it was a relatively obscure conservative think tank, as a policy analyst specializing in urban issues.

His first widely recognized policy proposal was the concept of “enterprise zones” to encourage development in blighted neighborhoods. How? By offering tax and regulatory relief to entrepreneurs who were willing to start businesses there.

Butler introduced the idea in an early paper for Heritage. It caught the attention of then-Rep. Jack Kemp (R-NY), who co-sponsored legislation implementing the concept with then-Rep. Robert Garcia, a Democrat from the South Bronx. Today, at least 70 zones exist in cities across the country.

Butler grew up in Shropshire, in the west midlands of England. The son of a mechanic who left school at age 13, he says his modest roots strongly influenced both his personal values and his approach to policy. True, he holds bachelor’s degrees in physics and math, and also economics, as well as a doctorate in American economic history from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. But Butler believes that empowering ordinary people--not experts or government officials--is the best way to solve social problems.

Butler became a U.S. citizen in 1996. In his early days as a policy analyst, he visited tenements in the South Bronx and Washington, D.C., to discuss with residents how best to address the festering problems of public housing. The encounters led him to help design such approaches as tenant ownership and school choice.

Butler’s abiding passion is health care reform. He has argued for a restructured system based on consumer choice and state-led innovation. In 1989’s “A National Health System for America,” Butler and Heritage colleague Edmund F. Haislmaier wrote a groundbreaking explanation of how distortions in the tax code created a health care system that denies individual choice and drives up costs.

When President Clinton began his bid to federalize health care upon taking office in 1993, Butler was one of the nation’s most-quoted experts on why the Clinton proposal wouldn't work. But he also consulted with lawmakers to develop an alternative reform.

At the time, liberal pundits were among those who thought the Butler approach was superior. Michael Kinsley, then editor of The New Republic, called it “the simplest, most promising, and in an important way, the most progressive idea for health care reform.”

In addition to dozens of research papers for Heritage, Butler has edited several books and is the author of three: Enterprise Zones: Greenlining the Inner Cities (1981), Privatizing Federal Spending (1985) and--with Anna Kondratas--Out of the Poverty Trap (1987).

In 2002, he accepted an invitation to spend a semester as a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. He currently is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Graduate School.

Butler, who is married and has two children, resides in Washington, D.C.

All Publications by Stuart M. Butler, Ph.D.