Editor's Note

Fall 2019 Insider

Editor's Note

Process Matters

Nov 20, 2019 3 min read

People pursue their self-interest. It’s a banal observation, yet judgments about it largely define the conflict in our political prescriptions. 

For the progressive, self-interest is the fly in the utopian pie; for the conservative, it is the true motor of worldly progress.

Wealth of Nations author Adam Smith wrote: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

Why rely on self-interest instead of political commands? Friedrich Hayek explained that the reality of dispersed knowledge makes it impossible for central planners to improve on the decisions produced by self-interested agents in a free marketplace. 

James Madison and the Founders discerned that government needs to be checked because self-interest drives the government official as much as the private citizen. Madison wrote:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. 

Yet today, too many conservative commentators act like conservative politicians are angelic beings, wholly disinterested in political power. For these pundits, the political task extends no further than getting enough “real” conservatives elected and making sure “real” conservatives stay true to their small government ideals. 

But the project to reduce the size and scope of government needs much more than just good leaders at the very top. It also needs a constituency for reducing big government and for removing the institutional biases that favor big government. Without those reforms, reductions in government will be reversed and ultimately remembered as mere hitches in the long advance of Leviathan. 

In this, the last hard-copy issue of The Insider, Brian Riedl addresses this need, discussing why fiscal conservatives have failed to be fiscally conservative. The problem, he writes, is chiefly that so much of the budget is set to grow automatically year after year. Thus, merely holding the line on spending constitutes an enormous political challenge. In order to achieve anything more, reformers will have to take federal spending off of autopilot. To build a constituency for that, they will have to talk to voters about—yikes!—the budget process. 

This final issues marks the end of what has been an exciting 42-year run for The Insider. We launched in 1977 as an annotated bibliography of recent research papers produced by conservative think tanks. Rolled off of Heritage’s trusty mimeograph machine, the goal of the periodical was to inform, unify, and advance the movement by sharing the latest findings and proposals emerging from within. 

While we are putting the magazine to bed for the last time, that mission continues, and The Insider will live on, in modified form, on the digital pages of The Daily Signal, Heritage’s multimedia news outlet. Now, instead of waiting three months for their next Insider, readers can find monthly interviews with movement leaders, and op-eds from some of the brightest conservative minds in academia as well as local, state and national think tanks. The weekly Insider e-mail will continue to arrive in subscribers’ mailboxes, as well. 

So let me close by saying what an honor it has been to serve as the editor of The Insider for the last 12 years. I’d like to thank each and every one of our contributors for helping advance the cause of liberty, and I’d like to thank all of our readers for your interest and your support.

Because of all of you, the conservative movement remains not just alive, but as lively as ever. In the words of Heritage Foundation Founder Ed Feulner: “Onward!”  

Alex Adrianson

Alex Adrianson edits The Insider.