Who will groom the next Arthur Brooks?

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Opinion Zone,Max Borders

What does real social change look like? It’s not a map that’s redder than it was last year. It’s not like a team sport in which you choose a color, cheer for one side and then go home. In fact, showing up simply to replace Ds with Rs every two years becomes just another exercise in finding out which team gets to divide spoils of political tug-o-war.

We need more -- more than partisan politics has offered us to date. We need the people to coalesce around the Founding Principles again. And we need systemic reform like that Madison and Jefferson would recommend: government constrained. That’s the dream, anyway.

Systemic reform may arrive in a single moment or series of events. But it starts with the next generation. And the next generation needs leaders in the public-policy space who have their heads on straight and their eyes wide open. They’ll need to be good managers, good fundraisers, good organizers and, well, good (virtuous) people. That’s for starters.

Tomorrow’s players will also require more than just the most superficial contact with the Constitution and the tradition that animates it. They’ll need to be intellectual freedom-fighters armed with timeless ideas, razor-sharp economic logic and entrepreneurial zeal. So who’s out there grooming the next Arthur Brooks? Or Sally Pipes? Or Brooke Rollins?


Training Days

Okay, I realize I’m no Arthur Brooks. But I got top-notch training that puts me in a good position to take on a leadership role one day. My experience is with the Koch Associate Program, or “KAP”. The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation trains a great many of the next generation’s classical liberal movers/shakers. As far as I know, they’re the only ones doing this to any appreciable degree. They have two connected programs: KAP and Liberty@Work.

At a time when a lot of smart young people are emerging from college jobless, KAP might sound like a perfectly good way to spend a year. But let’s be clear: the program is for people who have a serious interest advancing liberty, whether in public policy, academia, or some other non-profit roles. In other words, this ain’t your sister’s internship. This is serious business -- with a salary and a career track. Still many of the participants are just beginning their professional careers, with a few exceptions. I was older relative to the rest of my cohort. But that meant I got to be something of a mentor.

Liberty@Work has a similar curriculum to KAP, but it is a remote program that taps nationwide talent using the latest in online collaboration tools. Liberty@Work participants will get their training while working in non-profit organizations all over the country. The non-profits get better-trained employees at reduced cost. This means, in essence, KAP training has become scalable.

Whether you’re in KAP or Liberty@Work, it’s like getting organization theory, political theory, and an MBA -- all in one. (State-based think tanks should be salivating.) Koch’s curriculum is framed broadly in what the foundation refers to as the “Five Dimensions,” organizational mental models distilled from broader market concepts. What’s so cool about this approach is that you learn economics and management theory at the same time, which includes material from great thinkers like Mises and Hayek.

The Koch Foundation calls its organizational philosophy Market-Based Management, or MBM. If you’re skeptical of MBM, consider that the same organizational philosophy guides Koch Industries--the second-largest privately held company in America.


Futurestock

But the Koch Foundation can’t do it all. Despite the Death Star mythology created by the likes of Rachel Maddow, the Koch Foundation has limited resources. Areas like technology, aesthetics, and communications are not their core capabilities.

In other words, the next Arthur Brooks may be not be a think-tanker at all, but an innovation wizard like Peter Thiel, a storyteller like Neal Schulman, or a filmmaker like Jason Reitman. Indeed, it is in the interplay of technology, creativity, and communication that we’re likely to find the most powerful currents of social change. If you miss this space, you’re going to miss the next chapter in an ongoing struggle against government power.

In many respects, we’re already in that chapter -- and that means we’re woefully behind. The center of social change is moving away from just the beltway, which is to say it’s decentralizing. Indeed, it’s moving away from think tanks and politicos and towards popular movements enabled by innovative media.

Organizations like Koch are certainly interested in training techies, artists, and communicators, but they’re not necessarily focused on training them to be more effective in their fields. In other words, it’s one thing to train the next Arthur Brooks to run an organization, it’s quite another to train him to write a bestseller.


The Will to Move

There are ways for young classical liberals to get involved. The Institute for Humane Studies has an interesting set of programs. America’s Future Foundation has social networking opportunities. The Cato Institute has Cato U. And Shimer College in Chicago holds high school summer programs in ideas through the Reason, Individualism and Freedom Institute. But these are mere entry points.

When it comes to leadership and career training opportunities across capabilities -- present and future -- the current 501c3 talent market looks like Swiss cheese. It’s time philanthropists and social entrepreneurs fill those gaps so the Jeffersonian comeback isn’t just a flash in the pan.

Max Borders is an executive editor at Free To Choose Network. He blogs at Ideas Matter.

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