| December 27, 2012

Five items on our wish list for 2013

In our daily work and especially in our "Freedom Agenda for 2013," we identify specific policy prescriptions as among our top "wishes." If we wish for particular policies, though, it is only because we wish -- at an even deeper level -- for Oklahomans to know true peace and joy. At the heart of all policy innovation, after all, is a desire for human flourishing. Here, a wish list that captures a handful of desires that led to our "Freedom Agenda" in the first place.

1. More happiness through earned success for all Oklahomans

We could, perhaps, have written this wish as "More money in the pockets of Oklahomans," but that could be accomplished by, say, unearned transfers from hardworking Americans in other states -- and such unearned transfers would do little to increase the happiness quotient of Oklahomans. In a Wall Street Journal editorial, American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks writes:

[H]itting the jackpot generally leads to unhappiness. A famous 1978 study of major lottery winners in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that while the winners experienced an immediate happiness boost right after winning, it didn't last. Within a few months, their happiness levels receded to where they had been before winning. As time passed, they found they were actually less happy than they had been before winning.

Does this suggest that money makes us unhappy? Not at all. There is a huge amount of research showing that money, when earned, has a generally positive association with happiness. The problem is when it is unearned, when raw purchasing power is untethered from hard work and merit. Above basic subsistence, happiness comes not from money per se, but from the value creation it is rewarding.


While earned success facilitates the pursuit of happiness, unearned transfers generally impede it. According to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, going on the welfare rolls increases by 16% the likelihood of a person saying he or she has felt inconsolably sad over the past month (even after controlling for poverty and unemployment).

We view swollen welfare rolls as cause for alarm not merely because they pose a fiscal problem, but, more importantly, because a life of government dependence is statistically less aatisfying than a life of earned success. We want more -- and better -- for Oklahomans. We want our friends and neighbors to know the joy and satisfaction of working, building, creating ... of generating something of value for themselves and their families.

2. Renewed gratitude for basic policies that create order out of chaos and ensure opportunity for all

How, then, do we create opportunities for Oklahomans to earn success? Above all, we protect the rule of law and property rights -- two once-revolutionary concepts Americans all-too-often forget to fully appreciate.

How nice if legislators would only pass laws that apply to everyone -- including themselves -- equally! How nice if they would conscientiously seek to eliminate laws that favor some groups of people over others! Oklahomans' recent vote to eliminate preferential treatment programs in the state was a step in the right direction -- but we can still do more.

How nice, too, if Oklahomans could keep what they earn! It is unfair to expect Oklahomans to work as hard to fund government services that might or might not benefit them and their families as they work on their own behalf.

On the other hand, it is eminently reasonable to expect Oklahomans to work diligently and creatively to advance their own goals under a government that is limited enough to offer few-to-no opportunities for rent-seeking and to have no need of income-tax-generated revenue in the first place.

3. Better -- and more affordable -- education for Oklahomans

We want Oklahomans to be prepared for the opportunities that life presents -- including non-economic opportunities, like the opportunity to worship, to love, to commit for life to another person, to have children, to personally raise those children and, yes, to have a little time to relax and enjoy "the good life." None of us is born knowing what constitutes "the good life," though. Education is necessary. Much of that education begins in the home -- but it continues throughout life.

At a minimum, we want Oklahomans to be able to read, for reading opens opportunities to learn other subjects, including science, history and math.

We want parents to be able to freely choose what schools their children attend, We don't want the cost of higher education to bankrupt parents or saddle students with impossible-to-remit student loan debt.

4. A true social safety net

Just as we want Oklahomans to have an opportunity to work for themselves and to keep what they earn, we want Oklahomans to have a voluntary sense of responsibility for and obligation to each other -- starting with family members and especially children. The existing web of families, schools, neighborhoods, churches and charitable organizations -- to which we devote increasingly less time, but from which folks have historically derived incomparable satisfaction -- is our ideal version of a "social safety net." For one thing, it is truly social -- not an impersonal program, but a mesh of real relationships. Civil society needs not to be diminished in importance, but augmented. Policy can't revive the cultural importance of, say, the Kiwanis Club -- but people can. We're tired of Oklahomans bowling alone. We'd like them to know their neighbors' names and be able to borrow an egg now and then.

5. Good health for as many Oklahomans as possible

We know that sickness and death are as much a part of life as birth -- but we want as many Oklahomans to enjoy good health this year as possible. For the most part, the causes of good health are simple -- fresh air, pure water, a little exercise and nutritious food. In many cases, none of that is prohibitively expensive -- if more of us would just have the wisdom to choose it.

What we want, then, is not so much utopia as a chance for Oklahomans to live in a free and fair society, surrounded by family, friends and neighbors who love them, and buoyed by a hard-earned awareness of their own internal resourcefulness and capability. That means additional items on our wish list are "the freedom to fail" and "the peace that comes from knowing failure need not be the final word." After all, as the character Clarence says in the Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life, "No man is a failure who has friends."

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