The Pioneer Institute: Privatizing the Common Wealth
A report from Political Research Associates
The Pioneer Institute was founded in 1988 to change the direction of public policy in Massachusetts by influencing opinion-shapers, policy-makers, and the public. Modeled on the conservative Manhattan Institute and Britain’s Institute of Economic Affairs, Pioneer has played a significant role in influencing policy-making over three successive Republican Administrations in Massachusetts, since the election of William Weld as governor in 1990. Its primary focus has been the wide-ranging privatization of government services.
The door to political influence was opened for Pioneer by the Administrations of three consecutive libertarian or moderate Republican governors in Massachusetts (a traditionally Democratic state). Pioneer staff or board members were appointed to crucial positions in the Administrations of William Weld, Paul Cellucci, and Jane Swift, enabling them to implement the ideas they and Pioneer associates had incubated over the years. In addition to political support, Pioneer’s ideas have also received substantial financial backing, as reflected in its budget of approximately $2 million for 2001. This support has been vitally important in helping Pioneer create a hospitable climate within which its ideas can not only be conceived but also received. Pioneer has also benefited from media coverage that overwhelmingly has been either favorable or uncritical. It has also achieved acceptance through its Better Government Competition held annually. The 11 year-old competition, sponsored by Pioneer’s Center for Restructuring Government, invites the public to participate in the policy process by submitting policy proposals.
The Pioneer Institute: Privatizing the Common Wealth provides a critical analysis of Pioneer’s policy prescriptions, as well as an explanation of its success. It is the result of a three-year investigation of Pioneer’s efforts, particularly examining the issues of mental health care and public education. Pioneer has had enormous influence over these issues since its founding in 1988. The report details the extent of Pioneer’s influence:
The Pioneer Institute is an example of a growing number of rightist think tanks and policy institutes across the United States that exert influence on policy making at the state and local levels. The political and financial support they receive is key to their success. At the Pioneer Institute, that support has come from successive Republican Administrations and the financial backing of a number of conservative foundations, individuals, and corporations.
An examination of the policies advocated by the Pioneer Institute, and often implemented by those associated with Pioneer, illustrates that those most harmed by privatization schemes are those who are economically and socially disadvantaged. Under privatization programs, the private sector is not obligated to serve all sections of society, further aggravating the growing gap in services between the rich and the poor.
Despite Pioneer’s promotion of privatization schemes, viable and successful privatization initiatives in Massachusetts have been rare. This should alert us that the rhetoric of private sector efficiency is very often merely that. What savings have been achieved by the state have largely been the result of undercutting union wages, transferring costs onto other payers, and reducing service provision. Sound legislation results from cooperation among the community, labor, and the government, not from irresponsible privatization schemes. The establishment of progressive policy institutes and think tanks in Massachusetts and in other states is critically important to provide a practical and ethical counterweight to rightist organizations such as the Pioneer Institute.
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