Shortly after economic crisis erupted, Allan Meltzer received a phone call from a German reporter who wanted to know if the world was witnessing the end of capitalism.
“I told her that was the most stupid question I have been asked in about 40 years of answering journalists’ questions,” Meltzer told audience members gathered inside the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. earlier this month for the annual Bradley Prizes ceremony. The reporter hung up before Meltzer could explain to her that capitalism was actually spreading beyond its once narrow enclave to other parts of the world including Latin America, Asia and Africa.
Meltzer is a professor of political economy and public policy at the Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business and a visiting scholar with the American Enterprise Institute. He has also served as a consultant to the U.S. Treasury Department, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the World Bank. Meltzer is also a 2011 Bradley Prize recipient.
Each year, the awards ceremony honors individuals like Meltzer who have made significant contributions to cause of democratic capitalism and the ideals of the American founding. Founded in 1985, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation supports limited, competent government and a dynamic market place for economic, intellectual and cultural activity.
Jeb Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida, was recognized for advancing school choice initiatives in his home state and for improving the quality of education. In his remarks, Bush discussed some of the motivating factors behind his reforms and said that it was vital for the country to raise standards.
When he was running for governor in 1998, Bush recalled meeting a student from Seminole High School, just north of Orlando, who had trouble passing his high school graduation test. One of the questions asked how long baseball game was that started at 3 p.m. and ended at 4:30. The student could not answer.
“We know for a fact that young people who can’t answer those questions and who can’t think through a question that simple are not going to be able to lived fulfilled lives,” Bush said. “They’ll be able to dream big dreams, but they won’t have the capacities to make those dreams come true.”
“…So, the first step in our journey was to raise standards and this has made a difference and I hope our country continues to raise standards so we can benchmark ourselves to the rest of the world and recognized that God has given every child the ability to learn, and it is up to us, all of us, that care about the next generation to organize ourselves in different ways to make sure they can attain a world class education.”
Bush also ended “social promotion” in the third grade and insisted that students fufill education standards before they move up a grade. The end result was a dramatic decline in illiteracy. Although the Florida Supreme Court ruled against Bush’s voucher program, supporters did raise money to help sustain school choice efforts.
Higher education also figured into the discussion.
Columnist George Will, who served as the master of ceremonies, recalled that when Woodrow Wilson served as Princeton University’s president he wanted the graduate school located on the main campus, not where it is right now.
“When he was overruled, he had one of his characteristic tantrums and left Princeton and went into politics and ruined the 20th century,” he said. “I simplify somewhat and exaggerate a bit, but Wilson was the first president to criticize the American founding…”
Wilson spent much of his political career criticizing the philosophy of James Madison, a key figure from the American founding, and a fellow Princetonian.
By contrast, Harvey Mansfield, a professor of government at Harvard University, has long championed the ideals of the founding period. Widely respected for the range and depth of his scholarship, Professor Mansfield is the author of numerous books, including “Taming the Prince,” “America’s Constitutional Soul,” “Manliness,” and “Alexis de Tocqueville.”
Mansfield informed audience members that there are three main ideals that hold sway at Harvard. They are 1)diversity 2) choice 3) equality. But because the university makes every effort to avoid adherence to any principle that does not change, these ideals sometimes clash, Mansfield explained as he accepted the Bradley Prize.
“To respect change, diversity must serve to overcome stereotypes, even though stereotypes are necessary to diversity,” he said.
To make a successful career in academia, it is often necessary to “combine curiosity with superficiality,” Richard Epstein, a professor of law at New York University, advised listeners. Epstein also served on the University of Chicago Law School faculty and is a senior fellow with the Hoover Institution. He is also a 2011 Bradley Prize recipient.
“One of the nice things about going about in a legal education is that if you don’t have strong teachers you actually have to make a path for yourself,” he said. “When you are trying to think about ideas, being first is really extremely important. If you have a mentor you are always going to be second because you will be heavily influenced by the people who educate you and I had a peculiar spirit of independence and that helped me in my career early on.”
Over the past few years, the Bradley Prize Ceremony has made it evident that the conservative movement has helped to revive the founding ideals that President Wilson and other progressives sought to bury in the 20th Century.