The Hoover Institution Hosts Retreat

Friday, November 21, 2008
Robert Hall, Hoover Institution senior fellow
Robert Hall, Hoover Institution senior fellow

STANFORD—A wide range of topics were covered at the Hoover Institution retreat held November 19 and 20, including the economy, election results, scientific issues, and cultural and political issues.

The economy was discussed by Robert Hall, the Robert and Carole McNeil Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, in his presentation titled “The Financial Crisis and the American Economy.” Hall said he believes decisions made recently on the national level have effectively isolated the financial crisis for the United States. He noted, however, care must be taken not to create yet another set of new problems or continue to mistake political issues for economic problems.

Hoover fellows Shelby Steele, David Brady, and Morris Fiorina in their presentations discussed different aspects of the election.

In “Election 2008: Why America Is So Deeply Divided” Shelby Steele, the Robert J. and Marion E. Oster Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, noted that differences between liberals and conservatives began in the 1960s when a vacuum of moral authority opened up, which society does not tolerate well. Liberals, who identified with the civil rights movement, attempted to redress past problems, what Steele referred to as redemptive liberalism. The focus of redemptive liberalism was to redeem Americans from their sins, which would be done through relativism. Values were questioned. For Steele the power of liberalism is stigmatization, whereas the power of conservativism comes from the power of ideas and principles. In light of the recent election, Steele asserted that “our advantage is the power of our ideas.” He maintains that what conservatives do well is resisting stigmatization and arguing ideas as President Ronald Reagan did.

David Brady, Hoover deputy director and the Davis Family Senior Fellow, and Morris Fiorina, Hoover senior fellow, discussed the results of the presidential election in a presentation titled “The 2008 Election: An Electoral Retrospective and a Policy Prospective.” After providing an overview of Americans’ political views, Fiorina detailed how the political makeup of the country is changing: population shifts, with some red states going blue; an increase in the number of Latinos; and more young people. In his presentation, Brady analyzed the election results. He determined that President-elect Barack Obama won due to the economy, as might be expected, but added that Senator John McCain ran better than many believed possible.

Those in the West must put to rest the view that they must make the world over in their image, said Ken Jowitt, the Pres and Maurine Hotchkis Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, in his presentation “The World Is Not Like Us.” Questioning the efforts to promote democracy worldwide, Jowitt said, “I would posit that most of the non-Western world doesn’t understand Western culture, doesn’t desire Western culture, and only under the most calamitously improbably circumstances can become Western.” Jowitt pointed out that in the West, unlike the rest of the world, value is placed on individuality, a willingness to take risks is rewarded, and an “ethos of impersonalism” takes a rational view. Jowitt noted that an exception to this would be a substantial social movement dedicated to an aspiring democracy and the leaders within it to adapt democracy to their situation.

In “Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for Americans¬ and How We Can Get More of It,” Arthur Brooks, author of a book by the same name, focused on the connections among culture, politics, and economic life. He told the audience that his research, and that of many others in the field, points to earned success, not vast amounts of money, as most indicative of a person's overall happiness. Thus, although the windfall may elate a lottery winner, after habituating to that new status the winner most often finds it does not, in fact, bring true happiness. Among other factors he has studied, Brooks finds that charitable giving also has been found to point to happiness. Brooks is a professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He will become the president of the American Enterprise Institute in 2009.

The retreat opened with remarks titled “Physics for Future Presidents” by Richard Muller. Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, touched on a number of topics in his presentation, from nuclear weapons, which he said are difficult to make, to energy—Americans are addicted to gasoline—to global warming.

Expanding on the subject of global warming, Muller said, “I believe it’s real, that it’s caused by humans and a cause for concern.” He went on, however, to discredit some of the claims by global warming backers. Muller recommends that other sources of energy be developed, including solar, wind turbines, clean coal, and nuclear.

In addition to the speakers mentioned above, Hoover fellows presented the following conversations: Michel Boskin, Hoover senior fellow, discussed “The Financial Crisis, the Economy, and Policy Responses: Where Do We Go from Here?” and George P. Shultz, Hoover distinguished fellow, discussed “Implications of the Georgia/Russia Situation.”