The Hoover Institution hosted overseers, supporters, and special guests for its annual spring retreat on Wednesday, April 21, and Thursday, April 22, virtually streaming seven panel discussions about policy issues concerning American society, its institutions, and its competitiveness on the global stage.
Tad and Diane Taube Director Condoleezza Rice gave opening remarks, listing some of the challenges the nation faces, including countering the threats to its interests posed by the People’s Republic of China, addressing the deepened economic and educational disparities resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and harnessing the power of technology for national security and prosperity. Rice emphasized that through the diversity and talents of its fellowship, Hoover is uniquely positioned to advance innovative ideas at this consequential time in the nation’s history, as well as to help affirm American values of individual liberty and responsibility.
The Importance of History in Higher Education and Its Role in Informing Public Policy
The first discussion on Wednesday, chaired by Milbank Senior Fellow Niall Ferguson, considered the resuscitation of historical education and the application of research about the past on contemporary policy. Panelists included Senior Fellow Stephen Kotkin, Roger and Martha Mertz Visiting Fellow Andrew Roberts, and Distinguished Visiting Fellow and Stanford history professor David Kennedy.
The group discussed the myriad factors that have led to a decline in the study of history at the academy, including the emphasis of STEM education and the fracturing of humanities into topics shaped by identity politics. While the panelists largely acknowledged that there was a lack of political diversity in academia, they also agreed that the quality of historians’ scholarship, regardless of their belief system, should determine their career success and influence among peers. The participants also considered the predictive value of historical inquiry, concurring that historical study was useful in identifying patterns and the root causes of policy challenges, but that it doesn’t necessarily provide complete answers. Thus, they maintained, policy makers should be cautious and subtle in its application.
Economic Policy of the Future
The second panel, chaired by George P. Shultz Senior Fellow in Economics John B. Taylor explored recent actions taken by state and local governments, as well as central banks, in reviving an economy severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also considered economic policies that would lead the nation on a steady path toward prosperity. Panelists included Wolhford Family Senior Fellow Michael Boskin, Rose-Marie and Jack Anderson Senior Fellow John Cochrane, and Senior Fellow Caroline Hoxby.
The panelists agreed that US Congress’s actions to greatly expand the federal deficit during the pandemic via stimulus checks and unemployment benefits, as well as the Federal Reserve’s decision to pursue zero-bound interest rates, might lead to higher rates of inflation. They concurred that the United States may soon be headed for a sovereign debt crisis if such policies continue. The fellows maintained that the US government should have targeted relief toward individuals and businesses most impacted by the pandemic and deployed a strategy of safely reopening the economy. Furthermore, they asserted that the Federal Reserve should return to a predictable rules-based monetary policy, which has historically led to stable long-term growth for the American economy. The panelists also paid tribute to senior fellow and renowned labor economist Edward P. Lazear, who passed away in November 2020.
How to Promote a Free and Open Indo-Pacific
The third panel, chaired by Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow H. R. McMaster, provided insights on the development of the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy and how the US and its allies can keep the region free and open in the face of China’s aggression.
Panelists described China’s ambition to become the predominant power in the region, as well as its current advantages, including the number of ships deployed, proximity to bases, and networks of strategic and economic partners. They argued that maintaining a rules-based order in the region will require deepening the relationship among Quad members (the United States, Australia, India, and Japan), as well as with other Asian democracies. Such coordination, they held, should be based not only on military cooperation but also upon strengthening commercial ties, realigning critical supply chains, and reducing economic dependency on China.
Education after COVID-19
Wednesday’s final panel, chaired by Distinguished Research Fellow Macke Raymond, assessed challenges in K–12 education that have been exacerbated by COVID-19, as well as the silver linings that have been revealed during this year of disruption. Panelists included Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow in Education Eric Hanushek, Senior Fellow Paul Peterson, and Candice McQueen, CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching and member of the practitioner council for the Hoover Education Success Initiative (HESI).
Hanushek measured the learning loss and corresponding projected reduction in lifetime individual income resulting from the school closures, especially among disadvantaged students. He argued that schools will not only have to reopen to make up for students’ learning losses but will have to become significantly more effective than they were prior to the pandemic. During the discussion, the participants advanced several proposals for improving schools, including implementing “strategic compensation” scales that would benefit high-performing teachers; enhancing evaluation instruments; and advancing school choice by enabling the expansion of charter school networks, the creation of education savings accounts, and the formation of portfolio districts, which offer a diverse set of school types, including those that are tailored to students’ interests and emphasize career readiness. They also emphasized more personalized instruction for students, which they believe can be supplemented by strategic use of technology in the classroom.
China’s Global Ambitions
The second day of the retreat began with a conversation, chaired by Senior Fellow Larry Diamond, about China’s ambitions to supplant the United States as the major power in the Pacific, its current attempts reshape international systems to align with its preferences, and its intervention in the economic and political affairs of Africa. Participants included Senior Fellow Elizabeth Economy, Shepard Family Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Economics Kevin Warsh, and Duignan Distinguished Visiting Fellow Jendayi Frazer.
Frazer stressed that an effective American strategy against China should include Washington’s advancing itself as the partner of choice among developing nations, particularly on the African continent, where Beijing has already made significant inroads. Economy held that the United States should reclaim predominance in international organizations and rule-making bodies. Specifically, she advocated that the United States join and provide leadership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership of eleven large economies, which currently combine for $13.5 trillion, or 13.4 percent, of global GDP. In his remarks, Warsh urged that American leaders reflect on first principles and strengthen the nation via policies based on time-tested pro-growth and free-market principles.
The Future of Conservativism
The day’s second discussion, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, examined the future of the conservative movement in America. Participants included Leonard and Shirley Ely Senior Fellow John F. Cogan, Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow Victor Davis Hanson, and Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley.
The participants agreed that conservativism has a bright future in the United States, arguing that it promises a better life than progressive alternatives. Cogan stated that conservative policies of limiting the role of government, protecting property rights, and upholding the rule of law have historically resulted in greater individual freedoms and prosperity. While in agreement with Cogan, Hanson explained that in their embrace of free trade, conservative leaders have sometimes overlooked the plight of many workers whose jobs have been lost to less-expensive overseas labor and other forces of globalization.
Riley argued that conservatives need to do a better job of selling their message of freedom and prosperity to younger generations. He asserted that liberal solutions would ultimately be viewed as less attractive, because they are often expensive and set unrealistic expectations about equality of outcome.
Technology, Economics, and Governance Challenges
In the final panel, chaired by Morris Arnold and Nona Jean Cox Senior Fellow Amy Zegart, scholars explored ways in which the United States can maintain its technological edge in the economic and military arenas against competitors, such as the People’s Republic of China. Participants included John Taylor, CEO of JC2 Ventures John T. Chambers, and General David L. Goldfein, former US Air Force chief of staff.
For America to maintain a competitive edge, participants noted, policy makers should focus on attracting students to STEM fields and creating an economic environment in which tech entrepreneurs can thrive. They also underscored the importance of peaceful cooperation between the United States and its competitors while maintaining that the US should be prepared with superior technological capabilities so that its leaders can make decisions with speed, bring power to bear in multiple battle spaces, and successfully deter aggression by potential adversaries.
Conversations during the two days of the virtual spring retreat reflect the Hoover Institution’s research priorities on some of America’s most important policy challenges. Please visit Hoover.org for more information on the above topics.