Larry Mone

Turning Intellect into Influence

VTR Date: September 26, 2002

Guest: Mone, Larry


The Open Mind
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Larry Mone
Title: Turning Intellect Into Influence
VTR: 9/26/02
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. And as I tried to think out last night evening just how I ought to introduce today’s guest, I remembered all too well the chagrin and annoyance expressed by an earlier guest … an old friend of mine, indeed, a former student from a half century ago when I introduced him as associated with a Conservative Washington think tank.

He insisted I was being pejorative, rather than descriptive, that I wouldn’t have used the adjective Liberal the say way. Well, I think he was dead wrong, but I don’t like to step on people’s toes, and so I’ll just ask Lawrence J. Mone, long-time Executive and now President of the Manhattan Institute, one of our nation’s most influential public policy think tanks, if he objects to my describing it as Conservative. Indeed, going so far as to repeat the notion that the Manhattan Institute is itself the Godfather of George W. Bush’s Compassionate Conservatism.

Fair identification?

Mone: I’m, I’m comfortable with the identification as long as you and other realize that the word “Conservative” can cover a broad range of ideas and opinions on, on issues. In other words, at the Institute we pick specific issues because we feel that the conventional wisdom isn’t working at that time. And in one case it might be very libertarian and free-market oriented. In another case the issue might go more towards traditional Conservative values. So there are disagreements within the Manhattan Institute about approaches. And so, as long as people are comfortable with the notion that it’s, it’s a wide umbrella that we cover I’m comfortable with the term.

Heffner: Well, wait a minute. Help me understand the difference between those two streams of thought.

Mone: Well, a good example would be the work that we did in policing in New York City in the 1990’s. In the early 1990’s when crime was out of control in New York there was a thesis written by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling(CHECK SPELLING) called Fixing Broken Windows. And the argument there was that focusing on small instances of public disorder if properly handled can actually lead to reductions in more serious crime.

We thought that was a very interesting idea and one that we helped to cultivate with one of co-authors George Kelling(CHECK SPELLING) and his writing in City Journal. Now that’s an issue which is more in the kind of traditional Conservative vein. You might find some of our friends at the Cato Institute who are more Libertarian in their orientation saying, “Well, that’s more of a violation of individual rights.” And so they might be more skeptical of that particular approach.

Heffner: And what’s your defense, if “defense” is the right word of … that you offer when they say “this is not a truly Conservative point of view.”

Mone: I think one has to have a practical sense of what limited government means in the 21st century in an urban setting.

Heffner: What do you mean?

Mone: In the sense that in order to protect the life and property of citizens one has to have a sophisticated understanding of how those citizens interact. So that when people jump the fair at turnstiles, the police may not think that’s a very serious offense, but what one discovers when you apprehend such people is that many of them have outstanding warrants and are out in the subways to create more serious situations for your fellow citizens. So the idea of intervening early and in an aggressive way with small issues of public disorder is really a very effective way of dealing with the serious crimes that have plagued American cities for many years.

Heffner: Are you often, for that reason, called “Statist” in your point of view?

Mone: The fact of the matter is that many people on our side of the fence could be critical for us on that, that point of view. But we feel that, that the benefits of that in terms of making government work in New York have been extraordinary. I mean if you look at the economic revival of New York in the 1990’s, the refurbishment of aging neighborhoods up around Columbia University, Washington Heights. I mean the side effects of making people feel safe in the streets has been enormous for the City and this has been beneficial in a number of ways which have made markets and individual enterprise thrive. So we feel that there is an appropriate role for government. We just feel that you have to be a little hard headed and common-sensical about how to make it work.


Heffner: Well, wait a minute … let me understand, Larry. The Manhattan Institute … so I shouldn’t take exception to your talking about New York. But I do know that you are influential way beyond the confines of the city in which we’re taping the show and, there are people in San Diego, in Dallas, in Connecticut and a variety of other cities around the country that are watching this … you’re not talking about Manhattan alone, are you?

Mone: Well, that’s true. I mean when we created The City Journal which is our magazine, in the 1990’s … our thought was that 80% to 90% of the content would be New York oriented. But what we did find was that there was a tremendous audience for these ideas in cities all around the country … mayors, both Democrat and Republican who are interested in trying new ideas for fixing their cities. And, as I said, in some cases it was more traditional Conservative … “let’s true a broken windows policing effort”. In others it was more “let’s rely more on the private sector, through privatization and competition in the provision of, of public services.” Some of the things that Steve Goldsmith, for instance, did in Indianapolis. But, what we did find … there was a coalition of very pragmatic oriented Mayors who were both Democrat and Republican, who, you know, appreciated our sense that cities were, in fact, governable. And that there were ways of transcending the ideological debate in getting things done.

Heffner: And you make this differentiation between that approach … safety … making things work … and then economic.

Mone: Well, the Institute …

Heffner: … approach.

Mone: … well, the Institute, you know … the Institute was very much involved in the economic policy debates of the 1980’s and some of the major welfare debates, too. We’ve discussed the fact that Charles Murray’s book Losing Ground was our book in 1984. And there I think we set off a whole debate about welfare policy and the appropriate role of welfare policy. We also did a book with Lawrence Lindsey(CHECK SPELLING) in the 1980’s on the growth experiment, which was a look at the tax policies of Ronald Reagan. So, we were very involved with those debates. But one of our thoughts is that a think tank needs to kind of, you know, move on to new ideas and explore new territory. And once an idea becomes part of the conventional wisdom … as Charles Murray’s Work and Welfare did … and in fact, led to the 1996 welfare reform bill. It’s time to look at things that aren’t working and see if we can identify new ideas and new people who can make a difference. And so that’s why, even though we continue to do national issues, our interest in cities in general became an important part of our portfolio in the 1990’s.

Heffner: What are the new issues?

Mone: I think the new issues … one of them, unfortunately, has been thrust upon us and that’s the issue of terrorism in American cities. But a lot of what we learned in our policing efforts in New York in the 1990’s is now applicable to the problem of terrorism. We, in the last few months, have brought together from all around the country to talk about the role that local police can play in identifying terrorists and trying to gather intelligence; the kinds of efforts apparently the FBI is incapable of doing. After all there are only about 10,000 FBI agents and 400,000 local law enforcement agents. And we feel that those police officers have been left out of the loop under the current terrorism policy. And so we are creating a “safe cities” initiative in conjunction with that to being them into the fold, to help them gather intelligence and to cooperate in a more effective way with the FBI, so that is really an extension of what we’ve been doing in the city. We think a very necessary one and a vital one.

Heffner: Do you believe that the degree to which the FBI has kept local police chiefs, police departments out of the picture is a function of just old fuddy-duddy-ism on the part of the FBI?

Mone: It’s a bureaucratic mindset. I mean any organization that you participated in, you know, if you have 30 people, you’ll have five factions and it’s amazing how difficult it is to get information to flow. And I think it is a very strong bureaucratic challenge that we have in this current battle, both with the FBI and the CIA. But what we’ve learned through out efforts in terms of policing in the 1990’s … the more you decentralize information, the more your rely on the local cop on the beat to become part of that process, the more effective you’re ultimately going to be in terms of your strategies. And so we’re applying those same concepts and I think as we talk to the Police Chiefs, they understand what we’re talking about. And so we think we have a real chance of making a difference here.

Heffner: What is their attitude toward Ashcroft, for instance?

Mone: I think there’s a general feeling … and I don’t think it’s necessarily a partisan feeling that, again, their efforts are under appreciated … that in fact, this is seen too much as a Federal battle. But, after all, if there are terrorists in this Country, we are they going to be … they’re going to be in Jersey City. They’re going to be in Patterson, New Jersey. They’re going to be in Oakland, California. And the people who are, are in the best position to find those people are the people who are monitoring criminal activity every day on the beats. So, this is a process where, I think, as you said, “our good relationships with the Bush Administration, the Federal government can make us an honest broker in the relationship. And that’s what we thoroughly intend to do.


Heffner: Have you been playing that role?

Mone: I think we’re at the baby-steps of that right now. Our, our goal right now is to get the local policing effort in place. And when it is, we will, you know, start to have the kinds of conversations with the Federal authorities that make sense.

Heffner: Now is this because of a, a local-ism-ism in the Manhattan Institute? Is this because you’re focused, basically, on the local-ism as opposed to big government?

Mone: I think it comes down to the fact that we realized that’s were things actually get done. If you think of Washington, Washington is really just a giant bank. Congress passes a law and sends some money somewhere, whether it’s Title One education money or Department of Defense money to a military base in George. But the place where things actually get done are in states and localities. And even States to some extent don’t provide direct services in welfare, drug treatment, and education. All of the places where the rubber meets the road are on the local level. And so, over time, as we’ve studied these issues, what we found is that Mayors … and to some extent, Governors are the people who really have to come up with the solutions to these problems. Rather than simply the kind of political posturing which too often is the case in Washington.

Heffner: It’s interesting. After the Second World War, there were two Governors who were particularly verbal on that subject. One was the Governor of California, Earl Warren, and the other was the Governor of Illinois … Adlai Stevenson … one a Republican, one a Democrat. Both with the conviction that things wouldn’t be done by the national government and therefore they had to be done at the state level.

Mone: Well, our practical experience in the 1990’s confirms that. So that’s what I mean. You know, as long as you’re willing to agree that Conservative can be a broad term in terms of what it means, in terms of policy, I’m comfortable with the term. But our idea is apply ideas to real problems and get them solved.

Heffner: In doing so, you’ve, you’ve said that the wisest thing to do is to reach intellectuals who are Influentials …or I should put it the other way, leave out the intellectuals, and just say, “reach Influentials” and get your ideas into the mainstream of American life that way.

Mone: Yes, in that sense our strategy is a bit elitist. But, but what it really means is we think there’s a very select group of people who are both articulate and passionate about America’s public conversation. And those are the people who really influence what we talk about every day. And that is our primary audience. And the ideas that we choose and the way we choose to present them are geared specifically to that audience. So, one of the key factors for, you know, when we decide to tackle an issue is to find an intellectual not only who is an original thinker, but a good writer. Because we think good writing is essential to intellectual persuasion. And it’s very much an important part of the media food chain that we have in this country. Even though so much happens on television, the ideas that you see on television are totally driven by the print media. And so that’s where we start on the food chain, finding people that can address that audience and then allowing those people to move our ideas out to the broader masses.

Heffner: And what’s your opinion about, what’s you conclusion about that food chain, as you call it, in terms of its politics?

Mone: Well, I think the politics of it tends towards a more liberal mindset that one might find at the Manhattan Institute. But I don’t think it’s necessarily one that’s ideologically hostile. I think … one thing I found abut the media is that they’re always looking for a new idea, a fresh idea. Because it’s a very competitive business. So, if you can come up with a story or a better explanation of the story than your competitors, I have found most journalists and people in the media more than happy to listen. I think a good example of that is the whole area of tort reform that we’ve been involved. As you know, litigation has become a major issue in the United States. And we’ve been involved in that debate now for about ten years with books by Walter Olson and Peter Uber. And our thought is that the media needs to take a closer look at the role of the trial lawyers. And that these are not simply, you know, crusaders for the underdog, but people responding to real incentives in the legal system …

Heffner: You mean dollars.

Mone: Dollars. To, you know, expand class actions, to engage in litigation, which actually, you know, cripples our capacity to act intelligently. And so, I find the press is becoming more and more receptive to that part of the story. You know regardless of the political or ideological implications, they understand it’s real. And if you make it real to them in an intelligent, persuasive fashion, they’ll report on it.

Heffner: Then you don’t feel that there is a prevailing political attitude?

Mone: As I said …

Heffner: In the American press.


Mone: I think the attitude is there, but I don’t find it an impossible impediment. I think, I think it’s foolish for Conservatives to simply talk to each other and blame the world not changing on the fact that no one that’s out there is willing to listen. I think if, if you focus on quality, if you make your case intelligently and you don’t expect people just to kind of roll over in terms of what you’re trying to tell them. That, in fact, you can make changes. You know we have these Manhattan Forums here in New York …70 to 100 of these so-called Influential Opinion Makers I try to bring. It’s a cross section of politics, media, and the business community. And when I bring Conservative speakers in from out of town, I warn them … “this is not a cheer leading session. In fact, a good chunk of the audience that you are about to engage in does not agree with you. And you better be clear in terms of your presentation about why you believe what you believe because otherwise you’re going to get eaten up.” And we feel that’s important, we feel it’s very important to test our ideas in the market place.

Heffner: Do many of them get eaten up?

Mone: Not many. But, boy, when a New York crowd smells blood, it’s not fun to watch. [Laughter]

Heffner: What’s the origin of your own thinking, political thinking? And do you mind if I call it “political thinking?” Maybe, maybe that’s the wrong phrase.

Mone: I’ve always been interested in politics and ideas. And really it came down to books. I think, you know, books that I was directed, whether it’s Milton Friedman in economics or Bill Buckley in some of the more traditional Conservatism. Actually I grew up, you know, on many of the public affairs shows, such as The Open Mind, or Firing Line, where I thought, in those days as much more civil intellectual discourse taking place on public affairs than you see on some of the cable chatter shows today. So that’s where actually … my interest in these ideas … and that’s where it developed for me.

Heffner: And for the Institute? What was the formative idea there?

Mone: The formative idea … was founded by an SEC Chairman and CIA Director, Bill Casey, and a group of other business people …

Heffner: Does that taint you, by the way?

Mone: Well, people get a little suspicious … sometimes they wonder whether we’re involved in international intrigue, which is fun for a little while, but really is far a-field from what we do. But Bill was only involved for the first year or so and then he moved on into the Reagan Administration. I think what happened very early on, at the Institute was that George Gilder became the Research Director of the Institute and Bill Hammett(CHECK SPELLING) was my predecessor as President. And they both decided that we were going to publish books, not ourselves, but we were going to work with traditional publishing houses such as Random House and Simon & Schuster. And, again, the idea was if we believe in the marketplace, then we have to find an Editor who thinks there’s an audience for these ideas and these books. And that forces us to focus to a greater extent on quality than would have been the case if we wanted to be in this little Conservative ghetto. And I think their leadership was determinative in setting The Manhattan Institute on the course that we’ve taken over the last 20 years, which is to, to influence the Influential and the only way you do that is by having a quality product, which responds to the kinds of arguments that will be directed against you.

Heffner: In the … you, you make reference to the … to an open Liberal marketplace kind of approach to things. What about that approach, do you have any concerns about it in our country today? It’s … the degree to which it prevails … the marketplace concept?

Mone: I have concerns; I have concerns in this country. But my concerns extend to globalization, as well. I mean if anything, you know, in the United States, you know, with winners and losers, the losers still do okay in the U.S. I mean because we have an array of institutions and safety nets and traditions that allow people to make transitions … painful transitions, but transitions nonetheless. As you apply these market ideas to other countries where there aren’t safety nets, where there are tremendous inherent inequalities in income, lack of education for whole sections of the population, in many cases, half the population, including women, simply instituting markets is not going to solve your problem, and in fact, it can compound the problem. So, again, I do believe in the power of markets to create wealth and to generate opportunities that aren’t available to citizens in other regimes. But I do believe in the concept of a limited government, which effectively allows people to take care … take advantage of those opportunities. Which is not often the case in other countries and which is sometimes not the case in the United States. That’s why, you know, both law and order and education, two areas where we think the government has a legitimate role, are areas where we’ve been, you know, strongly focused and continue to, to …


Heffner: Do you feel …

Mone: … pose ideas.

Heffner: … do you feel that the safety net, which you see as the blessing in this country, is as strong as it was? Is sufficient today?

Mone: It’s … I think it’s sufficient in terms in resources. I think the resources are there, I think we just have to think much more clearly about what we’re doing with the money and the incentives that we’re creating. You know, it’s interesting … I do come back to New York. I mean New York is probably the most generous city in America. We probably spend 50% more than any other city in the country on social services. But the Citizens Budget Commission did a very interesting study a couple of years ago. With 85% of the money that goes into social welfare services, does not go to the poor in direct cash payments. It goes to providers of social services. And there I think, unfortunately, we’ve created a system where a lot of that money is not being held accountable for what it provides. Whether it’s drug treatment or poor performing urban schools, or Medicaid mills. A whole array of non-profit institutions that are basically part of what you might call a “social welfare” complex in New York. So, what I’m say is, I think there’s a for a real safety net, but I think what we’ve done is we’ve allowed special interests to capture the delivery of those services and so we’re not providing them as effectively as we could be.

Heffner: What are you recommending so that we could provide them as effectively as we might.

Mone: I think … I think educational systems is the most important. And there I think we have to create accountability. Now by no means do I think vouchers is a panacea … the reality if that most Americans are educated in public schools and will be continued to be educated in them. I think vouchers can be a last resort for people who are being denied the right to a proper education. I think it sends a kind of a “shot over the bow”. But I believe in more, more testing that really holds teachers accountable for the value added that they provide in the classroom. We need much more flexibility in terms of the contracts that teachers unions have. Yes, there are shortages of teachers. Unfortunately, there’s not a shortage of history teachers, or English teachers, there’s a shortage of math and science teachers. But the union contract won’t allow Superintendents to differentiate in pay to get the right people into the right jobs. So there’s a lot of reforms in terms of the incentives that we have in that system which would get us, I think, a much better education for kids, with the same amount of dollars.

Heffner: Just …

Mone: … I’m also not averse to investing more dollars, but only if the dollars are invested wisely.

Heffner: But, but … wait a minute. Don’t let’s let that just slip by. You’re not opposed to investing more dollars.

Mone: If, if they’re used properly. In other words I was at a lunch recently with Bob Kuttner, the Liberal columnist, and it was right after the Supreme Court had announced that vouchers were … at least in the Ohio case … were, in fact, Constitutional. I said, you know, really I think, you know Liberals should use this as an opportunity to get on the bandwagon in the sense that, you know, that not enough money is spent on education. You explained that vouchers don’t work because usually it’s a piddling $2,000 and you’re never going to generate additional supplies of schools for $2,000. Well, then why not have a compromise? Why not support a voucher that’s $9,000, $10,000, you now. You get more spending, but we get some degree of control and accountability over how that money is spent.

Heffner: Will the Manhattan Institute take the lead in making that suggestion?

Mone: We had a conference with Rudy Giuliani about a year before he left office on school vouchers and in fact, two of our participants, Mathew Miller, another Liberal columnist and Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor, made precisely that case. And I’m quite comfortable with having that conversation. I believe in making those kinds of bargains that advance good ideas.

Heffner: Why then, when I turn on the Internet can I generate all of this anti-Manhattan Institute stuff … most of which is clearly nonsense … is rather crazed. But why … what accounts for it.

Mone: Well, because a lot of those people actually … don’t actually read what we do. Part of it is maybe we influence the Influential in ways we hadn’t anticipated. In other words, John Maynard Keynes would probably not be proud of all his disciples. But that’s the price you pay for having some influence beyond the grave. We’re not in the grave yet, but, you know, ideas have consequences that we can’t even control. But I think most of it has to do with the fact that people have a picture of us that’s not entirely accurate. They’ll see one piece of the Institute and they won’t like that piece. And granted, that’s fine. But the reality is that we, we tackle a range of issues and as I said there’s an interesting range of points of view within the Institute about how to approach some of these problems.

Heffner: The wrong Influential?


Mone: [Laughter]

Heffner: Are you getting to the wrong Influentials?

Mone: Sometimes … perhaps sometimes that can happen. Or somebody can take an idea and misrepresent it. A good example of that, I think, actually is getting back to the policing. George Kelling (CHECK SPELLING) who, as the author of the “Broken Windows” hypothesis was James Q. Wilson, hates the phrase “zero tolerance” which is often associated with his idea. It’s not about “zero tolerance”; it’s about saying that certain behavior must be control. But there’s a context for behavior. Urination in public is not something that’s appropriate and the police should intervene in that. But if you’re in a dark alley at 3:00 o’clock in the morning, and all the bars are closed and your urinating, probably the police should move on and go after someone else. That’s the kind of thinking we’re, we’re trying to encourage. We’re trying to encourage the local police officer to think about the context in which he’s operating and to make the appropriate decision about public order. And that’s not zero tolerance.

Heffner: You know, with one minute left … I just got the signal, that kind of contextual thinking isn’t what one frequently, most frequently identifies with the Manhattan Institute.

Mone: Well, you know, as you said, it’s not absolutist. I mean we live in the real world. But I think that’s why our ideas have been influential. That we don’t have a Bible that we read from the text and expect the world to conform to what we do. What we try to do is find people who are interested in making a change and suggest to them the ways that change can happen.

Heffner: Larry Mone, I’m awfully glad you came here it’s been too long since we met and I thought now, “am I gong to have this Conservative here or what”, and you don’t even mind when I call it the “Conservative Manhattan Institute.” Thanks so much for joining me here today.

Mone: Thank you, Richard.

Heffner: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time, and if you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send $4.00 in check or money order to The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, New York 10150.

Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”

N.B. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this transcript, it may not, however, be a verbatim copy (CHECK THIS ENDING)