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Building an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish.
It’s time to get to work.
Too many Americans are either out of work or have altogether given up looking for employment. Overall compensation is flat, and economic growth is anemic. Uncontrolled spending and a surging debt are driving America into bankruptcy. High taxes and the crushing weight of endless rules and regulations burden our economy.
Americans were told by the Obama Administration that prosperity requires more spending, more government, and more taxes. The country continues down this phony path even though most Americans think government does too much.
Important questions are unsettled, and our politics remain divided: The presidency and the Senate are in the hands of one party, and the House of Representatives and a majority of state legislatures and governorships are in the hands of the other.
Some argue that conservatives should accept all of this. They say we must be resigned to permanent economic stagnation, bureaucratic rule, and national decline.
We disagree. We believe this is the time to reaffirm the principles that guide us, to champion our ideas of opportunity and upward mobility, and to redouble our efforts to change America’s course.
There are important lessons to be learned from the recent election and the current trends in American politics, to be sure. But the answer is not to change ideas based on election returns. It is to articulate more powerfully a compelling vision of a prosperous and secure nation in which the American Dream is within reach of everyone.
We propose bold reforms that meet the demands of the moment and address the magnitude of the challenges before us. We will fight wherever possible, constantly point out the failures of liberalism, be ready with conservative alternatives at every turn, and lay the ground for change to come.
And we will take our arguments to all Americans: to middle-class families struggling in a bad economy, to young people worried about their prospects, to those who are stuck in poverty and reaching out for the ladder of opportunity, to retirees worried about their grandchildren, to entrepreneurs and job creators seeking to expand prosperity.
America is the land of opportunity.
The American Dream grows directly out of our country's exceptional principles. That all are fundamentally equal and self-governing, and that government is limited to its core functions, means that we have the liberty and opportunity to live our lives, control our fate, and pursue our happiness. That each has a right to the rewards of his own labor—the promise that you can keep what you earn and that what you save and acquire is your property—creates a society in which every member can work hard, achieve success, and advance in life to the benefit of all.
The monumental achievement of America is that it makes comfort and general affluence, safety and security, self-government and the blessings of liberty—all traditionally the province of the privileged few—available to everyone.
Based on the principles proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the United States Constitution, generations of Americans have created a nation unlike any other. Our economy produces almost a quarter of the world's wealth; our military forces are the most powerful on the globe. The institutions of civil society—families, religious communities, and private associations—thrive in America. We are an independent people, among the most hard-working, generous, and forward-looking in the world.
It is the potent combination of liberty under the rule of law, the endless creativity of the marketplace, and the enduring moral character of the American people that assures opportunity for all and fuels the unlimited promise of America.
Today, we face an unprecedented dilemma.
Intended to be a catalyst for opportunity, government has instead become the chief barrier to opportunity.
In recent years, the federal government has been on an unprecedented binge of spending, taxing, borrowing, and regulating that is making America economically moribund and more government-centric than ever. The general trend, aided and abetted by both major political parties, has been going on far too long.
Congress after Congress and President after President have made unwise and unaffordable promises. The federal government is bloated, is vastly overextended, and operates beyond its proper bounds. It is centralized and bureaucratic, and we are wrapped in its endless rules and regulations. The welfare state takes a toll on our finances, but worse, it ensnares an ever-larger share of the population in dependence. This trajectory is unsustainable, and it threatens to destroy the foundations of our economy and our civic culture and to steal the American Dream from our children.
It does not have to be this way. Nothing about today’s conditions is inevitable or irreversible. We can reduce the size and scope of government and let the private sector restore economic productivity and opportunity. We can reform the core programs of government and provide assistance to those who need it because they have fallen on hard times.
All of this is possible if we make a concerted effort to change America’s course, making clear the dire circumstances we face; building a consensus in favor of a new direction; and advancing a forward-looking reform agenda to strengthen free enterprise and eliminate cronyism, fire up the engines of opportunity and upward mobility, provide for our nation’s defense and champion liberty, and rebuild constitutional self-government.
Consistent with Saving the American Dream: The Heritage Plan to Fix the Debt, Cut Spending, and Restore Prosperity and our other major policy publications, this is our opportunity agenda for America.
Free markets, private enterprise, and individual initiative will always lead to more opportunity and prosperity than income redistribution, central planning, and the cronyism they inevitably breed.
Today's governing elites think government should micromanage the economy and redistribute wealth to even out inequalities. But such policies simply do not work, instead restricting opportunity and impeding economic growth. The expanding size and scope of government that results and the growing class of so-called experts that oversee it produce pork-filled earmarks, a tax code riddled with loopholes, and a regulatory regime that rigs the rules in favor of special interests. This approach to the nation's economic life is unfair, destroys economic competition, and has brought us to the brink of fiscal crisis.
Conservatives advocate a program of vigorous economic growth that will create prosperity across the board and expand opportunity for all Americans—not just those with friends in high places. Economic growth does not come from some master economic plan managed by government; it is the result of the decisions and actions of millions of people working, creating, spending, exchanging, and pursuing millions of different avenues of individual opportunity. The best policies are those that encourage work, savings, and investment; expand the economy; and lead to more jobs and higher earnings.
A growing economy puts more money in families' pocketbooks and charities' budgets, helps the poor and unemployed find jobs, and helps families save for retirement and their children's education. Rather than trying to guarantee economic outcomes, government should be a limited support structure for opportunity, economic growth, and human flourishing. It should remove arbitrary obstacles to economic markets, break down artificial structures that prevent competition, keep tax rates low, reduce government spending that crowds out private ventures and capital, and prevent the overregulation of private enterprise.
America's Opportunity for All is our plan to:
The American Dream promises a dynamic society in which everyone can advance without artificial barriers based on their talent and ability.
Our modern cradle-to-grave welfare state is structured in such a way that it hinders rather than boosts upward mobility. Despite a massive array of programs and colossal budgets, poverty rates remain high, our public education
system is failing us, and the family—whose importance for the future well-being of children cannot be overstated—is falling apart among poor and low-income Americans. The do-it-all federal government crowds out the very private activities and social institutions that provide the best support and make up society’s best safety net for the disadvantaged.
What conservatives propose is an agenda to encourage upward mobility, not just for poor and low-income Americans, but also for an anxious middle class concerned about health care and retirement security—indeed, for everyone on the economic ladder.
For those who cannot care for themselves or who stumble along the path, there should be a basic, temporary safety net formed with the active involvement and leadership of civil society supplemented with assistance at the appropriate level of government. In the end, however, cultural renewal—the habits of work and good character, strong families and vibrant social institutions, a robust ethic of self-improvement—depends on fundamentally restructuring the welfare state to secure basic commitments, introduce private choice and market incentives for earned success, and focus on upward mobility and opportunity, the most important elements of which are to be found outside and beyond government.
Those who are struggling to get ahead—the poor, minorities, immigrants—suffer the most when government controls the economy. The answer for everyone is to vigorously promote economic freedom and foster an environment in which we can all pursue the American Dream.
America’s Opportunity for All is our plan to:
In the Declaration of Independence, the people are said to possess the right to institute the government that “to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” Happiness is the ultimate objective, but safety comes first.
Today, while government spending is soaring, defense spending relative to the size of the economy is near historical lows. The Obama Administration plans to hollow the military even more in the years ahead. Such policies jeopardize our safety, our ability to secure our interests, and our legitimate role in the world.
Strategy should drive the budget, not the other way around: The mission of the United States military is determined by America’s vital interests and an assessment of the threats to those interests. Yes, there is waste and inefficiency in the defense budget, but the core and undisputed responsibility of the United States government to provide for the nation’s security must not be up for negotiation.
Conservatives believe America is an exceptional nation, conceived in liberty and committed to upholding the cause of liberty and constitutional self-government. The United States must have the will and the means to stay involved in the world, both to defend the nation and protect its citizens from freedom’s adversaries. Just as it is naïve to think that we can rid the world of tyranny and remake other nations in our image, so it is foolish to claim that we can ignore threats to our sovereignty and independence. The best course is to defend America’s vital national interests in the light of its principles, maintaining the United States’ freedom of action while upholding liberty.
America's Opportunity For All is our plan to:
The purpose of the United States Constitution is to secure to the American people the rights and liberties promised in the Declaration of Independence. It provides an energetic national government of limited powers, focused on core functions, with the structural arrangements that preserve liberty and make the American experiment in republican government work.
Today, the federal government has acquired a nearly unquestioned dominance over virtually every area of American life. The scope and depth of its rules mean that the national government regulates more and more of our most basic activities, from how much water is in our toilets to what kind of light bulbs we can buy. This is a government that is increasingly unlimited, undemocratic, and damaging to popular self-government.
Restoring real limits on government will not occur all at once or across the board. Nor will it result from one judicial decision, presidential order, or comprehensive piece of legislation. Conservatives mean to focus government on its primary obligations, restore its responsibility and democratic accountability, and correct its worst excesses by defining and pursuing a strategic path that measurably reintroduces constitutional limits on a government that is increasingly out of control. And we look to the states and the vitality of federalism to check Washington’s excess, model the successes of conservative ideas, and revive self-government.
America’s Opportunity for All is our plan to:
Guided by America's timeless truths and confident of its unlimited promise, The Heritage Foundation is advancing an opportunity agenda to change America's course. This is no time to despair, for there is much to be done.
We rededicate ourselves to our country and to advancing principled and innovative solutions to the problems confronting us. We will defend these principles and pursue these solutions tirelessly, deeply committed to this great nation, to conserving its great heritage, and to achieving its even greater future.