Thursday, February 2, 2012

Gingrich and Alternative Futures

Brian Bolduc looks at Newt Gingrich's policy ideas, such as the "Jobs on Earth through Jobs in Space Act."  Not all of these ideas became actual bills.  Gingrich did, however, collaborate with then-Representative Albert Gore (D-Tennessee) on H.R. 3070 (98th Congress), the Critical Trends Assessment Act.  From the summary by the Congressional Research Service:
Critical Trends Assessment Act - Establishes the Office of Critical Trends Analysis (OCTA) in the Executive Office of the President. Authorizes appropriations. Directs the OCTA to prepare for publication an Executive Branch Report on Critical Trends and Alternative Futures every four years beginning in 1986. Lists the contents of such report, including: (1) an identification and analysis of critical trends and alternative futures for the next 20 years; and (2) an evaluation of the effects of Government policies on such trends. 
... 
Makes the OCTA responsible for advising the President of the potential effects of Government policies on critical trends and alternative futures. Requires the OCTA to: (1) insure that the Government agencies responsible for areas of policy being considered are provided an opportunity to comment on such effects; and (2) include such comments in any reports provided to the President.
Economist Julian Simon was skeptical of Gore-Gingrich as well as a similar bill by Senator Mark Hatfield:
[C]reating a forum for discussion does not require a bill in Congress, an agency, and a fat budget ... Tt is the nature of a bureaucracy, moreover, to stretch to, and then beyond, the limits of its charter. Rather than limiting itself to organizing discussion, a "global foresight" agency is almost certain to venture into directive planning. This is likely to happen even if the agency is set up with the most honest intentions. For some foresight sponsors, however, directive planning may be the long-term goal. R.J. Smith of the Council for a Competitive Economy reports that at meetings of the Global Foresight Roundtable he has heard participants emphasize the importance of the environmental movement in pulling together for the establishment of a certain kind of an agency, because once in place it can be transformed into a more active and far-reaching activity than it is originally described to be. There is sufficient latitude in the Gore-Gingrich and Hatfield bills to allow such vast expansion of powers.
Simon also suggested that the proposal would be wasteful.
For example, the Gore-Gingrich bill budgets $5,000,000 each year. Yet the government could commission outside studies by university scholars and profes- sional organizations to cover all the topics desired for a small fraction of that sum, say $100,000.