Room to Grow Scholars Look Back at 2016, Look Ahead to 2017

As we turn the page on a new year, we asked some contributors to the acclaimed Room to Grow series, some of the nation’s foremost conservative policy thinkers, a couple questions:

What’s their favorite thing they wrote in 2016, or what do they feel was most important?

What do they think is something conservatives need to pay more attention to in 2017?

Here’s what they had to say:

Rick Hess (Resident Scholar and Director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute)

My favorite piece of this past year was “Education is so far left it can’t really see the right,” because it unapologetically called out the way the left dominates the education landscape, but in a way that seemed to provoke reflection rather than dismissals from an extraordinary number of thoughtful progressives. It also had the salutary result of prompting many who regard themselves as conservative to recognize the Stockholm Syndrome mindset that has frequently prevailed on the right — where conservatives have embraced “bipartisan” proposals that seem to lean decidedly left.

In 2017, conservatives need to heed the importance of unwinding the overwrought, intrusive, paralyzing web of regulation that has grown up at the U.S. Department of Education, and which has been supersized during the Obama years. Such a push will be less newsworthy than a possible proposal for federal school choice legislation, and might be overlooked amidst more dramatic debates. But this is a chance to empower educators, strengthen the ability of states and communities to act, and ensure schools are able to focus on students rather than paperwork.

Read some of Rick’s thoughts on deregulation and other matters in his K-12 Room to Grow book. You can follow Rick on Twitter @rickhess99

Carrie Lukas (Managing Director, Independent Women’s Forum)

The most important thing I wrote in 2016 was contributing to IWF’s Working for Women report, which laid out a positive, conservative policy reform agenda to help women. It built off of some of what I had written for Room to Grow, highlighting how parents need more flexibility and that government would better support parents by reducing regulations and returning resources to families.

In 2017, I hope that conservatives focus more on regulations and policies that are impediments to job creation and true job flexibility. Too many of our laws are based off of the idea of people working for one employer in a 9-to-5 job that takes place in one work space. But that represents the work situation of a shrinking share of the workforce. We need laws the encourage a dynamic, flexible work world and help create all manner of jobs to help more people get a foot in the door of a career and to be able to craft a work-life situation that works for them.

You can follow Carrie on Twitter @carrielukas

James Pethokoukis (Fellow and Editor of AEIdeas, American Enterprise Institute)

The most important economic issue facing America is the lack of robust and sustained economic growth, driven by productivity gains. It is certainly a live academic issue, and one that was a main focus of my writing in 2016 and will be again in 2017.

See: What really explains why the U.S. economy seems stuck in slow-growth mode (and this depressing chart)?


In 2017, I would like to see the center-right broaden its “pro-growth” policy focus beyond tax policy, certainly in terms of bandwidth expended.

You can follow Jim on Twitter @jimpethokoukis

Reihan Salam (Executive Editor, National Review)

Though wage gains have picked up a bit in 2016, they remain modest, despite relatively tight labor markets. A number of thinkers believe that sluggish wage gains reflect increased market power on the part of employers.

In 2017, should conservatives think harder about reversing this trend towards market concentration, through more vigorous antitrust enforcement or deregulation aimed at facilitating market entry? Should we instead focus on finding various ways to increase worker leverage?

You can follow Reihan on Twitter @reihan

Adam J. White (Research Fellow, Hoover Institution)

I’d hesitate to call any of my own articles “important,” but my favorite was “The American Constitutionalist,” an essay written for The Weekly Standard in the days immediately following Justice Scalia’s passing. My goal was to highlight not just his most famous decisions, but the decisions’ much deeper roots in Scalia’s view of governance, citizenship, and “constitutionalism” in the broadest sense.

Looking ahead to 2017, I hope conservatives focus on the hard work required to fundamentally reshape the modern administrative state. We need to reform not just specific regulations or policies, but also the statutes that undergird them (both substantive and procedural statutes). And this requires asking fundamental questions of who we are as a country, and how we intend to govern ourselves. Who will regulate the regulators?

You can follow Adam on Twitter @adamjwhitedc

Brad Wilcox (Director, National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia)

The most important thing that was written about my work appeared in the New York Times, and was one of their most-read articles in 2016. My favorite article that I wrote focused on the role the black church plays in helping black men flourish in America today.

The election has positioned us to treat dual-earner and single-earner families equally, when it comes to work and family policy. New policy initiatives should advance public policies — such as an expanded child tax credit — that put single- and dual-earner families on an equal footing.

You can follow Brad on Twitter @WilcoxNMP

Scott Winship (Visiting Fellow, The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity)

The most important thing I wrote last year was my long paper on trends in poverty after welfare reform. I showed that child poverty declined after welfare reform and that the poverty rate of children living with a single parent is at an all-time low. I also debunked the popular idea that welfare reform increased $2-a-day poverty. Pushing back against such claims is important, as liberals have used them to push for a counter-productive weakening of welfare reform and a universal basic income.

In 2017, I think conservatives must continue pushing back against the universal basic income movement. It continues to gain steam, and it would likely sap economic growth. UBI advocates believe that declining labor force participation reflects a weakness of the economy — that the jobs are no longer there and that fewer will be there in the future. In forthcoming research, I show that the decline in work actually reflects diminished interest in work among sizable numbers of Americans. Federal disability programs are implicated in this trend. Rather than a broken economy, declining labor force participation reflects the perverse incentives embedded in safety nets as well as the contemporary affluence that allows non-working men to be supported by family members.

I also believe conservatives must resist the temptation to give the president-elect a pass on any number of constitutionally or ethically questionable decisions he makes. The prospect of advancing long-sought conservative goals will make many policymakers reluctant to criticize the administration, but sustaining the norms of liberal democracy ultimately is more important than any policy advances conservatives might make the next four to eight years.

You can follow Scott on Twitter @swinshi