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VIDEO: What Did “the Future” Hold for Public Policy in the 1980s?

I love that the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has gone deep into its archives and posted dozens of old videos of roundtables and speeches going back, in some cases, over 40 years. Last year I wrote about AEI’s 1977 symposium on regulatory reform, and this week I watched the 1979 discussion on “Future Directions of Public Policy.” Given the unfair advantage of hindsight, it is fascinating to see which ideas were vindicated and which have been refuted by subsequent events.

A prominent panel of speakers, including Irving Kristol and Michael Novak, start out by summarizing some of what they thought the 1970s had wrought on the American people, and then looked forward to the changes and challenges they expected to see in the next decade. The participant who came out as the most prescient is certainly Kristol. His predictions about a coming age of conservative values and renewed patriotism and the repudiation of radical politics is the perfect preface to the Reagan revolution, which was then just about to be born. His assertion that the revolutionary counterculture of the late 1960s would be further commercialized and coopted into popular culture, depriving it of any real political saliency, was especially on the mark.

There are many more predictions throughout the video, including about how deregulation would lead to greater economic growth (true) and that the price of crude oil would triple during the 1980s (not quite). The participants should be praised for being as bold with their forecasts as they were. At one point Professor Peter Berger of Boston College cautions Kristol: “Irving, we shouldn’t make too many predictions that we might regret.” To which Kristol facetiously replies, “Oh, people [will] forget, it’s all right.” Not entirely, Irving.