A message from our CEO Amy Cooke: Thomas Jefferson said, “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.” All of us at the John Locke Foundation have dedicated our professional lives to advancing the principles of freedom so that every North Carolinian can thrive. Every single day we engage in dialogue about public policy. Not all of those conversations are easy. We don’t shy away from even the most contentious or uncomfortable policy debates.

The killing of George Floyd under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer while no one intervened has reignited calls for a “national conversation” on race relations in America.

The starting point of such a conversation should be first principles. This nation, this ‘last best hope of earth,” in the words of Abraham Lincoln, was founded on the revolutionary belief that each and every person is created equal with self-evident rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And not only that, but that it is government’s duty to secure those rights. Floyd’s death at the hands of an officer of the government was the ultimate betrayal of our first principles.

These principles are the right and only foundation to build upon. The protesters’ proclamation that “No lives matter unless black lives matter” hearkens to the same recognition that English metaphysicist John Donne had of all humanity’s interconnectedness. “No man is an island” is his famous line, but from that insight Donne reasoned that “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

The truth of Donne’s insight is why people in Raleigh, Greenville, Fayetteville, Charlotte, Asheville, and other cities and towns across North Carolina are protesting the death of a man in Minnesota. It means all our lives are diminished if some lives are. All our lives are diminished if black lives are. Created equal means created equal.

These same world-changing principles are found in North Carolina’s State Constitution, Article I, Section 1:

We hold it to be self-evident that all persons are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor, and the pursuit of happiness.

In our public-policy work, my colleagues and I at the John Locke Foundation work diligently to apply these principles to produce a better North Carolina for each and every person. We know that “the individual pursuit of economic opportunity benefits all” and also that we are “a free society where citizens solve social problems not only through government but also by working together in families, neighborhoods, churches, charities, and other private, voluntary organizations.”

We seek better state policies, based on these principles and backed by research, to enhance each and every life, together, in North Carolina. They include:

More Job Opportunities and Better Employment Policies

Lower Costs of Living

  • Electricity is a basic household necessity and a major monthly expense for families. We urge for policies to ensure least-cost, reliable electricity at the flip of the switch.
  • Housing costs are rising, especially in high-demand urban areas. We seek reforms of outdated zoning, rent controls, and other regulations preventing affordable housing options.
  • Knowing lower property taxes keep the ongoing cost of housing lower and more affordable, we counsel local governments to live within their means and avoid property tax increases to fund wants, not needs.
  • Since low income taxes mean people can save and invest more of their own money in their families, their churches, and their communities, we are strong advocates for lower income taxes, smart tax policies, keeping state government budget increases reasonable, and setting aside some revenues for recessions and disasters.
  • We call for aligning transportation policies more with people’s transportation choices, including allowing for better busing options and ridesharing as well as eliminating unhelpful zoning restrictions.
  • We champion local grocery options and dollar stores and caution against short-sighted policies deliberately making certain food and beverage choices cost more.

Better Education for the Next Generation

  • Because different families have different needs, we seek expanding education choices for families beyond (but including) the district-determined public school.
  • We champion school voucher programs such as Opportunity Scholarships for students in low-income households to have access to private schooling, which has demonstrated large, positive results for recipients.
  • We promote policies expanding public charter schools and homeschools.
  • We also favor expanding resources for online education while arguing for removing regulatory restrictions and streamlining permitting for more local broadband options.
  • We promote school policies geared toward reducing violence, suspensions, expulsions, disciplinary reassignments, alternative learning placements, and dropout rates.

Better Health Care Access and Policies

  • Health care costs are a perennial worry for families, but much of those costs are the creations of an inefficient, bureaucratic system. We advocate Direct Primary Care as a choice for health care consumers here, bucking the insurance model and contracting directly with doctors for proven lower-cost primary care.
  • We also promote Association Health Plans, which provide alternative ways for small businesses to purchase more affordable health plans for their employees.
  • A big impediment for more health care access — more local care providers, more treatment options, more rural hospitals, and therefore lower costs overall — is that North Carolina is one of the states still holding on to Certificate of Need laws. We seek their repeal.
  • Another way to access more health care is through a computer or smartphone. We urge state policies to expand telehealth options to connect patients with doctors in new ways to access care that isn’t possible under traditional care provision.

The overarching theme of these is freedom, which we believe is the key to improving the lives of each one of us individually and also as an interconnected whole. Freedom is the foundation for ensuring black lives matter, for ensuring individual lives matter.

This interconnection, this fact that we are not islands, works through all areas. It’s why our first principles are so foundational. It’s why government’s duty is to make our rights secure. And that begins with valuing each life as an equal creation of God.

It then proceeds to ensuring each one of us is able to live freely, to pursue our own interests and wants, and to work for our own betterment and that of our families and communities. But if government is less interested in some lives than others, this beautiful fabric of interconnected humanity fails. We are all diminished.

North Carolinians of color are not a separate island from other North Carolinians. We are all interconnected. First and foremost, our government must secure their rights to life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruits of their labors, and their pursuits of happiness, and it must secure those rights equally with everyone else’s. Building on that, better policies, more freedom, and more choices for each and every one of us allow us all to interconnect and grow a stronger, more inclusive North Carolina together.

Freedom may be messy and imperfect, but it’s our “last best hope” to ensuring that black lives matter, that individual lives matter.