20 Years of Agenda

Every two years, coinciding with the political campaigns for the North Carolina legislature, the research division at the John Locke Foundation produces a document that we simply call Agenda. It is meant to be a candidate’s guide to the issues that we believe should be most important to them, both in their campaigns and, if elected, how they govern.

Of course, consistent with JLF’s overall theme, the goal of the policy proposals offered in this document is greater individual liberty and consequently greater prosperity for the citizens of North Carolina. In particular, we know that both economic theory and economic history demonstrate that policies guided by the principles of liberty and free markets will help those at the bottom of the economic ladder the most, giving them the tools and the opportunities they need to climb into the ranks of the more prosperous.

All of our proposals and analysis are ultimately guided by Article 1, Section 1 of the North Carolina Constitution, which

“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.”

These principles are the foundation of all of the policy proposals that we have advanced over the years in our Agenda document, including, and maybe especially, the idea that people have a basic right to the “fruits of their own labor,” which lies at the root of a free-market economy and a free society more generally. A basic underpinning of this “Creator endowed right” is the right to property. If you have a right to the fruits of your labor, it means you have property rights to it and to yourself, that is, your labor. The right to do with your property as you see fit is what ultimately gives moral justification to the free-market system. Agenda is meant to give practical application to these moral precepts.

All this is by way of pointing out the importance of this year’s Agenda. It will be 20 years since the John Locke Foundation started the biennial publication, and this year’s issue will be the eleventh edition of this showcase document. The first Agenda was published in 1996, when John Locke Foundation had only a handful of employees, and, for the most part, nearly all of the research and publication was being done by then President and current board chairman John Hood and investigative journalist extraordinaire Don Carrington. I was honored to be added to this team for the 2002 edition and in 2006, the year after the research division as now constituted was created, the entire process was transferred to the new staff.

For anyone who has kept up with all of the editions of Agenda over the years, one thing is likely to be quite clear: The more things change, the more they stay the same. I have compared this to a point made by Steve Forbes in his introduction to the 50th Anniversary edition of Henry Hazlitt’s classic 1946 volume, Economics in One Lesson. Forbes noted, “every tenet of the new economics that Hazlitt dispels [in 1946] continues today to rear its head in one form or another.” It is quite clear that this is true for questions of public policy in North Carolina. Indeed, there are problems and solutions that were noted in our first edition of Agenda back in1996 that will still be part of our discussion in 2016.
The players and the political parties in charge have changed, but many of the problems remain the same. And even when the specific issues have changed or the focus has shifted, the principles that are being applied have remained constant and, from the perspective of those of us at the JLF, more important and more cherished than ever.

Dr. Roy Cordato
Vice President for Research John Locke Foundation

You can read the agenda below or download it fron the upper right side of the page.