Is it Time for a New Paradigm?

Some are calling it the new wave in conservative thought. Others are saying there is nothing new about it. As the rhetoric rages, The New Paradigm certainly has the Kennedy School talking...

When top White House aide James Pinkerton first outlined the five principles of a "New Paradigm" last February, many dismissed the idea as mere rhetoric, an excuse for the administration's weak domestic policy.

But now the concept has caught on in Washington, forcing policy analysts, including scholars at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, to take a closer look at what some are dubbing the new wave in conservative thought.

Many Republicans say their social agenda will bring about a new era of "empowerment," in which a less bureaucratic government will use market-based solutions to allow the poor to take control of their own lives.

But many political scholars at the Kennedy School remain skeptical that the Republican paradigm alone will alleviate poverty in America. While most embrace the ideals of free choice and empowerment, many say that the government must back up these goals with financial support.


"These concepts are terrific--if you have the money to do it," says Richard E. Cavanaugh, executive dean of the school and a former senior administrator in President Carter's Office of Management and Budget. "The New Paradigm folks are hoping for a cheap way out of an expensive problem."

"I think the rhetoric surrounding it is very much appealing," Professor of Public Policy David T. Ellwood says. "But there's an awful lot of buzzword."

But Steven D. Pierce, a former gubernatorial candidate who is leading a study group on the New Paradigm at the Institute of Politics (IOP), told students at last week's group discussion that his 12 years as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives have shown him that politicians too often measure accomplishment in terms of how much money is spent on a problem rather than the actual results achieved.

Pierce, who currently serves as the secretary of the Executive Office of Communities and Development in the Weld Administration, told students that the New Paradigm offers an alternative to the traditional bureaucratic system of government. Instead, the New Paradigm contains five principles--free market orientation, choice, empowerment of the poor, decentralization and emphasis on what works--that Republicans assert will make the government both less expensive and more effective.

But although these principles and the three programs most associated with the so-called New Paradigm--enterprise zones, school vouchers and private ownership of public housing--have been billed as a new Republican approach to social policy, many question whether they are new and whether they are necessarily Republican.

"What's interesting is that these ideas are not new. What's new is the word 'New Paradigm,'" comments Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning William C. Apgar, Jr., noting that the Reagan administration had embraced the themes of empowerment and that the idea of the sale of public housing has been around for almost a decade.

Cavanaugh agrees that these ideals of empowerment have been floating around for quite some time: Nixon termed it the "New Federalism," and Reagan called it the "New American Revolution."

In fact, Cavanaugh points out that, far from being exclusively Republican ideals, "choice" and empowerment were favorite themes of Robert F. Kennedy

Pierce agrees that the New Paradigm need not be an exclusively Republican concept. "If the New Paradigm is a successful model for governing in the 1990s and into the next century, the Democrats will embrace many of its concepts," says Pierce, who noted that a Wisconsin Democrat, Polly Williams, had originally suggested educational vouchers in her state.

Enterprise zones are one example of how government can help poor areas as unobtrusively as possible, according to Pierce. Under this plan, government would promote economic development in poor areas by, for example, offering property tax breaks to lure companies into areas with high unemployment and high rates of poverty.