April 30, 2012
“I’m convinced that freedom actually works and that it works for everyone,” The Heritage Foundation’s William Beach says. “And the freer we are, the better the economy and society works. I just don’t believe that free people are bound to fail.”
Beach directs Heritage’s Center for Data Analysis, which he helped start in 1998.
Heritage established CDA, Beach says, to win the “numbers battle” and back up conservative policy ideas with sound economic analysis. Established groups like the Congressional Budget Office often used outdated tools that scored conservative proposals badly, giving liberals an advantage in policy debates. CDA aimed to change that dynamic–and has.
“We are not a large unit,” Beach adds. “The Congressional Budget Office has 800 people; we have 13. The US Treasury has about 600; we have 13. The White House Office of Management and Budget has over 1,000; we have 13. We can’t do everything they do, but by choosing our targets well we are able to critique the key points. We continue to respectfully state our case and have been successful because of it.”
Beach is known within Heritage as a “numbers guy.” Not only does he lead the department tasked with statistical analysis, he has the ability to memorize often obscure data and sum large figures in his head.
But, he says, “numbers are not too particularly enjoyable by themselves.”
I would much rather be listening to music, viewing fine art work, or reading a good book. But what numbers has in common with all of those is a highly satisfying development of a theme and execution. I find the same things in good data analysis that I find in good music. There is a beauty in the way numbers work together when they are properly arranged, analyzed, and composed.
Behind his desk, Beach has hung a portrait of Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek. He believes Hayek is one of the most important figures of the last century. In many ways, Hayek helped found the free market movement.
“Hayek showed that if we let markets be free, people vote freely, people associate freely with one another, then what they produce will always better then when we compel an economy to produce something, compel them towards a particular political outcome, or discourage association with others,” Beach explains.
Beach really does subscribe to every element of Heritage’s mission. “Heritage understands two things that many other organizations do not,” he says. “We must we have good economic and social policies in order for there to be a good society. And without the foundation of strong families, communities, religious organizations, social and aid organizations – without that civil society foundation, all the good economic policy is for naught.”
“Some people say this makes us conservative,” Beach grins. “I think it makes us good analysts.”