Pacific Research Institute

The Pacific Research Institute(PRI) is a San-Francisco-based research think tank that produces public policy analysis based on free-market principles. 

As part of its mission to advance individual freedom, PRI experts produce scholarly papers, books, and articles advocating free-market solutions for health care, the environment, education, tort law, taxation, and other areas.PRI’s unusual success is due to its combination of scholarly rigor and the practical ability to translate ideas into policy initiatives.

Founding Mission of PRI: Win the War of Ideas

The Pacific Research Institute was founded in 1979 by the British-born Antony Fisher.

Fisher also helped found the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, and the National Center for Policy Analysis. His ideological entrepreneurialism is the result of advice from Friedrich Hayek, the influential free market economist, who said the first step to success is to “win the war of ideas.”

Sally Pipes became PRI’s president in 1991. In 2005, Human Events named her as one of the Top 10 Women in the Conservative Movement in America.

PRI reports an annual budget of $5 million, based primarily on donations from foundations, individuals and corporations, and a staff of 22. In 2009, more than 400 op-eds by PRI staff were published in newspapers and online media including the The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. In addition, PRI staff were interviewed by the Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto, CNN’s Lou Dobbs, and John Stossel of ABC’s “20/20.”

PRI Policy Highlights

The Pacific Research Institute is active in four principal areas of public debate: 

  • Its Index of Leading Environmental Indicators counters alarmism about alleged ecological threats by highlighting well-documented improvements in the environment;
  • PRI promotes health care reform through solutions that maximize individual choices and through the end of government mandates that fuel medical inflation;
  • The group’s U.S. Economic Freedom Index ranks the 50 states according to the economic freedom they provide for their citizens; and
  • It promotes improvement in the quality of U.S. public education by opposing the self-interested agenda of teachers’ unions

Seizing the Initiative from Environmental activists
In 1994, PRI released its first edition of the Index of Leading Environmental Indicators.

This is a powerful tool for refuting activist demands for more economic government intervention in the name of environmental protection. Steven Hayward, co-author of the Environmental Index, says its mission is to show that contrary to environmentalists’ “apocalyptic gloom, the improvement in the environment is perhaps the single greatest public policy success story of the last generation.

The Environmental Index puts environmentalists on the defensive by showing that economic and technological progress is not destroying the natural environment. The 2006 Environmental Index, for instance, reported that the total U.S. emissions of the six major air pollutants (nitrogen oxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and lead) dropped 54 percent at the same time that:

  • the US population grew by 40 percent;
  • energy consumption increased by 47 percent; and
  • the Gross Domestic Product expanded by 187 percent.

In April 2006, the Christian Science Monitor reported, “Though environmental activists spend most of their time hammering politicians and bureaucrats over the problems, they agree that progress has been made since that first Earth Day” in 1970.

“We’ve made some real strides on basic clean air and clean water,” admits Jon Coifman of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Rivers aren’t catching fire anymore, and you can see the sky in Los Angeles.”

Fighting Global Warming Will Impoverish the United States

Green activists demand that the U.S. make drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming.

PRI’s 2008 Environmental Index warned that if the U.S. were to achieve global warming activists’ goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, Americans would have to cut their per capita emissions rate to a level “not seen since 1875.” What that means in practical terms is that households would “not be able to use enough electricity to run a hot-water heater.” The only countries with greenhouse gas emissions that low “are desperately poor nations, such as Haiti and Somalia.”

Market-Based Health Care Reforms

PRI argues that soaring health care costs are mainly due to government programs, intrusive mandates, third-party payment systems, and litigation. PRI proposes the following reforms:

  • Health Savings Accounts: These allow individuals or employers to contribute money to a special tax-deferred account which individuals can use to pay for their routine medical expenses. PRI says the problem with the current system is that people “don’t know the cost of the health care they consume because they don’t directly pay for it – their insurance companies do. This third-party payment system encourages overconsumption of health care and is a reason for skyrocketing health costs.”
  • End State Mandates: State governments are notorious for requiring insurance companies to cover services regardless of their need. California, for example, requires every insurance policy to cover 56 therapies and procedures, “including everything from chiropractics to in-vitro fertilization.” State mandates increase insurance costs by as much as 50 percent. Ending this micromanagement would bring immediate and significant cost savings.
  • Tort Reform: Another area ripe for reform is the medical-malpractice lawsuit system. A 2009 PRI study estimates that “defensive medicine” – unnecessary testing and other procedures motivated more by fear of lawsuits than medical necessity – costs about $185 billion annually.

Myths About the Failings of American Health Care

PRI published the Top Ten Myths of American Health Care: A Citizen’s Guide, just after the election of President Obama in November 2008. It makes the case against public control of health care. In less than a year, more than 800,000 copies of Top Ten Myths were downloaded from the PRI website. Highlights include:

  • Myth: 46 million Americans lack health insurance.
  • Fact: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18 million uninsured make more than $50,000 a year. So 38 percent are probably financially able to afford health insurance but choose not to buy it. PRI estimates the number of “chronically uninsured” is closer to 8 million.
  • Myth: More government is needed to insure the poor.
  • Fact: Government has been providing health coverage to the poor for more than 40 years and the results are not encouraging. One 2003 study found that primary care physicians were five times more likely to reject Medicaid beneficiaries than patients with private insurance.
  • Myth: Foreign government-run systems are better than America’s system.
  • Fact: Government-run systems bring long waiting lists and ration care. In Canada, the average wait between a referral from a primary care physician and treatment by a specialist is 18 weeks. PRI writes that this is “almost double what doctors consider clinically reasonable.” 

Ranking the States by Commitment to Economic OpportunityPRI publishes the U.S. Economic Freedom Index, “a ranking of economic freedom in the 50 states.” The first Freedom Index was published in 1999 by the State Policy Network. PRI issued updated versions in 2004 and 2008.

The Freedom Index assigns a score to each state based on 143 variables, including regulatory and fiscal obstacles imposed on businesses and individuals. The goal is to measure how friendly or unfriendly each state government is toward free markets.

In 2008, South Dakota was ranked the most economically free state because its citizens pay no corporate income tax, no personal income tax, no personal property tax, and no inheritance tax.

Overall, states in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains are generally considered the most economically free.

Conversely, the Northeastern states tend to be “the most economically depressed.” New York ranked last in 2008 just as it did in 1999 and 2004. Northeastern states have the highest taxes and largest state budgets.

Defeating Teachers Unions’ Power-Grabs

PRI criticizes teachers unions that work to weaken teacher accountability to parents and school boards – giving special attention to its home state of California. 

In 2002, the California Teachers Association supported legislation known as “AB 2160.” This bill would have given teachers more influence in the selection of textbooks and curriculum. The legislation sparked heated criticism from administrators, parents, and legislators. Many were frustrated at excessive union power which already made it difficult to exercise scrutiny and implement reforms. 

During this debate, PRI and the Education Intelligence Agency released a study that assessed the negative impact of teacher contracts in 460 school districts. It found that many districts had restrictive contracts, “which often insulate teachers from the complaints and influences of parents, students and leaders of the community.” 

In an April 2002 op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, Rocklin Unified School District board president Mark Forbes cited the PRI study in arguing against AB 2160. Said Forbes: “Existing contracts are already strangling the ability of elected school board members and administrators to focus on what kids need.” 

In a March 2002 editorial opposing AB 2160, The San Diego Union-Tribune recommended that the PRI report “should be read by lawmakers before they vote on a bill backed by the California Teachers Association that would give unions even greater power over local districts.”

Three months later, the bill proved so controversial that its sponsors withdrew it from consideration.