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American Compass, Moving the Needle

Sep 20, 2022

American Compass is small—a six-employee outfit headquartered in a converted yoga studio. It doesn’t love the label “think tank,” which, as research director Wells King put it, is evocative of fellows who “sit at their desks and think long and hard for a long time and maybe produce one or two white papers a year.” But Compass is similar to the established think tanks in that it is organized around an idea—to “restore an economic consensus that emphasizes the importance of family, community, and industry to the nation’s liberty and prosperity.”

That mission statement is a conscious pivot away from the current right-of-center economic consensus, which is laser-focused on slashing marginal tax rates for hedge-fund managers. And in contrast to its rival think tanks, Compass is grappling with the tensions between conservatism and unfettered capitalism. “Creative destruction” upends businesses and ways of life that sustained communities for generations. The free movement of goods across national borders and the birth of international supply chains ship physical resources and know-how from American communities to those overseas. The collapse of American manufacturing has shunted once-employed men to the service industries, if they’re lucky, or drug abuse and Social Security fraud if they’re not. Financialization has created a caste of people whose livelihoods are removed from actual production and who increasingly hold their fellow countrymen in contempt.

Compass’s policy proposals, such as local content requirements, aggressive antitrust enforcement, generous child benefits, and a financial-transaction tax, call for interventions in the marketplace that would have been unthinkable for a conservative think tank ten years ago.

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