May 23, 2013

Profiles in Liberty: Nicholas Eberstadt

By: Daniel Klaeren

EberstadtWho are the intellectual leaders behind the liberty movement; those scholars performing the research and analysis used to craft policy?  Meet Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute.  Eberstadt holds the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at AEI, is a senior adviser to the National Bureau of Asian Research, and serves as a member of the Global Leadership Council at the World Economic Forum.

Eberstadt has been a prolific writer and researcher, authoring dozens of books on everything from Korean unification to Cold War Era economic policy.  A brief look at Eberstadt’s academic background- an A.B., M.P.A., and Ph. D. from Harvard University and an M. Sc. from the London School of Economics- may make it seem as if he was destined to join the ranks of AEI scholars.

But Eberstadt’s journey to his position at AEI was rather unplanned.  “I didn’t see myself as being part of a movement.  I just wanted to understand the way the world works,” says Eberstadt.  “I was actually very far to the left as an undergraduate.  The more I learned, the more I realized that what I was coming in contact with didn’t fit my preconceptions.  I found myself again and again, as a student, in the position of having to get new facts or get new opinions.  Gradually, my view of the world changed.”

While still earning his doctorate, Eberstadt began teaching classes at Harvard and working as a research fellow for the Rockefeller Foundation, eventually joining AEI in 1985.  Over the years, Eberstadt’s expertise has been sought out for a diverse range of projects.  He has worked as a consultant for the World Bank and the U.S. State Department and as a researcher for the Center for Population and Development Studies at Harvard University.  From 2006-2009 he served on the President’s Commission for Bioethics.

Today, Eberstadt is one of the country’s foremost experts on international policy, particularly in regards to demography and political economy.  But Eberstadt has also taken a strong stance against the expansion of the social-welfare state, most notably with his 2012 book, A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic, in which he documents the explosive growth of entitlement programs and the resultant exodus of men from the workforce.

Speaking candidly about his concern for the economic outlook of his children’s generation, Eberstadt describes a bleak future.  “The dramatically increased statism and the demand for statism, the weakened economy and labor market, the untold effect yet on knowledge creation, on immigration, on education- particularly higher education- these are all things one can worry about in a way that I didn’t have to worry about when I was growing up” Eberstadt says.  The worst-case scenario in Eberstadt’s view is a slow and gradual draining of America’s wealth to feed ever-expanding government programs.  “My nightmare vision,” Eberstadt explains, “is that we may be able to continue on our current path longer than many people say.  Affluence affords many things, and one of them is to pursue a foolish direction much longer than we could otherwise.”

Even still, Eberstadt gives encouraging advice for young people that want to make a difference in the policy world:

“Read broadly, keep an open mind, and challenge your own assumptions.  Try to put your opponent’s argument in terms that your opponents would recognize.  The future will be much brighter if we have a really good competition of ideas- so make your best arguments, and out of this interplay and competition, something good will come for the country.”

Daniel Klaeren is an intern at Doublethink Magazine through the National Journalism Center Program.