The mission of the Heartland Institute is the discovery and promotion of free-market solutions to both social and economic problems.

A group of individuals devoted to free-market principles came together in Chicago in 1984 to form the institute. Joseph Bast has served as president and CEO of Heartland since its inception. 

A number of prominent scholars, including Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand and John Locke have provided leadership, instruction and intellectual ammunition for Heartland’s staff over the years.

“These are people who have articulated the ethical and moral basis of free markets and limited government. They’ve done it for hundreds of years,” says Dan Miller, Heartland’s executive vice president and publisher.

“We follow them and consult them regularly in our own private reading. These are the men and women who have articulated the best ideas about free markets and the moral, ethical and practical benefit of them,” he says.

Miller oversees research and education programs, presenting the institute’s ideas to various members of the academic, civic, business, education and media communities.

Heartland’s audience is primarily comprised of two groups, a donor base of 1,700 individuals and hundreds of state legislative officials who receive the institute’s publications.

The reason for the focus on state legislatures, as opposed to the Congress, is “that’s where we believe we can be most effective in getting free-market and limited government ideas to bear fruit,” Miller says.

Additionally, while its scholars might do research at the state level, Heartland goes the extra mile to relate that information to the U.S. economy as a whole.

For instance, Heartland will do a report on all 50 states regarding the condition of their public pension plans. 

While state think tanks often focus solely on their state’s issues, this report shows Heartland is willing to take on the bigger task of looking at the public pension plans of every state.

While the institute has its key audiences, Heartland is non-partisan, trying to reach the broadest audience with its ideas. 

“Whether someone is Republican or Democrat or liberal, if they are looking for research on a particular issue on budget, taxes or the environment, we’re glad to supply the information,” says Miller. 

Heartland is also non-partisan in the sense that it holds both sides accountable, regardless of party.

Miller says that Heartland is composed of “equal opportunity people” devoted to “protecting and advocating free markets, limited government and disciplined spending.”

“Whether the President was Bush or Obama, whether it was Clinton or Nixon, there were plenty of people who wanted to attack free markets, increase command-and-control regulation. We’re busy all the time,” he said.

Unlike other prominent national think tanks, Heartland does not have fulltime staff members for its research, but this does not limit them in their research because they work to find the best people in various fields to cover the issues the institute is focusing on, never contracting with special interest groups for research fitting the mold or ideology of those groups.

“Our outreach is based on experts. If we’re going to do a report as we did on climate change, for instance, we go outside and find the world’s elite climatologists or the world’s elite climate scientists,” Miller says.

Once the thorough research is done, Heartland’s in-house legislative staff will take the findings and will contact state and local officials with the information.

One of the most innovative approaches of the Heartland Institute is the distribution of numerous publications in the course of one month.

Issues covered in this newsy way include consumer power, budget and taxes, environment and climate, finance insurance and real estate, healthcare, infotech and telecommunications, school reform and lawsuit abuse.

The rationale behind this approach, Miller says, is that the mainstream media have misrepresented free-market ideas making confronting them necessary.

“Our thinking early on was that the mainstream media have so misrepresented our ideas that it was important for us to confront that media. So many of the think tanks issue white papers and we do, too. Their hometown newspapers were not good sources for free market ideas so we, in effect, created a newspaper in each of those areas.”

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