Dear Informed Citizen

Democracy requires that citizens be informed. Perhaps this is why democracy doesn’t work in a lot of places—it’s hard work that requires constant self-education. The economist Bryan Caplan has just published a book called The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. The thesis takes on immediacy now that our basic infrastructure is obviously falling apart.

For years, newspaper editors and, more generally, editors of news and policy magazines have argued that their products were essential to an informed citizenry. Unfortunately, the readership numbers for most of these publications continue to decline. The market may be telling us that nobody cares, and the informed citizen may go the way of the dodo. Or the market may be reflecting a positive conclusion that Al Gore also arrived at in his recent book, The Assault on Reason: Universal access to information on the Web will lead to better informed citizens. To that end, I’m offering my list of essential Web sites that deal with important issues. It’s difficult to find a right- or left-wing ideologue who has much good to say about the Washington, D.C.–based Cato Institute, a nonprofit public-policy research foundation that accepts no government funding. You’ll find many of the papers and articles on its site thought provoking and well researched. A progressive, nonpartisan think tank, Minnesota 2020 was founded by former legislator Matt Entenza. He’s recruited excellent policy analysts and writers, including Joseph Amato, Conrad deFiebre, and Lee Egerstrom. The site focuses on economic development, education, health care, and transportation, and is updated daily. The granddaddy of nonpartisan, citizen-led, “good government” organizations, the St. Paul–based Citizens League was founded in 1952 and its studies have helped to establish important institutions and policies, including the Metropolitan Council, the Open Meeting Law, and property tax reform. It is not an exaggeration to say that more policy initiatives have had their start in Citizens League study groups than in any other civic organization in the history of our state (political parties included!). If you ever need information regarding the Minnesota economy, health care, or public education, this would be the place to start. A new think tank formed last year, the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota advocates the principles of individual freedom, personal responsibility, and limited government. The board of directors reads like a who’s who of 1980s Minnesota GOP activists: Chris Georgacas, the Meeks, Tony Trimble, and Vin Weber. This site should be read along with Minnesota 2020 for useful material and links on criminal justice, tax and fiscal policy, and transportation. Founded by Mitch Pearlstein, the Center of the American Experiment is a nonpartisan public-policy organization dedicated to smaller government and free markets. It is perhaps best known for its annual dinner, which has featured George Will, Colin Powell, and Margaret Thatcher as speakers. Many of its quality studies on education, health care, and judicial reform have had a dramatic impact on recent governmental decisions, and its symposia are justly famous.

The Web is sometimes just an embarrassment, but sometimes an embarrassment of riches. Certainly there are many more organizations that produce quality work of interest to the informed citizen. The Itasca Project (, the Minnesota Family Council (, the Minnesota Taxpayers Association (, and the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs ( all publish well-researched materials on major public-policy issues. There are more partisan and single-issue organizations as well.

Just as citizens in a democratic society must read their local newspapers—and, I believe, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Financial Times—so, too, must we increasingly turn to the Web. Through it, perhaps our democracy is about to become better informed—just in the nick of time.


Yours for a better democracy,

Vance K. Opperman
Web Denizen

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