Think-tankers Brooke Medina and Doug McCullough posed a terrific question on these (virtual) pages: what changes “in substance and branding” could shore up “Conservatism, Inc.’s shrinking consumer base” among Millennials and Gen Z?
Ms. Medina and Mr. McCullough suggest the movement focus on freedom and “(o)ffer … this youthful demographic a political framework that speaks to their desire for economic prosperity and celebrated diversity.”
Absolutely. But how about starting with the most straightforward way to build a “consumer base” among the savviest generation of consumers ever?
If you haven’t guessed: talk to them like consumers.
A generation that grew up with Amazon, Apple/iTunes, Google search and app stores expects the coolest stuff with the greatest benefits at the lowest price with the greatest convenience and ease-of-use.
The polar opposite of what we as “consumers” get from government at all levels.
Consider two merchants. One offers a wide range of state-of-the-art mobile devices, customizable up to, say, 256 GB of storage; thousands of communications, entertainment and productivity functions and apps; extraordinary everywhere connectivity; protection against droppage and water damage; and superb, 24/7 customer service. For max $1,000 — available in seconds online.
The other? A 1984-vintage IBM PCjr with 128KB memory plus 360 KB floppy disk drive. Planted on a desktop. Not expandable or customizable. With zero customer service — in fact, once you buy it, the dealer starts ordering you around in other areas of life.
Its price? An inflation-adjusted $3,128. Except even that price depends on how much you make, what you do, where you live, how many dependents, and more. Oh, yeah: you’ll be purposely overcharged, and must fill out 10 pages of forms to get a refund — with additional charges and interest if you mess up your calculations. (You play it safe and actually hire someone to do the paperwork.)
Crazy, right? But the latter example is exactly how we “savvy consumers” buy government.
Programs, frameworks and payment systems designed in the 1930s, 1940s, 1960s and 1970s — that don’t deliver on their meager promises and are often counterproductive. High costs and systematic overcharges (the average refund approaches $3,000). Inconvenience and terrible — even threatening — “customer service.”
And worst of all, mandates. Telling you what limited, overpriced services you get. Where (or if) you can go to overpriced and underdelivering educational institutions. Who can have what job or benefits. What healthcare, transportation, appliances, or food you can buy. Even what you’re allowed to think and believe.
And what’s the competition offering? More of the same — except more expensive, more counterproductive, and more controlling.
In an age of smart phones, smart devices, smart appliances and smart homes, shouldn’t conservatives consider offering today’s smart young consumers the “brand promise” they’re really looking for?
What is Smart Government? It’s about disruptive change, which Millennials and Gen Z understand better than anyone.
Better, more modern, more efficient, more responsive, consumer-driven government that provides more of the benefits young people want and need, cheaper, more conveniently, and with more choice.
Smart Government focuses on great service, not mandates or bigger government “solutions.” It empowers people young and old to be their own solution.
Smart Government reforms or ditches initiatives that waste resources and actually defeat their stated goals. Like expensive ethanol, solar and wind mandates that harm the environment.
Like Medicaid that sinks federal and state budgets and produces worse outcomes than no insurance. Like Social Security and Medicare that drive up deficits and debt even as they run out of money — but could be converted to powerful investment pools creating wealth.
Like welfare programs that create dependency, instead of building independence and family formation and thereby prosperity.
Smart Government disrupts our current health care system — an accident of history resulting from wage-price controls in the 1940s — not with souped-up Obamacare or Medicare for All (read: rationed, bureaucratic, inefficient and unaffordable government care). But rather by cutting out insurance middlepersons and incentivizing consumer-driven care directly with providers.
Smart Government gets Uncle Sam and his mandates out of academia, and tears down costly, administration-heavy, underdelivering anti-American education bureaucracies — putting parents and students in control.
Smart Government creates a national security strategy that reflects U.S. interests and focuses on protecting the homeland, not “allies” who hate us, and for sure not political correctness.
Smart Government transforms a system of paying for government that is insane: wildly expensive (hundreds of billions in compliance costs), complex, intrusive, untransparent and inequitable. Replacing it with a sales tax or other system with no more withholding, record-keeping, forms, paying accountants or H&R Block, or interest-free loans to the government. And making it easy to see in a single figure the true cost of government.
Smart Government also gets back to promoting marriage and the intact family, not as a moral issue, but because it’s good policy and what most young people really want. (More on that soon.)
Smart Government — disruptive, smaller, smarter, better and focused on service, convenience, ease-of-use and benefits to consumers, and empowering young people to be their own solution — should be conservatives’ new consumer brand.
Can we get a Smart Conservatism to figure it out?
Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is Of Counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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