(Ben Green) #1


On march 29, 2003, aT a wedding recepTiOn in The harvard FaculTy
Club, Lawrence W. Reed gave a toast in honor of the friend whom he was serving
as best man—one Joseph P. Overton. Overton had worked at Dow Chemical; he
had since become an executive at a free-market, small- government think tank in
central Michigan. Among his duties at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy was
raising money, and in doing so, he had made a brochure that would become his
legacy. Overton was trying to describe the role of think tanks in a society, and he
posited an idea that would come to be called the Overton window. In a given so-
ciety, at a given moment, there is a range of policies politically acceptable to the
mainstream. (A 70% top tax rate and a 20% top tax rate are both within this win-
dow in America today; abolishing taxes is not.) Generally, the theory went, poli-
ticians will only propose ideas that fall within the window. It falls to think tanks
(and others) to propose unpopular things outside of the window in the hope of
shifting the window and making the previously unthinkable achievable. Overton
was an ardent libertarian who pushed ideas like school choice—and, according to
Reed’s wedding toast, he had on occasion resorted to more extreme methods of
moving the window of the possible, “including the time,” Reed recounted that day,
“we flew in a Cessna 172 in broad daylight at treetop level 150 miles into war-torn
Mozambique to assist armed rebels fighting the Marxist regime there.” Overton
died just weeks after his wedding.
Were Overton still alive, he would be pushing 60—and might be aghast to
learn that his “window,” having become famous after his death, is now invoked
to describe America’s great, unlikely backlash against the system he defended
so ardently: capitalism.




In 2019 America’s 1% behaved badly—and
helped bring about a reckoning with capitalism
By Anand Giridharadas


Free download pdf