History

Foundation Goals


J & L Steel Mill, Pittsburgh, by Barrett P. Walker in 1974
Following World War II the United States undertook a massive effort to rebuild economies and establish self-government in Europe and Japan.  The Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe was based on a study by the Brookings Institution that addressed the challenges of post-war reconstruction. 1 The success of this study likely influenced Alex Walker to establish a Charitable Foundation bearing his name.  He believed that rational study could address societal problmens through the power of markets. 2

The Foundation funded research supporting capitalism during the ensuing Cold War.  The triumph of capitalism over communism ushered in a period of unprecedented economic growth and freedom, lifting many out of poverty.

However, the benefits of economic growth have been unequally shared, resulting in renewed hostility and political tensions.  Much of global growth was powered by fossil fuels, resulting in emissions polluting the earth’s atmosphere and oceans.  The world is now challenged to make clean energy widely available, while simultaneously eliminating emissions warming the climate and acidifying the oceans.

Pittsburgh addressed pollution through local regulations, but pollution is now global, and the complexity of solving global problems seems overwhelming.  The Walker Foundation supports market approaches that put a price on pollution so that clean energy becomes the choice of consumers.  By pricing pollution, manufactured goods become less damaging to the environment.  Pollution is a waste of raw materials.  No one wants pollution.  Reducing pollution by taxing it is one way to improve efficiency without increasing net cost.  Furthermore, pollution taxes provide a funding source to offset the costs of adaptation and pay down more distortionary taxes.  Rather than imposing inefficient and costly regualtions, pollution taxes allow producers and consumers to determine the least costly way to reduce environmental damage.  The Foundation also supports studies on how government can best support scientific research and spur technological innovation.

Pittsburgh had to confront water issues upstream by working across political boundaries.  Now the earth as a whole is challenged by shortages of clean fresh water and flooding from sea level rise.  As climate change accelerates, local droughts, flooding and storm damage will result in increasing conflicts and mass migration.  Avoiding these problems will require prompt action before climate change overwhelms our ability to adapt.  The President and elected representatives have an incentive to respond in the short-term and to political interests.  By contrast, judges are usually appointed for life and make decissions based on evidence.  The Foundation has turned to the courts to require a science-based reduction in emissions sufficient to maintain a stable climate and healthy oceans.

Alex Walker’s wealth was created by family-owned steel fabrication businesses in the once-leading industrial city of Pittsburgh. Times have changed. Just as Pittsburgh’s renaissance is centered on environmental clean-up and rebuilding for a global economy, the Walker Foundation has redefined itself by applying market-based solutions to economic, environmental, and global problems of the 21st century.
 

Pittsburgh at Twilight, by Sean Pavone
 
  1. General George C. Marshall outlined the need for an economic aid plan to help Europe recover from the ravages of WW II.  When Congress began to craft the plan, Senator Arthur H. Vandenburg contacted Brookings asking for the institution's help. “It would be helpful to have an objective study by an independent research agency of highest standard,” Vandenberg wrote. “The deep and universal respect which the Brookings Institution richly deserves and enjoys would make your recommendations of tremendous value.” The resulting plan is a reminder of the role a fact-based, independent think tank can play in forging bipartisan compromise.  From the Brookings Institution website: Brookings's role in the Marshall Plan.  It's also worth noting that General McArthur adopted many of the recommendations from Brooking's study when overseeing the reconstruction of Japan.
  2. Last Will and Testament of Alex C. Walker.  Alex named the Brookings Institution as an example of the type of organization he wished his trustees to support.

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