Purposes of the Foundation

The Alex C. Walker Educational and Charitable Foundation’s mission is to investigate the causes of economic imbalances, seek market-based solutions, protect the free enterprise system, investigate the effect of the financial system in fostering a sustainable economy, and inform the public of the results.

In brief, the mission of the Foundation is to support market approaches for addressing economic imbalances and protecting our environment. Photo MCarter: Shutterstock.com

The trustees are guided by the principle of maximizing individual freedom while protecting the rights of others. One of our early successes was funding research in the emerging field of experimental economics, which led to a 2002 Nobel Prize for pioneering work by Vernon Smith. His work in experimental economics supports the view that individuals should be as free as possible to make their own tradeoffs. Says Smith "Whether we're talking about politics or economics, or even social interactions, the best systems maximize the freedom of the individual, subject to the constraint of others in the system”. Free enterprise optimizes the use of currently available resources, while the rule of law protects the common good.

The Foundation applies a proactive approach to grantmaking following the example set by venture capitalists. Funding is budgeted each year to make way for one or more new projects. The trustees monitor initiatives they have invested in by making site visits and forming partnerships with cooperating organizations. The Foundation stays involved long enough to see promising projects produce results. Rather than seeking a profit as venture capitalists do, the Foundation measures results based on achieving public good. Simply put, the Foundation evaluates the impact of grants based on beneficial economic, environmental, or social impacts.

The existence of a free market does not of course eliminate the need for government. On the contrary, government is essential both as a forum for determining the "rule of the game" and as an umpire to interpret and enforce the rules decided on.” — Free-market economist, Milton Friedman.

History of Foundation’s Support of The Rule of Law

Alex Walker was an ardent believer the principles of free enterprise and the rule of law. In the years following WWII, he believed this system was responsible for the outstanding position of the United States in the family of nations. At the time Alex established the Foundation, the world was divided between two competing economic systems. With the triumph of capitalism over communism, the U.S. economy became increasingly integrated into the global economy. Responding to this change, the trustees seek to address economic imbalances that may affect the United States within the context of the global economy. 

Support of free enterprise is assumed by some to be synonymous with laissez faire economic philosophy - implying that government regulations should be drastically reduced across the board. Rather than take a political position, the trustees hold a more nuanced view that regulations have to be examined on a case-by-case basis. For example, some regulations promote free markets by requiring companies to be accountable to their shareholders. Other regulations hinder market competition by creating special-interest benefits.

One of the great debates in society is the perceived tradeoff between economic efficiency and equity. “Economic efficiency occurs when a society obtains the largest possible amount from its limited resources. Equity occurs if a society distributes its economic resources fairly among its people. Different opinions about fairness, however, cause people to debate how resources should be allocated and are a primary determinant of political affiliation.” 1 The Foundation seeks projects with a goal of improving both economic efficiency and social equity. The trustees strive to avoid taking a political or ideological approach, by supporting economic and scientific analysis of how to achieve the greatest societal benefit, consistent with preserving individual choice.

A legal principle supporting individual freedom and the market economy is equal justice under the law. Photo of U.S. Supreme Court by Barrett Walker.

Projects supporting the rule of law began two and a half decades ago with support for the Institute for Justice. In 2005 the Foundation funded their “Hands Off My Home Campaign” challenging the practice of government taking private property and transferring it to another private developer. The project initially targeted the taking of private property for construction of higher priced condos in a prime oceanfront location in New Jersey. The project went on to defend business owners from condemnation of businesses for development of a casino in Atlantic City, and protecting businesses from condemnation for development of higher-priced real estate in Pittsburgh. The program trained home and small business owners to defend their property from eminent domain abuse.

The next project supporting the rule of law is titled “Policing for Profit”. Beginning in 2011, court challenges by The Institute for Justice exposed the practice of civil forfeiture allowing police to confiscate private property, and keep it without a conviction. Civil asset forfeiture began as a legal tool allowing police to seize property they suspected of being used in criminal activity, primarily the sale of illegal drugs. However the practice was soon abused, resulting in police keeping homes, cars, and money without ever charging victims of a crime.

The Institute for Justice provides the following description of how the practice works: Civil forfeiture, empowers law enforcement to seize property under the mere suspicion that it has been involved in a criminal activity. This practice is one of the biggest threats to private property rights in the nation today. Owners caught up in civil forfeiture proceedings do not need to be convicted or even accused of a crime to lose their property, and they typically must prove their property’s innocence in court in order for it to be returned. In addition, law enforcement agencies often get to keep a portion or all the proceeds from these seizures, providing them with incentives to pursue property rather than criminals.

After eight years of Foundation support, the U.S. Supreme court ruled unanimously against abusive fines, including seizure of cash, cars, and homes, as a source of revenue for police, when the value of the goods seized is out of proportion to the purported infraction of law.

The most recent project begun in 2018, is titled “Restraining Unlawful Private Pipeline Condemnations”. The project addresses the practice of private corporations taking private property for the construction of oil and gas pipelines without due process protections.

The Foundation is now challenged with how to respond to the massive loss of property due to sea level rise. The public and their elected representatives are in disagreement about the cause and potential solutions. Because the purpose of the Foundation is to conduct investigations into the basis of such problems, or economic imbalances, the trustees turned to science and economics.

The method of science is tried and true. It is not perfect, it’s just the best we have. And to abandon it, with its skeptical protocols, is the pathway to a dark age. — Carl Sagan

Federal judges are engaged in objective or principled evaluation of evidence and appointed for life, with the expectation they will be less influenced by short term political pressures than elected officials. Once lower courts rule based on evidence, cases that pose a constitutional question are submitted to the Supreme Court where justices “swear (or affirm) that (they) will support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” 2

The Walker Foundation has long funded grants supporting the rule of law. “The Rule of Law is an indispensable foundation for a market economy, which provides an essential environment for the creation and preservation of wealth, economic security, and well-being, and the improvement of the quality of life.” 3 Free enterprise and social equity both depend upon rule of law being enforced, and by a legal system judged by the public to be fair and accessible. According to Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, “Judges have begun to work more closely with scientists to ensure that their rulings are founded on scientifically sound knowledge.” 4

Ecological Economics

The Foundation was funded by wealth created by family members who established businesses in the industrial city of Pittsburgh. As chronicled in the section on the History of the Foundation, economic activity can result in environmental damage, which unless corrected, constrains future prosperity. The kinds of environmental problems faced by Pittsburgh at the end of World War II have now become commonplace and larger in scale. In response, the trustees developed an expertise in the field and began funding an increasing number of solution-oriented grants in ecological economics. (Learn how Alex Walker's hometown revived its economy through a pioneering clean up effort, and how this experience helped define the Walker Foundation's goals. See Air and Water Crisis in Pittsburgh.)

Economists have long acknowledged the failure of markets to adequately address certain problems. As the world’s growing population creates ever more demands on the services of nature, markets are increasingly blamed for environmental harm. However, markets create wealth that can be applied to addressing environmental degradation. The trustees view this imbalance as being one of the greatest challenges of our generation.

Photo Barrett P. Walker

The trustees recognize that ecosystems provide clean air, clean water, climate regulation and other essential services of nature, for which there is no substitute. It is essential for our economic well-being and the future of our children that market activity is sustainable.

A growing number of economists recognize that the United Nations’ “System of National Accounts” that tracks measures of economic progress, such as GDP, does not account for ecosystem services, also known as nature's services. Some examples of these services are climate moderation, provision of clean water through the hydrological cycle, detoxification and decomposition of wastes, and provision of seafood. Generally these services are taken for granted. Just as markets provide an abundance of manufactured goods through the principle of supply and demand, the pricing of ecosystem services has the potential to avoid scarcity and maintain a healthy economy. For a number of years the Foundation trustees supported research that contributed to development of parallel national accounting systems, including the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), and the U.N. System of Environmental Economic Accounting. 5

Our Foundation program on "Rights-Based Fisheries” recognized that although wild fisheries are a free service of nature, taking too many fish leads to depletion. Rights-based-fisheries create property rights that give individuals and groups of fishers incentives to profit from fishing without depleting the resource. The program began as a unique, Foundation-sponsored partnership of market, environmental, and public policy organizations sharing a common goal of promoting sustainable management by developing fishing rights that reward better stewardship. The program worked with fishermen to apply proven rightsbased strategies such as individual fishing quotas, catch shares, and harvest cooperatives. The Foundation considers this grant initiative to have been a major success as rights-based fisheries have multiplied, and independent studies
showed that “Catch Shares Can Prevent Fisheries Collapse.” 6 Read about the Walker Foundation's market-based initiative to restore fisheries in Philanthropy Magazine.

A current grant initiative resulting from the fisheries project is habitat protection and recovery. After achieving success in reforming a group of demonstration fisheries, the Foundation observed that recovery of overfished stocks was still slow. The foundation provided a number of grants to improve habitat by designing and testing fishing nets so they caused less damage to the ocean bottom. Then funding was directed to restore eel grass beds and coral reefs. The Foundation has also funded a series of market-based grants to protect terrestrial ecosystems. The trustees observed that, despite all these efforts, marine and terrestrial ecosystems continue to decline. In numerous cases the trustees reviewed scientific studies to conclude the greatest threat is from global warming and ocean acidification caused by fossil fuel emissions.
  1. Economic Perspectives, by John Buck, Sunday Feb. 10, 2008
  2. Text of the oaths of office for Supreme Court justices
  3. International rule of Law and the Market Economy - An Outline, Samuel Bufford, Pennn State Law Article, 2006.
  4. Science in the Courtroom, by Stephen Breyer, Issues in Science and Technology Vol. XVI, No. 4, Summer 2000, first sentence.
  5. System of Environmental Economic Accounting
  6. Science, Costello, Gaines & Lynham 19 September 2008: Vol. 321 no. 5896 pp. 1678-1681

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