"Cry Wolf" Project -- Request for Proposals

Historians in the News


We are writing to ask for your help in an important project in the battle with conservative ideas. Today, as in the past, the fight to transform American politics and policy takes place on a battlefield in which ideas, narratives, and the construction of a politically driven conventional wisdom constitutes a set of highly potent weapons. Too often conservatives in the Congress and the media have captured the rhetorical high ground by asserting that virtually any substantial, progressive change in public policy, especially that involving taxes on the wealthy or regulation of business, will kill jobs, generate a stifling government bureaucracy, or curtail economic growth.

But history shows that in almost every instance the opponents of needed social and economic change are “crying wolf.”  We therefore need to construct a counter narrative that demonstrates the falsity or exaggeration of such claims so that the first reaction of millions of people, as well as opinion leaders, will be “There they go again!” Such a refrain will undermine the credibility and arguments of the organizations and individuals who use such dire social and economic prognostications to thwart progressive reform.

To give substance and scholarly integrity to this “crying wolf” argument, we are calling upon historians and social scientists, in training or well established, to use their research skills to identify instances, in recent years as well as in the more distant pass, in which the “crying wolf” scare was put forward by industry executives, conservative politicians, and right-wing pundits before the passage of legislation or the promulgation of regulations that have become hallmarks of popular and progressive statecraft. On each issue we seek to document three things: First, historical examples and quotes drawn from speeches, legislative testimony, newspaper and other media opinion pieces, think-tank reports, or political platforms which claim that a proposed policy or regulation would generate a set of negative consequences; second, a discussion of how these crying-wolf claims impacted the new laws or regulations as they were passed into law; and third, a well-documented analysis of the extent to which conservative and special interest fears were or were not realized during the years and decades after the new laws or regulations went into effect.

This work is sponsored by the San Diego-based Center on Policy Initiatives and funded by a grant from the Public Welfare Foundation.  Donald Cohen of CPI, Peter Dreier of Occidental  College , and Nelson Lichtenstein of UC Santa Barbara constitute the ad hoc committee now administrating this initiative.

Based on some of the policy areas listed below, we solicit one page proposals for the kind of short studies outlined above. If we think the proposal promising, we will then ask the applicant to develop a larger policy brief, perhaps 2,000 words in length. It should be well documented and scrupulously accurate. We will pay $1,000 for each brief that meets these standards. We hope that many of these become the basis for opinion pieces designed to run in the mainstream media, on line, on the air, or in the press.

We will be focusing on the following policy areas.

1. Taxes and public budgets  
2. Labor market standards  
3. Food, tobacco and drug health and safety  
4. Environmental protection: air, water, toxics, etc  
5. Workplace safety  
6. Financial regulation  
7. Consumer product safety   
8. Local issues (i.e. inclusionary housing, building code standards, etc.)

We will be looking for the following things in each case study/policy brief:

1. Specific Laws or Regulations within the policy area   
2. Why the law or regulation was needed: citations of studies, articles that demonstrated need, etc.   
3. Principle opponent interest groups   
4. The quotes and claims: Reports, correspondence and/or public testimony of interest groups that lobbied against passage and implementation of laws and regulations. [While some quotes will certainly be included in the policy brief, we would like all quotes that are found to be included in appendices]  
5. Principle proponent groups (for research and help)  
6. Any existing retrospective qualitative and quantitative costs and benefits of laws  
7.  Major books, articles, sources on the history and impact of legislation/regulation.

Proposals should be sent to Donald Cohen at dcohen@onlinecpi.org

Please feel free to forward this RFP and/or to send ideas, references and proposals. 

Donald Cohen  

Cry Wolf Project Coordinators

Peter Dreier, E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, Director of the Urban & Environmental Policy program, Occidental College 
Donald Cohen, Executive Director, Center on Policy Initiatives   
Nelson Lichtenstein, Professor of History at UC Santa Barbara and Director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy     

Project Advisory Board 

Robert Kuttner, Co-founder & Co-editor, American Prospect  
Gerald Markowitz, PhD, John Jay College, CUNY  
David Rosner, PhD; Co-Director, Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health  
Alice O’Connor, PhD, UC Santa Barbara  
Janice Fine, PhD, Rutgers University  
Andrea M. Hricko, MPH; Southern CA Environmental Health Sciences Center  
Jennifer Klein PhD, Yale University
Meg Jacobs PhD, MIT
William Forbath JD, PhD, University of Texas Law School
Tom Sugrue PhD, University of Pennsylvania
Lizabeth Cohen PhD, Harvard University

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