Originally known as the Twentieth Century Fund, the Century Foundation (CF) was established in 1919 by the famed entrepreneur Edward Filene (1860-1937), who exhorted the “liberal business man” to combat what Mr. Filene viewed as the rising tide of conservatism in American society. This has remained CF’s mission ever since; the Foundation today aims to counter what it calls the recent “ascendance of conservative ideology” that “has obscured the value of progressive ideas and delayed a much needed correction to failed policies.” In keeping with this theme, Greg Anrig, CF’s vice president of policy and programs, authored a 2007 book titled The Conservatives Have No Clothes: Why Right-Wing Ideas Keep Failing.
During the first two decades of its existence, the Twentieth Century Fund sought to promote progressivism by granting money to liberal/left organizations. Shortly after Mr. Filene’s death in 1937, however, the Fund abandoned its philanthropic activities and transformed itself into a think tank/“operating foundation” that, instead of awarding grants, conducted studies and produced literature evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of various economic, social, and political policies. Today the Century Foundation—which adopted its new name in 1999—produces scores of such articles and studies each year. The issues upon which it focuses most heavily are:
* Economic Inequality: CF has raised “serious concerns” about the fact that “in recent decades, and especially since 2000, the richest Americans have enjoyed soaring income and wealth while the rest of the population’s living standards have stagnated.” In December 2008, a CF report lamenting America’s “persistent economic inequality” concluded that “despite some progress, America is a nation in which neither minorities nor women have yet achieved anything approaching economic or social equality.” One possible remedy to this problem, the Foundation asserted, would be to promote the unionization of workers.
* Education: CF seeks to identify “ways to integrate public schools by economic status” and, at the college level, “open the doors of selective and non-selective institutions to students of modest means.”
* Social Insurance: Asserting that “compared to other advanced nations, America’s retirement security and health care systems offer weaker protections against risks we all face,” CF seeks to develop ideas for “strengthening Social Security, pensions, and health care. CF also recommends that additional “steps” be taken to “build” on the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act of 2010—i.e., Obamacare—which CF views not as an ultimate solution to America’s health-care problems, but as a worthy stepping stone toward the larger goal of a government-run, “universal,” single-payer system.
* Foreign Policy: Because “in the first years of the [21st] century an assertive foreign policy took a toll on the cultivated role of the U.S. as a responsible global leader,” CF now aims to help “restor[e] America’s international credibility as an effective and cooperative leader in responding to global secutrity and economic dangers.” CF is especially concerned with “preventing and responding to terrorism while preserving civil liberties,” cultivating a good relationship with the United Nations, and dealing effectively with the Middle East and East Asia.
One particularly significant foreign-policy-related CF project was its Partnership for a Secure America (PSA), a 2006 initiative that included former congressmen, senators, and administration officials of both major political parties. Among the notable Democrats involved were former Secretaries of State Madeline Albright and Warren Christopher, and former National Security Advisors Sandy Berger, Zbigniew Brezinski, and Tony Lake. PSA harshly rebuked military unilateralism by the United States; asserted that terrorism “is a political act requiring a political [rather than military] response”; and recommended that the U.S. and its allies could best fight terrorism by addressing “global poverty, disease, and underdevelopment.”
Other issues of importance to CF include tax and budget policy, homeland security, immigration, election reform, the media, and affirmative action.
CF’s proposed solutions to America’s domestic problems usually advocate taxpayer-funded intervention by government. As a Capital Research Center analysis puts it: “Many of [CF’s] products reflect an almost quaint unreconstructed faith in the Great Society of the 1960s…. In everything the Century Foundation publishes, its scholars adopt the modern line of the Democratic Party: reverence for any and all welfare state programs.”
Emblematic of this mindset was an October 2008 CF publication titled “A Safety Net for Bubble Buyers: Rescuing Homeowners from Collapsing Home Values.” Claiming that many families who had become “caught up in the housing bubble” had been “tricked by lenders” and had “paid too much for their homes,” CF suggested that “all homeowners whose mortgage debt exceeds the value of their homes” should benefit from a federal bailout.
CF also calls for government to earmark an ever-increasing number of taxpayer dollars to funding the costs associated with child care for women seeking to enter the workforce. “In a nation that is eager to get and keep people off welfare,” says CF, “the problem of child care can be a major deterrent to employment…. The federal government will need to provide funds to ensure that programs already in place grow to meet demand.”
Moreover, CF has produced many papers on the subject of election reform. One resident expert in this area is Tova Andrea Wang, a CF Fellow who worked on a 1996 get-out-the vote campaign for Jesse Jackson, whose voter-motivation group has repeatedly been implicated in election-related improprieties. In a November 2005 op-ed, Wang denounced recommendations that a national ID card be implemented to prevent voter fraud, depicting the proposal as a “modern-day poll tax.” She also characterized a new Georgia law requiring voters to present photo ID at polling stations as “draconian,” and maintained that an Arizona statute requiring voters to prove their citizenship would “disenfranchise” many nonwhites and poor people.
Capital Research Center scholar Martin Morse Wooster describes CF’s worldview as follows:
“[I]n many ways the foundation represents reactionary liberalism, in which the only goal is to preserve the New Deal and the Great Society. The only acceptable changes to be made in Social Security, the foundation’s fellows argue, are to make it costlier and more oppressive. School reform must be blocked by any means necessary. Middle and working-class voters who want lower taxes and more personal freedom must somehow be fooled into voting for Democrats who favor higher taxes and an increasingly intrusive state. Similarly, its outlook on foreign affairs is internationalist, placing much faith in a potentially intrusive centralized bureaucracy.”
CF’s studies and position papers are produced by a variety of experts in fields as diverse as academia, banking, economics, finance, industry, journalism, law, medicine, politics, progressive activism, and real estate. Over the years, most of these experts have been affiliated with other left-wing organizations in addition to CF. Among the more prominent of these organizations are the AFL-CIO, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Congressional Black Caucus, Demos, the Economic Policy Institute, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, and the New America Foundation.
CF’s current president is Janice Nittoli, who previously served as associate vice president and managing director of the Rockefeller Foundation, and as a senior executive at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
In recent years, CF has received grants from such donors as the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. To view a list of additional noteworthy grantors of the Century Foundation, click here.
For more information on CF, click here.