Policy Institute Profiles: Competitive Enterprise Institute

Published December 16, 2019

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) is a nonprofit public policy organization dedicated to advancing limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty. CEI’s mission is to promote both freedom and fairness by making good policy into smart politics.

Before founding CEI, Fred L. Smith Jr. served as one of the first analysts at the newly created U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Smith grew dismayed by central planning-style failures to manage environmental resources fairly and effectively, so he sought out free-market solutions to the same problems. As a result, some of the earliest issues CEI worked on were environmental protection, property rights, and access to affordable energy.

Smith also sought allies on broader issues, such as antitrust and regulatory reform, that affect many different industries and public policies. Even in the postindustrial twenty-first century, policies enacted in the age of steam and steel are deployed to attack entrepreneurs in the world of fiber optics and integrated circuits. The animating principle behind CEI’s work is a free economy and free society are inseparable values.

Climate Change, Regulations, and Beyond

CEI was one of the first and most vocal free-market organizations to engage international environmental concerns and climate change in particular.

Starting with the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was created, on through negotiations in Japan that produced the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, and beyond, CEI has advocated economic freedom and affordable energy to counter the radical global green movement.

To warn against the direction environmental treaties were heading, CEI published the book The Costs of Kyoto: Climate Change Policy and Its Implications in 1997 and assisted in founding the Cooler Heads Coalition. That organization has continued for more than 20 years as the top working group in Washington, D.C. for balanced and rational climate policy.

CEI’s flagship annual publication, Ten Thousand Commandments, is a snapshot of the federal regulatory state, providing a running tally of the federal regulatory burden. It has become an essential point of reference for policymakers and opinion leaders regarding the hidden costs of regulations.

Over the years, CEI experts have written, edited, and contributed to many books on environmental policy, including Ronald Bailey’s Earth Report 2000: Revisiting the True State of the Planet, James Sheehan’s Global Greens: Inside the International Environmental Establishment, and Iain Murray’s The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Don’t Want You to Know About—Because They Helped Cause Them.

Although environmental issues have always been especially prominent in CEI’s portfolio, the organization has also delved into other crucial regulatory matters such as biotechnology, the glacial pace of new drug approvals at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and ending U.S. agricultural subsidies.