Fresh off of his inaugural trip to the legendary Burning Man festival, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist is back to business this month, debating longtime consumer advocate and former third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader at a National Press Club luncheon.
Although he's back in Washington, D.C., Norquist says Congress could learn a thing or two from Burning Man -- the mysterious, eclectic festival in which the citizens create the agenda for the weeklong affair and build the festival grounds with only the goods they bring on their backs.
Unlike Woodstock in the 1960s, at Burning Man there are no stages unless the people build them. There are no performances unless one spontaneously erupts. There are no rules unless someone dreams one up and in that case, one would quickly be shown the door of the festival. That is, if a door even existed.
Burning Man participants walk through dust at the annual Burning Man event on the Black Rock Desert of Gerlach, Nev., on Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. Organizers call Burning Man the largest outdoor arts festival in North America, with its drum circles, decorated art cars, guerrilla theatrics and colorful theme camps. (AP Photo/The Reno Gazette-Journal, Andy Barron)
It is a truly organic "of the people, by the people, for the people" event.
Our forefathers would have loved it.
Surprisingly, so does America's top conservative tax reformer.
A man who has turned convention upside-down in his own career, Norquist agrees that Burning Man can offer new ideas to a Congress that all too often stagnates and subsequently sees their leaders overthown "every six years."
"This idea of a minimum number of rules" has the potential to re-wire how our government functions, according to Norquist. At the Burning Man festival he says, "They provide you with basic roads. That's it. What you do between the roads is your business."
If only Congress would build our highways, then do the same.
The festival offers unfettered freedom but Norquist suggests there is also power in the event's atmosphere of a "social suasion" in which everyone strives to do better than the presumed rules.
For example, at the event that can appear quite chaotic to the outside eye Norquist reports that everyone picked up after themselves. In fact he says some attendees were so meticulous they stowed their cigarette ashes in tiny Altoids tins for later disposal, despite the absence of strict rules or fines regarding litter.
Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist attends a press conference discussing the taxation of marijuana businesses outside the U.S. Capitol September 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Getty Images)
If these mores were adopted outside of the festival, this could mean fewer laws, smaller bureaucracies, and better-behaved citizens.
The Burning Man festival, held around the Northern California-Nevada border, is so interesting to innovators that its early attendees included Silicon Valley trailblazers Larry Page and Sergey Brin (co-founders of Google), Elon Musk (founder of Tesla and SpaceX) and Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook).
Today its 70,000 attendees include government leaders interested in housing habitats that can be quickly set up and torn down in times of crisis. However, despite their respective industries, leaders converge on the festival for one reason: to witness how people can effectively work together in synergy, with no rules, in the middle of nowhere.
These principles are needed now more than ever in our nation's capital.
"Fewer rules, common sense, and more ideas that come up organically," Norquist said.
At the festival, Norquist learned about a world-class university that observed for one year the pattern in which students walked on campus before spending a single dime on a new thoroughfare. Only after the university collected evidence did it then spend resources to pave the best path. This sort of reverse engineering, if you will, seeing what the people want first before laying out one's own elaborate plans, is an approach that leaders in Congress could adopt.
People are the concept upon which Burning Man was built.
In fact, it is the very concept upon which America was built.
At Burning Man, without the people there would be no festival.
The same is true of Congress.
Perhaps it's time to light a proverbial fire under them.
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