Our Story

There is Nothing Preordained About West Virginia’s Lack of Prosperity

For generations, West Virginia has been an object of ridicule, pity, and even curiosity – its economy and people among the poorest in the United States for well over a century. An “island” of poverty in the wealthiest country the world, West Virginia’s brighter future depends on a new paradigm: a new way of looking at the world with new ideas and a philosophy built on innovation, human flourishing, and a recognition that freedom is the greatest alleviator of poverty the world has ever seen. Ours is a philosophy built on the entrepreneur, the tinkerer in the garage, and the idea that small government means more room for people to create and build their own futures.

The Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy was founded by a group of West Virginians in 2014 to usher in this vision, and lay the intellectual groundwork for West Virginia’s brighter future. Cardinal’s founders believed that West Virginia must get the government out of the way so its citizens can craft their own future free of unnecessary government intrusion, bureaucracy, arbitrary regulation, and burdensome taxes.

The founders felt that this new paradigm needed an organization whose sole mission was to create, research, communicate, and popularize freedom-enhancing ideas for the public. Cardinal hired its first employee in the fall of 2015, has been deeply engaged in West Virginia’s marketplace of ideas ever since. 

The West Virginia Miracle

The Cardinal Institute’s vision is called the “West Virginia Miracle.” It envisions an economic turnaround that will transform our state into a beacon of prosperity and hope. We believe that for this miracle to occur, it must be built on four pillars: economic freedom, education freedom, worker freedom, and Montani Semper Liberi – Mountaineers Are Always Free, the state’s motto and founding ethos.

Economic Freedom and Opportunity

Cardinal believes the record of history is quite clear: widespread prosperity occurs when individuals are given the freedom to be the author of their own story, to start a business; create jobs, and build a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities. We believe this manifests in public policy through low taxes, low barriers to entry, minimal regulation, limited government, and a belief that the first rung on the economic ladder should be within reach for all people. 

Education Freedom

We recognize that a strong educational foundation is the key to a brighter future. No two children are alike in their learning needs, styles, and interests. West Virginia has lagged behind the rest of the country by refusing to recognize this fact, prohibiting flexible education options and school choice. As we continue into the 21st century, it is critical for West Virginia to allow many types of personalized education experiences that will cater to each child’s unique needs and strengths. We believe that policies like education savings accounts are well-suited to facilitating this type of tailored education experience. The research is clear that greater flexibility and choice in education leads to better results for children and families.

Worker Freedom

The ability to earn a living is a fundamental necessity and should, therefore, not come with preconditions, coercion, or forced association.

Montani Semper Liberi

West Virginia’s founding ethos and state motto means “Mountaineers Are Always Free.” West Virginia must rediscover its passion for freedom and independence and recognize that its prosperity will not come from its capital, Charleston, or another federal government intervention or program. A prosperous West Virginia must be built by its own people pursuing their own goals and dreams. Cardinal strives to bring the message of freedom to all audiences through social media outreach, earned media, research, interviews, and original content.