Michael Rich has been with the RAND Corporation for decades. While his job keeps him traveling the globe, he has lived in Santa Monica for 25 years. Mirror publisher Michael Rosenthal recently caught up with Rich, and asked him a few questions about RAND, Santa Monica, and his father.
Santa Monica Mirror: Please tell us about the most interesting project you are involved in?
Michael Rich: RAND has hundreds of projects underway at any one time and it’s impossible for me to choose just one. We’re deeply involved in helping the Gulf Coast region plan for a more prosperous future in the aftermath of the 2005 hurricanes; devising an analytical framework for comparing, contrasting, and evaluating all the health care reform proposals now emerging; assisting the military with the challenge of developing capabilities for the uncertain future ahead; formulating plans for ensuring the success of an independent Palestinian state; assisting the NYPD with its firearms training program; helping cities around the country improve their schools.
When I was in Guanajuato, President Fox and I signed a memorandum of understanding committing RAND and the new Fox Presidential library to trying to build a collaborative program of research and training, beginning with an ambitious project on poverty and the elderly in Mexico. It’s an initiative that could have big implications for the economic and social future of Mexico, but also for California and the rest of the United States. I could go on and on.
Mirror: Michael, in your position at RAND you fly to many parts of the world. What locations can you tell us about that are the most beautiful and most interesting?
Rich: Given how much I travel, I’m fortunate that I find something memorable about every place I visit. Here’s a few that come to mind from the last year: Shanghai, which I first visited in 1982. It’s easily the city that has changed the most, an amazing transformation! Of course, the transformation there and in China generally has some worrisome sides, too. There are negative consequences of the rapid and widespread growth and legitimate questions about China’s long-term intentions in Asia and around the world, so it’s fascinating and challenging at the same time. One of the most beautiful places in the Middle East is Muscat: gorgeous physical features, traditional Omani architecture, and very friendly people. I am lucky to go to places that are new to me, too. This summer I visited former Mexican President Vicente Fox at his ranch near Guanajuato. I thought Guanajuato, the birthplace of Diego Rivera, was very beautiful, and with its subterranean streets it was one of the most interesting cities I’ve visited, too.
Mirror: Who’s the most memorable person you’ve met in your work at RAND?
Rich: I am a little surprised to say that there is actually one who stands out and it’s because of what he said about RAND. That’s Václav Havel, who visited RAND when he was president of Czechoslovakia in the early 1990s. As I walked him to the conference room I asked him if there were anything about RAND that he wanted to know. He looked at me and said, “I know how important and influential RAND was during the cold war. The people of my country and I are very grateful to you.” To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I heard him correctly, but several years later he said much the same thing in writing.
Mirror: If you could have one job in the whole world what would it be?
Rich: I can honestly say that I have it. I believe in the mission of RAND, and I think an institution dedicated to the principle that rigorous and objective analysis produces better policy is more important now than ever before, given how polarized policy discussions have become. I like that we try to address the world’s most enduring and intractable problems, try hard to get our findings and recommendations to people who can use them to make a difference, and that we are more interested in making progress than making headlines. I have tremendous admiration and affection for my colleagues. There are not that many people who can say that they are part of an organization that is the very best at what it does in the whole world. That probably explains why I am now in my fourth decade at RAND.
Mirror: Do you have a role model that has influenced you through life?
Rich: My father was the one who taught me the importance of public service and instilled an interest in international affairs that first led me to RAND.
Mirror: Is there a guiding principle that you live by?
Rich: Hard to beat “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Mirror: Has it changed over the years?
Rich: No. I recall my father counseling me to always “take the high road,” and I have found that I have come to appreciate that advice more and more as I’ve gotten older.
Mirror: What do you like the best about life in Santa Monica?
Rich: The friends I’ve made over the years, the coastline, having so many things within walking distance, Chez Jay. I appreciate the accessibility of the city’s leaders, but you know that I’ve had my frustrations with earlier city councils, especially when we were planning and building our new research facility.
Mirror: The least?
Rich: Traffic tops my list, just like everyone else I know.
Mirror: What civic organizations do you support in Santa Monica and why?
Rich: There are lots of great organizations in Santa Monica and I have helped make sure that RAND has continued to support as many as we can. Early in my career, I looked for a local organization I could help personally. Because I was on the road so much I was worried that I’d have no feeling of attachment for where I lived. I chose WISE Senior Services because I thought its mission – preserving the independence of the elderly – was great and I found its president, Maria Arechaederra, irresistibly charismatic. I have been on the board for more than 20 years and served a couple of terms as chairman. WISE has just merged with the Center for Healthy Aging, giving Santa Monica the best seniors agency in the country. I chaired the school district’s financial oversight committee for three years, spanning two superintendents. That was something I couldn’t say no to. I’ve also served on the board of Santa Monica Hospital, and support Boy Scouts Troop 2 and Upward Bound House.
Mirror: Are you excited about the world your children and grandchildren will