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catallaxy in technical exile

How America's think tanks lost their way

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At Townhall Jack Kemp explains how America’s conservative think tanks lost their way. Starting out as havens for conservative intellectuals whose unfashionable ideas were shunned by the academy, the think tanks defended ideas and values rather than interests or partisan causes. And in the early days they did their work "independently of their contributors, who never thought of the think tanks as nonprofit lobbying firms or themselves as ‘clients’ using the organization to enact legislation to their benefit."

Now many have ended up as handmaidens to lobbyists and conservative political campaigns. And at the root of the problem is funding. According to Kemp, think tanks have become "private bureaucracies owning real estate with high overhead and the need for infusions of money to keep them afloat." As a result they have become part of a "government-industrial complex". The fierce independence and intellectual rigor has gone.

When conservatives took political power in Washington, it wasn’t so easy for the think tanks to criticize their own conservative politicians. Indeed, a version of the government-industrial complex arose as elected conservative politicians and business people worked with the conservative think tanks to promote their agendas.

By the late 1990s, many conservatives had come to the conclusion that think tanks should give way to a new era of "do" tanks that would focus more on specific advocacy activities, including getting members elected to Congress, than research and analysis. This change in emphasis, combined with the bureaucratic imperative for broader financial support, led to the creation of an entirely new type of think tank, which began to look more like a nonprofit lobbying firm. A whole new industry arose called third-party lobbying, in which specially organized nonprofit think tanks would lobby on behalf of contributors and elected officials who had specific policy objectives in mind.

Today the network of conservative think tanks seems to have reverted back to something closer to the earlier government-industrial think-tank model than the model created in the 1970s and 1980s to promote supply-side economics, school choice, limited government and personal freedom. It’s no wonder the conservative movement is casting about for a bold agenda to captivate the imagination of the American people.

It’s time to rejuvenate conservative think tanks so that scholars can have a safe haven in which to think and work and the freedom to generate new ideas – yes, even if those ideas don’t comport with the conventional wisdom of the conservative politicians in power. Conservatism needs to restore the raw intellectual spirits that made the movement great – independent thinking and the fierce defense of those ideas, no matter whom they offend or who is in office.

Written by Admin

January 12, 2006 at 12:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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