Do Think Tanks Really Think?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Washington, DC office buildings (voteprime/flickr)

In light of Jim DeMint's recent resignation from the U.S Senate to head the Heritage Foundation think tank we ask: what exactly is a think tank anyway? Murray Weidenbaum, professor of Business and Government at Washington University in St. Louis and author of The Competition of Ideas: The World of the Washington Think Tanks, joins us to assess the role these organizations play in the Washington ecosystem. 


Murray Weidenbaum

Comments [19]


Not 100% sure but I think I heard the guy say "think tankers". What flag of convenience are they flying?

Dec. 10 2012 09:14 PM

OK, thanks, Taher!

Dec. 10 2012 07:32 PM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

I mean kudos to you,
gene and Nick from UWS. And thanks for the links.

Dec. 10 2012 02:09 PM

Those who want to see who's behind Heritage,CATO, ALEC, etc., can go to SourceWatch:

Here's more info on the infamous Lewis Powell memo:

Dec. 10 2012 12:29 PM

Taher from Croton on Hudson: gene and Nick from UWS .

Huh?? Is this, as wrong as it is, supposed to mean anything at all?

As usual, the RW, lacking knowledge or reason, shoots from the hip, aiming to kill the person rather than address the issue.

Dec. 10 2012 12:21 PM
Jf from Nyy

Think tanks are legal conspiracy, legal corruption, nothing more than a way fkr the .01% to destroy the world as they have been.

Dec. 10 2012 12:07 PM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

gene and Nick from UWS .

Dec. 10 2012 11:44 AM
Amy from Manhattan

The fact that the term "death duties" (which I never heard before) has been used in public policy discussions for >100 years doesn't mean that the term "death tax" (which sounds very different in political terms) was familiar to the public to which it was so successfully sold until 15-20 years ago. I think there's a disconnect here. It seems as if what thinking does go on in think tanks is more about how to frame ideas for public consumption than about the ideas themselves.

Dec. 10 2012 11:43 AM
John A.

Are the products of ThinkTanks primarily private - like reports inside Washington, or public, like books and newsletters?

Why are no thinktanks owned by corporations - is in the law or just good "optics"?

What does the Manhattan Institute do for Manhattan, if anything?

Dec. 10 2012 11:42 AM

Good point from the caller about the Powell memo!

Let's not forget Powell was counsel for Philip Morris, then became a SCOTUS justice and helped usher in the "corporations are people" idea.

And who funds CATO, Heritage, AEI, etc? You guessed it: Philip Morris.

Dec. 10 2012 11:38 AM
Nick from UWS

This man is too old and foggy to think and speak clearly about what is actually happening in "think tanks" today. He is fixated on the purported original idealistic motivation of these places, rather than the reality on what they have become.

Dec. 10 2012 11:37 AM

Cato, Heritage, AEI and its ilk aren't "think tanks," they don't "think," they advocate. The companies that fund them can't release this junk on their own, it'd be too obvious what's going on. They need a third party. Advertising works best when you don't realize it's advertising. Thus, AEI, CATO, etc.

They're nothing more than high-end PR firms, hired to develop and disseminate the "ideas" that would encourage government to enact policies (tax breaks, etc.) that would benefit their funders.

And a government of the people, for the people and by the people be damned. Yes, traitors.

Dec. 10 2012 11:31 AM
rai from ny, ny

DeMint's move shows that the term "conservative think tank" is an oxymoron.

Dec. 10 2012 11:29 AM
Carl Ian Schwartz from Paterson, NJ

The tax exemption [Section 501(c)(3)] of many think tanks should be reviewed annually. When such organizations are simply organs of propaganda or stupid policy ideas (the Project for the American Century and its "ideas" which resulted in the invasion of Iraq based on lies), then they benefit nobody.

If Jim DeMint turns Heritage Foundation into a partisan front posing as "conservative" (a real misnomer), then perhaps it's time for the IRS to flex its muscle and remove its tax exemption.

Dec. 10 2012 11:29 AM
mr nyc

Who funds them and why?

Dec. 10 2012 11:28 AM

Good question from Brian Lehrer whether anybody at the 'think tanks' actually thinks. Brookings, the 'liberal' (which hasn't been liberal for many years) alternative to Heritage and AEI, is no more a home to thinking than its conservative counterparts. The Washington 'think tanks' are an intellectual monoculture designed to give respectability to the nonsense of their pet politicians.

The worst case these days is probably the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which spends most of its time lending respectability to efforts to cut Social Security, Medicare and anything else that involves transfers from the super-rich to the middle class and poor.

Dec. 10 2012 11:27 AM
fuva from harlemworld

They "think" about strategy to advance their ideology.

Dec. 10 2012 11:26 AM
Joe from nearby

Jim DeMint takes the 'think' out of 'think tank.'

Colbert for Senate!!

Dec. 10 2012 11:25 AM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

Like the posters on this blog, think tanks can and should have a point of view...a perspective on what is optimum and how best to achieve it. However, when the point of view disregards logic or simply holds ideology above the common good they become less of a think tank and more of a reflex cesspool generating more heat than light. Rushing to implement the Bush tax cuts ("It's your money") without fully considering the impact on the national debt is one of example of ideology over the common good.

Dec. 10 2012 11:09 AM

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