If Washington has ever had an industry, it's ideas according to Brookings Institution senior fellow Peter W. Singer. In the August issue of Washingtonian magazine, Singer writes:
Travel down Massachusetts Avenue in Northwest DC and you’ll find yourself in the heart of an industry that was, when it began, unique to the nation’s capital. The imposing facades of the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies bear little resemblance to the old steel mills of Pittsburgh, but they are factories all the same—producing an endless stream of books, policy papers, reports, analyses, and commentary on everything from health care to taxes to defense.
When I first launched Think Tanked in May, I took on one UK editorial writer who said that, "Think tanks, in case anyone was wondering, are bodies of academics who answer the questions nobody asked. Governments listen to them – in preference to thinking for themselves."
Instead, I argued, that somebody was asking the question and it was better to find out who was doing the asking and to find out which think tanks answered which questions.
I also suggested that think tanks were much more powerful than the editorial write or others care to give them credit for. And if evidence was needed...
Recently, former Bush speechwriter David Frum was fired from asked to be an intern at denied a pony from (only two people know why he departed) the conservative American Enterprise Institute for, in part, showing how the recently-passed health care bill presented by Obama was straight out of the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s. The case for the invasion of Iraq was planned by governmental and private sector neo-conservatives at the Project for the New American Century well before September 11, 2001. The State Department’s motto of “Smart Power” was developed at the Center for Strategic and International Studies over the course of a few years. And Michele Flournoy and Kurt Campbell, the co-founders of the relatively new Center for a New American Security, are now senior Obama administration appointees at the Pentagon and the State Department.
Put differently, Singer writes:
Think tanks are like the bicycle chain that links the policy world with the research world, applying academic rigor to contemporary policy problems. In a sense, they’re universities with no students, whose world of study is politics and policy. Think tanks “help set policy agendas and bridge the gap between knowledge and power,” according to James G. McGann, director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, who has spent more than 20 years studying the field.
But that's not it. Singer takes on some of the more controversial topics that could likely land him in some hot water among think tankers--things that (as somebody who has interviewed numerous think tanks scholars lately) make them very uncomfortable.
Shadow government-Revolving door? Check.
And where did the Marshall Plan come from again?
Go finish reading the rest of "Factories to Call Our Own"