The economy may be slowing down, but Washington’s ideas industry is booming. The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research institution that was effectively broke seven years ago, just bought a $33 million vacant lot downtown as the site for a new home. The Council on Foreign Relations is expanding its Washington office to a $60 million building on F Street. The United States Institute of Peace is erecting a $180 million headquarters of steel and white translucent glass on a corner of the Mall. Not least, the rapidly growing Brookings Institution — its operating budget is up nearly 50 percent in the past two years alone — just paid $18.5 million for a satellite building across the street from its headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue, in a stretch near Dupont Circle known as Think Tank Row.
That's nearly $300 million. A DC insider once told me these so-called think tanks don't so much create new intellectual capital as repackage and recycle it - or as he put it, they run it down. Candidly, I was shockingly disappointed during my time in DC by the inability of most think tanks to tackle big questions in an open-minded, globally-oriented (that is not American-centric) way. And while there always are individual exceptions, I was also dismayed by the quality of much of the work. My hunch is the increased giving is being fueled by partisan agendas - actually, I have been told many time this is the way think tanks increasingly are funded - as political actors seek to lend credibility and legitimacy to desired actions.
Question: About that $300 million - I wonder how much this works out to per unique new idea?