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January 31, 2008

Richard Florida


« Social Isolation | Main | Fun with Election Tickets »

The New York Times Elizabeth Bumiller reports on boom in DC "research groups" (pointer via Ryan Avent)

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?


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hayden fisher

Sounds like good 'ol Washington; our Mount Olympus.

Gary Dare

Is it just me or do some of these think tanks provide employment for the party faithful? In Chicago, they put people into civil service jobs with the pretext of doing work for the public. At least the think tanks work off of private money ...

Michael R. Bernstein


Richard, the partisan function of think tanks and other ostensibly non-partisan organizations has been a cornerstone of Republican strategy for some time (Democrats use them too, but not at the same scale or as competently). Truly unaffiliated organizations don't get anywhere near as much funding.

The 'Overton Window' theory describes how these organization's outputs are used to shape the political debate.

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