Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book Review: The Competition of Ideas

Anyone who wants to explore the world of Washington think tanks should read Murray Weidenbaum's The Competition of Ideas: The World of Washington Think Tanks, a concise, 118-page book which focuses on the so-called "DC-5," the top five "large and diversified" Washington-based think tanks: AEI, Brookings, Cato, CSIS, and Heritage.

Here is one quote from the introduction:
...No think tank is quite as influential as it claims to be, especially in its messages to its financial supporters.  Not every think tank researcher is brilliant or a person of great experience and judgment.  Nor is every think tank report lucid or even relevant to the needs of the time.  Far more often than not, there is a great deal of disagreement among think tanks and, at times, on the part of the staff members within an individual "tank."
Here is a quote from the book on the limitations of think tanks:
 ...No one think tank commands true expertise across the wide spectrum of policy issues that face the society.  The Department of Commerce, in comparison, employes many more economists and statisticians than all of the Washington area think tanks combined.
At the end of the book, it is predicted that the Aspen Institute could eventually be a part of the "DC-6," due in part to its large endowment and the current inflow of new revenue.

The author, Murray Weidenbaum, has been a visiting scholar at AEI and CSIS. He has also been a speaker at and written publications for Brookings, Cato, and Heritage.