Thursday, February 5, 2015

Favorite Think Tank Among Billionaires: AEI?

Think Tank Watch has reported numerous times about billionaires who fund think tanks.  Now, David Callahan of Inside Philanthropy has a new piece titled "Which Washington Think Tank Do Billionaires Love the Most?  And Why?," in which he says that the most popular think tank among the ultra-rich is American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Here are some excerpts about why these billionaires favor AEI:
One way to understand AEI's ties with the wealthy is that it's the smart conservative think tank in Washington. 
If you're a rich right-winger who made your fortune opening car dealerships in the Sun Belt, you give to the Heritage Foundation, with it's Tea Party leader Jim DeMint and simple black-and-white view of how the world should work (in your favor). 
If you're a wealthy libertarian, with the ideological sophistication of a 15-year-old boy ("Leave me alone!") you give your money to Cato. 
But if you have a Wharton MBA and got wealthy with algorithm-based trading strategies, than AEI is your place, with its brainy president, Arthur Brooks, and a building stocked with Ph.D.s. 
Back in the 1980s, many of America's wealthy had made their money in industry or real estate or retail. A shift toward a knowledge economy has produced an explosion of billionaires who got rich in finance or tech by monetizing their intelligence and Ivy League credentials. That change in how wealth is created helps explain why AEI is doing so well these days.
Heritage and AEI push many of the same positions—e.g., keep taxes on rich people low and make poor people get off their asses—but AEI does so in a more nuanced, sophisticated way. You won't find any Tea Party types floating around the building. (Although you might run into Dick Cheney in the elevator.)
Also, AEI doesn't just have a big brain, it has the stirrings of a heart. Arthur Brooks gets that the right seems oblivious to poverty, wage stagnation, and inequality, and he's been pushing for the institute to come up with conservative-friendly ways to address these problems.

The piece also lists nine billionaires who fund AEI:
  • Philip Anschutz
  • Daniel D'Aniello
  • Richard DeVos
  • Seth Klarman
  • Charles Koch
  • Bruce Kovner
  • Peter Peterson
  • George Roberts
  • Paul Singer 

A list of their descriptions can be found here.  So, do billionaires run AEI?

AEI was just ranked as the best think tank by the University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings for 2014.

It should be noted that the author himself (David Callahan) has worked at various think tanks, and his father was the founder of a think tank on bioethics.