Monday, July 13, 2015

WSJ: AEI is Washington's "Hottest" Think Tank

Following are Think Tank Watch's favorite excerpts from a new piece by William McGurn, a Wall Street Journal columnist and member of its editorial board, on the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and its president, Arthur Brooks.

On think tanks and their distinct personalities:
...think tanks have distinct personalities in addition to their politics.  The libertarian Cato Institute, for example, looks as though it had been designed by Howard Roark, the hero architect of Ayn Rand’s novel “The Fountainhead.” The Liberty Bell on the Heritage Foundation logo evokes a classic conservatism rooted in the American founding. The clean modernist lines of the Brookings Institution suggest its faith in good, rational government.

On how unconventional Arthur Brooks (President of AEI) is:
Before he was president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks played the French horn. Not on the side. For a living.
It’s not the standard route to the top job at a Beltway think tank. Then again, not much about Mr. Brooks is standard. From dropping out of college to go to Spain to play for the Barcelona City Orchestra, to earning his B.A. degree via correspondence courses from Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey, his life makes for an eclectic résumé.
Today he boasts a Ph.D. from the RAND Graduate School and enjoys an honored spot in the capital’s intellectual firmament. But the horn still defines how he sees the world.

On AEI and its Bush alumni:
In Mr. Brooks’s hands, AEI has become an orchestra. Sure, it is sometimes labeled “neocon” (almost always deployed as a pejorative) because of the home it provides for former George W. Bush administration officials such as John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz, not to mention scholars such as Fred Kagan who write on military matters. These people are all vital to AEI, but they are only part of a larger ensemble.

On the office of AEI President Arthur Brooks:
He is speaking over lunch in his corner office overlooking 17th and M streets in northwest Washington, D.C. The office isn’t standard-issue, either.
The walls are bereft of the signed photos and tributes from presidents, senators and other pooh-bahs that are de riguer for the capital’s movers and shakers. The largest piece in the room is a poster featuring José Tomás, Spain’s greatest bullfighter. Mr. Brooks once saw him in the ring. “A true master artist,” he says.
The other poster is from the Soviet Union circa 1964. It features two workers. One is a drunk scratching his head as he looks at the one-ruble note in his hand. The other is a hale-and-hearty type proudly looking at the 10 rubles he has earned. The caption: “Work more, earn more.”

On AEI's growth:
Donors seem to like what they are hearing. AEI has never lacked for influence, and its scholars have helped staff many a Republican White House. But under Mr. Brooks the organization is experiencing explosive growth.
In the six years since he took over as president, annual donations have nearly doubled, to $40 million today from roughly $22 million in 2009. The endowment is about $90 million. “We don’t accept government money,” he says, “and we’re proud of that.”
There are more people too—225 full-time scholars and staff, up from 145. They range from political economist and demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, public-opinion analyst Karlyn Bowman and political scientist Charles Murray to political scientist and journalist Norman Ornstein, Yale Medical School’s Sally Satel and Kevin Hassett, a former senior economist at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

On AEI's new office space:
But the many additions that AEI has made means it is now busting at the seams. This forced a big decision: Come February, AEI will move out of the office building it has called home since 1971 and into a refurbished historic landmark off DuPont Circle. It’s a former luxury apartment building where Andrew Mellon once lived.

In 2015, AEI was ranked as the US's 12th best think tank and the world's 24th best think tank by the University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings.