One of the problems with working in policy — whether at think tanks or in academia — is that it’s hard to measure one’s impact. We kind of believe that ideas have some effect in the real world (if we’re being optimistic), but it’s rare for us to see the evidence as to ourselves personally. Even intermediate measures — do people even read our stuff? — can be hard to come by.
In my case, I finally know that someone is reading my work from 22 years ago! Straight out of college, in 1993-94, I worked at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market policy organization in Washington, D.C. One of the areas I worked in a lot was the FDA and tobacco policy — this was shortly before the Clinton FDA asserted jurisdiction over tobacco, a move that the Supreme Court said in FDA v. Brown & Williamson (2000) was contrary to the statute. The capstone of that year was getting my first Wall Street Journal op-ed published: “Feel a Heart Attack Coming? Go to France."
Last week, I finally got tangible proof that someone was reading my pieces from back then. As part of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-NH) attack on CEI, she said..."CEI lobbied politicians, conducted symposia, and published policy papers and op-eds with titles such as ‘Safety Is a Relative Thing for Cars: Why Not for Cigarettes?’ CEI’s then-policy analyst, Alexander Volokh, even went so far as to describe the act of smoking as a civic duty."
The video of the attack can be viewed here (go to 5:15). So do not fear you young think tankers. After all, you too may one day have your paper blasted on the Senate or House floor, just like Mr. Volokh.