Tag: think tanks

Fresh Wonky Goodness

Two new projects of interest for public policy junkies have recently come to my attention–and both happen to be the creations of former Catoites. 

Marie Gryphon Newhouse, formerly a Cato education-policy scholar and now with Harvard’s Safra Center for Ethics, has started “a blog about think tank ethics and governance,” dubbed “the High Horse.” It’s part of her ongoing book project on that subject. Recent posts include an interview with Heritage’s Ed Meese and Marie’s take on a recent pay-for-play imbroglio involving Malaysia.   

Former Catoite Jerry Brito, now a senior research fellow at Mercatus, has (with Peter E. Snyder) put together Wonkmeme, a site that “aggregates and tracks over a hundred blogs covering law, economics, and public policy. It detects which blog posts are driving the day’s conversation and presents the resulting data in useful ways.” It also “also determines which books are the most widely discussed,” and hey look: Cult of the Presidency is currently #4 (click quick before it plummets!).

Farcical Concept of the Day

The tip-off that this item from the LSE review of books was not going to go well was in the introductory matter:

But what are think tanks? Who funds them?

The book under review is Think Tanks In America, by Thomas Medvetz. I don’t know that it shares the flaws of its LSE review.

It would be preferable, I suppose, for people to look into the funding of think tanks, given the commonly exercised alternative: assuming wrongly how many think tanks are funded. But whatever the case, funding information is only useful in ad hominem, that is, the illogical argumentation practice of attacking the speaker rather than the speaker’s point. It works adequately well in popular media.

But I found comedy gold in the write-up where it observed how think tanks have “helped undermine the relevance of autonomously produced social scientific knowledge.” That’s right. Social scientific knowledge not developed in think tanks produces itself! Universities, apparently, are empty vessels into which social science pours itself the way a rain gauge catches water.

Of course, there is no such neutrality in universities or any other source of social science research and commentary. If a person in such an institution believes him- or herself to be on terra firma, that is fine. But if you think the university, or any other single type of institution, has things locked up—well, Ptolemy, meet Copernicus. We all circle the truth in different orbits.

I have this in mind because I spoke with students this weekend at the International Students for Liberty Conference about the role of think tanks, including my own. Unlike universities, which often falsely claim neutrality, we have an ideology that we apply to the problems of the day. It’s important to examine and re-examine whether your ideology is valid and whether you are applying it well. But people who deny using ideology are unclear about their premises and underlying philosophy–or hiding them.

At least I thought so until I learned about the existence of “autonomously produced social scientific knowledge”!

Addendum: After I’d written, but prior to publication of, this post, Professor Medvetz emailed me responding to the Tweet I expanded on here.

“Please understand that the term autonomy has a precise and specific technical meaning in this context (one that I did not invent), and that it’s quite distinct from the everyday meaning you’re attributing to it. Next time, consider looking up the term’s meaning.”

For good measure, he counseled me, “if you ever hear a mathematician refer to an irrational number, be aware that he’s not suggesting that the number in question is lacking in good sense or sound judgment.”

I have looked for a meaning of “autonomously” that makes the phrase non-farcical and haven’t found one, even in sources that cite the distinct meaning of “irrational” in mathematics. But clearly Professor Medvetz intends something different than what the word means in plain English. Take this post as “Farcical Expression of the Day” rather than “Farcical Concept of the Day.” Perhaps this illustrates another dimension of the academy’s insularity–in language instead of ideology.

New Study Seconds Cato Finding: Immigration Reform Good for Economy

The Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center released a new study this morning that finds comprehensive immigration reform would boost the U.S. economy by $189 billion a year by 2019. The bottom-line results of the study are remarkably similar to those of a Cato study released last August.

Titled “Raising the Floor for American Workers: the Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” the CAP study was authored by Dr. Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda of the University of California, Los Angeles.

It finds that legalizing low-skilled immigration would boost U.S. gross domestic product by 0.84 percent by raising the productivity of immigrant workers and expanding activity throughout the economy.

Using a different general-equilibrium model of the U.S. economy, the earlier Cato study (“Restriction or Legalization? Measuring the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform,” by Peter Dixon and Maureen Rimmer) found that a robust temporary worker program would boost the incomes of U.S. households by $180 billion a year by 2019.

Both studies also concluded that tighter restrictions and reduced low-skilled immigration would impose large costs on native-born Americans by shrinking the overall economy and lowering worker productivity.

I’m partial to the Cato study. Its methodology is more comprehensive and more fully explained, but it is worth noting that very different think tanks employing two different models have come to the same result: Legalization of immigration will expand the U.S. economy and incomes, while an “enforcement only” policy of further restrictions will only depress economic activity.

If Congress and President Obama want to create better jobs and stimulate the economy, comprehensive immigration reform should be high on the agenda.

Think Tanks Should Be Able to Opine on Public Policy Without Running Afoul of Campaign Finance Regulations

In 2005, political opponents filed a complaint against the Independence Institute for not complying with the Colorado constitution and other campaign finance regulations when it spoke against a state ballot initiative. These regulations require, among other things, disclosure of the identity of anyone who has donated more than $20 to a cause and imposes registration and contribution limits on groups who have major interests in ballot issues.

The Independence Institute challenged the constitutionality of Colorado’s state ballot issue requirements and the issue is petitioning the Supreme Court for certiorari in Independence Institute v. Buescher. Cato has filed an amicus brief, in cooperation with Wyoming Liberty Group, the Center for Competitive Politics, the Sam Adams Alliance, the Montana Policy Institute, and the Goldwater Institute in support of the Independence Institute. We argue that Colorado’s ballot campaign regulations run roughshod over constitutional protections for political speech and association, which lie at the very heart of the First Amendment—particularly for think tanks and other organizations that regularly comment on public policy matters. Loss of these First Amendment protections will chill think tanks’ future attempts to educate the public about issues that are the subject of ballot campaigns. The Court should thus review this case and ensure that citizens maintain their associational rights—including the right to remain anonymous when donating to non-profits—and associations their freedom of expression.

You can download the entire brief here. A special thanks to Cato Legal Associate Travis Cushman for his assistance on this brief.

New at Cato Unbound: Brian Doherty Defends ‘Folk Activism’

In today’s installment of Cato Unbound, Reason senior editor Brian Doherty defends “folk activism” (that’s what we do here at Cato, in case you’re wondering) against Patri Friedman’s complaints of ineffectiveness.

Doherty argues, in effect, that Friedman’s effort to simply go out and float a boat upon which one can do whatever floats one’s boat is parasitic on earlier “folk activism” aimed at persuasion. It is hard to find 20,000 people who will commit to moving to New Hampshire for the cause of liberty and, as Brian points out, it’s even harder to find people who will now commit to moving to a man-made island. The viability of projects like Seasteading seems to depend on the success of prior evangelism.

That said, one of the merits of Friedman’s “dynamic geography” is that it is not really a “libertarian” project at all. As he writes in his Unbound lead essay:

Because we have no a priori knowledge of the best form of government, the search for good societies requires experimentation as well as theory — trying many new institutions to see how they work in practice.

I think there’s good reason to expect competing sea-top jurisdictions to settle on a scheme of governance more libertarian than what the world’s current nation states have to offer. But I also think there’s little reason to expect a seastead to embody the system of most libertarians’ dreams unless a lot of libertarians coordinate and settle there. In that case, it’s really clear that creating a libertarian society from whole cloth depends on the prior existence of libertarians, which depends on the success of the folk activism that produces them.

For more on seasteading, check out yesterday’s Cato Policy forum with Patri Friedman and today’s podcast interview.