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Thinking about Think Tanks

The Brookings Institute’s P.W. Singer published an interesting read on the “idea factories” of DC.

Factories to Call Our Own: How to understand Washington’s ideas industry

…“At its best, a think tank contributes to a better world,” says Richard Danzig, a former Secretary of the Navy who has served on the boards of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, the Rand Corporation, and Public Agenda and is now chairman of the Center for a New American Security. “It does this by sponsoring thought, research, and dialogue. Optimally, it provides support, time, and space to the privileged few who populate it so that they think more deeply, more broadly, and more soundly than the prevailing wisdom.”

Think tanks can approach a tough policy problem without the time pressures government officials face. As Shawn Brimley, a Pentagon strategist who works in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, says, think tanks “help the government overcome the tyranny of the in box by providing good analysis on long-term strategic problems.” …

The broader globalization question for think tanks here may be simpler—and more worrisome. Washington may have been the origin and center of think tanks for the last century, but no industry stays the same forever. Indeed, the 2009 Global Think-Tank Summit wasn’t held inside the Beltway—it was in Beijing. Could what happened to America’s manufacturing industry also one day befall Washington’s ideas industry?

Read Peter’s whole article at the Washingtonian or at Brookings.

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