Comparing the think tanks to the “political tanks”

I don’t work for a think tank. As I’ve alluded to in the past, I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for those who work with principles and ideas – those full time think tank employees – to see the grand canyon that exists between what they produce and what reaches voters or becomes law.

Recently I was reading about the 1940 election season, where a young Lyndon Baines Johnson was doing all he could to help his fellow Democrats in the Congress to raise bundles of money so they could fund their campaigns and hold onto their seats. Seventy years later little has changed. Political parties aren’t rewarded with reelection because they’ve demonstrated competence and instituted good government. They win because they out-campaigned and out-fundraised the other party.

Domestic policy victories are few and far between. The welfare reform legislation of the 1990s and the Bush tax cuts early in “W’s” first term are the only two that come to my mind during the past twenty years. Bush’s tax cuts are temporary; they’re set to expire next year. That biggest Republican domestic policy victory of the last decade is right now acting as another drag on the economy because those with capital are uncertain about the impact of next year’s tax increase.

I’m going to take a couple of columns to draw the contrast between the great work being done by think tanks – and then connect that to how much room there is for improvement when it comes to the activity of the “political tanks,” which I’ll define next time.

First – take a look at The Heritage Foundation is a phenomenal organization, and this year’s candidate briefing book is the latest in a long series of great work done by the country’s premier think tank. Heritage has other websites – their main one, and a list of others found here.

Another quick example of the fine work being accomplished by the think tanks is that of the National Center for Policy Analysis. Their Daily Policy Digest is worth a look – here are excerpts from two recent editions:


Rather than continuing to expand federal subsidies for college students and student loan borrowers, policymakers and the private sector should focus on strategies to lower college costs. A promising strategy is to strengthen competition between higher education providers by harnessing the power of technology and online learning, says Dan Lips, a Senior Policy Analyst in Education in the Domestic Policy Studies Department at the Heritage Foundation.

This is already happening in K-12 education. Increasingly, states and school districts are using technology or online learning to improve the delivery and efficiency of elementary and secondary education, says Lips:

“As many as 1 million children around the nation are participating in some form of online learning.

Today, 27 states offer statewide virtual schools that allow students to take classes online, and 24 states and the District of Columbia allow students to attend a virtual school full time.”

Click here to continue reading.


To bring down costs, we need to change the incentives that govern spending:

  • Right now, $5 out of every $6 of health-care spending is paid for by someone other than the person receiving care — insurance companies, employers, or the government.
  • Individuals are insulated from the reality of what their decisions cost.
  • This breeds overutilization of low-value health care and runaway spending.

To reduce the growth of costs, individuals must take greater responsibility for their health care, and health insurers and health care providers must face the competitive forces of the market. Three policy changes will go a long way to achieving these objectives…:

  • Eliminate the tax code’s bias that favors health insurance over out-of-pocket spending.
  • Remove state-government barriers to purchasing and providing health services.
  • Reform medical malpractice laws.

Click here to read this last one in its entirety. In an era of dreary wordiness, NCPA’s brevity is brilliant.