We have between 1500 to 2000 Think Tanks in the U.S. Many were created in the last few decades. A few started more than a hundred years ago. As is the case with Halls of Fame, the rest of the world gets along with far fewer on a per capita basis. One would assume that so much thinking would have an impressive benefit for our economy.
The collective impact and the, at times, hectic activities of these thoughts producing "tanks" merits some reflection and evaluation.
No doubt many, if not most, produce sound assessments and advice to fulfill the purpose for which they have been created and to satisfy their respective clients and supporters. But a tank is also a receptacle and a storage facility and a ferocious military machine. Essentially, we have lots of tanks collecting money and employing prominent scholars and politicians and assembling a vast amount of information which is stored and dispersed nationwide and indeed often beneficially applied here and there to a impressive range of issues.
The question arises what has been their OVERALL impact on our society? In toto, have their activities enhanced our quality of life and living standard in a manner noticeably better than competing societies which have far, far fewer think tanks?
The answer is complex and apparently no major study seems to have evaluated their overall and general impact on the U.S. Nevertheless, some elements are easily extracted.
Most think tanks have a pronounced political origin and agenda which they try to perpetuate and sell to the masses and, above all, if possible, to D.C. There are conservative, liberal, centrist, progressive and some independent and religiously oriented tanks.
Having tanks from across the political spectrum entails a major irony: the activities of the most politically engaged think tanks tend to cancel each other to some extent (especially in their lobbying efforts) or try to outbid each other in terms of influencing political events, laws, policies, etc. Whether or not that has benefited us is questionable but for certain is the fact that such patterns hype up our already overly hyped up political activities and political rhetoric.
Many tanks employ retired top corporate CEOs or unemployed D.C. politicians, prominent scholars and also, at times, Hollywood "celebrities." Their reputations enhances the prestige and reputation of a tank.
All of them solicit donations and obtain them either from corporate or private sources. Corporate contributions are passed on to the consumer through higher product prices. All of the monetary inflow to the tanks aggravate the already shockingly massive wealth accumulation by most of our bureaucracies.
This bureaucratic wealth accumulation is totally under the radar. One can assume that none of the tanks would ever dare to touch this subject which, if widely disseminated, would jeopardize their revenues. Oddly enough on rare occasions, they even obtain monetary support from another bureaucracy, which is indeed a strange fact.
In the final analysis, it would be most beneficial for some of these think tanks to focus in common on some of the most severe societal problems such as 100,000 drug overdose deaths in one year, declining life expectancy, rampant self-destructive military spending, growing numbers of slum homes and marginal trailer home, gun deaths, etc..
If just a few hundred of them would coordinate substantial research and political pressure on these issues, we would most likely see impressive results. It may even set in motion a long overdue and long lasting economic miracle which would guaranty restoring across the nation contentment and civility.