Washington think tanks such as the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation have become so large and influential in recent years that they now constitute virtually a new branch of the political system. In this engrossing and lively book, David M. Ricci brillantly explores the parallel and convergent social, economic, and political trends within America that have transformed government in Washington and led to the development and prestige of these public policy research centers. Ricci argues that since the late 1960s Americans have lost sight of the familiar guidelines that used to help them assess issues and have become more hospitable to think tank research and advice. He examines the flood of policy-relevant information that has resulted from the growth of expertise and the advent of big government; the confusion over national goals that comes from the decline of the Protestant ethic and the empowerment of minorities; the growing influence of television and its focus on instant testimony from experts; political changes such as the decline of parties, the move to an "open" Congress and the growth of an independent presidency; the pervasive power of modern marketing; and much more. According to Ricci, policy ideas generated by think-tank research and commentary are helpful in providing greater objectivity and political insight, not only because of their general reliability but also because in their ideological variety think tanks generate a substantial range of policy proposals, giving voice to a healthy factional pluralism and facilitating a constant testing of ideas. In today's dissonant politics, Ricci concludes, think tanks contributesome order - and occasionally wisdom - in the ongoing battle in Washington over political ideas.
David M. Ricci is an associate professor of political science and American studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. While writing this book, he was a Guest Scholar at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and a Mellon Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. He is also the author of The Tragedy of Political Science.