By Richard Vedder
Today's Wall Street Journal has a characteristically thoughtful and well crafted article by Christopher DeMuth, president of the American Enterprise Institute, in which he announces he is stepping down after more than two decades of running that great organization. Chris has done an extraordinary job of running what I think is one of America's greatest research organizations, one with which I am honored to be associated.
As Chris points one, some of the very best research in America is done outside the walls of universities. As a researcher, I think the environment of AEI is more conducive to doing cutting edge work than that of the typical university. I have long wondered if we should divide the research and teaching functions within universities --perhaps divesting the research functions to a separate organization. This makes more transparent what really goes on with the ivory towers of academia, and, if done properly, might have advantages in improving the research productivity as well.
The question is: why do the think tanks have more influence on the course of public policy developments than do the universities with vastly more resources? I am of the opinion that the think tanks, often "schools" of reasonably like-minded (but still diverse) scholars, have synergies that permit new ideas to percolate better than in the typical university. I am at a meeting of think tanks now, and cannot develop that idea further at the moment, but new research director Andy Gillen shares my interest in evaluating the research functions of universities, and hopefully CCAP will move in that direction.
I have worked or studied at three universities or liberal arts colleges in the top 20 on the US News lists. I have enjoyed my years there. But I have worked no place where the intellectual stimulation, the search for truth, and the civility is greater than at the American Enterprise Institute. In that regard, Chris DeMuth gets a lot of the credit for AEI's development into arguably America's premier free market think tank in terms of its influence in moving the public policy debate in a positive direction.