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June 1, 2024 45 mins

Think tanks? More like stink tanks! We're kidding. Think tanks do valuable work, when they operate in a non-partisan way of course. Learn all about the history of these heady institutions in this classic episode.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Hey, everybody. Josh here and for this week's Select I've
chosen our episode on think tanks from September twenty eighteen.
It's a common misconception that our elected officials in Washington
and the state capitals and everywhere else make the laws
and the policy that they introduce. In most cases, they
do not do that. That's up to special interest groups.

And once upon a time, think tanks were one of
those groups. And even accounting for political bent, the policy
they suggested lawmakers was sound and unbiased. It was good stuff,
in other words. But that's not the case any longer.
As we learned in this episode, think tanks are open
for business and the US is far the worse off
for it. Hope you enjoy this episode. Hope it opens

your eyes.

Speaker 2 (00:47):
Welcome to Stuff you Should Know, a production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 1 (00:56):
Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark, Charles
w Chuck Bryant, and Jerry's over there actually sitting in today,
and this is stuff you should know about think tanks,
the thinking this kind of tanks. There are fish tanks.
They don't think at all, well, they barely think. They think.
This water feels a little warm for me, and then

they think what's water, what's being wet? And then that's
about it.

Speaker 2 (01:21):
And then they're like, how about some of those tasty flakes?

Speaker 1 (01:23):
Yeah, give me some, and that's its. Think tanks. There's
a lot more thinking going on in these.

Speaker 2 (01:29):
Kind of tanks, more like stink tanks.

Speaker 1 (01:31):
It depends on your opinion, and that's everybody's opinion. So yes,
I guess they are more like stink tanks these days.

Speaker 2 (01:40):
This is one of those weird ones where I for
forty seven years, I've just sort of had this. I
never dug in on what a think tank was. I
hear it, and now I kind of assumed I knew
what it was.

Speaker 1 (01:53):
I was kind of right, yeah, yeah, yeah, it's good.
It's a good term for something.

Speaker 2 (01:58):
Yeah. I was like with this, is this like a
bunch of smart people sitting around thinking about smart stuff?

Speaker 1 (02:03):
Exactly? That's kind of right, That's exactly what it is.
It's ideally, it's like a place where people sit around
and think about things that eventually hopefully affects public policy
in a positive way, is what you're ultimately hoping for.

Speaker 2 (02:19):
Yeah, and by think we don't mean if you went
by a think tank, they would all just be sitting
around going hmmm.

Speaker 1 (02:27):
I think it depends on the day of the week
or if it's right after lunch.

Speaker 2 (02:29):
Like, there's a ton of research and study. Oh, I
see it, stuff like that.

Speaker 1 (02:34):
They're not just pulling stuff out of thin air.

Speaker 2 (02:36):

Speaker 1 (02:36):
No, that's the point of think tanks is they are
groups of people, nonprofit organizations. In the US we should say.

Speaker 2 (02:43):
Yeah, which we'll get to the finer points of that.

Speaker 1 (02:47):
Who say, you know what, we see this problem in
America and or the world or wherever. Great Britain has
plenty of China has a bunch, and they say, how
can we solve this problem? Let's get too. We're going
to take this problem on and figure it out through
pragmatic science and evidence based research. We're going to come

up with a solution to this problem. And then the
next step is to get it out there to the public,
to policymakers, to get people talking about it. And then
once enough people talk about it and there's a public
debate over it, ideally, if it's a good idea, it
will be adopted as public policy and that problem will
be solved in a good way.

Speaker 2 (03:31):
Yeah, And that's the ideal function of an ideal think tank,
which is to say, it is nonpartisan, it is fact based,
and it doesn't have an agenda necessarily. But things have
changed over the years, as we will see.

Speaker 1 (03:48):
Fairly recently, Chuck seems like.

Speaker 2 (03:51):
And think tanks can be very much slanted. But we'll
get into all that. That's just sort of a long
winded setup.

Speaker 1 (03:58):
Okay, that was a good man.

Speaker 2 (04:00):
Should we go back and check on our buddy Plato?

Speaker 1 (04:05):
So great?

Speaker 2 (04:06):
Yeah, so Plato his academy. The Academy was some people
say it was sort of the world's first think tank,
which makes sense. Yeah. He would get dudes and they
would sit around in the garden and I would imagine
drink wine and talk smarts and philosophy and kind of
you know, like it was high minded stuff for the day,

to sit around and think about sort of what was
going on around them and how they could impact change.

Speaker 1 (04:35):
Yeah, or thinking about the nature of reality or existence.
They once decided that knowledge was uncertain and life is
essentially a craps game based on probability rather than absolute truth.
If you step back and think about it, that is
the basis of quantum mechanics.

Speaker 2 (04:55):
Could you imagine if they had access to LSD back then.

Speaker 1 (04:58):
I know, I don't think it would have been too
terribly different.

Speaker 2 (05:02):
Well, yeah, they were sort of traveling down that road anyway.

Speaker 1 (05:05):
But that was I mean, that's pretty impressive some of
the stuff they came up with. This is again, you know,
we did a skeptics episode, skepticism episode or no, I'm sorry,
not skepticism, stoicism and remember this is oh yeah, this
is where this stuff was. All these different philosophies were
all like kind of grew from this academy. So yeah,
you can make a pretty good case that it was

the world's first think tank. Yeah, it's a little it's
not the first modern think tank, but it qualifies in
a lot of ways.

Speaker 2 (05:34):
No, there was one. In eighteen thirty one in Great Britain,
the Duke of Wellington established what was called the Royal
United Services Institution.

Speaker 1 (05:42):
Which studied like military science.

Speaker 2 (05:44):
Yeah, and then here in the US in nineteen ten
the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Speaker 1 (05:50):
Which studied the results of military science.

Speaker 2 (05:52):
Right, and that's still around Carnegie, man, I mean, they
still have endowed many things.

Speaker 1 (06:00):
They're well in doubt, they are very well doubt.

Speaker 2 (06:05):
And then of course the Brookings Institution which may be
the most famous modern American think tank to this day.
This is one you probably hear about the most. It
was founded by Robert Brookings in nineteen sixteen, and they
had a lot of I mean, they still have a
lot of influence, but they had a great deal of
influence kind of post depression with FDR's New Deal, helped

construct the New Deal, helped construct the Marshall Plan after
World War Two.

Speaker 1 (06:33):
That was huge.

Speaker 2 (06:34):
Yoh, very huge. So like both were for sure.

Speaker 1 (06:38):
The New Deal definitely was. But the Marshall Plan is
there was a survey done of I think like four
hundred and fifty historians and the number one most important
thing that any government has done since World War Two,
between World War Two and the twenty first century was
the Marshall Plan. Like it not only like brought Europe

back from World War Two, it set Europe on a
path away from communism. Yeah, where if you're not into communism,
that was a great positive benefit, right Yeah. And the
way it did that was in two years, based on
this economic plan. In two years, it got Europe war
ravaged World War two ravaged Europe back to production levels

twenty five percent higher than the production levels it was
at before World War Two in two years, so it
just went back to normal plus twenty five percent better,
and Europe said, I kind of like this capitalism thing,
and Western Europe went that way.

Speaker 2 (07:38):
I was kind of curious because Brookings, the Brookings Institution
gets a lot of like left leaning criticism today, so
I kind of wonder where that all came from. And
the article I read said that is a victory of
the conservative side to have Brookings labeled liberal just from

kind of pounding it the press, even though it's history
and its member board throughout the history has not been
liberal at all, and it has been filled from the
top down over the years with rank and file Republicans
and conservatives from like the Reagan era on through Bush
one and two.

Speaker 1 (08:18):
Oh okay, so they've gotten it across as liberal so
that liberals will swallow the stuff that Brookings is putting
out there. No, I know what they undermine their own
think tank.

Speaker 2 (08:30):
Well, I don't think it's not their own think tank.
It's not a conservative think tank.

Speaker 1 (08:34):
Well, it's centric. It's like almost right down the middle for.

Speaker 2 (08:36):
Me, right, But I think they want to advance their
own with their conservative thing tanks. They want to advance them,
so they label Brookings as super liberal.

Speaker 1 (08:45):
I got you, So anything centrist is liberal.

Speaker 2 (08:48):
I think I got the way it's going down.

Speaker 1 (08:50):
That's what it is.

Speaker 2 (08:51):

Speaker 1 (08:51):
I can't remember who scored it, but somebody has a
liberal score between zero and one hundred for think tanks,
and Brookings scored like a fifty three, right down the middle. Like, apparently,
as far as think tanks go, it's about as centrist
as you possibly can get.

Speaker 2 (09:07):
Yeah, and they've been around for a long time. Yeah,
makes a lot of sense.

Speaker 1 (09:11):
Yep, So not just Brookings. Brookings is definitely one of
the most famous around the world and has done quite
a bit of stuff, but there's plenty of others. There's
the Rand Corporation is a very famous think tank, which
did you know. Rand is actually a I don't know
what you'd call it, but it's supposed to. It started
out as R and D Research and Development RAND Corporation,

and from what I understand, they've come up with the
ideas for computers, the Internet, spy satellites, the Space program,
all that stuff that America did in the mid twentieth century. Technologically, yes, yeah,
the RAND Corporation, like thinkers, were the ones who came
up with this stuff.

Speaker 2 (09:52):
Yeah, I think I knew some of that, and I
don't think it fully hit home that they were a
think tank. Yeah, with the name like the Rancore Right
sounds like just a corporation.

Speaker 1 (10:02):
But they're they're like a think tank that's really specifically
or was specifically zoned into America's technology progression. I guess.

Speaker 2 (10:13):
Yeah. I mean a lot of think tanks can be
specialized like that, Like some are very very much just
concentrate on economics, some concentrate on social issues in that
case technology, and then I think some like Brookings are
sort of a little more broad. Yeah, they'll they'll take.

Speaker 1 (10:30):
Any case, right, they'll take all comer.

Speaker 2 (10:33):

Speaker 1 (10:34):
So after World War Two, like there were think tanks before,
like you said, Brookings, Carnegie, the Royal United Services Institute
in the UK, there were, like there were think tanks
prior to World War Two, but after World War Two
they really proliferated. And the reason they started was government
was just kind of government it was in the in

the early twentieth century. It was just just this. It
was It wasn't anything like you see it now. It
wasn't this monolithic behemoth that has its tendrils in every
aspect of people's lives or anything. It was a little
too far the other way where it didn't quite know
what it was doing. So some of those early philanthropists
like Carnegie and Brookings, they endowed these think tanks to

kind of help government out, to basically be like the
research arm for government to help direct the best way
for America to go. And that's how it started out.
And then after World War Two, when America had like
all this cash and all this forward momentum, think tanks
really popped up and there were all these kind of

competing and then sometimes harmonious voices from these think tanks
to say go this way, go this way, let's go
this way. But they all had something in common, and
that was that they were staffed by very smart people
who did very deliberate, very good research, who produced policy
pusicians that lawmakers could then take themselves and go out

to the people and say, see, this is what I'm
talking about, here's the data, here's a SoundBite for you
to make you all understand it. That's what things tanks did,
and in a way they very much were along the
same track as lobby lobbyists which we did an episode
on that that was pretty good too. But think tanks
stopped short of lobbying allegedly.

Speaker 2 (12:25):
Yeah, because they kind of had to. Starting in nineteen thirteen,
they were granted tax exempt status, which is a very
big deal because there's a lot of money involved in
many of these.

Speaker 1 (12:36):
I've been trying to get that for myself for years, Sax,
and you're right, it is a very big deal.

Speaker 2 (12:40):
The Church of Josh just get it going.

Speaker 1 (12:43):
That's so I'm wearing this robe right now.

Speaker 2 (12:46):
In the nineteen fifties, though, is when Congress really kind
of because they were tax exempt, had to get involved
and say, hey, listen, you got to walk a line here.
You politically, you can't if you want to keep this
tax exemption. Now, yeah, we for sure do. They said,
you can't be partisan, it's got to be good information.

You can't slant things a certain way or support officially
support or endorsed candidates. You are here to educate with
your objective work. And that went along for a while,
and then we started getting think tanks that set out
to do just that, which they are called advocacy think

tanks now, which I'm not sure how they managed to
skirt unless they change the rules, skirt those rules and
say hey, we're going to be a conservative think tank
or liberal think tank and still be tax exempt.

Speaker 1 (13:42):
The do you know, The only thing that I can
tell is that they're still technically producing a public good,
or if they believe that they're producing a public good,
even if they have conservative alignment or a liberal alignment.
They're trying to move society along in a way that
they think is good or for the betterment of society.

Speaker 2 (14:03):
That's what stuff you should know is, dude, That's what
I've been telling I mean, could we be a think tank?

Speaker 3 (14:08):

Speaker 1 (14:09):
Absolutely not. I mean think about it, like I mean,
I guess we could. I think that there's a I don't. Okay,
let me take that back. No, we absolutely couldn't because we.

Speaker 2 (14:19):
Can't be brought to you by.

Speaker 1 (14:22):
We don't have we don't have time. I don't know,
that's a good question, but we don't have. Yeah, you
couldn't advertise and have like you couldn't get advertiser money
and be tax exempt.

Speaker 2 (14:32):
That's just yeah. Like I doubt if the Brookings institutions
papers have like Burger King coupons on them.

Speaker 1 (14:38):
You never know they should So we'll get to why
we can't be later on. Okay, But one of the
things about about think tanks is they're they're the reason
they have a tax exempt status is what they're doing
is producing work that furthers the public good. Yeah, that's
why they're supposed to have tax exempt status. What you're
pointing out is a really good thing to point out.

Wait a minute, there's a lot of stuff here that
they could lose their tax exempt status for. And if
we fast forward to three or five years from now,
I think we're going to start seeing them lose tax
exempt status. They just haven't yet, I think, is what
it is.

Speaker 2 (15:14):
Yeah, because some of them flat out like it's so
obvious when they come around, Like when the Democrats were
beaten in two thousand, they got together and they started
left leaning thinkers got together and started the Center for
American Progress, which is an economic organization. It says this nonpartisan,

but it literally says as a quote, their goal is
to develop new policy ideas, critique the policy that stems
from conservative values, challenges the media to cover the issues
that truly matter and shape the national debate. So it's
they're kind of flat out saying like we're out to
prove not just have an opinion about maybe that's a distinction,

out to prove that conservative economic values are bad for
the country. Basically, Yeah, is that the difference. Maybe here's
our data.

Speaker 1 (16:09):
I honestly don't know, dude.

Speaker 2 (16:11):
It's not a bunch of op eds thrown together.

Speaker 1 (16:14):
It's so No, it's not supposed to just be op eds.
It's supposed to be backed by data. Yeah, but I
mean like Center for American Progress or like the Heritage Foundation,
or like ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, like these
are like and we're going to do a whole episode
just on ALEC one day. Okay, seriously, Yeah, but they're

like little They're like Kareem abdul Jabbar, like karate training
islands for liberals or for conservatives or for rich billionaire followers,
like it doesn't matter, Like that's what they are. They
come up with new ideas to push their agenda, and
then they train activists to go out and get that

message out, to change people's minds, to get themselves on
CNN or Fox News or whatever, right, and to shape
the public discussion on something. It has a lot of
the contours of what think tanks used to have.

Speaker 2 (17:07):
Yeah, but there's this whole.

Speaker 1 (17:08):
Other layer of like like seeing you and gristle there
that think tanks aren't supposed to have.

Speaker 2 (17:14):
Should we take a break? Sure, all right, we'll take
a break and we'll talk a little bit more about
the Heritage Foundation right after this. All right, nineteen eighties,

the Heritage Foundation, which you briefly mentored, mentored.

Speaker 1 (17:50):
Sure, that's the new mentioned before.

Speaker 2 (17:54):
Before we broke. They came about and we broke a
long time ago. They said, all right, teen eighties, we
got Ronald Reagan in there. He is watching movies or
asleep most of the time, so we have a good opportunity.
That's how they want you to think he has a
good Did you see the numbers about his movie watching?

Speaker 1 (18:14):

Speaker 2 (18:15):
Oh man, it's great. What like a movie fan? It's great?

Speaker 1 (18:18):
How many movies did he watch? Your day?

Speaker 2 (18:20):
He watched a lot of movies.

Speaker 1 (18:21):
And this is like back when they just had like reels, right, films, trips.

Speaker 2 (18:25):
I guess they probably just you know, cued the projector
when he and Nancy wanted to watch a good old
fashioned western. Oh that was a good starring me.

Speaker 1 (18:33):
Can you do the rest of the episode as.

Speaker 2 (18:35):
No, So they came along and they said, all right,
Reagan's in office, here are our recommendations. What UPI would
call a blueprint for grabbing the government by its frayed
New Deal lapels and shaking out forty eight years of
liberal policy. And it came by way of two thousand,
more than two thousand recommendations.

Speaker 1 (18:57):
Yeah, and they tried to institute about two thirds of them.

Speaker 2 (18:59):
Yeah, was like, great, here's my thanks for the outline
for what I should do.

Speaker 1 (19:05):
Right my plans.

Speaker 2 (19:07):
Yeah, so two thirds, like he said during his two terms,
is what he tried to implement. And then, of course
when Bill Clinton gets in there, the Progressive Policy Institute,
I don't know if it was two thousand plus, but
they offered similar recommendations. And that's how it goes with
think tanks right now.

Speaker 1 (19:24):
Yeah, because if you're a lawmaker, and again we said
this in the Lobbying episode two, you're not necessarily like
some smart whip crack sharp person.

Speaker 2 (19:35):
No, I think we've seen that played out.

Speaker 1 (19:37):
You can just like get people to vote for you, Yeah,
on both sides of the aisle. Just a crack at
like you know Trump or anything.

Speaker 2 (19:44):
Oh no, no, no, I mean all up and down the
House and Senate.

Speaker 3 (19:48):

Speaker 2 (19:48):
You don't like to think they're all geniuses, but they're not.

Speaker 1 (19:50):
They're not. No, And you don't have to be smart
to hold office. You just have to get people to
vote for you. Again, which is why think tanks have
flourished for so long while lobbyists have flourished for so long,
because they're the ones who do the research and write
the policy and say, yeah, here you go, you want
to go look smart, here you go, buddy. We even
like highlighted some sound bites for you to go say

to people and get the get into the twenty four
hour news cycle.

Speaker 2 (20:16):

Speaker 1 (20:17):
And that's one of the big roles that think tanks
play today is by and have you know, especially since
World War Two, is by going to policymakers and being like,
here's your agenda, take your leave as much as you want.
But all of this is back by data, like it
dovetails with what you want to do with the country,
and it is just gangbusters stuff. Yeah, high quality, well

researched stuff.

Speaker 2 (20:38):
Yeah. It's really interesting because I think there are still
think tanks that only craft, only do research and present
it and say do what you will with it, but
those seem to be more and more gone by the wayside.

Speaker 1 (20:54):
Yeah, twenty ten was a real watershed year. It feels
like for think tanks.

Speaker 2 (20:58):
Yeah, like you mentioned ALEX, which are going to cover
in full, but I mean they are a bill writing organization.
They call them model bills. But I mean when when
you hear a senator or something said, you know, we
crafted this legislation, well, that probably means is an organization
like ALEC handed them the legislation and said here, you know,

here it is if you want to use it, right,
and you probably should want to use it.

Speaker 1 (21:24):
That's so. That is so ALEC, I think does in
many ways qualify as a think tank. They're not one
hundred percent standard think tank, but actually writing the law. Yeah,
and for the lawmaker to go and go into Congress
and introduce it as their own bill, right, that's a
little beyond what think tanks to think tanks more like

write a paper that says, here's this problem in America,
here are some ideas to solve it. Here's this research
to back up those ideas, go write a law based
on it. What things like ALEC does is take it
a step further. But ALEX still qualifies as a think tank,
and ALEC is part of something called the State Policy Network, Yeah,

which apparently there's one in every state and Puerto Rico.
And they're like a confederation of think tanks that basically
sit around and figure out ways to sue local, state
and federal lawmakers over laws, to try to get laws overturned.
Like they use the courts rather than the legislation, but
it's still the stated goal is to affect public policy

and turn it in one direction or another.

Speaker 2 (22:32):
Yeah, what was what was the website that you sent
that watch? Yeah? Sourcewatch called them called ALEC a corporate
to Bill mill, right, So they are just churning out
hundreds of bills a year. Not all of them get used,
but many of them do. And it's just I don't know,
I don't think a lot of Americans realize that a

lot of actual legislative policy is being written by McDonald's. Yeah, exactly.
It's crazy.

Speaker 1 (23:02):
I can't wait to do the ALQ one. We're both
going to be well, our cars are going to blow
up right after, but by god, we're going to get
that episode.

Speaker 2 (23:09):
Maybe we should make that our like last episode in
the year. Whatever. What's twenty years.

Speaker 1 (23:14):
From now two thousand.

Speaker 2 (23:17):
No, that was eighteen years ago. Okay, I used to
love that bit though. Yeah, all right, so we got
to talk about money here, got because this they are
not the independent most times these days they are not
the independent organizations that you think they are. Uh. They

used to be funded by these endowments, and more and
more it's it's corporations, large businesses. Sometimes private individuals of
course will give. And sometimes it's a great workaround for
campaign finance laws. Instead of directing you know, you know,
tens of millions of dollars like you can't do to
a campaign, you can throw it in a think tank

that will probably get a better result anyway.

Speaker 1 (24:04):
That's new the time was. It used to be like
in my day, right, a rich philanthropist would say, I
hate poverty and the effects it has on Americans. Go
figure this out. I'm going to fund a think tank,
and that's what you're dedicated to. I like, just go
make that happen. And that's what think tanks were originally

born from. And that's largely the only kind of oversight
they worked under is they were trying to end poverty
or they were trying to work against communism, like these
huge haughty goals. Yeah, now they're being micromanaged. That's one
thing that's happening to them.

Speaker 2 (24:44):
Yeah, And the idea that these think tanks are not
swayed or influence or affected by their donors is not true.
And the sort of the biggest problem going is that
now you have legislation being drawn up by think tanks
because corporations are paying money to get research that looks

like it's in their favor.

Speaker 1 (25:06):
Yeah. So one of the problems is the like, there's
not as many philanthropists who are just endowing think tanks
with no strings attached anymore. There are plenty of philanthropists
out there still that are funding think tanks, but their
donations are directed, their results oriented. They're very technocratic, right,

they want to see bang for their buck. Whereas before
it was just like to make America a better place
and that was it. There wasn't a lot.

Speaker 2 (25:35):
Of like.

Speaker 1 (25:37):
Nobody's feet were being held to the fire, you know.
Now it's like, we want you to further this specific agenda,
which is we want to make sure that Saint Louis's
children there's not a single one malnourished any longer, which
is great. It's a great goal. There's nothing wrong with
that goal, but it's just so very narrowed and tay

and there's ways that you can hold the think tank accountable,
which is good in one hand, but it's also basically
the introduction of like a corporate management to think tanks,
which that's not really how they were originally formed, and
it's having a weird effect on them. So think tanks
are starting to say, all right, thank you for this money,
We'll go save the children of Saint Louis. And by

the way, shout out to Saint Louis. That was a
great show.

Speaker 2 (26:26):
That what a cool down.

Speaker 1 (26:29):
So again, saving the children of Saint Louis good stuff,
But we've got all this other stuff we want to
do too, So to keep that going, we're going to
have to also go find sources elsewhere, right, and again
you can find them from other people, but one of
the places they're finding them from his corporations, and that
is having a big negative impact on think tanks right now.

Speaker 2 (26:49):
Yeah, and it goes both ways. In the past, you know,
eight or ten years, conservative billionaires of says that here
they funneled one hundred and twenty million dollars to about
one hundred grew and think tanks to do things like
discredit climate change science, which I mean, dude, I know.

Speaker 1 (27:08):
The Koch Brothers and Exon Mobile specifically funded a couple
of think tanks called Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the
International Policy Network to basically to basically question the science
behind climate change to further fossil fuel interests, which is,
see you guys in hell for that one. Like that,

What a crummy legacy to leave on Earth just to
make a few extra bucks. Forget future generations they can
all burn. Forget all the endangered species that are on
the brink of extinction that are oh wait no, they're
now extinct. It doesn't matter because we made a few
extra billion dollars. Yeah, that's that's despicable.

Speaker 2 (27:52):
Well, what it's funny. I just watched the movie Chinatown
for a movie crush episode and there's that. You ever
seen that?

Speaker 1 (28:00):

Speaker 2 (28:01):
You know a lot of that movie is about It
was originally titled Water and Power, you know, because it's about,
you know, this weird political situation in Los Angeles in
nineteen thirties where they were diverting water to the valley
which was a desert and all these rich fat cats
that were getting the water diverted. There were buying up

land in the valley like hundreds of thousands of acres
because they knew it was going to be a lush
green valley soon. So all that really happened in La
Chinatown was based on that. But there's that great scene
when Jack Nicholson is Jake Gettis, confronts John Houston about
you know, he's the big bad guy Noah Cross and

he says, you know, how much money do you need?
How much how many more things can you buy? Or
this or that? And he says, what are you trying
to secure? And he looked at him and he said,
the future, mister Gettis, And that's what it is. They're
not after more billions to buy more plain in a
bigger house, right, They're trying to leave that they that's
what they want out of their legacy. Is they're trying

to affect the future and in their own specific way, right.

Speaker 1 (29:10):
But they're affecting the future in the worst way.

Speaker 2 (29:12):
Possible according to us. And the problem is not according
to them, sure, you know, but if.

Speaker 1 (29:17):
You if you pull enough people and just ask them plainly,
if you took money and billionaires in power and sure
and all that out of it. Do you want a
better future for humanity and for earth? Yeah, one hundred
years from now, I would guess the majority of people
would say yes. And if you can say, well, these
guys are actually doing the opposite of ensuring that right

right now, how do you feel about that? Most people
would say I don't feel so great about that.

Speaker 2 (29:46):

Speaker 1 (29:47):
The problem is is most people would also follow up with,
but what can we do?

Speaker 2 (29:51):

Speaker 1 (29:51):
They're rich, and that's a great point. Let me what
can you do?

Speaker 2 (29:55):
Let me hop back on Facebook and find a goat video.

Speaker 1 (29:57):
Right. That's when the hopelessness sets in. And that's what's
causing the paralysis in our world right now, is hopelessness.
That's not grim at all of it. By the way, everybody,
be sure to listen to my new podcast, The End
of the World with Josh Clark.

Speaker 2 (30:14):

Speaker 1 (30:14):
It's a really.

Speaker 2 (30:15):
Uplifting coming very soon.

Speaker 1 (30:16):
Yeah, coming this fall sometime eventually.

Speaker 2 (30:19):
Just stuck up on your happy bills. So. In twenty thirteen, however,
on the other side, left leaning weekly magazine The Nation
revealed the positions of the left leaning Center for American
Progress and other thing tanks in DC are shaped by
interest of their donors. So it happens on both sides

of the aisle for sure.

Speaker 1 (30:43):
Yeah oh yeah, yeah, No, it's an equal opportunity screwing
that the world is getting from lobbying from think tanks
from wealthy interests. Like, it's it's both both sides.

Speaker 2 (30:55):
Yeah. So they're effectively unregistered lobbyist organizations now to a
large degree, because they're tax exempt, they're not obligated to
release financial statements or reveal their donors. So I'm surprised
it took that long for people to be like, wait
a minute, we can really take advantage here.

Speaker 1 (31:12):
So let's take another break and then we'll get well, it
will spell out what the advantages are of hiring a
think tank. All right, Chuck, we're back. I'm a little

warm under the collar.

Speaker 2 (31:47):
I feel like we should mention this thing with the
Walton Family Foundation quickly, because that's interesting.

Speaker 1 (31:52):
I think this is a great example of what a
think tank can do these days.

Speaker 2 (31:56):
Yeah, it's obviously the Sam Walton family of walm aren't fame.
They fund a lot of conservative think tanks. I think
most people know that. But then they also fund funded
one and think tanks backed by Barack Obama when it
came to the Affordable health Care Act, and you're like,
wait a minute, why would they do something like that

if they're a conservative family supporting conservative causes. Then you
do a little poking around and it turns out that
critics would say that the healthcare bill that forced employers
to pay for their employees healthcare tax. Walmart was like,
this is great because we can afford to do this,
but our mom and pop competitors can't. So we're actually

going to try and get this push through. Even though
at its face it doesn't quite make a lot of sense,
it makes sense to them, like why would Walmart take
on the cost of their employees' healthcare because they know
that they.

Speaker 3 (32:53):
Can go back to sleep. Everybody, Yeah, stop asking quests.
Really interesting, it is, it's fascinating. But that's one thing
you can do is donate to a think tank that's
furthering your agenda. And because think tanks are now largely
agenda driven, there's a lot of think tanks out there
that can help you out. And there's a new thing

that's happening with think tanks these days is they're starting
to solicit corporate donations. And one of the saddest stories
is the story of the Brookings Institution, the most centrist
think tank that has put out the Marshall Plan that
helped figure out the New Deal and how it addressed
the depression, like has done all this amazing stuff. Is

now they hired a lobbyist for their strategic development chief
and they're now soliciting corporate donations left and right, and
they're basically this is what you can get, Like if
you hire a think tanker, I'm sorry, you're not supposed
to say higher. If you enter into a part ownership

or donate to a think tank and your corporation, we're
a very wealthy person. What the think tank will do
is they will basically get your ideas out there.

Speaker 1 (34:12):
They will deploy. So first of all, let's say there's
this really great New York Times article about the what
was the name of that company, the Lenar Corporation. Okay,
they wanted to build in San Francisco. They wanted to
redevelop the site in San Francisco, which whatever, apparently there
was pushback on it or they were getting some sort
of pushback from the residents of San Francisco. So I

guess the Brookings Institution went to them and said, hey,
we've got some ideas for you. We can support this
as basically like a great idea for cities of the future,
and we're going to lend the credibility of our experts
in our think tank to your project. Yeah, and make
it like a champion kind of thing, like a blue
type and archetype for how to further cities in America

your development problem.

Speaker 2 (35:02):
It's it.

Speaker 1 (35:03):
They're home builders, but with Brookings Institution behind it, there
was a veneer of something bigger than building homes, bigger
than redeveloping, something about the future and progress, and Brookings
like went to them and in exchange for four hundred
grand Brookings added this credibility to it, got talking heads
out there on the news to talk up this development

and like what it meant for the future. And one
of the other things they did and can do is
they can set up summits conferences on cities of the
future and get the home builders and lawmakers into the
same room to hang out together. And so that's lobbying. Sure,
there's no other way to put it. That is lobbying.

And they were doing it on behalf of a specific corporation,
there should be no tax exemption whatsoever any longer. It
doesn't matter what side of the aisle you're on. If
you're a taxpayer, you are funding that by by through
these tax exemptions, because we put the bill for tax deduction. Sure,
so if a single corporation's interests are being served, even

if society in general is benefiting in some way, that's
too much of a slippery slope that breaks the tax
exemption status. And then that that should go away. And that,
sadly is apparently where Brookings the direction Brookings is going. Yeah,
and others too, I should.

Speaker 2 (36:26):
Say, oh sure, sure, even the ones that aren't maybe
as outright are aren't as bald faced about this stuff.
Like a lot of scholars say that you know, bought
and paid for research is sort of the exception. Still,
But even even so, there's still places where you know,
you may not you may not push out certain research

if you think you're might piss off your boss.

Speaker 1 (36:51):
Yeah, which is the same thing.

Speaker 2 (36:53):
Or sort of self censor yourself if you think, like,
oh man, I don't know, like we're getting donations now,
like this might not ease them.

Speaker 1 (37:00):
It might make them look bad. So I probably should
just avoid this conclusion.

Speaker 2 (37:04):
Yeah, so maybe not of like completely inventing a study
or something, but being very selective in what you choose
to research or how you research it or what you release.
Sure is, you know, it's another version of the same thing.

Speaker 1 (37:17):
It totally is. And one of the other things that
they've been found to do a lot of think tanks,
or one of the new things that think tanks do,
is they will circulate drafts before there's a final draft
two donors like what do you think about this? And
sometimes their opinions will be incorporated into the final draft.
That is the antithesis of the spirit of think tanks

and what they were originally meant to do. They were
supposed to be like, here's the facts, here's the research
to back it up. It is what it is. We
think you can apply it to make the world better
in this way, not what you know, What do you
guys think does this jibe with the kind of sinks
you've selected for this redevelopment, because we can change this
part to jibe with the sinks you you know, that's

just not what it's supposed to be. And the reason
that think tanks are doing this is they are in
existential danger through the death of expertise that I remember
I talked about in the Elimination Diet episode.

Speaker 2 (38:15):

Speaker 1 (38:16):
The problem is, it's not like America just said, we're
sick of expertise. We're tired of you experts, like you're
always right, and we're tired of hearing you're always right.
People got tired of being lied to and misled and
misinformed and manipulated, and they finally said, you know what, experts,
that's enough. Enough of you are full of it. Enough
of you have let your credibility be co opted. We're

just not going to listen to any of you anymore
because we don't know who to trust. And the experts
brought about the death of expertise themselves in large parts.

Speaker 2 (38:47):
Yeah, and there's another Uh. There was this article from
the Washington Post called or think tanks Obsolete, which sort
of argues along those lines about and also incorporates the
Internet and the length of like a research cycle, like
with the Internet and Twitter and Facebook and things like
ted Talks. There's a guy, Donald Abelson, a professor at

University of Western Ontario, wrote a book called The Thing
Tanks Matter, where his conclusion basically is that the marketplace
of ideas he says has become congested and you don't
have time anymore to do a twelve month research proposal
to come to the following conclusions when one hundred ted

talks over that twelve months will be published. Not picking
on ted talks are great.

Speaker 1 (39:35):
No, it's a good example though.

Speaker 2 (39:36):
But you can push out of ted talk. You can
push out a Facebook live video as an economist and
have a lot of sway. They mentioned in here in
the article about vaccines, for instance, as far as it
goes with the vaccines, the Rank Corporation, one of the
largest thing tanks that we already mentioned, they did like

a very thorough deep dive in research debunking the notion
that vaccines cause autism, and it took a long time.
But you can get on Facebook and go to a
group called Educate before you vaccinate and watch videos by
non experts, and people are swayed these days by this stuff. Yeah,

like why wait, you know, the news cycle is so
shortened you can't wait for a long, deep dive research
paper to come out with some abstract summary that no
one reads anyway, And apparently now they're you know, they're
written in such a way where they will just say,
abstract summary, this stinks, we shouldn't do it. You know,

they've become so opinionated. I don't know, man, It's just
it's depressing to think that Facebook and Twitter have outsized
a think tank as far as they definitely have influence.

Speaker 1 (40:50):
Yeah, and YouTube and basically anything that gives a voice
to the average person, which on the one hand is
really cool and great.

Speaker 2 (40:57):
Sort of democratizes it in a way, but in the
worst way at times.

Speaker 1 (41:01):
But it's tied into this death of expertise in a
really toxic manner, you know what I'm saying, Like the
two that democratization of like giving everybody like a mouthpiece,
is not in and of itself like a bad thing,
but when since it coincided with a loss and trust
and experts and expertise, that's where the problem came from.

And that was the reason why we couldn't be a
think tank. Sadly, we could be a think tank now,
but we couldn't be a bonafide think tank because, Chuck,
we don't have enough time in any given week to
do so much thorough primary source research into stuff. If
we release one of these every couple of months. Sure

we could be like a real think tank, but it
wouldn't be nearly fun.

Speaker 2 (41:52):
Six episodes a year. People would love.

Speaker 1 (41:54):
That, Yeah, they'd love it. You got anything else?

Speaker 2 (41:57):
Nope, I guess either.

Speaker 1 (42:01):
Sorry for going off everybody, Thanks for listening. I'm sure
I'll get some email, but what evs It is worth it.
If you want to know more about think tanks, well,
I don't know, go on the internet and look up
some think tanks and see if there's any that you
agree with. A lot of them have like daily interpretations
of news that kind of go through their lens. Yeah,

it's a way to keep up with things. Sure, and
you can also read this article on how stuff works,
just not a think tank called how think tanks work.
And since I said that it's time for listener mail.

Speaker 2 (42:34):
I'm going to call this a Ballpoint pen addiction or
just pin addiction. Hey guys, been listening for a couple
of months or so, New listener, You were my first
foray into podcasts. I just really enjoy listening to you too.

Speaker 1 (42:45):

Speaker 2 (42:46):
I saw the Ballpoint Pin podcast and I could not
pass it up. I have a bit of a pin problem,
you see. I own many mini pins, especially the gel
type inc roller ballpins. Way to Go, you got taken
a task a few people who were just like Josh Clark,
heresy gel pins. Yeah, there are a lot of I

guess traditionalists to boo poo.

Speaker 1 (43:09):
That I think they're great. I got a lot of
support for that one.

Speaker 2 (43:12):
Too, agreed, We got a lot of pin recommendations. It
was good to see. Yeah, and here's another one. I
own many many pins, especially the gel ink rollerball pins.
I also own a collection of sharpiees and various tip
withs and colors. I probably have a couple of gallon
sized ziploc Bagsworth. You mentioned the way certain pins ride
on certain types of paper. I think it's probably the

rollerball gel pins that were best on the thermal paper
that they use in most restaurants. Remember I was talking
about signing the check. I think it's what she's talking.

Speaker 1 (43:41):
We still never found out what that thing's called.

Speaker 2 (43:43):
Thermal paper.

Speaker 1 (43:44):
No, No, the thing that the check comes out in
the little portfolio.

Speaker 2 (43:47):
The clamshell. Someone actually said, did you see that? Yeah,
this great couple send in a picture of a clamshell
check delivery system. What are they called?

Speaker 1 (43:58):
I don't know.

Speaker 2 (43:59):
Check cat.

Speaker 1 (44:00):
We're gonna we're gonna name them clamshells now all right,
that's the new name for him.

Speaker 2 (44:04):
So I have a favorite pin, though, guys. I buy
them by the box. It's the Pilot V ball B
green pin, the point five millimeter. Okay. I love the
way they feel when they write. I can't go back
to ballpoint pins. I use them at work. I carry
at least three in my bag and I draw on
doodle with them. Using them on a newsprint pad is
my favorite thing when doing word art.

Speaker 3 (44:25):

Speaker 2 (44:26):
Sorry for the ramble, guys, have a great day. That
is from Davini M. Barry, Davini Berry, Davini M Berry,
M Berry. I wasn't going okay.

Speaker 1 (44:36):
Well, I didn't know if Davini's middle initial was M,
or if I was miss hearing you in Davini and Barry.

Speaker 2 (44:42):
It's actually Divina, excuse me, Divina M Berry. If I
would have said Divina M Berry, that would have been
much more clear. Or Mberry, it might be Divina Mbury.
Was it say Divina or Davina?

Speaker 1 (44:53):
Oh God? How about d E? Thanks d E.

Speaker 2 (44:58):
It's d I.

Speaker 1 (45:00):
At any rate, we're glad that you started listening to us.
We appreciate it. Thanks for taking the time to let
us know about your pen addiction. Totally fine with us.
If you want to let us know about something you're
super into, you can hang out with us on social meds.
You can go to stuff youshould Know dot com and
find all of our social media links. You can also
send us an email to stuff podcast at HowStuffWorks dot com.

Stuff you Should Know is a production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (45:28):
For more podcasts my heart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app,
Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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