Role of think tank is vital
Columnist Lloyd Omdahl casts doubts on the ability of North Dakota-based think tanks to operate in a credible fashion ("This tank limits its thinking," Jan. 13). This begs the questions: What is a think tank, and what is its role?...
Columnist Lloyd Omdahl casts doubts on the ability of North Dakota-based think tanks to operate in a credible fashion ("This tank limits its thinking," Jan. 13). This begs the questions: What is a think tank, and what is its role?
On its Web site, the North Dakota Policy Council declares that it "provides credible nonpartisan expertise and research to help North Dakotans advocate policies that are based on individual liberty, individual responsibility, and limited government."
The NDPC plays many important roles in North Dakota. It serves as a check on the encroachment of government in the lives of citizens; exposes corruption and the misuse of taxpayer money; explains the philosophical and intellectual basis of the liberty movement; furthers public policy debates in North Dakota by offering solutions to problems; and, most importantly, educates citizens on matters of public policy. In other words, the NDPC is an "ideas incubator."
In his column about the NDPC, Omdahl declares, "its research will be less than credible but directed toward justifying the organization's position on issues." But the NDPC didn't just randomly select an agenda by drawing pieces of paper from a hat and then proceed to justify those arbitrary positions. Instead, the NDPC's agenda is to create awareness of ideas that have a long and rich tradition, both in scholarly circles and in the practice of actual public policies, particularly in the United States.
Unfortunately, ideas can't speak for themselves. They must be articulated by someone and shown why they matter in order for others to care. This is all the more true when it comes to ideas about liberty, which have a tendency to be forgotten or ignored by current academic and government leaders.
Furthermore, why should Omdahl accuse the NDPC of bias toward an agenda without painting government agencies with the same brush? If the NDPC is biased due to its declared pro-liberty perspective, then certainly government agencies should be considered biased because of the incentives they have to skew information in order to justify their existence. Has a government agency's study ever concluded that it is not fulfilling its mission or that its economic impact on North Dakota is virtually nothing? Of course not, because such an agency would see a smaller budget and no agency wants that.
For instance, the NDPC recently examined every Center of Excellence's 2007 functional review. One of the tasks each center must perform is to declare how much public money it spent per job created. The formula the government used shows that some centers' "cost per job" was around two cents. However, instead of simply dividing the amount of taxpayer investment in the center by the number of jobs it created, the formula used artificially lowered what the cost per job is for taxpayers. To add to that, the number of jobs created was what each private sector partner simply filled in.
The review also failed to subtract the economic impact the money would have had if it had not been taken from taxpayers in the first place. So the net result is that the Department of Commerce's study misleads citizens about the true costs of its programs. Is that the type of analysis taxpayers should expect from government agencies? A thousand times, no.
Are things like these reported and spread around the state? Hardly. It takes think tanks, like the NDPC, to research and expose these things which are dismissed by Omdahl as "superficial compilations of information and press releases" and offer solutions to the problems.
So, I thank Omdahl for hoping that the NDPC is welcomed into the ?marketplace of ideas, but instead of trying to taint the NDPC with accusations of bias, which lack evidence, perhaps he might have added that he's happy to see someone actively supplying a check on the biased research coming from government.
Narloch is executive director of the North Dakota Policy Council. Visit NDPC at www.policynd.org