Joe goes into detail about the business of running a think tank and the challenges that go along with it. Heartland was founded during the Reagan years in Chicago, and tried to bridge the gap between the “Chicago School” and City Hall. In the beginning, the dominating free-market ideology meshed well with Heartland’s mission, but as the years passed, much has changed. Now Heartland fights against the current, publishing educational materials for the public and politicians about controversial topics, such as climate change, school reform, the effects of Obamacare, and budget & tax policy.
It’s especially interesting to hear about the challenges facing think tanks in the information age. There are a lot of advantages to being constantly connected to the Internet: quick communication, easy data manipulation, and being able to reach thousands of people with a single tweet. However, it’s difficult to break through all the noise. There is so much information available, if your content doesn’t appeal to the masses it will probably be lost in the shuffle. Nonprofits with small communications departments can’t compete with public relations firms that are experts in creating and promoting viral media.
Joe also comments that think tanks may become obsolete. The traditional role of the think tank was to connect the ideas of academics in their ivory towers to the media and the minds of individuals. With the abundance of online classes, experts can reach their audiences without the help of a third party. Political parties have also become skilled at using the powers of the Internet and information manipulation to sway voters, and in turn, public policy.