Where do bad ideas come from?


From Foreign Policy:

In the United States, this problem with self-interested individuals and groups interfering in the policy process appears to be getting worse, in good part because of the growing number of think tanks and “research” organizations linked to special interests. Organizations like the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for a New American Security, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the Center for American Progress — to name but a few — are not politically neutral institutions, in that their ultimate purpose is to assemble and disseminate arguments that advance a particular worldview or a specific policy agenda. The people who work at these institutions no doubt see themselves as doing serious and objective analysis — and many probably are — but such organizations are unlikely to recruit or retain anyone whose research challenges the organization’s central aims. Their raison d’être, after all, is the promotion of policies favored by their founders and sponsors.

In addition to advocating bad ideas even after they have been found wanting, many of these institutions also make it harder to hold public officials accountable for major policy blunders. For example, one would think that the disastrous war in Iraq would have discredited and sidelined the neoconservatives who dreamed up the idea and promoted it so assiduously. Once out of office, however, they returned to friendly think tanks and other inside-the-Beltway sinecures and resumed their efforts to promote the discredited policies they had favored when they were in government. When a country’s foreign-policy elite is insulated from failure and hardly anyone is held accountable, it will be especially difficult to learn from the past and formulate wiser policies in the future.

“Where Do Bad Ideas Come From?”, Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy