The Niskanen Center is in the policy change business. But so are a lot of people. Unlike many of them, we embrace evidence-based theories of policy change and marry theory with practice. As this annual report demonstrates, this approach has served us well.
Think tank work is hard for many people to wrap their minds around. At Niskanen, it’s quite straightforward. We produce gold-standard policy analyses, use those analyses to better educate legislators and staff, and help them translate good insights and ideas into politically compelling legislative initiatives. All the while, we work closely within the governing networks of Washington. We mobilize support for our proposals, build transpartisan advocacy coalitions to advance them, and make the case for our ideas in the most influential media outlets in the country.
We do this because good ideas are not self-executing. The best means of exercising influence in lawmaking comes from providing political actors with two critical resources they need: information and networks. By doing that via regular and sustained engagement on Capitol Hill, the Niskanen Center has quickly earned a remarkable degree of trust and influence on both sides of the aisle.
Given the hyperpartisan stalemate in Washington at present, some might consider this work a waste of time. But that would be wrong. Successful legislative initiatives—and the transpartisan coalitions required to advance them—take years to build, and they cannot be built on the fly. We know that windows of political opportunity for climate action, immigration reform, etc. will eventually open. And when they do, we need to be ready, because windows of opportunity don’t stay open for long.
The Niskanen Center works on both sides of the political aisle for two reasons. First, our ideas have purchase in both political parties. We believe that the free market and the welfare state are not in tension with one another. On the contrary, they are mutually reinforcing. The same can be said of individual liberty and social justice, cultural health and social pluralism, and economic well-being and environmental protection. Accordingly, the Niskanen Center is not reliably found on either side (or even in the center) of American politics. We have allies on at least some issues in virtually every corner of the political scene.
The second reason that we work with both parties is that bipartisan support is necessary to achieve consequential reform in Washington. Attempting to govern with just the votes of a single party is a recipe for political failure, partisan gridlock, and policy inaction. Ideologically-driven partisans have crashed on the shoals of this reality over and over again. The outer bounds of what is politically possible are largely dictated by the degree to which causes can find meaningful support on both sides of the aisle.
Hence, the Niskanen Center is nonpartisan in both form and function. We raise our banner, forward our causes, and welcome all who flock to our side. As you’ll see in these pages, our call for “radical moderation” has captured the imagination of public intellectuals and political elites who are weary of ossified ideological dogmatism and fearful about what Manichean political struggle is doing to our country.
Among the outstanding academics and policy experts who’ve joined Niskanen as senior fellows this year are Sarah Anzia (Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley), James Bessen (Executive Director of the Technology & Policy Research Initiative at Boston University School of Law), Rachel Bitecofer (Assistant Director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University and Professor of Political Science), Aurelian Craiutu (Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington), Laura Field (Scholar in Residence at the School of International Service at American University), Jeffrey Flier (Professor of Medicine and Neurobiology and former Dean at Harvard Medical School), David Gray (former Acting Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor), Nathan Jensen (Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas-Austin), Monica Prasad (Professor of Sociology and Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University), Idean Salehyan (Professor of Political Science at the University of North Texas), David Schleicher (Professor of Law at Yale Law School), Richard Schmalensee (former Dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management), David Schoenbrod (Trustee Professor of Law at New York Law School), Gabriel Schoenfeld (columnist at USA Today and a contributing editor at The American Interest), and Andrew Weiss (Emeritus Professor of Economics at Boston University).
I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to all of you who have supported our work. As I hope you’ll agree, this year’s annual report demonstrates that we have accomplished a great deal together in extremely challenging circumstances. I’m confident that, with your continued support, our tomorrows will be brighter than our present.