Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Think Tanks On A Shoestring

Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, self-driving cars, robotic vacuums, sex dolls (sexbots), chatbots, waiterbots, and other robot applications are transforming the world.  Can think tank bots be far behind?

Thinks tanks are a HUUUUGE industry, two thousand-plus in the United States and seven thousand-plus worldwide.  They own billions of dollars of property and financial assets, spend billions in research and administration, employ several hundred thousand staff, produce trillions of pages of reports, studies, briefs, memorandums, tweets, blog posts, podcasts, videos, articles, and books—most of which are not read, heard, or seen.  They host thousands of seminars, speeches, lunches, dinners, retreats, and cruises.  This is an industry ripe for disruption.

I am reminded of the time I walked into the Bank of China building on the Bund in Shanghai in April 1981.  I saw 600 individuals sitting behind desks, each using an abacus to process information.  It seemed to me that one personal computer manned by one employee could replace all 600. 

Think tanks run the gamut from right to left in their political views, and vary in coverage from single issues to the full spectrum of domestic and international issues.  Some emphasize in-depth research, while others focus on daily issues.

Your friendly proprietor thinks there may be a better way to accomplish the objectives of think tanks, which would provide better analysis and commentary at a small fraction of the cost.  The task would require some initial start-up funding, an administrator, a couple of programmers, and two policy analysts.  That’s it.  (If you like what follows, let me know and we can get started right away.)

I’m going to describe the construction of a free-market think tank-bot.  Let’s abbreviate it as FMB.  I propose to take the works of Friedman, Becker, Stigler, Hayek, Mises, and the catalogue of several hundred Liberty Fund books and other free-market literature and feed them into the FMB.  Programmers will instruct the FMB to synthesize and curate the material to provide the best free-market response to any public policy issue, small or large, domestic or international.  They will feed the FMB carefully screened worldwide daily news.

The FMB will be able to supply free-market recommendations to any problem anywhere, with full (philosophical) explanation, evidence, and documentation.  It might offer a daily report on free-market solutions to ten pending issues free, but charge a modest fee for specific searches.

Total requirements are a staff of five—two programmers, two policy wonks, one administrator, a small workplace with furniture, computers, and other office necessities.  Once up and running, the FMB could function on an annual budget of about $1.5-2 million a year.  It should become self-sustaining in a short time, obviating the need for fund-raising, and even become profitable selling advertising.

Are you out there Peter Thiel?

1 comment :

Nick Siekierski said...

One small example. Mike Cernovich was one of the few people who predicted a Trump victory nearly a year and a half ago. His budget was his annual living expense, which was probably 0.1% of the entire Hoover Institution's annual budget. To my knowldege no one at Hoover came close to predicting a Trump win before the election (hell even I predicted he would win back in May). In fact Hoover was one of the most active anti-Trump/#NeverTrump organizations in America. That the cumulative analysis of Hoover fellows (besides the author of this blog) was woefully wrong is without question. It's reasonable to ask if it really wasn't analysis at all but paid init-Trump advocacy/lobbying? If so it was also totally ineffective.

Back to the beginning, people like Mike Cernovich, Ann Coulter, Vox Day and Scott Adams have more valuable analysis between them at lets say a $500,000 annual budget than several billion (!) $ worth of "conservative" think tanks and mass media enterprises. I'd argue that the disruption is well underway. The aforementioned people are among the small group that I turn to for informed opinion. My Hoover Daily Report emails are mainly for shock value to see how extreme this once-great institution has become. I will say that the Hoover Library and Archives, a place where I worked, is an excellent place with committed staff and world-class resources. It's the only redeeming feature of the organization as a whole.

Even a shoestring budget think tank like you describe is thinking way too big. The new paradigm is individual bloggers/writers/journalists crowd-sourcing their information and funding, and self/independent publishing. The whole idea of think tanks is archaic and very pre-internet thinking. Why collect people in one place when you can potentially communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world?