Policy Documents

No. 106 - A Guide to Classical Liberal Think Tanks

Joseph L. Bast –
February 10, 2005

Philanthropists who want to make the world a better place to live have many choices of worthy groups and causes. One of those opportunities is to contribute to nonprofit public policy think tanks, organizations devoted to studying public policy issues (such as taxes, environmental protection, and school reform) and bringing their insights to the attention of policymakers and the interested public.

Think tanks are highly leveraged because by helping to improve public policies, they can affect the living conditions of millions of people, more than even the largest social services organization. By increasing the rate of economic growth by just a fraction of a percent, a think tank can put billions of dollars into the pockets of millions of people.

The need for think tanks arose from concern that research and new ideas were not flowing fast enough between universities, where they are often discovered, and opinion leaders and policymakers, where they can be used to solve social and economic problems. A think tank acts as a conduit or facilitator, “translating” academic research into plain English and making sure good ideas don’t simply remain “on the shelf.”

This report describes think tanks committed to classical liberalism, the choices they faced when classical liberalism triumphed over statism during the 1980s and 1990s, and the ways these think tanks now specialize in order to increase their expertise and impact on public policy. An appendix summarizes what 224 classical-liberal think tanks (broadly defined) are doing today.