There are lots of recent articles on Senator Elizabeth Warren forcing the resignation of the respected, longtime Brookings economist Robert Litan.
Senator Warren and her allies were upset at Litan because he testified against a Warren-backed Labor Department plan to regulate financial advisers.
The Wall Street Journal has a good summary of what happened to Litan after his testimony. Key quote:
Instead of rebutting his argument, Ms. Warren decided to punish it. Her letter to Brookings president Strobe Talbott accused Mr. Litan of concealing a conflict of interest. The first page of Mr. Litan’s testimony says: “The study was supported by the Capital Group, one of the largest mutual fund asset managers in the U.S.” She called that disclosure “vague”—an obvious falsehood.
Warren went on to say that Litan's work was tarnished because it had corporate sponsorship - an interesting claim by a former academic who conducted research sponsored by corporations.
Even more interesting is how quickly Brookings caved due to Warren's pressure. This had even Democratic economists questioning this behavior.
But today's reality is without the support of politicians, DC Think Tanks cannot survive. Key quote from our article on small business think tanks in DC:
To be successful in DC, you have to have influence with Congress. To have Congressional influence, you need to win the support of one of the parties. Gaining the support of one of the parties is pretty hard to do unless you: (1) support their political positions; (2) donate lots of money; or (3) have very powerful constituents. In most cases, all three lead to partisanship.
Even though the Brookings Institution claims to be non-partisan, it's well known it leans left of center. Because of this, they no doubt felt they couldn't cross the powerful and progressive Senator Warren.
The Washington Post article Are Think Tanks Obsolete covers broader shifts and trends impacting the Think Tank industry, which at least according to this article is in trouble.
We don't consider our firm, Emergent Research, a Think Tank. But our work is similar in many ways and we work with Think Tanks from time to time.
We find them useful participants in the marketplace for ideas and hope they continue to survive and thrive.
We're also big fans of Brookings. If you scan through this blog, you'll find many references to their work.
Which is why we're so surprised and disappointed by their behavior in this matter. A firm with the tagline "Quality, Independence. Impact." shouldn't be so easy to bully.