Sears: Canada faces great challenges. We needs more independent, creative policy thinkers to address them

Not quite as bleak as presented but does flag some real weaknesses including policy diversity:

Canada faces policy challenges today that are broader and more complex than perhaps ever in our history. Several are well-known: climate, health care and the next contagion, sliding productivity and widening inequality. Each will be expensive to tackle, and all will require great creativity to address.

In the U.S., the U.K. and Europe much of that thinking is done by an array of policy think tanks. We have a few, and some of those we have are far too predictable. One need not do more than read the headline on a C.D. Howe Institute economic report to know what the next 5,000 words of analysis and recommendations will be. The Fraser Institute’s views on private health care, climate change and lower taxes have been repeated hundreds of times with changes only to the names and dates.

Two of Canada’s political parties have policy think tanks that are aligned philosophically, but independent in their prescriptions. The Manning Centre (now the Canada Strong and Free Network) was an important ginger group of new conservative thinking in the Harper years, though it appears to have lost a great deal of energy since the departure of its founder Preston Manning.

Canadian conservatives desperately need a bold centre for testing policy if they are to return to being a party of government. It has long failed to elaborate a credible conservative agenda for action on any of the tough issues. Ken Boessenkool’s Conservatives for Clean Growth may be a valuable new player on climate, perhaps one that will inspire new groups on other priorities.

Curiously, the Liberal party has several times failed in its efforts to create a similar centre to feed its need for creative new centrist thinking. The gap is evident in areas such as security policy, wealth inequality and growth through innovation. The obstacle maybe the number of Liberal thinkers who are parked in the academy or in non-partisan centres such as the Institute for Research on Public Policy, who don’t fancy a new competitor.

The least likely of the three national parties, in terms of resources, has three policy centres. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives was created by New Democrats and labour more than 40 years ago, and regularly serves up new progressive policy proposals. The Douglas Coldwell Layton Foundation, recently revived under former Jack Layton staffers Karl Belanger and Josh Bizjak, is plunging into new policy research. But it is the youngest of the three that shows the greatest strength and communications skill.

The Broadbent Institute is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. It staged its Progress Summit this week, returning to its regular cycle of policy conferences, training sessions and research. Alone among any of the big institutes, it also runs its own media business, Press Progress. Key to its success has been finding the right balance between being a forum for new and often dissenting progressive voices, and for party loyalty. New executive director Jen Hassum brings a formidable reputation as an organizer and communications strategist.

All governments need external nudges (and occasionally shoves) to keep them out of policy ruts, or from repeating the same mistakes. Our governments today need broader and richer sources of policy innovation than ever before. The academy is curiously weak in experts who bring creative thinking combined with an understanding of tough political realities. Too many of the civil society organizations who do sponsor research promote only their own agenda. Many of the health charities are especially guilty of this.

Source: Canada faces great challenges. We needs more independent, creative policy thinkers to address them

The Private Money Shaping Public Conversation About Restricting Immigration

In-depth analysis. Always helpful to follow the money:

For years, the think tanks and organizations that pushed for tougher immigration restrictions operated on the fringes of public policy debates. Now, with a powerful friend in the White House, they are enjoying new influence. Promises to build a wall along the United States-Mexico border were a popular refrain at then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign rallies. As president, he has remained committed to lowering immigration levels and has escalated efforts to secure funding for the wall, starting by shutting down the government, and now by declaring a national emergency.

Cheering Trump on, and often providing intellectual ammunition for his administration’s policies, are nonprofits like the Center for Immigration Studies, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and NumbersUSA—all kept alive by philanthropic donations from a handful of foundations and donors.

Those organizations and others like them are not without controversy. The Center for Immigration Studies and Federation for American Immigration Reform are both designated as anti-immigrant hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, though the classification is rejected by supporters. NumbersUSA is not designated as a hate group by the watchdog, though several other, smaller groups working to restrict immigration are. The full list may be found here.

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, has also criticized the Center for Immigration Studies for releasing inaccurate research to advance its restrictionist agenda.

These think tanks depend on philanthropic donations for their survival. Donations made up 99 percent of revenue at both the Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA in 2016. That year, they made up 96 percent of the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s revenue.

Many of those donations flow from a relatively small set of donors who’ve backed advocates and policymakers pushing for lower immigration levels over many years. These funders are finally seeing a return on their investment in a case study of the influence that can come from patiently backing policy work—so it’s worth taking a close look at their motivations and priorities.

Who Are These Funders and What Do They Want?

Foundations that give to organizations pushing to restrict immigration include the Colcom Foundation, the Scaife foundations, which include the Scaife Family Foundation and Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the Weeden Foundation.

The Colcom Foundation is the most prolific of this group. The Pennsylvania-based funder gave nearly $18 million to groups pushing for lower immigration in 2016, about 60 percent of the foundation’s total giving that year.

The foundation was established in the 1990s by Cordelia Scaife May. May was a friend of John Tanton, who was involved in several anti-immigration organizations, including Colcom grantees the Center for Immigration Control, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and NumbersUSA. Tanton was known for his controversial views about eugenics and the need to defend a “European-American majority” in the United States. Colcom and other foundations that give to organizations Tanton was involved in have tried to distance themselves from racial or nativist motivations. But his views continue to provide fodder to critics.

May was the sister of Richard Mellon Scaife, the conservative billionaire behind the Scaife Family Foundation and Sarah Scaife Foundation. All three foundations give to policy groups that push to lower immigration.

Education and shaping public discourse around immigration levels is a big focus of Scaife’s grants to organizations pushing to restrict immigration. While the goal of this funding is to lower immigration levels, representatives from the Colcom and Weeden foundations stressed to Inside Philanthropy that they don’t consider themselves anti-immigrant, or even anti-immigration, though they do want to restrict the number of foreigners coming into the country.

For the Colcom Foundation, cutting immigration by about half to around 500,000 people a year would be a good starting point, said Vice President John Rohe. As a foundation, the organization does not lobby for specific policy measures, rather it hopes to influence public opinion. Rohe believes this work is necessary because of the emotional tenor of debates about immigration.

“This is fundamentally important to a country because immigration has, over time, been an emotional issue for the United States, and it still is today,” said Rohe. “It’s difficult for the United States to have a meaningful, informed conversation on the level of immigration somewhere in the middle.”

Rather than emotions, Rohe believes concerns for the labor market and environment should inform the conversation around immigration levels. “What should the level of immigration be that preserves the carrying capacity and ensures a long-term, pro-immigrant, sustainable level of immigration? Which, by the way, should be administered on a racially neutral basis,” Rohe said. “There should be no room, zero tolerance, for racism in this policy.”

The environment comes up a lot with funders that support restricting immigration levels. They believe environmental sustainability is threatened by population growth fueled primarily through immigration.

“We currently have about 328 million people. You’re looking at almost a one-third increase in 50 years in a country that has biodiversity losses, that has 40 states confronting water shortages, that has trouble controlling the toxic emissions from cars and gridlock and energy in its cities, that is dealing with urban sprawl devouring millions of acres every year, and then you add 103 million people,” Rohe said, citing a 2015 Pew Research Center report that estimated immigrants and their children would account for more than 100 million people added to the U.S. population by 2065.

“Some would have a concern that adding another 103 million people in 50 years to a nation that’s already straining its water resources,” Rohe added. “Are our landfills too under-utilized? Are our roads too open? Is there too much farmland? Is there too much fresh water? Is the water too clean?”

The Weeden Foundation funds groups pushing for lower immigration for similar reasons, though immigration work makes up a much smaller percentage of the funder’s total giving. “Immigration is addressed in the context of U.S. population growth and its impact on the environment, particularly on habitat for wildlife,” said Don Weeden, the foundation’s executive director.

“It’s not a major effort for us, but we feel it’s important to address the drivers of biological impoverishment, and that includes the United States’ very high level of consumption and its relatively high population growth,” he said. “It’s a combination of both that’s really driving a combination of unsustainable trends, including sprawl, energy use, CO2 emissions and pollution generally.”

Not everyone agrees that overpopulation is or will in the near future be a problem in the U.S. In fact, some economists argue that immigration is needed, given falling birth rates.

As the country’s birth rate declines and population ages, some economists, like Lyman Stone, a columnist for Vox and an agricultural economist at the Department of Agriculture, argue that population growth and the contribution of immigration are not only desirable, but necessary for long-term prosperity.

Stone also argued in Vox that the role population growth plays in climate change, whether through birth rate or immigration, has been overhyped.

Groups advocating on behalf of immigrants have also objected to the foundations’ use of conservation as a justification for their work to curb immigration. Daranee Petsod, president of Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, stressed that overpopulation is not an issue in the United States.

“The U.S. birth rate is at a 30-year low, and many economists believe that more immigration is needed,” Petsod said. “In parts of the country that are depopulating—from Rockford, Illinois, to Lancaster, Pennsylvania—mayors, business and civic leaders are actively seeking immigrants and refugees to help revitalize their communities.”

“It’s not valid to connect the two issues because limiting immigration does not advance conservation goals,” she said. “Anti-immigrant groups often hide behind the guise of conservation to promote their restrictionist agenda.”

The Numbers

Among the foundations, Colcom gives the most—both in dollar amounts and percentage of total grants—to groups working to restrict immigration.

With about $440 million in reported assets in 2015, the foundation also gives to groups that tackle conservation from other angles. Past giving has especially favored conservation efforts in the foundation’s native Pennsylvania.

However, the majority of grants each year—about 60 percent in 2016—go to groups that focus on immigration, rather than deal directly with the environment. The biggest beneficiaries of this strategy in 2016 were the Federation for American Immigration Reform with $7.4 million in grants, NumbersUSA with $6.8 million and the Center for Immigration Studies with $1.7 million.

The foundation also gave to Americans for Immigration Control, Californians for Population Stabilization, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, Negative Population Growth Inc. and Progressives for Immigration Reform.

Perhaps an even more telling sign of Colcom’s stature in the field is how much of the organizations’ annual revenues are dependent on the foundation’s donations.

For the Federation for American Immigration Reform, in 2016 Colcom grants made up about two-thirds of the think tank’s total revenue, and nearly 70 percent of contributions the organization received.

Colcom’s giving makes up a similar percentage of NumbersUSA’s revenue and total gifts. At the Center for Immigration Studies, Colcom’s giving hovers at just under 60 percent of the nonprofit’s revenue. For smaller organizations, Colcom can serve as an even more significant lifeline. The foundation’s donations made up about 97 percent of the Immigration Reform Law Institute’s funding in 2016.

The Weeden and Scaife foundations also give to support anti-immigration groups, but to a much smaller extent when compared to their overall grantmaking. In 2015, the Scaife Family Foundation gave about 7 percent, or $225,000, to organizations arguing for less immigration. That number was near 2 percent for the Sarah Scaife Foundation.

With its other giving, the Sarah Scaife Foundation carries on founder Richard Mellon Scaife’s support of conservative and libertarian causes. In 2015, the foundation supported the conservative think tanks the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, along with George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, the free-market economics think tank and research center supported by Charles Koch.

The Scaife Family Foundation stands out from the others for its focus on the well-being of domestic animals. The foundation supports several organizations that work with cats, dogs and horses.

The Weeden Foundation typically gives 5 to 10 percent of its grantmaking dollars to organizations like the Center for Immigration Studies. In 2015, the foundation reported about $31 million in assets.

That year, about $165,000 out of the funder’s $2.2 million in grantmaking went to think tanks working to reduce immigration, including the Center for Immigration Studies, the Federation for American Immigration Reform and NumbersUSA, along with Californians for Population Stabilization, Negative Population Growth Inc. and Progressives for Immigration Reform.

With the rest of its giving, the Weeden Foundation supports environmental organizations, conservation efforts and other means to curbing population growth, including groups that advocate for reproductive rights.

The Colcom, Scaife and Weeden foundations are not the only funders supporting hardline immigration organizations, though most others give at much lower levels.

The F.M. Kirby Foundation, Jaquelin Hume Foundation, John M. Olin Foundation, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Philip M. McKenna Foundation, Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation, Smith Richardson Foundation, Weiler Foundation, and William H. Donner Foundation have also given to the Center for Immigration Studies, Federation for American Immigration Reform, or both, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, a progressive nonprofit watchdog and advocacy organization. However, those donations were at much lower levels than the Colcom or Scaife foundations.

Of course, foundations are not the only avenues donors have to give to organizations. They can give as individuals or funnel money through donor-advised funds.

Money that comes from individuals or flows through donor-advised funds is harder to track than foundation giving. Like any philanthropy, donor-advised funds are required to disclose their grantees on publicly accessible tax forms, but they’re not required to share where that funding comes from. This anonymity can be attractive to donors who want to give to causes that they may feel are controversial.

The Foundation for the Carolinas, which hosts 2,600 donor-advised funds, is one major conduit of money to organizations pushing for immigration restriction. In 2016, the foundation gave around $4.3 million to such groups. In 2015, that number was about $4.8 million. NumbersUSA was the biggest recipient, racking up about $5 million in grants over two years. These gifts, none of which can be traced back to a specific funder, made up a relatively small percentage of the foundation’s total giving each of those years, which ranged from about $260 to $290 million.

Donors Trust is another donor-advised fund, known for its support of conservative causes. The fund has given some money to anti-immigration think tanks over the years, according to a database maintained by Conservative Transparency, which tracks donations to conservative causes and candidates. However, the amounts have never rivaled foundations like Colcom or even the Foundation for the Carolinas in size.

From 2002 to 2017, the trust gave a little more than $3 million to hardline immigration organizations. NumbersUSA was the biggest beneficiary of that giving, racking up $2.7 million over that 15-year period.

The Criticism

Philanthropic support of anti-immigration organizations has attracted intensifying criticism in recent years. “For decades, these foundations have financed anti-immigrant groups to spread a narrative that demonizes and dehumanizes immigrants. The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented statements and actions by many of these groups as being racist, bigoted and xenophobic,” said GCIR’s Petsod. “Their efforts to espouse fear and hate have divided our nation and have resulted in policies that are anathema to American values.”

As Petsod highlighted, several of the think tanks these foundations support are characterized as anti-immigrant hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). That includes two of the three most prominent organizations, the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

The SPLC and its designations are not without their own critics, especially on the right, which has accused the watchdog of inappropriately labeling groups it disagrees with as extremists.

Don Weeden sees the center’s hate group designations as another symptom of a national conversation that has deteriorated into name calling. In the past, the Weeden Foundation has given to Californians for Population Stabilization, the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which are labeled as hate groups by the SPLC.

“I vouch for our grantees,” Weeden said.

“It’s a kangaroo court—that’s what the Southern Poverty Law Center is doing in labeling these groups ‘hate groups,’” he said. “In fact, it strikes me that there are those on the left—and I’m not saying everyone on the left—who have chosen to smear rather than debate. Perhaps you can say it’s easier, and in some respects more effective, but it has led in part to the polarization on this issue and the lack of national debate on this issue, as well.”

In fact, Weeden says that his foundation gets criticized from both sides of the aisle for the work it supports.

“We and our grantees get criticized on the right for being radical environmentalists. You turn it around and you get criticized from the left for being right-wing reactionaries. So where is the truth?” he said. “Well, it’s none of the above.”

“We don’t look at issues through a political lens. We look at them largely because our mission is to protect biodiversity. We look at it through that lens.”

Colcom’s Rohe echoed Weeden’s lament about the reluctance at informed, measured debate around immigration.

“This has been an emotionally charged issue, and the effort to have an informed, constructive, civic dialogue has been difficult for the country over the course of history,” he said. “Hopefully we can move beyond that.”

Rohe also denied that his foundation would have any part in supporting racism or organizations with racist agendas.

“It would not be funded by this foundation, but there could be people that would be drawn to this issue for the wrong reasons,” Rohe said. “I can’t apologize for that. The foundation would never support that.”

Source: The Private Money Shaping Public Conversation About Restricting Immigration

Stephen Gordon: Guess who’s got more credibility—professors, think tanks or…the CBC

Interesting piece by Gordon:

Think-tanks are an ever-present, yet somehow under-examined feature of the public policy landscape. Think-tanks get a lot of press, at least partly because they are adept at issuing press releases advertising their work to the media, complete with pullquotes and readily available experts for radio and TV hits. Academic studies — the sort of work written by professors for professors — pass almost unnoticed, mainly because most of it is not relevant to current policy debates, and because peer-reviewed publications are not so readily accessible. But is visibility the same thing as credibility?

It would seem not. Carey Doberstein, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia, recently published a study in Canadian Public Policy on the credibility gap — he calls it a “credibility chasm” — between academic research and research published by think-tanks and advocacy organizations. Interestingly, his study is not carried out among the general population, but among policy analysts in the provincial governments of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Participants in the study were asked to read and evaluate the credibility of different studies in two areas of provincial competence — minimum wages and income-splitting. The analysts were asked to evaluate a set of five or six studies produced by academics, think-tanks and advocacy groups. Doberstein very sensibly does not draw inferences about credibility from these evaluations: one study is hardly enough to evaluate the credibility of one group, or even of one researcher. He focuses instead on how the source of a study affects policy analysts’ perceptions of its credibility.

Instead of sending the studies out to the analysts under their proper affiliations, Doberstein randomly altered them. For example, a study on the effects of an increase in the minimum wage written by researchers at the University of Toronto and published in a peer-reviewed journal was sent out with the correct affiliation to one group of analysts, under the name of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) to another group, and under the name of the Fraser Institute to yet another group. Similarly, in addition to being sent out under its own name to one group, a CCPA study would be sent out as a University of Toronto study to a different group, and represented as a Fraser Institute study to yet another set of analysts, and so on. Two advocacy groups, the Wellesley Institute and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, rounded out the minimum wage exercise, and a similar mix of academic, think-tank and advocacy groups was used for the income splitting case.

This randomisation strategy allows Doberstein to identify the reputation effects of the various sets of researchers: How is a study’s credibility affected by its affiliation? The answer is: pretty much in the way you’d expect. Adding a university affiliation to a think-tank or advocacy group study increases analysts’ perceptions of its credibility, while adding a think-tank or advocacy group’s name to an academic study makes it less credible. Generally, credibility among policy analysts declines as you move from university affiliations to think-tanks to advocacy groups.

These results aren’t hard to explain. Policy analysts know full well that advocacy groups cannot be expected to publish anything that does not fit their stated agendas, so a study showing (once again!) that the data supports their previously-held position is not a particularly strong signal. Doberstein finds a similar effect among think tanks: Think tanks with a more stridently ideological focus (CCPA, the Fraser Institute) are viewed as being less credible than the relatively neutral C.D Howe Institute.

Is this good news or bad? On the positive side, it shows that policy analysts are well aware of the incentives facing various sets of researchers, and know enough to put their work in context. On the downside, one might have hoped that analysts could set all that aside and evaluate the research on its own merits. Of course, that’s an ideal that almost no one can match: this is why so many academic journals use double-blind peer review, in which neither authors nor reviewers are identified to each other.

Perhaps the more interesting question is why advocacy groups and ideologically-driven think-tanks even bother to produce reports that are discounted so heavily by policy analysts. One answer might simply be that their reports aren’t written for the benefit of analysts; they’re written for the benefit of their donors. People like to have their beliefs confirmed, and they’re willing to pay to have someone tell them that they were (once again!) right.

This discussion also provides some insight into the challenges facing the media, particularly as it concerns the markets for news and opinion. Asking people to pay someone to tell them what they want to hear is a viable business model, and many digital outlets — from The Rebel through Canadaland to Rabble — are in the process of filling out that landscape. (It also raises the question of why the CBC would want to cut into this action with its CBC Opinion site. There’s no obvious market failure here that needs a public-sector fix.)

News, on the other hand, has the elements of a pure public good: everyone benefits from knowing the basic facts of what is going on, and technology has made it almost impossible to control access to news once it’s been published. Profits from advertising revenues can no longer finance news gathering to the same extent that they used to, but academic researchers can still fall back on teaching to cross-subsidize their research work. If you really want to make an academic researcher sweat, ask her to imagine trying to make a living from her research alone.

Source: Stephen Gordon: Guess who’s got more credibility—professors, think tanks or…the CBC

Canadian think tanks have a problem with transparency on funding: Yakabuski

Agree that there is an issue here. Beyond the issue of funding, some think tanks provide more nuanced analysis (e.g., Conference Board) than others (e.g., Fraser Institute):

Between 2000 and 2015, representatives from Canada’s 10 leading think tanks appeared at least 216 times before parliamentary committees and were cited in the Canadian media almost 60,000 times. It gave them and their research priceless exposure and influence in shaping government policy.

But at what price to Canadian democracy?

There is little doubt that the research conducted by Canadian think tanks often enriches public-policy debates. While they claim to be independent, however, most think tanks rely on funding from wealthy benefactors, corporations, unions or lobby groups seeking to push their own causes.

Yet, few Canadian think tanks will tell you who exactly is funding them, or, if they do, how much they get from such benefactors. Indeed, think tanks here lag well behind their peers in the United States and Britain in providing detailed disclosure on their sources of funding. That’s according to the first-ever report on Canadian think tank transparency by Transparify, a non-profit initiative that has been scrutinizing these organizations in other countries since 2014.

“This presents a clear danger to Canadian democracy,” Transparify executive director Hans Gutbrod says of the spotty disclosure standards at Canadian think tanks. “At their best, think tanks are capable of strengthening public debate, developing policy solutions and highlighting little-discussed problems. However, they can also distort public discourse.”

Just ask Donald Abelson, a political-science professor at the University of Western Ontario, whose 2016 book Northern Lights examines the policy-making role think thanks play in Canada.

“Although those who labour at think tanks often claim to serve the public interest, they do not represent parliamentary ridings or congressional districts, nor do their names appear on ballots,” writes Prof. Abelson, who worked on the Transparify report set to be released on Tuesday. “They are policy experts who interact regularly with policy-makers and the public for the purpose of shaping public opinion and public policy in ways that satisfy their institutional interests and those of their generous benefactor.”

The Transparify report, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, reveals that the most active and influential Canadian think tanks provide little or no disclosure about their funding. Transparify ranked the Conference Board of Canada, the Fraser Institute and the Pembina Institute as “highly opaque.” The Conference Board and Pembina were awarded zero out of five stars, while the Fraser Institute earned a single star.

That contrasts with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, which received five stars and was deemed “highly transparent” by Transparify. CIGI was set up in 2001 with a $30-million endowment from BlackBerry founders Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis and matching funding from Ontario and federal governments. That makes it unique in that most think tanks do not accept or receive public funding. But at least CIGI is upfront about where it gets its money.

There is hope that others will follow. A few of the top 10 Canadian think tanks (based on parliamentary committee appearances and media citations) moved to improve their disclosure between the time Transparify initially contacted them in April and completed compiling its data in September. In April, the average transparency score among the top 10 was a miserable 1.5 stars. But by September, the average rating had risen to 2.4 stars. To earn a two-star rating, think tanks must at a minimum disclose a list of their largest donors, but not necessarily the amounts given.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, for instance, got two stars from Transparify. But the think tank has committed to disclosing its funding to a four-star standard by 2019. To meet that standard, it would need to disclose the names of all donors who provided at least $5,000 (U.S.), or about $6,400 (Canadian), and the broad amount given by each.

Even so, there is no way for Transparify or anyone else to determine whether think tanks that appear to be highly transparent really are. The International Institute for Strategic Studies had been rated “broadly transparent” in Transparify’s 2016 report on British think tanks. But Bahrain Watch, a group that promotes democracy in the Middle Eastern kingdom, subsequently obtained documents showing the IISS had received £25-million ($44-million) from the Bahraini royal family that the think tank had not disclosed.

That led Transparify to create an entirely new category. IISS now gets a “deceptive” rating and zero stars from Transparify.

So, the bottom line for Canadians looking for policy guidance from think tanks? Caveat emptor.

via Canadian think tanks have a problem with transparency on funding – The Globe and Mail

Think tanks need to show us the money – Yakabuski

Good column by Konrad Yakabuski on think tanks as charities or political actors (see also Miles Corak’s How to think about “think” tanks):

The Fraser Institute raised 15 per cent, or about $6.6-million, of its total revenue from foreign sources in the four fiscal years to 2012. Not to single out Fraser – whose research, like that of its peers, is rigorous but only half the story – but no one could argue that such money has gone toward charity.

“Fundamentally, think tanks on the left and right have been abusing the privilege of being a registered charity,” says Toronto lawyer Mark Blumberg, a leading expert in the field. Since charities are only allowed to devote 10 per cent of their revenue to political activities, “you could argue some of them haven’t been following the rules.”

The line between political advocacy and policy analysis has become increasingly blurred. Three years ago, the Harper government made a big to-do about anti-pipeline environmental groups taking foreign donations. And the CRA has started cracking down on organizations that confuse political advocacy with charity.

Perhaps it’s time we also focused on think tanks. They play a valuable role in democracies, but their research is only as credible as the amount of disclosure they provide. The pro-transparency blog Transparify recommends that journalists add the phrase “does not disclose its funders” when reporting on research produced by such think tanks. It’s advice worth following.

Think tanks need to show us the money – The Globe and Mail.

The ideologies of Canadian economists, according to Twitter – Macleans.ca

Think tanksInteresting analysis of Twitter use and followers to indicate ideological leanings by Stephen Tapp:

Four additional results are worth highlighting. First, there are indeed many Canadian think tanks: these results include 44. Having such a crowded playing field may explain much of the general public’s confusion about which think tank fits in where ideologically.

Second, according to my ideology measure, Canadian think tanks seem to be about evenly split on the left-right continuum: there are 21 think tanks to the left of centre and 23 to the right.

Third, the smile isn’t exactly symmetric. In this sample, and with this measure, the average “right-wing” think tank appears to be a bit more “ideological” than the average “left-wing” think tank. That said, the difference is not that large and may simply reflect what Halberstam and Knight found in the US: that conservatives are actually more tightly connected on social media than liberals.

Fourth, my preliminary analysis did not suggest any systematic relationship between ideology and Twitter followers. In other words, it does not appear that more extreme ideologies on their own are associated with a larger Twitter following.

… That said, we should always be careful when reducing a complex issue to a single number along a single dimension. The concept of ideology is inevitably problematic. Moreover, think tank ideologies are not uniform within a given organization and they change over time. Finally, of course, readers should not use these results to prejudge, discredit or approve of research by any of these organizations without a thorough reading of that research. I emphasize that these simple results are preliminary and just a first step; much more work is needed to better understand these complex issues.

The ideologies of Canadian economists, according to Twitter – Macleans.ca.