Think Tanks in America

University of Chicago Press
6
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Over the past half-century, think tanks have become fixtures of American politics, supplying advice to presidents and policy makers, expert testimony on Capitol Hill, and convenient facts and figures to journalists and media specialists. But what are think tanks? Who funds them? What kind of “research” do they produce? Where does their authority come from? And how influential have they become? In Think Tanks in America, Thomas Medvetz argues that the unsettling ambiguity of the think tank is less an accidental feature of its existence than the very key to its impact. By combining elements of more established sources of public knowledge—universities, government agencies, businesses, and the media—think tanks exert a tremendous amount of influence on the way citizens and lawmakers perceive the world, unbound by the more clearly defined roles of those other institutions. In the process, they transform the government of this country, the press, and the political role of intellectuals. Timely, succinct, and instructive, this provocative book will force us to rethink our understanding of the drivers of political debate in the United States.
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About the author

Thomas Medvetz is assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Aug 9, 2012
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Pages
344
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ISBN
9780226517308
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
Political Science / American Government / General
Political Science / General
Political Science / Political Process / General
Political Science / Public Policy / General
Social Science / Sociology / General
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"To discover who rules, follow the gold." This is the argument of Golden Rule, a provocative, pungent history of modern American politics. Although the role big money plays in defining political outcomes has long been obvious to ordinary Americans, most pundits and scholars have virtually dismissed this assumption. Even in light of skyrocketing campaign costs, the belief that major financial interests primarily determine who parties nominate and where they stand on the issues—that, in effect, Democrats and Republicans are merely the left and right wings of the "Property Party"—has been ignored by most political scientists. Offering evidence ranging from the nineteenth century to the 1994 mid-term elections, Golden Rule shows that voters are "right on the money."

Thomas Ferguson breaks completely with traditional voter centered accounts of party politics. In its place he outlines an "investment approach," in which powerful investors, not unorganized voters, dominate campaigns and elections. Because businesses "invest" in political parties and their candidates, changes in industrial structures—between large firms and sectors—can alter the agenda of party politics and the shape of public policy.

Golden Rule presents revised versions of widely read essays in which Ferguson advanced and tested his theory, including his seminal study of the role played by capital intensive multinationals and international financiers in the New Deal. The chapter "Studies in Money Driven Politics" brings this aspect of American politics into better focus, along with other studies of Federal Reserve policy making and campaign finance in the 1936 election. Ferguson analyzes how a changing world economy and other social developments broke up the New Deal system in our own time, through careful studies of the 1988 and 1992 elections. The essay on 1992 contains an extended analysis of the emergence of the Clinton coalition and Ross Perot's dramatic independent insurgency. A postscript on the 1994 elections demonstrates the controlling impact of money on several key campaigns.

This controversial work by a theorist of money and politics in the U.S. relates to issues in campaign finance reform, PACs, policymaking, public financing, and how today's elections work.
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