Books by James Allen Smith

THE IDEA BROKERS by James Allen Smith
Released: Feb. 4, 1990

Smith, formerly a history professor at Brown, tells of the evolution of "think tanks" from small research groups of the early 1900's to today's large moneyed centers molding public opinion and advising politicians. Smith labels the credentialed experts of every calling, spawned in graduate schools, "the new policy elite." He asks whether average citizens and their representatives have surrendered their opinions and decision-making to small groups of confident gurus of knowledge and power. Woodrow Wilson, he points out, warned of a government of experts that could cause citizens to doubt their ability to rule themselves. Since Wilson's time, Smith finds, a proliferation of experts has arisen, providing politicians and executives with ready-made bases for legislation and decision-making. He concedes that experts and their analytic methods have proved valuable during wars and recessions but says they have since developed into less innovative bureaucracies. Truman and Eisenhower, he explains, institutionalized advisory roles pioneered by FDR's "Brain Trust." When scientifically measured engineering methods were applied to inexact social sciences, the results were often confused failures. And many think tanks, Smith argues, have become liberal or conservative advocates; he warns that think tank publications and their subsidized authors influence authorities so much that the people's own democratic instincts and common sense may be lost, Finally, citing the failure of think tanks to predict the revolutionary events of 1989, Smith advises us not to be seduced by power elites, and not to abdicate our responsibilities as citizens. A thoughtful, cautionary analysis. Read full book review >