What is the value of think tanks?

So asks Daniel Drezner, read his post.  I see no need to focus on think tanks per se, but I see four critical gaps in our current understanding.  Someone (moi?…no, you) should be working on these problems:

1. Applying frontier social science to issues of disaster preparedness.  This includes how to respond and be ready for avian flu, terrorist attacks, and the next Katrina.

2. A good health care plan that is practical, not too far from politically feasible, and applies competition to lower costs and improve service quality.  It must be incentive-compatible, yet at the same time it can’t be seen as heartless and simply letting people die.  That probably rules out "cut health care spending in half and have everyone eat better and exercise more," otherwise an appealing option.

3. How should we respond to the possibility that very small groups will have the ability to attack or blackmail us, using nuclear weapons or other decentralized sources of extreme power?  What does this equilibrium look like, and how can we make it better rather than worse?

4. How can Africa actually develop?  Don’t beg the question by listing the needed outputs — such as markets, democracy, or the rule of law — as the inputs of your policy recommendation.

Any institution — think tank or not — which tackles those problems has earned my respect.  And note that all four overlap to some extent.  All relate to how a centralized sphere of control should respond to a decentralized abuse of incentives, or how we can stop those decentralized abuses in the first place. 


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