My late mother and I had this riff about think tanks. It began ten years ago the day I told her that I was resigning my law partnership to work in a think tank.
She said: "What in the world is a think tank?"
I said: "It's a place where you think."
She said: "What do you think about?"
I said: "First, I think about what I want to think about."
In a way the riff was silly, of course. But in another way it conveyed something significant – at least to me. A think tank is a place that ought, in the main, to respect and cultivate an environment conducive to a certain amount of studied reflection, not hurried off-the-cuff pontificating. It ought to be a place in which you can think about what you want to think about in a reflective, scholarly way. To my mind, this ability to reflect and consider is an important element in fostering the "deliberative democracy" championed by Madison. Think tanks – doing their best work – can play a constructive, even vital, role in maintaining the health of such deliberative democracy.
This brings me to a New Year's resolution. At least for now, I forswear Twittering. As many of you know, Twitter is a self-described "social messaging utility for staying connected in real-time." The idea is that by "twittering," that is by posting ongoing "tweets," your friends and "followers" can keep up with every thought that pops in your head, at least those that can be expressed in less than the 140 word "tweet" limit.
A lot of think tankers have established Twitter accounts and already are twittering away. Some say we must do this to keep up with the times and the 24/7 "news" cycle. That unless we issue a constant stream of tweet-thoughts we won't remain relevant. I confess I signed up for a Twitter account a couple of months ago, and since then, without issuing the first tweet, I've received a bunch of messages that people have signed up on Twitter to "follow me."
Well, cease and desist. No need to follow me. I've resolved not to twitter. It may be fine for others. But, for me, twittering away all day with instantaneous reactions cuts seriously into time that otherwise might be devoted to more reflective thought and deliberation - cuts even into the habit of more reflective thought.
Hopefully, this New Year's resolution will last longer than the one I make annually about changing certain (bad) dietary habits. It is enough to do a blog now and then when I think I have something worthwhile to say on fairly short notice. No 140 word limit on FSF blogs. Or, of course, on the "Perspectives of FSF Scholars" papers, or on longer scholarly studies or event transcripts.
Finally, at the Free State Foundation, our goal is to bring decades of expertise and experience, along with solid research, to bear on the resolution of public policy problems. To be truly impactful, we strive to combine academic rigor with real-world practicality in a considered and reflective way. Above all, we aspire to adhere to the free market, limited government, and rule of law principles that are our guideposts. Adherence to these principles is the surest way to advance overall consumer welfare and to ensure the social and economic well-being of America's citizens.
Having forsworn Twittering as one New Year's resolution, my other resolution – the principal one - is to work hard, everyday, to lead the Free State Foundation to fulfill the goals and aspirations stated above. If my mother were here to ask what I am thinking about on this New Year's Eve, that is what I would tell her.
Best wishes to all for a happy and healthy 2009, and thank you for your continued friendship and for your support of the Free State Foundation!