How Think Tanks Achieve Public Policy Breakthroughs

Lawrence Mone, Manhattan Institute, May 29, 2002.


It was back in 1984 that we sponsored what was to become a landmark book: Losing Ground, by Charles Murray, which was published by Basic Books. Charles, at the time, was a not very well known social scientist, but his analytical and writing skills impressed us greatly. Prior to Charles’ book, others had said that antipoverty programs hurt the poor. But no one had drawn together, critically, all the data let alone, in a way that could capture the strategic audience. In this case, that audience was journalists, who could reframe the terms of the debate. Charles targeted this audience, and his book hit the bull’s eye.  As The New Republic put it: “The best indicator of Losing Ground’s success is not how many people have read it, but who has read it.”  The book was the subject of countless editorials, columns and articles. Slowly, but surely,over the course of the next ten years, it totally flipped the conventional wisdom on welfare. And that flip led ultimately to the Welfare Reform bill of 1996. President Clinton himself acknowledged this, when he said, in an interview with Tom Brokaw, and I quote: “[Charles Murray] did the country a service… his analysis is essentially right.”