Funding big ideas, continued. Myth #4: You need a big idea before you can get funding. The reason the left isn't funding think-tanks is because the left has no big ideas.

Answer: there are two kinds of responses to this myth. The first is that it gets the relationship between money and ideas exactly backwards. You need to pay people enough money so that they have the time--even the luxury--of thinking about important issues. Ideas will flow from funding. No funding, no big ideas. It's that simple.

The second response is just to point to a bunch of big ideas on the left. Some readers have alerted me to the New American Foundation (NAF) as a possible source of ideas on the center-left. I'll admit that I don't know much about the NAF, but I wasn't immediately encouraged by their mission statement. It reads:

Powerful forces - from the birth of the information age to massive demographic shifts to economic globalization - are remaking America. Now, more than ever, our nation needs a robust public debate, one that does justice to the complex challenges and opportunities of this unfolding era. Yet there remains a dearth of new thinking on both sides of the political divide, as well as a lack of investment in developing the creative young minds most capable of crafting new public policy solutions.

I think just about any organization could have written this statement. A foundation with a mission as bland is this one probably needs to do some work defining itself. But I'll agree that it's definitely a step in the right direction. To its great credit, the NAF is funding the work of young scholars and journalists, and it's got strong partnerships with the Atlantic Monthy and BasicBooks. Is the NAF progressive enough to serve as a good counterweight to libertarian and conservative think-tanks? That's not a rhetorical quesion--I really don't know. But I'm glad the NAF is out there, and I'm looking forward to learning more about it. To come back to the original point, though, groups like the NAF have enough economic and political ideas to get the ball rollling. If there's a dearth on the left, it's not in the possibility for ideas--but in the funding to make them into realities.

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