Barack Obama has said that “Washington is the place where good ideas go to die.”
I have to agree with him in part that the ideas industry in Washington and the public policy field in general tends to be risk-averse and more comfortable with policy-retreading than policy-innovation. I think that Obama overstates the case as some of his best advisors — Karen Kornbluh in particular who serves as his Senate staff policy director — are knighted members of the ideas industry in Washington. Kornbluh is a close chum and was a colleague at the New America Foundation.
She is now no doubt going to get razzed by others on the campaign as to why I don’t “behave.” Note to Obama campaign — my praise for Kornbluh and many others in your camp is entirely driven by my own calculations and ego — not hers or theirs.
But seriously, the New America Foundation works hard at being an institution that takes a pragmatic, innovative, creative look at policy problems. Sometimes we at New America succeed — and like any truly risk-taking institution, sometimes we flamboyantly belly-flop.
There is a new fund now announced today to help trigger policy entrepreneurship — and I strongly applaud this effort.
George Soros has just announced the creation of a $2 million war chest at the Open Society Institute to help trigger some risk-taking and entrepreneurship among scholars, journalists, and activists working on “national security; citizenship, membership and marginalization; authoritarianism; and new strategies and tools for advocacy.”
Part of being an ideas entrepreneur is differentiating one’s work in an extremely crowded marketplace. The “noise” in the field sometimes makes it difficult to separate the great ideas from the mundane. And many have vested interests in perpetuating old frameworks, old power relationships, old bargains — but ideas entrepreneurs, the best ones, simply walk through the walls, at least intellectually if not politically.
I believe we are at a discontinuous moment in American and world history and what we do tomorrow is less and less determined by what we did yesterday.
Creativity funds — money to help smart people take risks, even for a year — are vital to our times, and I think that this kind of investment in tomorrow’s ideas and policy infrastructure is vital today.
— Steve Clemons