June 12, 2012

Foundations of Liberty: American Enterprise Institute

By: D.B. Atchison

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is one of the oldest and most reputable think tanks in the country.  Founded in 1938 as the American Enterprise Association, AEI has become a premier non-partisan institution committed to promote “greater public knowledge and understanding of the social and economic advantages accruing to the American people through the maintenance of the system of free, competitive enterprise.”

In 1943, AEI moved from their original New York location to Washington, D.C. to prevent wartime price and production controls from becoming the norm.  In so doing, they were on the forefront of the great migration of business and policy institutions to our nation’s capitol.  Following the impressive elimination of wartime economic controls, AEI began commissioning research on legislative proposals.  As of today they now research seven major areas: EconomicsForeign and Defense PolicyPolitics and Public OpinionEducationHealth,Energy and the Environment and Society and Culture. Their research has remained steadfast to their initial academic objectives of “accurate, impartial, and objective” non-partisan research.

The arrival of William J. Baroody in 1954 transformed AEI into the organization that it is today.  With limited resources he was able to effectively recruit leading academics for research, and effectively promote their work so that, by 1955, AEI publications began appearing in leading newspapers and journals, such as the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s.

AEI has enjoyed close relationships with several presidential administration’s, most notably Ronald Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s.  Under both of the aforementioned administrations, many AEI scholars were taken on as leading architects of policy.  To quote President Bush on AEI: ” I admire AEI a lot — I’m sure you know that. After all, I have been consistently borrowing some of your best people. More than 20 AEI scholars have worked in my administration.”

Their close relationships with these administrations was certainly merited. AEI has been remarkably accurate in their economic and political forecasts, predicting both the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008 and the Arab Spring. At the time, these reports were taken with skepticism, but as more of these outlooks have been proven true, there is no question that the Beltway listens when AEI speaks.

In 2008, Arthur C. Brooks took the helm of AEI.  Since his arrival he has stepped up AEI’s presence on the Hill and in the media asserting “that free enterprise is not just the most efficient economic system for America, but an expression of American values.” I could not be in more agreement with that statement.

Under the leadership of Mr. Brooks, AEI is grabbing the bull by the horns in the fight “between two competing visions of America. In one, America will continue to be a unique and exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise. In the other, America will move toward a European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, increasing income redistribution, and government-controlled corporations.” [from Mr Brooks’ book The Battle, available at Amazon, $6.40]

By fostering a dedication “to open inquiry, lucid exposition, vigorous debate and continuous improvement in the institutions of American liberty”, AEI’s renowned staff, fellows, and adjunct scholars will continue to be a mighty force to be reckoned with for many years to come. For more information, please visit www.aei.org

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