The first is this Johann Hari article in the Independent, which talks about how think tanks can provide the veneer of respectability that hides aked corporate (or rich individual) self interest. Hari does the usual leftist trick of accurately diagnosing the problem and then completely cocking up the solution:
Of course, all these think tanks claim they reach their conclusions independently, and are not swayed by financial donations in any way. But Steven C Clemons - a think-tank head turned whistleblower - recently revealed the contents of one staff discussion at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). They were discussing telecom deregulation, and the telecoms companies were lined up on different sides of the debate, according to their own interests. Several staffers suggested the EPI should simply take the side that would generate most income for the think tank. "This story is not unique. It is commonplace. It's how Washington think tanks work," says Clemons.
But why do corporations and dodgy governments hand over their cash? Aren't think tanks small and powerless? Clemons explains: "One reason why think tanks are so attractive to moneyed political players is that the intellectuals who work for them seem more legitimate than corporate spokespeople or lobbyists. Part of what's being bought is credibility."
Blackhurst says it works in exactly the same way in Britain now: "'Cable and Wireless call for the break-up of BT' isn't a story, it's just naked self-interest. But 'Blairite think tank Demos calls for the break-up of BT'? Now that's a story. That has credibility, at least on the surface."
If British think tanks are going to avoid the ethical and intellectual collapse of their American cousins, they need to introduce - at the very least - full transparency. All political parties declare their income publicly. Why should think tanks be any different? If the FPC are going to take money from Russian oligarchs, they should at least tell us in large letters on their website.
But transparency is only a first step. If government ministers want a fresh and intelligent think-tank scene uncontaminated by the private interests of a few billionaires, then they should be prepared to pay for it. Funding four or five state think tanks as an autonomous part of the civil service would cost a tiny amount of money, but would harvest policy ideas that benefit us all. Then think tanks could fulfil the remit I daydreamed about earlier.
But if we want think tanks like this - rather than pimps for corporations or corrupt foreign governments - then we will have to pay for them.
The solution is partly right, transparency is a great idea. But that will do. We absolutely should not "let government pay for it". This is simply bound to lead to all sorts of applications of the "law of unexpected consequences" one of which is that the government think tank is highly likely to produce statist answers to every problem. Transaprency, clarity and some sort of monitoring to ensure compliance (a think tank equivalent of the Charity Commission perhaps) should be fine. After all just because big business wants somethign doesn't necessarily mean it is wrong, but it does of course help that the (potential) conflict of interest is clearly recognised.
The second article is a quiz by the Institute of Race Relations which is, IMO, an excellent example of the sorts of misdirection that goes on when a pressure group tries to influence people. I'm not saying it is wrong, and the questions are indeed interesting, BUT the questions seem designed to lead one towards thinking that England should both accept more immigrants and provide them with more assistence. Both of which are rather debatable.
Of course it is possible to come up with an alternative racist twist which I'm sure the IRR would be rather upset with: Q 10's answer says that immigrants save "taxpayers" £2.5 billion /year [aside: surely that is because some immigrants are also taxpayers and thus there is a slight logical disconnect obviously who they mean are native born tay payers] Q 9's answer says that "27% of Black Caribbean men aged 16-24 are unemployed. For Bangladeshi men in the same age range, over 40 per cent are unemployed. Young Black African men, Pakistanis and those belonging to the 'Mixed' group also have very high unemployment rates - they range between 25 per cent and 31 per cent. The comparable unemployment rate for young White men is 12 per cent." Q8's answer gives the breakdown of where immigrants come from "About 8% of the UK population were born abroad. Of these, 31% came from other European countries, 19% from Africa, 20% from the Indian sub-continent and 11% from the Americas including Canada, the USA and the Caribbean." Q6's answer shows that some immigrants are far poorer than others: "British families with a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background are much more likely than other groups to be living on low incomes. Almost 60% of the 1 million people in this group are living in low-income households."
A racist would take these facts to draw the conclusion that dark-skinned immigrants are lazy good for nothings who are a drain on the public purse while white-skinned ones are a positive benefit. You will note that this conclusion is easier to draw when the questions are asked in the reverse order. Amusant n'est-ce pas?