The Niskanen Center, which launched operations in January 2015, is a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) think tank that works to promote an open society: a social order that is open to political, cultural, and social change; open to free inquiry; open to individual autonomy; open to the poor and marginalized; open to commerce and trade; open to people who may wish to come or go; open to different beliefs and cultures; open to the search for truth; and a government that protects these freedoms while advancing the cause of open societies around the world. The politics of the 21st century increasingly pits defenders of the open society against a new breed of populists animated by a vision of a closed and exclusive national community. The Niskanen Center’s theory of policy change and how we go about our business is described in detail in our conspectus.
The Niskanen Center works to advance an open society both through active engagement in the war of ideas and direct engagement in the policymaking process. We develop policy proposals, mobilize other groups to support those proposals, promote those ideas to legislative and executive decision-makers, build short- and longer-term coalitions to facilitate joint action, establish strong working relationships with allied legislative- and executive-branch actors, and marshal the most convincing arguments and information in support of our agenda.
The Center is named after William (Bill) Niskanen. Bill was a long-time friend whom we knew as chairman of the Cato Institute. Before his time at Cato, Bill was a defense policy analyst at RAND, director of program analysis at the Institute for Defense Analyses, assistant director of the Office of Management and Budget, professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, chief economist at the Ford Motor Company, professor of economics at UCLA, and a member (and later, acting chairman) of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Ronald Reagan.
Bill was a personification of the qualities we embrace at the Niskanen Center. He was an exemplary scholar who never let ideology or partisanship color his interpretation of facts and data. He was an idealist but, at the same time, a political realist with a burning desire to improve the state of affairs to whatever extent he could. And he was a man who earned great affection and respect from people across a wide range of governing networks in Washington.
For more about the Niskanen Center’s theory of policy change and how we go about our business, read our conspectus.