Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!

Research is harder than it looks

HARTFORD, Conn. — Think of an intern in a think tank. He tries to think, but his mind goes blank.

I try to think at the Yankee Institute for Public Policy. Our mission is “to promote economic opportunity through lower taxes and new ideas for better government in Connecticut.” But new ideas are rare. And interns face more imminent dilemmas, like whether to put the air conditioner on “energy saver” or “fan only.”

New ideas are rare because other people have already had them. In the office hang copies of our studies, which include “A Connecticut Assessment of State Income Taxation: Fueling Government, Stalling the Economy”; “Fifteen Years of Folly: The Failures of Connecticut’s Income Tax”; and “Save Connecticut’s Financial Future: Eliminate the Income Tax.” I’d say we’ve covered the income tax.

Even if you pick an original topic—public financing of political campaigns, for example—there’s another problem: You have no data—data you can easily download, that is. If you want to compare the margins of victory among state legislative races, you have to type the results into a spreadsheet yourself. And if you want to know how much Connecticut’s congressional delegation spends on franked mail, you have to go to a library—and check out a book.

And after you think great thoughts, you still need to get noticed. Without famous professors to call or rich donors to beckon, you place all your chips on one thing: the mail. Thankfully, a few of your envelopes breathe fresh air. The media, like “The Hartford Courant” or WDRC, report your efforts; they’re amazed someone bothered to look that stuff up.

The think tank is the school of hard knocks. But we’re lucky to spend our summer in a staring contest with Google. At least I think so.

Brian J. Bolduc ’10, a Crimson editorial writer, is an economics concentrator in Winthrop House.