It’s been a year and a half since the local media announced that Dallas would be getting its own think tank. Since then, the locally based National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) has published 13 studies on such critical issues as the bankruptcy of Medicare and the Soviet/American space race. The results of those studies-and the NCPA-have been mentioned in many of the nation’s top newspapers and wire services as the source of some eye-opening, often startling information.
For example, says NCPA President John Goodman, in October the center distributed a study saying that mirrors directed at the sun and Earth from outer space could probably be used to influence weather on this planet. In July, it announced that one of its studies showed that blacks suffer more under the federal minimum wage law than any other ethnic group. In January, it proposed staving off the eventual bankruptcy of Medicare by allowing the “privatization” of the federally funded health care program (i.e., transferring the program to the private sector). In July 1983, it suggested that the allocation of money for the state’s public schools would be more effective if it were based on students’ academic performance rather than on their attendance record
Most recently, the NCPA released a controversial study that assessed who had benefited from the Reagan administration’s supply-side economics plan, which has come under fire from liberals. It was controversial because some of the most liberal universities in the nation provided research information showing that the working poor, married women and the elderly benefited most from the tax cuts and programs of the conservative Reagan administration.
Goodman, who formerly headed the Center for Health Policy Studies at the University of Dallas, says he thinks that Dallas is likely to garner more respect for its intellectual endeavors from people both inside and outside Texas if it keeps producing studies that have the potential to affect national policy.
“I think one reason that we are getting a lot of attention is because we aren’t interested in getting bogged down in the old traditional policy arguments between conservatives and liberals,” Goodman says.
Goodman says that the NCPA’s goal, in a nutshell, is to draw on the most talented people from the academic world and then use that talent to search for private alternatives to government problems.
Despite all the attention Dallas gets when its dateline appears in news stories or broadcasts quoting NCPA findings, the NCPA knows that it has made only a small step in its effort to help change the nation’s perception of Dallas as an economic center to an image of it as an intellectual center as well.
It was Californian Antony Fisher who helped finance and establish the NCPA. Founding think tanks is Fisher’s specialty; he established the Institute for Economic Affairs in London 25 years ago. The NCPA board of directors includes local business heavyweights D. Wayne Calloway, executive vice president of Pepsico Inc.; Russell Perry, chairman of the board of Republic Financial Services Inc.; John Stephens, chairman of the board of Employers Casualty Co. ; Beverley Thompson, chairman of the board of Texas Steel Co. ; and Jere Thompson, president of Southland Corp.
Finding money to continue the studies has been the NCPA’s toughest problem. “The idea of supporting intellectual activity is new to Texans,” Goodman says. Like most other non-profit organizations, the NCPA knocks on doors for money. But one encouraging sign is that the proportion of funding for the NCPA from out-of-state sources such as California and New York has dropped from 80 percent to less than 50 percent of the total. Goodman hopes that means that Texans are beginning to see their think tank in a more serious light.