So, the Taxpayers’ Alliance have finally found the point at which they say something so outrageous that they actually have to apologise for it. There’s an even more shocking claim at the start of that report, however, when it refers to the TPA as a ‘think tank’, which future lexicographers may well come to regard as the point at which that term lost all meaning. Whereas a think tank used to conjure up images of dour and serious policy wonks lost in deep contemplation about the future of the country, now it appears to refer to anyone with an opinion and a non-personal website. (I’m still accepting donations to the Straw Man Institute, by the way)
Describing the TPA and their ilk as think tanks is a real misnomer, as those who work there are being paid to actively not think. There’s no pretence of objective investigation and enquiry going on, merely a process centred around mass-generation of Freedom of Information requests, the results of which are then splattered into a spreadsheet, attached to a press-release and hawked mercilessly around the lazier corners of the press. There’s no attempt to generate independent or original thought, they’re merely a conduit for providing PR to serve their donors’ needs by generating headlines favourable to their causes.
Their role is nothing more than trolling on a grand scale, derailing any attempt to have serious discussions about government, politics and society by shouting ‘but what about the rich people, eh?’ into any discussion. There is a role for genuine think tanks in political discussion, but that role is continually weakened by their association with what are nothing more than shills for whoever’s willing to pay them that week. When groups like the TPA get called ‘think tanks’ it denigrates and weakens the output of any organisation given that title, implying that they’re all nothing more than cheap PR flacks, eager to tell you exactly what you want to hear.
To try and solve this I recommend that any organisation that clearly doesn’t care about thinking should be referred to solely as a ‘troll tank’ (though some may perhaps be better referred to as ‘troll factories’ given how much their alumni crop up across the media). It’s a much better description of what they do and their role in debate, and might just lead to people understanding that they shouldn’t be taken seriously.