In the US too, conservative corporate-funded think tanks have been responsible for the transmission and promotion of free market ideas and policies
These bodies provided a vital arena for fusing academic theories with practical policies and for spreading the new gospel among politicians, officials, academics and the media… The ‘policy intellectuals’ in the think tanks, private offices of ministers and the large policy staffs which serve President and Congress adapt the original ideas to what they see as political opportunities. The media are enlisted to spread the ideas in the form of simple, often dogmatic assumptions. Bureaucracies are permeated with new policy directions and axioms. A new ideology is created for political consumption.
In the US ‘think tanks and foundations perform the research and advocacy functions that in many other industrial nations would be undertaken by the organized political parties.’ The American political parties do not play much role in policy development and do not have policy research units. It has been suggested that American political parties are not only unable to come up with ideas but that they lack any ideological coherence: ‘Think tanks have played a crucial role in building and supporting policy consensus and thereby replaced American parties which tend to work rather as electoral coalitions than as places of ideological discussion and policy planning.’
Ricci, in his book The Transformation of American Politics, argues that politicians often lack any vision or philosophy or a coherent set of values that would enable them to deal with the mass of information at their disposal; to distinguish between the ‘good and bad, significant and insignificant, relevant and irrelevant.’ Politicians and government officials therefore look to experts in the think tanks to interpret and make sense of all that information. This gives rise to a set of policy entrepreneurs based in think tanks who usually have the coherent vision that politicians lack.
Corporate funded neoconservative think tanks proliferated and expanded in the US in the 1970s campaigning against government regulation. Their explicit political goals caused them to be referred to as advocacy think tanks. These think tanks helped bring Ronald Reagan to power and then influenced his policies when he was elected president in 1980. As in the UK, the relationship was two way. Reagan gave the free-market ideologues position and status, in return they gave his ideas credibility. According to Feulner of the Heritage Foundation, ‘Our presence made Reaganism more acceptable’.