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From Snark to a Serious Question: Non-profit Productivity

By Matthew Yglesias on February 9, 2009 at 2:12 pm

"From Snark to a Serious Question: Non-profit Productivity"

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I had an idea for a post in which I was going to link to a bunch of people making the case that government spending is wasteful and the public sector inefficient and unproductive, and then make the point that those people all seemed to have cushy gigs in the “right-wing think tank” sector of the economy, which isn’t really well-known for its high level of productivity. Cato’s Neal McCluskey, for example, complains about “the utter waste of cramming yet more bucks into already obese schools” but it seems to me that we could easily trim the fat from the Cato education policy program. Surely a moderately clever computer programmer could write a routine that scans RSS feeds for stories about education policy and then outputs a link plus “VOUCHERS ARE THE ANSWER!!!!!!!!!”

But then I thought maybe I shouldn’t mock the right-wing think tank sector as unproductive, because here I am in the progressive think tank sector.

All this did, however, bring to mind the question of how is it that our national accounts statistics measure the non-profit sector’s productivity? What’s the “output” of Cato or the Center for American Progress? The whole point of these kind of institutions is to do things that we believe are more valuable than their market price would indicate.

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