Think tanks have been in the news a bit lately. Where, you might wonder, did the idea for think tanks come from?
In 1971 corporate USA widely perceived the "free enterprise system" to be "under attack" from communists, environmental activists, and other groups on the left of the political spectrum (anyone who cared about anything except money, basically).
And so they launched an ideological war on society, in which the "think tank" was a central weapon. The job of the think tank was to employ the new PhDs being churned out by conservative business schools and help them to promote the conservative business message, lobby politicians, and keep their message in the media spotlight. Think tanks were and are the propaganda wing of the conservative war on society.
Of course they bought professorships to teach the PhDs and they founded new business schools to ensure that business graduates were never exposed to other ways of thinking. And they bought up all the media companies as well. And they bought a lot of the politicians one way or another.
So by the 1980s we were all reciting the free market mantra and nodding when they said that there was no choice. And we bit the bullet through repeatedly and worsening recessions and the growing social problems fostered by inequality and the capture of government by business interests.
The conservative war on society was outlined by Lewis Powell in a memo to the US Chamber of Commerce that year. It spells out all of the major fronts on which the war would be fought (and won). If you want to learn more about why things are the way they are, then read the memo. It tells you pretty much everything to need to know about how things went wrong for the people and right for the morbidly wealthy.
See also Adam Curtis blog on Think Tanks from 2011. It particularly deals with the founding of the Institute for Economic Affairs which has been in the media lately.