Forbes is the world leader in rankings dealing with the creation of wealth and wealth creators: topbillionaires, leading companies, innovators to watch, and similar. The list that follows focuses on organizations which try to create a climate hospitable to free-enterprise in the Americas.
I only consider think tanks which show an understanding, and are therefore biased, toward private solutions to public problems. Other think tanks in Latin America have produced outstanding research, but often the same think tanks act as quasi-contractors of government agencies and promote increased government intervention. I only list organizations that can be ranked by a quantitative measure. Most rankings come from the GoToThinkTank Index prepared by the University of Pennsylvania. In aprevious column I dealt with some of the challenges of measuring think tanks. The GoTo index results from the votes of approximately 1,000 think-tank players, which although imperfect, gives it relevance. This first list will also be imperfect, so I welcome comments and suggestions in case we missed worthy candidates.
Leading in world rankings: Centro de Estudios Públicos (CEP) and Instituto Libertad y Desarrollo (LyD) both from Santiago, Chile. It is no coincidence that the top two think tanks are based in the country which also has the best corporate culture and the freest economy in the region. CEP was founded in 1980 by a poet, philosopher, and writer, Arturo Fontaine Talavera. In a land that appreciates good writing and boasts two Nobel Laureates in Literature, Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda, Fontaine novels have been number one on the best-seller lists. Fontaine started his free-market life as a translator. CEP today is renowned by its public surveys and its academic journal “Estudios Públicos.” Its former VP for Research, Harald Beyer, is the current Minister of Education.
LyD was founded by a team of economists and policy experts in 1990. Hernán Büchi, Carlos Cáceres, and Cristián Larroulet, deserve most of the credit. Larroulet, a high-school classmate of Fontaine, is today the secretary general of the Chilean government, working side by side with President Sebastián Piñera. LyD played a major role in helping consolidate Chilean economic reforms. Approximately 20 people associated with LyD joined the government. The center also runs a FreeEnterprise Center that helps train think-tank staff members and intellectual entrepreneurs from the region.
Top Mexican institute: CIDAC, Mexico. CIDAC was founded in 1984 as an offshoot of an association created to train finance and business executives and is led by Luis Rubio Friedberg. Before joining the think-tank world, Rubio had a stellar career in the banking industry and was appointed to the board of directors of Forbes in 2006. CIDAC is highly respected for the technical quality of its research. Rubio is also president of a new think tank which complements CIDAC’s work, by the name Mexico Evalúa. A spinoff of CIDAC, Mexico Evalúa focuses on evaluating the costs and benefits of Mexican government policies. Mexico Evalúa is led by Edna Jaime, CIDAC’s former general manager.
Top think tank focusing on international analysis: CERES, from Montevideo, Uruguay. Founded in 1985 by Ricardo Peirano and a team of young business leaders and intellectual entrepreneurs, it is directed by one of the most talented economists of the Americas: Ernesto Talvi. Recognizing the outstanding quality of its work, CERES was recently selected to conduct the Latin American work of Brookings. For a taste of their products you can check their latest overview of the region’s economy on the Brookings website.
Top think tank in the use of internet and social media: CEDICE, Venezuela. Founded in 1984, this think tank is under constant attack by the Chávez government. CEDICE’s staff and board make heroic efforts to continue producing admirable educational programs, solid research, and award winning TV ads promoting the respect of private property. It has its own weekly radio program, its researchers publish twice a week in the leading newspapers, and it has helped create several other educational NGOs.
Top politically affiliated think tank:Fundación Pensar, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Pensar (means “To Think” in Spanish) was founded in 2005 initially as a coalition think tank, similar to the State Policy Networkin the United States. Several members of Pensar belonged to a political party (PRO) that won the election to govern the city of Buenos Aires (PRO is led by Buenos Aires city chief Mauricio Macri). Although officially an independent non-profit, two years ago Pensar developed a formal agreement with PRO to act as its think tank. Its place in the ranking is justified by the quality of Pensar’s research team, most with graduate degrees from leading U.S. universities.
Best advocacy campaign: CIEN, founded in 1981 in Guatemala. Before each presidential election, CIEN has been producing its “Lineamientos de Política Económica, Social y Seguridad Ciudadana” a collection of policy analysis and guidelines offered to whoever wins the election. It is similar to Heritage’s “Mandate for Leadership,” an effort which is famous in the think tank world. “Mandate for Leadership” was produced before the election ofRonald Reagan and a few think tanks around the world replicated the effort.
Think tank with most likes on Facebook*: Instituto Mises Brazil (IMB). Founded by Helio Beltrão in 2008, the institute has the rights to translate the work of the United States’ Mises Institue, which is also one of the leaders in web impact and social media. IMB is approaching 45,000 likes on Facebook, and over 1,800 “talking” about it. It beats not only Latin American but most U.S. think tanks.
Think tank with most Twitter followers*: CEP, Chile, with 30,000. Close behind, we have CEDICE with 27,000 and both CIDAC and LyD have approximately 15,000. For comparison, Brookings has 29,000, and the leading Canadian think tank—Fraser Institute—has 11,000.
Best new institutes*: (started during the last two years): Fundación Progreso, in Chile, and CREES in the Dominican Republic. Despite their young age, these think tanks are developing outstanding programs. Both have talented policy scholars and leading businessmen on their team and will likely make a major contribution to the understanding and promotion of freedom in their countries and the Americas.
Think tank that produced the biggest best-seller*: Instituto Libertad y Democracia, Peru. Written by Hernando de Soto in collaboration with Enrique Ghersi and Mario Gibellini, “The Other Path” continues to be the number one market-oriented, public-policy book released by a Latin American think tank. The analysis of the book helped inspire the “Doing Business” index produced by the World Bank and changed the direction of development economics.
Think tank that organizes the meeting attracting the largest crowd*: IEE, in Porto Alegre, was founded in 1984. Its first president was William Ling, and the president has a one year term limit. IEE organizes a yearly Liberty Forum at the local Catholic University which attracts over 6,000 participants—with over 3,000 usually in attendance at each session. IEE stands for “Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies” and its membership consists of leading young Brazilian entrepreneurs. Once they pass the age of 40, they graduate to sponsors and some to board members. The Liberty Forum this year is scheduled for April 8-9, 2013.
Think tank that attracted most Nobel Laureates*: Fundación Libertadfounded by Gerardo Bongiovanni—in the city of Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina—has attracted seven Nobel Laureates in economics and one for the Nobel Peace Prize (Lech Walesa). Its major international ally, a Nobel Laureate in literature, and Atlas Templeton Fellow, Mario Vargas Llosa, has championed this organization across the Americas. Fundación Libertad is celebrating its25th anniversary this year with five days of events in Rosario and Buenos Aires (April 9-12). It is attracting all relevant think tanks in the Americas and several from Europe.
With continued efforts to measure think tank activities, future lists will likely include several other categories. No organization can excel in all. In the GoTo index, LyD in Chile received more nominations than any other market-oriented group, a total of 11. Other Latin American free-market think tanks were ranked in the GoTo index but did not reach the top in any category. They include: Centro de Investigaciones Sobre la Libre Empresa (CISLE) in Mexico, focusing on popularizing free-market policy arguments; Instituto de Pensamiento Estratégico Agora (IPEA) from Mexico, with outstanding reach to the youth and that will soon compete with the major think tanks;Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo Económico y Social (FUSADES) from El Salvador, a major research-and-development focused organization;Instituto de Ciencias Políticas (Bogotá), which publishes the most widely circulated think-tank produced magazine in the Americas; Instituto Millenium (Brazil), leading in twitter rankings and opinion editorial placements; Instituto Ecuatoriano de Economía Política (IEEP) from Ecuador, reaching the youth and disseminating free-market literature; Fundación de Investigaciones Económicas Latinoamericanas, (FIEL) in Argentina, founded in 1964, the oldest listed here, and conducting serious and objective macroeconomic research.
Current trends and political and cultural realities indicate that the path to a more dynamic and just free-enterprise system in Latin America will face difficult, and uneven, barriers in the coming decade. The think tanks listed above contribute to create a climate of opinion favorable to reforms conducive to prosperous free societies. We wish them luck and they deserve our support.
*Rankings and evaluations of market-oriented focus prepared by the author. Twitter and Facebook statistics collected March 2, 2013. All other think Tank rankings are based on the GoToThinkTank index. Anaïs Clement, a research assistant at www.atlasnetwork.org collaborated with this piece.