Struggling to make sense of whether China or the United States is more economically vulnerable, with the former holding so much of the latter’s debt, Kori Schake recalled the time she ventured to the Hoover Institution’s commons area, searching for a cup of coffee and some answers.

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Video by Kurt Hickman

The Hoover Institution seeks to improve the human condition by advancing ideas that promote economic opportunity and prosperity, while securing and safeguarding peace for America and all mankind.

There, the Hoover Distinguished Research Fellow bumped into economists John Taylor, who served four U.S. presidents; Alvin Rabushka, an authority on the flat tax; and the late Gary Becker, a winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

“I saw my research opportunity and threw the question to them and got a 45-minute master class on international economics,” Schake recalled. “And the most interesting part is that none of the three agreed.”

Bringing together renowned thought leaders with a range of views is what the Hoover Institution thrives on. And as the venerated public policy think tank celebrates the opening of the David and Joan Traitel Building – and with its 100th anniversary approaching – the Hoover Institution is looking increase its already significant impact on national and international policy.

Remarkable fellows

The Hoover Institution’s mission is to improve the human condition by advancing ideas that promote economic opportunity and prosperity, while securing and safeguarding peace for America and all mankind.

“And we do it with a set of fellows that are quite remarkable; people that have stunning academic backgrounds and policy backgrounds,” said Tom Gilligan, the Tad and Dianne Taube Director of Hoover. “So, we have a lot of expertise and knowledge about what makes public policy work in these areas.”

Its 175 fellows include former U.S. Cabinet members, economists who have served on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and leaders from the U.S. Armed Forces.

Hoover fellows work on individual research agendas, and in some cases in organized research teams. The institution complements its core base of 60-plus senior fellows with research and visiting fellows from around the world. These scholars have the opportunity to collaborate with senior fellows and make use of vital resources, such as Hoover’s celebrated Library & Archives, which holds a massive collection of books, memorabilia and rare artifacts related to war in the 20th and 21st centuries that attracts scholars across the globe.

Among the many research areas at Hoover, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, a senior fellow, has advocated for a carbon tax to fight climate change. A research team working on health care has examined flaws in Medicaid, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. Another team focused on immigration reform is analyzing enforcement practices and border security. Additional task forces are dedicated to foreign policy, K-12 education and national security, among other topics.

This team approach allows for more collaboration and an increase in research output, which Hoover shares through its numerous publications and digital channels. In addition to the Hoover Institution Press, which publishes the work of Hoover fellows and other scholars, the institution has online journals, blogs, podcasts and videos sharing these ideas with policymakers and the general public.

Beyond research by fellows and visiting faculty, the institution tackles some of the most urgent issues facing the United States through conferences that bring together international experts. This year it gathered a panel including former U.S. Secretary of Defense and Senior Fellow William Perry, which generated policy recommendations on how the Trump administration can best deal with North Korea and its nuclear threats. Hoover also hosted a forum examining China’s political future, and gathered scholars, as well as leaders from the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center, to debate foreign intelligence surveillance.

Agents of change

What has helped Hoover have such influence over its 100-year history is the breadth of viewpoints its scholars encompass.

“Diversity of thought is the single most important way to get better ideas out into operation,” said Senior Fellow John Cogan, who joined Hoover in 1979. “If you end up with an organization where all the individuals think one way, you’ll get no progress in the development of ideas. So, having this diversity of thought, being required to defend your position, to listen to the other person’s argument, is really a powerful contributor to better ideas.”

What’s imperative, Gilligan said, is that the innovative ideas and viewpoints of Hoover fellows reach those in policy leadership positions, making the institution’s outreach efforts critical. Hoover fellows regularly contribute opinion pieces to major media outlets and provide their expertise through broadcast media. The institution also expanded its office in Washington, D.C., in 2012 to allow more direct interaction between Hoover scholars and the nation’s leaders.

Hoover fellows and their ideas have a rich tradition of having tangible impacts on U.S. and international policy. Alvin Rabushka and Robert Hall have been longtime champions of the flat tax, which saw increased implementation in Europe. “The Taylor Rule,” a recommendation for the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates based on certain factors, is named after economist John Taylor. Michael Spence, one of four Nobel laureates who are current Hoover fellows, advanced research into market imperfections, which had a transformative effect on the field of economics. Two prominent members of the Trump administration – Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster – were visiting fellows at Hoover at the time of their appointments.

Commitment to education

While continuing to focus on research, Hoover is increasing its commitment to educating audiences from policymakers to the general public. Two years ago, the institution launched Educating Americans about Public Policy (EAPP), an initiative making use of online video and digital technology that gives factual information and interesting perspectives on the public policy issues most important to Americans. Hoover also hosts a congressional fellowship program, where it invites congressional staff to participate in seminars led by Hoover scholars where they debate key philosophical and political issues; a media fellowship program where journalists and Hoover scholars can engage on political issues; and its Leadership Forum, which hosts influential political figures for thoughtful debates on pressing policy issues.

“We’re part of an academic community, and the standards for research and solid idea generation puts a higher pressure on us than other think tanks,” Gilligan said. “A lot of what our fellows do is extrapolate the implications of their research for public policy, they just don’t go out and opine on public policy.”

A mutual benefit

Many Hoover fellows hold joint appointments between the institution and Stanford, and are teaching and interacting with students in virtually every department related to public policy. Schake, for instance, teaches Thinking About War, a class that attracts both undergraduate and graduate students.

In August, Hoover hosted a Summer Policy Boot Camp, where students learned about policy issues from Hoover economists and national security experts. Students have also teamed with Hoover scholars on projects, such as conducting research on U.S. intelligence agencies with Senior Fellow Amy Zegart.

Further interaction is likely with the opening of the new Traitel Building. With a state-of-the-art auditorium that seats 400, a spacious multipurpose room, an inviting pavilion and a spacious courtyard, the new structure can host a variety of activities that allow Hoover’s scholars to share their research.

“This new building allows more opportunities for Hoover to have relevance to the Stanford community, and I think the Stanford community has more of an appetite to hear from Hoover,” Gilligan said. “I think there’s a general hunger for a broader array of diversity of opinions to be expressed on campus, and Hoover can play a strong role in making sure that happens.”