Students Form Think Tank for Regional Policy

The Paul Douglas Institute, a research arm of the University of Chicago Democracy Initiative, aims to spotlight issues that do not receive wide attention.

By Daksh Chauhan, Deputy News Editor

Two fourth-years recently founded a student research group, the Paul Douglas Institute (PDI), which aims to study local issues they believe do not receive sufficient attention.

Fourth-years Pablo Balsinde and Adam Reynolds founded the PDI as a research arm of the University of Chicago Democracy Initiative (UCDI), an RSO dedicated to improving the state of democracy at a local level.

Balsinde had the idea of creating a student think tank while working at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London last winter. “While visiting Cambridge University, I learned about the Wilberforce Society, a think tank run by students that was quite influential, even at the national level, and realized that UChicago needed an analogous institute,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon.

He felt that while many students on campus were interested in public policy, research done by current campus organizations and journals like The Gate was not as concentrated in specific areas as he hoped, diluting its impact.

Balsinde wanted to form an organization to streamline student interest in policy and draw attention to areas that didn’t get as much coverage.

“Some of our projects include proposing a cap and trade system for the Midwest, studying food deserts in Indiana, studying why the Cook County sweetened beverage tax failed, and evaluating the fairness of Illinois’s electoral laws ahead of next year’s elections,” he said.

The PDI is affiliated with the UCDI because Balsinde felt that the two organizations’ goals were similar. UCDI had originally started out with a research arm that quickly died out, so Reynolds and Balsinde thought that they could restart it as the PDI.

The think tank’s name honors Paul Douglas, a former Democratic U.S. Senator from Illinois and University of Chicago economics professor who died in 1976.

Currently, the think tank has 20 researchers. Balsinde said that the PDI has connections across the University and plans to partner with the Chicago Economic Forum to host events and discuss future projects.

Balsinde hopes that the think tank will serve as a forum for students to directly discuss issues that affect them.

“Regardless of one's opinions of the Bernie Sanders campaign, it revived in public consciousness the idea that students are a political agent in their own right,” he said. “Ideally, we strive to be a ‘policy-focused’ voice of this agent.”