Giving Tanks (The Wall Street Journal)

Giving Tanks (The Wall Street Journal)

Giving Tanks
By John Fund

Across Europe, thinkers are promoting
free-market ideals.

The Wall
Street Journal
Monday, December 10,

Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and
other free-market Washington
think tanks are known to many Americans. What isn't
generally understood is that there has been an explosion of free-market think
tanks around the world that are increasingly challenging the conventional view
that government is the solution to society's

Last week the Stockholm Network, an umbrella organization for European
free-market think tanks, held its first annual award ceremonies to honor the
groups that have been most effective in informing policy makers and the general
public about policies like school choice, portable pensions and decentralized
approaches to delivering health care. The Wall Street Journal was a co-sponsor,
in line with its adherence to an editorial philosophy of "free markets and
free people."

In 1997, the Stockholm Network had five members; it now boasts more than
130 affiliated groups, stretching from Iceland
to Armenia.
In Bulgaria,
the Center for Market Economics has played a major role in building support for
the country's adoption of a 10%
flat-rate income tax, effective Jan. 1. "Watch Bulgaria," says Steve Masty, an economic
development specialist based in London.
"The intellectual light bulbs that have been switched on there are now
having real-world results."

More than one guest at the Stockholm Network dinner commented that
several countries in Europe that escaped the
Soviet bloc less than two decades ago are now pursuing reforms that would be
regarded as too radical for Western European electorates. In Slovakia, the introduction of a
profit-based health system has led to the entry of two private health-insurance
companies that have helped drop the state share of the health-care market to
65% from 80% in just two years.

Some of the think tank presidents attending the dinner have suffered
more than criticism for their work. Prof. Atilla Yayla, the president of the
Association for Liberal Thinking in Turkey, gave a speech last year in
which he stated that the single-party secular rule imposed by Kemal Ataturk in
the 1920s "appears backward rather than progressive." He said he
found it difficult to explain to visitors to Turkey why statues and pictures of
Ataturk appear in almost every public space.

Mr. Yayla was viciously attacked in the
media and subjected to criminal
prosecution for his comments. Now teaching on a yearlong sabbatical in
England, he plans to return to Turkey to continue his fight for a
truly liberal society that represents a third way between Islamism and
Ataturk's state-imposed secularism. He has more than 500
Turkish academics and intellectuals on his mailing list.


While the Stockholm Network focuses on Europe, that doesn't
mean that free-market think tanks in developing countries are being ignored.
This week the Cato Institute is launching a series of international Web sites
to build support for the ideas of liberty and to promote the work of local
think tanks. Web sites in French, Portuguese, Chinese, Kurdish, African
languages and Persian will join existing Cato Web sites in Russian, Spanish and

The project is the work of Tom Palmer,
who 20 years ago as a young libertarian scholar smuggled photocopiers into the
Soviet Bloc so dissidents could produce their own samizdat publications.
"In many countries there is a clear need for private efforts not subject
to or tied to any government entity," he told me. "Clearly, the
government-led efforts aren't doing
such a hot job of promoting the ideas of liberty at the moment."

John Blundell, president of Britain's
Institute for Economic Affairs, says an increasing emphasis on promoting
liberty in developing nations and among immigrants from those nations is
appropriate. At IEA's annual
conference for up-and-coming free-market scholars in October, white men were a
distinct minority of the 100 students attending. The children of Indian and
Chinese immigrants won almost half of the prizes and honorable mentions in IEA's annual student essay contest.

The original inspiration for much of the worldwide growth in free-market
ideas was a slender volume written by F.A. Hayek, obscure professor at the
London School of Economics, in 1944. As World War II was winding down and
postwar planning for growing welfare states was under way, Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom," made a powerful
case that the collectivist ideas then gaining ground would almost inevitably
lead to a loss of liberty in all its forms.

Hayek also made a positive case that the venerable ideas expounded by
thinkers like Adam Smith, David Hume and Edmund Burke, who promoted limited
government and the rule of law, could prove a powerful antidote to socialism.
Hayek urged proponents of liberty to build on the example of socialists, who
built a network of theorists and philosophers that later helped them gain
political power. He called for a "a truly liberal radicalism (in the
European meaning of that term) . . . which does not confine itself to
what appears today as politically possible."

A few years after publication of "The Road to Serfdom," a
young entrepreneur named Anthony Fisher met with Hayek and started IEA. It
spent 20 years building the case for a freer society until its ally, Margaret
Thatcher, became prime minister in 1979.


While the Stockholm Network dinner was
held in a celebratory mood, several speakers reminded the audience illiberal
notions like protectionism are making a comeback in many countries, and that
global warming has become a pretext for those advocating draconian limits on
economic growth.

wrongheaded ideas are also on the march in America. Everyone seems focused on
which party will control the White House and Congress after next November's election. But regardless of who wins, real
changes in the public-policy landscape are likely to come only if those who
hold political power also have won the battle for their ideas. That's why, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars
being spent on the 2008 election, advocates on both the left and right are also
pouring money into think tanks. They are preparing for the day when those ideas
can be taken off the shelf and put to the test.

INESS je nezávislé, neštátne a nepolitické občianske združenie. Všetky naše aktivity sú financované z grantov, 2% daňovej asignácie, vlastnej činnosti a darov fyzických a právnických osôb. Naše fungovanie, rozsah a kvalita výstupov, teda vo veľkej miere závisí aj od Vašej štedrosti.
Zlatý klinec Nadácia Orange Templeton Freedom Award Dorian & Antony Fisher Venture Grants Golden Umbrella Think Tanks Awards