Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Freedom for Whom?

Since the 1970s there has been a proliferation of free market institutes paid for by the likes of the billionaire Koch brothers. In 1973, businessman Joseph Coors contributed $250,000 to establish The Heritage Foundation. In the US, free market think tanks have spread like the plague. The Free Market Institute started at Texas Tech in 2013, is backed by more than $11 million in funding from entities and individuals in the Koch network. Free market think tanks are generally set up as private, tax-exempt, research and advocacy institutes, and are largely funded by foundations and corporations.

And these free market institutes are economically powerful. The Heritage Foundation has a budget of over $25 million per year of which almost 90% comes from more than 6000 private donors. These donors include corporations such as automobile manufacturers, coal, oil, chemical, and tobacco companies.

In Australia the most powerful free market institute is the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). Almost one third of IPA's $1.5 million annual budget comes from mining and manufacturing companies. The IPA produces articles challenging the global warming scientific consensus.

In the United States many of the free market institutes, like the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, also cast doubt on the science of climate change, undermining scientific research or denying the environmental problem exists at all. They care little for science and scientific investigation. These institutes boast "scholars" and "fellows" to give themselves an air of academic respectability but there function is to defend capitalism against its critics or against those they perceive as a threat to the market and the interest of capitalists.

In desperation at having large sectors of the capitalist economy shut down, some capitalists have funded a front organisation of 'scientists' who then signed the 'Great Barrington Declaration' calling for lockdowns to be abandoned. Many of the signatories did not even exist. The petition was championed by THE SPECTATOR, proprietor, the Barclay Brothers. Sky News had to admit that many of the 'medical' signatories of the open letter were homeopaths, therapists or used obviously fake names such as 'Dr Johnny Banana' , 'Dr Person Fakename' and 'Dr Johnny Fartpants' (GUARDIAN 19 October 2020).

The eight-paragraphs of 'The Great Barrington Declaration' cited no scientific data and did not seriously attempt to argue its case. It is, rather, a series of assertions constructed retroactively from the demand by US corporations to abandon public health measures to contain the pandemic. It was embraced in Britain as an attempt "to open up the economy" and let the capitalist class make a profit again not just Jeff Bezos (net worth US$185.6 billion).

The Declaration was sponsored by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), a "libertarian" free market think tank. In 2019 it received a $68,100 donation from the Charles Koch Foundation who underwrites several other free market think tanks.

In intellectual falsehood and ignorance, the ideas and beliefs of the free market institutes are similar to the Christian Evangelicals who deny Darwinianism and the Holocaust deniers who deny that the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis in World War Two ever took place. However, unlike the Christian Evangelicals and fascists, the free market institutes are primarily driven by considerations of profit and commercial interest. As the sociologist Keith Khan-Harris wrote:

"Global warming denialism have not managed to overturn the general scientific consensus that global warming is caused by human activity. But what they have managed to do is provide support for those opposed to taking radical action to address this urgent problem" (‘DENIAL; THE UNSPEAKABLE TRUTH’2018 p 4-5).

In the UK, free market institutes have been used by 'Brexiteers' as propaganda platforms to provide arguments to leave the European Union or to establish "free ports" along the lines of Singapore. The Singapore Freeport is a high-security storage and display facility with a majority stake held by Natural Le Coultre S.A. of art dealer and shipper Yves Bouvier. The facility opened in May 2010 in a duty-free zone near Singapore's Changi Airport and is modelled after similar institutions in Geneva and Luxembourg. In 2016 Rishi Sunak wrote a report "The free Ports Opportunity" for the free market Centre for Policy Studies. Four years later the Johnson government implemented his proposals by allowing towns and cities to tender for free ports in the UK on the grounds that the tax relief they will enjoy will help drive jobs, growth and innovation by having simplified customs procedures and duty suspensions on goods.

Clients to free market institutes are usually commercial outlets like the tobacco industry where smoking cigarettes association with cancer is well known. More than 100 free-market think tanks from North America to Europe and south Asia took positions helpful to the tobacco industry or accepted donations in their struggle against government regulations (GUARDIAN 23 January 2019).

The most notable free market institutes in Britain are the Adam Smith Institute founded in the 1970s and the Institute of Economic Affairs founded in 1955. Lesser known is the 'Tax Payer's Alliance', the 'Legatum Institute' and the Tory controlled 'Centre for Policy Studies'. They pretend they are value-free academic outfits with 'research fellows', but they are just propaganda machines defending private property The IEA spent decades undermining climate science (GUARDIAN 10 October 2019).

In their efforts to influence and become part of the policy-making process, free market institutes have more in common with pressure groups than with university researchers giving objective information free from bias and commercial influence. Nevertheless employees of free market think tanks are given free access to state their biased position across the media, often without the listener knowing who they are or what commercial interest they are representing. They are giving greater weight in their opinion than any other ordinary member of the public.

And they are highly incestuous; the same names appear again and again across these institutes and they are used as convenient spring boards for political careers and progress up the greasy political pole from researcher, MP to Cabinet Minister. The Westminster address, 55 Tufton Street, is home to numerous think tanks and lobbying outfits. Among them until 2015, the pro-Brexit groups, Business for Britain, and the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which denies the overwhelming scientific consensus about human activity primarily being the cause of climate change? The IEA boasts links to several members of Boris Johnson’s cabinet (GUARDIAN 10 October 2016).

In the US it is known who funds the free market institutes. These institutes are capitalism's paid street walkers. The same is not true in the UK. Who funds them? Who funds think tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs? It is dark money. Their charitable status means they don't have to declare their individual funding sources. It is one of life's mysteries that defending capitalism has a charitable status!

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