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Fisher on Think Tanks

Fisher on starting an institute, from a letter to a businessman in Jamaica in 1981:

“One of the difficulties in setting up an institute is to raise the money in the first place, because usually businessmen don’t know what it’s all about.  They need to see the publications producing results by selling in universities, and attracting media coverage. Without the product, fundraising is always slow.  In this case, the [X foundation] is willing to provide "seed money," which could mean an instant start.  

To start, it is necessary to have a competent, business-minded president, whose job it is to organize the institute. He has to help the Research Director with his program, insure competent publication of whatever is produced,  and then insure proper promotion through every channel.

The exercise has to be, and has to be seen to be, academic, and to that end, it is necessary to have an academic advisory board to help the Research Director.  Some of these people can be from other countries.

We have the advantage that the earlier institutes are on record as producing credible publications which do sell not only locally and nationally, but internationally. Also there is an increasing willingness on the part of academics to recommend the books.  The institutes provide an outlet for those academics who understand markets and can write suitable papers.  There has been tremendous press and other media coverage.  This in turn means that more and more sources of funding are available.  And finally it has been found that there is often some form of policy reaction.

The publications are on issues and attempts to relate cause and effect.  They never attack people.  They are as independent as any publications can be.   No attempt is made to try and say things which will please either politicians, businessmen, or anybody else the hope is that the reasoning is correct.” 

Institutes and the Media

Since the beginning Antony Fisher realized the importance of the media.  Few think tanks today would be able to boast in a letter "I created the Institute of Economic Affairs in 1955.  Its first publication was "The Free Convertibility of Sterling" which was given a column by Henry Hazlitt in Newsweek and every copy of the book was sold quickly throughout the world."  From a letter to J. Howard Pew, Jan 5, 1971

Importance of being outside politics

Fisher described the IEA as "a research and educational body completely outside politics."  As supporting material he included a copy of a book by Henry Ferns, a former socialist, recommending private enterprise for universities.  The book was signed by 102 academics. Antony also included a description of the high level businessmen and academics attending a trustee's dinner at the IEA.  He again states that these documents "are evidence of the standing of the IEA as a non-political research group."

Fisher on successful Think-Tanks (from Forbes)
One tip: "Have High Academic Standards"

Running a think tank like a business must be partnered with rigorous academic standards and relevance. Fisher wrote that the research of a think tank, “has to be, and has to be seen to be, academic, and to that end, it is necessary to have an academic advisory board to help the research director.” Fisher further notes that, “The institutes provide an outlet for those academics who understand markets and can write suitable papers.” Fisher wrote these directions in 1981. In the last 32 years there has been a proliferation of new university-based centers and an increased number of scholars collaborating with think tanks. For more read the Forbes piece . . .