Remembering Antony G.A. Fisher, founder of Atlas, 29 years after his death. In this 3-4 minute audio
from 1959, available thanks to the Hoover Institution, he is funny, profound, and optimistic. If you prefer reading rather than listening, here a summary of his views on Think Tanks
Painting also by Fisher
Conduct of government
"where governments have pursued . . .the policy of maximizing individual choice within a framework of law and moral conduct, their problems have given way to prosperity."
"Among the consequences of policy deliberately intended to maximize individual choice will be low taxation and a maximum increase in the wealth of the poorer members of the community."
"Because government decision-making is not based on principles, an inevitable result is that countless "deals" are made to meet the demands of pressure groups."
"Perhaps the most obvious of all political mistakes is the belief that it is possible to make the poor richer by taking from the rich."
"Another method used by governments to reduce choice is to nationalize a particular activity and to inhibit competition from private companies."
Change in society
"new understanding has to come from independent individuals who can give sufficient time to intellectual study." . . ."one person, can suffice to move government to make correct policy decisions. The essential ingredient is deep understanding, which in turn can be achieved only by dedicated concentration and research."
"It must be true that any successful effort to achieve better understanding of the motives and behavior of communities is a more enduring memorial to those who gave their lives for peace than any memorial in stone."
Focus on economics
Antony Fisher focused more on economics: "In trying to study the consequences and the causes of government action, I am searching for economic principles which will achieve the desired ends in the most effective ways."
Fisher wanted a "well-ordered, happy, compassionate, and advancing society," but this could not be achieved "without understanding basic principles which relate economic cause to consequence."
"The free market is not perfect and cannot produce complete stability; but it works towards that end in a way no other method can do. Methods which deny individual choice in the market must work towards instability."
On Rule of Law and Moral Standards
Antony Fisher listed "a weakening of the rule of law" and "a steady deterioration in moral standards" as worrysome trends of the late 60's and early 70's.
"This communal or general increase in wealth as the result of exchange presupposes a framework of law and order which people are more likely to accept with honesty and integrity where everyone has a creative outlet for his natural effort to "better his condition."
He could have quoted Aristotle but quoted Confucius
"When asked by a disciple if there were one single word which could serve as a principle of conduct for life, Confucius replied, "Perhaps the word reciprocity will do."
The 2008 crisis would have been prevented if business leaders would have paid attention to Fisher's recommendations:
"The more complicated business becomes, the more necessary it is for honesty to prevail."
Fisher concludes a chapter of one of his books with the story of Gideon from the Book of Judges in the Old Testament: a small number of people with better ideas, and lead by an "Israelite of no great standing" can defeat much larger armies.
Importance of economic research
Research is important but the way one communicates the results are also essential "a good summary, and even a summary of a summary, it will be read, reviewed and increasingly taught to others. In due time, it will produce consequences."
On politics and economics
"Maximum freedom of individual choice in economic decisions can achieve wonders even where there is little or no freedom to vote."
Yet "The prospect of finding a benevolent dictator who will apply legislation designed to free the individual is slender. . . .the democratic way is our best hope of restoring choice."
Fisher on favorite think tank leaders:
Antony Fisher had a keen eye for spotting intellectual entrepreneurs: in 1981 he wrote: "John Goodman is getting himself a quite excellent reputation. I think he is an outstanding person." Antony praised John Goodman's entrepreneurial academic talents. For more on Goodman, founder of NCPA, see chapter 11, of Atlas's Freedom Champions book.