Sir Anthony Fisher

Sir Antony Fisher (1915 - 1988) was one of the most influential background players in the global rise of libertarian think-tanks during the second half of the twentieth century, founding the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

Through Atlas, he helped establish up to 150 other think-tanks worldwide. The most promininent include:

* Fraser Institute
* Manhattan Institute
* Pacific Research Institute
* National Center for Policy Analysis
* Centre for Independent Studies
* Adam Smith Institute

Born in London in 1915, educated at Eton and Cambridge, Fisher was elected to the Mont Pelerin Society in 1954. The following year, he founded the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, as the first of dozens of front groups for Mont Pelerin that he would help launch.

With the help of the rightwing Liberal Oliver Smedley, he set up the IEA in 1955. Two years later, it was handed over to Harris and Seldon.

Other IEA founders included Friedrich von Hayek, who at this point was at the University of Chicago; Keith Joseph, and Ralph Harris, a fellow of the British Eugenics Society which had earlier helped draft Hitler's race laws.

(Ralph Harris, Baron Harris of High Cross (December 10, 1924 – October 19, 2006) was a British economist. He was head of the Institute of Economic Affairs from 1957 to 1987. The IEA's brand of free market liberal economics was deeply unpopular when it was founded, but, some 20 years later, by combining the classical liberalism of the 18th and 19th centuries with Conservative principles, Harris became one of the men who invented Thatcherism.
He was a director of Rupert Murdoch's Times Newspapers company from 1988 to 2001 and chairman of CIVITAS from 2000.)

They made their mark, particularly with Enoch Powell and other Tory rightwingers, by their series of easy-to-read pamphlets with snappy titles like Down With the Poor (1971) and The Challenge of the Radical Reactionary (1981), which helped shatter the Butskellite consensus at Westminster and create the intellectual climate for the emergence of Thatcher as the free-market successor to the interventionist Heath.

During Thatcher's 1979-90 reign at No 10, the IEA was one of the government's unofficial thinktanks. Another was the more restrained Centre for Policy Studies, set up by Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph.

After serving in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, Fisher moved to farming.
In 1952, he took a study trip to the United States, where he visited the still-new Foundation for Economic Education. F. A. Harper of the FEE introduced Fisher to former colleagues from the Agriculture Department of Cornell University, who showed him intensive chicken farming techniques with which Fisher was very impressed. Fisher returned home to start England's first battery chicken farm, Buxted Chickens, introducing broiler chickens in the UK, which eventually made him a millionaire.

Consequently, Fisher used his money to set up the hugely influential Institute of Economic Affairs with Ralph Harris in 1955. Despite losing his fortune in several ill-advised business ventures (including a turtle-farming operation), in 1971 he founded the International Institute for Economic Research, which went on spawn both the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in 1980 and the International Policy Network in 2001.

Through these operations, Fisher provided financial and operational support for a huge number of fledgeling think-tanks, most of which would not exist without his influence.

When Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of Britain in 1979, the Mont Pelerin apparatus moved right into 10 Downing Street. In recognition of the Mont Pelerin Society's loyal service to the House of Windsor, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Ralph Harris a peer for life, as Lord Harris of High Cross, and knighted Antony Fisher and Allan Walters. Walters was given an office at 10 Downing Street as Thatcher's resident economic advisor.

By this time, Fisher had already furthered the Mont Pelerin subversion by establishing the Fraser Institute in Vancouver, Canada in 1974, the Manhattan Institute in New York City in 1977, and the Pacific Institute for Public Policy Research in San Francisco in 1978. In 1973, Mont Pelerin had also been instrumental in launching the Coors family think tank, the Heritage Foundation, in Washington, D.C. Following the Thatcher victory, Mont Pelerin launched an ambitious overhaul of Heritage, importing a half dozen British Mont Pelerinites in anticipation of the 1980 Presidential run by Ronald Reagan.

It was through the Atlas Economic Research Foundation that Fisher was able to extend his beliefs worldwide. By 1984, Fisher was watching over eighteen institutions in eleven countries.

Today, Atlas supports and works with around 150 libertarian think-tanks.

Following the Thatcher election in Britain, Fisher also contacted von Hayek, Milton Friedman, and other leading Mont Pelerin figures and spelled out an ambitious expansion effort; in effect, the launching of a new international.

On New Years Day 1980, von Hayek wrote back to Fisher:

"I entirely agree with you that the time has come when it has become desirable and almost a duty to extend the network of institutes of the kind of the London Institute of Economic Affairs. Though it took some time for its influence to become noticeable, it has by now far exceeded my most optimistic hopes....
What I argued thirty years ago, that we can beat the Socialist trend only if we can persuade the intellectuals, the makers of opinion, seems to me more than amply confirmed. Whether we can still win the race against the expanding Socialist tide depends on whether we can spread the insights, which prove much more acceptable to the young if rightly expounded than I had hoped, fast and wide enough... The future of civilization may really depend on whether we can catch the ear of a large enough part of the upcoming generation of intellectuals all over the world fast enough. And I am more convinced than ever that the method practiced by the IEA is the only one which promises any real results....

This ought to be used to create similar institutes all over the world and you have now acquired the special skill of doing it. It would be money well spent if large sums could be made available for such a concerted effort.''

On Feb. 20, 1980, Margaret Thatcher added her endorsement to the project in a letter to Fisher; and May 8, Milton Friedman threw his support behind the international effort: "Any extension of institutes of this kind around the world is certainly something ardently to be desired.''

To carry out this global effort, Fisher launched the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in 1981.

Originally based in San Francisco, Atlas is now headquartered on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia near Washington, D.C. In a strategy paper written in February 1985, Fisher wrote of the need to transform the "extremist, anti-government, radical free market policies of the von Hayek Mont Pelerin Society apparatus into the "new orthodoxy'' through the launching of hundreds of small think tanks on every continent.

In his book Thinking the unthinkable, Richard Cockett sketched Fisher's role in supporting other emerging think-tanks around the world. "On the strength of his reputation with the IEA, he was invited in 1975 to become co-director of the Fraser Institute in Vancouver, founded by the Canadian businessman Pat Boyle in 1974. Fisher let the young director of the Fraser Institute, Dr Michael Walker, get on with the intellectual output of the Institute (just as he had given free rein to Seldon and Harris at the IEA) while he himself concentrated on the fund-raising side," Cockett wrote.

Cockett explained that after his success at the Fraser Institute, Fisher went to New York where in 1977 he set up the International Center for Economic Policy Studies (ICEPS), later renamed the Manhattan Institute. "The incorporation documents for the ICEPS were signed by prominent attorney Bill Casey, later Director of the Central Intelligence Agency".

According to Loic Wacquant, both men wanted the Institute «to apply the principles of the market economy to social problems»

Casey was a Wall Street speculator who later became President Ronald Reagan's spymaster. He served as the first chairman of the International Center for Economic Policy Studies, was a longtime conservative, was the lawyer who drew up the founding papers for the National Review, and was a founding director of the National Strategy Information Center.

During his tenure at the CIA, Casey played a large part in the shaping of Reagan's foreign policy, particularly its approach to Soviet international activity. Based on a book, The Terror Network, Casey believed that the Soviet Union was the source of all terrorist activity in the world, in spite of his analysts providing evidence that this was in fact black propaganda by the CIA itself. Casey obtained a report from a professor that agreed with his view, which convinced Ronald Reagan that there was a threat.

During his tenure restrictions were lifted on the use of the CIA to directly, covertly influence the internal and foreign affairs of countries relevant to American policy.

Notably he oversaw covert assistance to the mujahadeen resistance in Afghanistan, with a budget of over $1 billion by working closely with Akhtar Abdur Rahman (the Director General of ISI in Pakistan), the Solidarity movement in Poland, and a number of coups and attempted coups in South- and Central America.

Casey was also the principal architect of the arms-for-hostages deal that became known as the Iran-Contra affair.

The Thatcher government relied heavily on the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) in London, as well as The Centre for Policy Studies, a Conservative Party think tank, and several other independent public-policy institutes in the U.K. The Reagan administration drew heavily from ideas and experts in the Heritage and Hoover Foundations, as well as the American Enterprise, Cato Institutes and the ACCF Center for Policy Research.

In 1977 Fisher moved to San Francisco "with his second wife Dorian, who he had met through the Mont Pelerin Society, and founded the Pacific Institute for Public Policy in 1979," Cockett wrote. According to Cockett Fisher and Milton Friedman lived in the same apartment block in San Francisco during the 1980's.

"In 1981, to co-ordinate and establish a central focus for these institutes that Fisher found himself start up all over the world, he created the Atlas Economic Research Foundation which in 1987 joined up with the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) founded by the Mont Pelerin member F.A. Harper in 1961) to provide a central institutional structure for what quickly became an ever-expanding number of international free-market think-tanks or research institutes," Cockett wrote.

According to Cokett, as the international think-tanks proliferated "Fisher used the local and international gatherings of the Mont Pelerin Society to find personnel, fund-raisers and donors for many of the Atlas Institutes".

Quote from the Manhattan Intitute´s website:
"As for how I came to the Manhattan Institute, I met Antony Fisher in the Taiwan airport in 1978 on the way to a meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society—an organization founded by the Noble Prize winning author of The Road to Serfdom, Frederick Von Hayek.

It turned out that Anthony, a former RAF-Battle-of-Britain pilot, had, after the war, made it good in business, and had read an abbreviated version the Hayeck’s book in the Readers Digest. His interest sparked, he sought out Hayek, and asked him how a newly minted rich man could prevent his country and western civilization from going any further down the statist road the Austrian economist had famously described. At the time, Fisher thought going into politics was the answer.

Hayek answer: “If you want to do something more for your country, DON’T go into politics, since politicians always lag behind public opinion. And public opinion always lags behind the tide of intellectual thought. So try to change elite intellectual opinion. Which, he added, is a 20-30 year process.

Buying into the idea, Anthony left the chicken business where he had made his fortune and went into the think tank business—where he changed history. Within a decade, he had seeded 30 think tanks 20 nations around the world—a 150 think tanks to date.

As I mentioned, I had met Anthony Fisher in 1978 in Taiwan. This was shortly after he and Bill Casey, one of Wild Bill Donovan’s key people in the OSS in WWII—had founded the Manhattan Institute—the third installment in this free-market franchise.

It should be noted that his first venture the Social Market Foundation (TK) developed Margaret Thatcher as candidate and Thatcherism as governing philosophy." Manhattan Institute 2003"

Fisher died in 1988, only four weeks after being knighted.


Sir Antony Fisher talks about the importance of think tanks
The Most Influential Person You never heard of (PDF)
Atlas Economic Research Foundation: the think-tank breeder
Lord Harris of High Cross
The Great and the Good
Arthur Seldon - Orbituary
Tory! Tory! Tory!
Adam Curtis Documentary - The Trap
Adam Curtis Documentary - The Mayfair Set
Commanding Heights - Ralph Harris Interview

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