The IEA is a charity concerned with the advancement of education for the public benefit. Our charity number is CC/235 351. Our charitable aims and financial reports can be found on the Charity Commission website.
All our activities are based around research and the communication of ideas.
Our mission is to “improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems.”
This means we seek to promote, sustain, and increase individual and collective knowledge and understanding of market solutions to social and economic questions through research, discussion, and the communication of ideas.
Our school of thought is based on broad values, with a sufficiently long history in economic thinking to be uncontroversial, even if individual ideas that are described as free market can be considered radical or novel in a current context. For example, free market solutions to healthcare or aging may seem radical in relation to discussions about the NHS or social care. But they are not so defined in the sweep of either global healthcare provision, or even in the context of their history in the UK.
As an educational charity, a major part of the IEA’s mission is to inspire and educate young people. Every year, we host over 200 students in our intern programme, organise sixth form conferences throughout the UK attended by over 4,000 students, and reach tens of thousands more through EA magazine, the UK’s first ever free-market economics publication aimed specifically at the 16-25 age group.
The IEA also runs the annual THINK Conference, bringing together top speakers from around the world to discuss key economic and social issues, and attended by around 600 young people.
These activities are in addition to our extensive programme of publications and output on social media, which are freely available to all. For example, in a typical year we will:
- Host a website where we post around 200 blog posts and over 100 podcasts a year.
- Post IEA content on Twitter and Facebook, with thousands of links, retweets, and video views each month.
- Appear on TV, radio, print and online over 3,500 times a year.
- Provide responses to public inquiries and parliamentary select committee hearings.
- Engage in conferences and events run by third parties.
- Host the Hayek Lecture celebrating the contribution of the great thinker to our founding.
- Host the Richard Koch Breakthrough prize, an essay competition on major social challenges.
- Support the Beesley Lectures, a series of some 25 years standing in regulatory economics.
As an educational charity, we take great pride in the fact that many of our contributors include PhDs, Professors and Nobel prize winners, as well as lawyers and trade experts, with an extensive network of external advisors and referees. We publish a wide range of papers, including an academic journal, Economic Affairs. Having an underlying philosophy is no barrier to producing good research based on evidence and academic knowledge.
The way we present ideas varies by the form of media we use, but all point back to our 60+ year core of research and key texts such as Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. We welcome the contrasting of our ideas with those of dissenters and opponents. We consider arguments in relation to evidence and theory. We ensure that where we reach conclusions, they are based on analysis of both.
This rigour is more difficult on modern media platforms, with less space, or time, to convey sometimes difficult concepts. But that is all part of the discipline of education, and it has been since our founding. ‘Improving understanding’ requires communicating in ways that are understood.
Further, we will always attempt to underpin even the briefest observation with links to supporting material. Where we err, we correct or remove the material in error. Where new facts come to light that invalidate or update previous findings, we correct those findings.
We do not hold corporate positions on policy. For example, during Brexit, IEA staff and fellows were divided on the question of Remain or Leave pre-referendum, and afterwards on questions of deal versus no deal, and the pros and cons of various options. IEA staff were similarly divided on the costs and benefits of lockdowns during the Coronavirus pandemic and have been throughout this century on the best solutions to climate change and other environmental challenges.
The IEA is not a political campaign group and charities cannot exist for that purpose. It is however, like any UK charity, permitted to campaign “for a change in the law, policy or decisions where such change would support the charity’s aims”, where such a campaign “must not be the continuing and sole activity of the charity”.
The IEA has, for example, written papers concerning the benefits of a land value tax. We are, however, not a land value tax campaign, nor do we only focus on land value taxes, even in the narrow fields of local or national tax reform. Political campaigns or parties may use our work to support their policies or statements, but it is without any presumption of endorsement from the IEA.
This difference is not always understood by critics but is normal across the charitable and not for profit sector. For example, Oxfam has actively campaigned against changes to welfare benefits, Greenpeace (which has split charitable/non-charitable structure) has been highly critical of the government’s environmental policies, and the IPPR (another independent think tank) has advocated tax hikes to help fund the NHS and social care.
We are also proud that politicians and civil servants frequently seek our advice, whether privately or publicly, for example in testimony to parliamentary select committees. Indeed, it would be bizarre if we turned down opportunities to meet them. But we are not affiliated with any political party or group, nor do we take sides in elections or referendums. Our supporters come from all the major parties, and often from none.
The IEA is a free market think tank and should be introduced as such in media and public appearances. For example, the BBC’s editorial guidelines make such attribution clear.
Our emphasis on economic freedom, the positive role of markets, and the protection of civil liberties, is consistent with a wide range of political positions, and free-market ideas have been used by groups who would self-identify as left, centre or right. This becomes less apparent when national politics are particularly polarised, but it does not change the commitment of the IEA to support ideas, not parties.
A good example is housing policy. Does the free-market desire to liberalise planning laws to build more homes sit on the right as anti-interventionist? Or on the left as a method of redistributing wealth from asset-rich pensioners to asset-poor youth? Is it anti-conservationist to wish to build on the green belt, or environmentalist due to the improved biodiversity of gardens and parks over agricultural land? Is abolishing stamp duty conservative, socialist or liberal?
Our income in support of activity in the UK takes the form of donations, subscriptions, and other payments in five categories. In 2020 this comprised:
- 50% private individuals, entrepreneurs, and small family businesses
- 27% foundations and trusts
- 14% large businesses [defined as listed in FTSE350]
- 5% other income from book sales, subscriptions, speakers’ fees, interest & dividends
- 4% income from events, competitions, and conferences
This spread, in turn based on hundreds of individuals engaging with our work, means that we are not dependent on any one source of funding.
We do not believe that genuinely independent charities should accept donations from governments. The IEA accepts no contract work, direct payments, or sponsorship from Government. Our events however are open to Government officials or representatives on the same basis as anyone else; and where we charge, for example, for publications or conferences these can be purchased on the same basis as anyone else. Like any other qualifying charity, the IEA benefits from reductions in some business taxes and from ‘Gift Aid’.
Most of our income comes from the UK, although we will accept payments from overseas subject to the same strict due diligence that applies to potential donors in the UK. Our most consistent source of income from overseas (usually small sums) has been from the American Friends of the IEA, which is an independent non-profit organisation with US 501(c)(3) status.
The IEA sometimes receives media fees and/or expenses when its staff appear on programmes made by the BBC, or by other broadcasters. These payments are small and would be made to any organisation or guest as a service fee. They infer no endorsement whatsoever by the media outlet of our ideas or work, nor the IEA’s endorsement of any public position of the media outlet. The IEA, for example, has often published material critical of the licence fee.
Our policy is to leave it to our funders to decide whether to disclose their support. Many do choose to do so, which we welcome. For example, Jersey Finance contributed towards our programme on offshore financial centres (publicised here), and historically our work on the NHS has been funded by the John Templeton Foundation (publicised here).
Much of our funding from businesses also takes the form of sponsorship of events or competitions, and payments for attending conferences – activities, open to the public, that are visibly transparent for that reason.
The IEA programme at the 2021 Conservative Party Conference included events sponsored by RSSB and Pernod Ricard.
We respect the privacy rights of donors to donate to charity without being publicly identified. Reasons for privacy rest with donors but include modesty, personal security, or a desire to avoid being aggressively targeted for donations by other organisations.
In a free society people should be free to associate with whomever they like and back any cause, without fear or favour. This has been widely recognised as a bedrock of democracy, both in the UK, the EU, and elsewhere. Indeed, attempts to force organisations to reveal their membership lists were a key part of the attack on the civil rights movement in the US.
In our view, the principle of privacy matters as much as the principle of transparency. This is particularly important for the IEA because our staff often defend positions on subjects such as the NHS or Brexit with which others strongly disagree. As a result, they have at times been subject to extreme personal abuse, or worse. See this BBC clip for independent commentary on this.
We have no desire to risk exposing our supporters to similar attacks, including from groups that encourage ‘direct action’ against companies and individuals of whose activities they disapprove.
There is also a presumption in the question that think tanks should be regulated differently to other charities, perhaps more like active participants in elections or agency lobbyists. But we are neither. We are explicitly prohibited from expressing support for individuals or parties in elections. Our donations and any campaigning are regulated to common standards across the charity sector.
The IEA has often criticised corporatism and crony capitalism where big business has worked against free markets. There is a huge difference between being pro-market and being pro-corporate, let alone promoting the interests of any business group. The IEA typically recommends policies that put consumers first, liberalise markets, and encourage more competition, rather than protecting existing firms through more regulations or subsidies.
This has sometimes put us at odds with individual corporate donors. But it is important. A central critique of capitalism is that it tends to corporatism through an overly cosy relationship between government and the most powerful vested interests. In the long run this serves the interests of neither consumers, the corporations themselves, nor of good government. Short-term rent-seeking through lobbying creates inefficiencies and market distortions that undermine competitiveness. When aggregated across an economy it can lead to lower growth, increased debt, lower trust in institutions, stagnation, and decline.
In 2018, in response to false allegations by Greenpeace Unearthed of unlawful lobbying (commercial lobbyists must register, the IEA is not a commercial lobbying organisation) the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists (ORCL) investigated the claims. They found no merit to them and nor did the Charity Commission who regulate issues pertaining to the reputation of charities.
As an educational charity we value the independence of our research. Anybody can suggest topics for us to research, including the content that a report might cover. Funders can also support a programme of work, such as the output of our Regulatory Affairs Unit. However, funders are not permitted to influence the conclusions of our analysis. Not across a programme, nor within a single publication, nor any communication about it. We have strict rules to protect our independence, including clear guidance to potential donors, and a system of peer review.
To be crystal clear, we do not want bodies to approach us to ‘buy research’. The answer will be no. The question itself represents a fundamental misunderstanding of both the IEA and the sector. The value of think tanks is in increasing public understanding of important concepts through well-researched ideas, and their compelling explanation. That goal requires respect for our independence and expertise.
For example, in the context of climate change, regardless as to who funds us, the IEA approaches the topic from the perspective of whether free markets or other institutions of a free society can provide better solutions to tackling the issue than state intervention. This means our authors have both supported and disputed carbon taxes, attacked subsidy schemes as poor value for money, and challenged rent-seeking collusion between low carbon corporations and the Government at the expense of the public. We do not take a position on the science of climate change beyond noting the predominant consensus view when relevant to the topic being researched.
The IEA’s views often conflict with popular or mainstream opinion. These views can be particularly unpopular with those who hold views opposed to free markets and individual liberty. The IEA is also renowned for the quality of our communications, or rather our ability to explain difficult or challenging ideas well, which tends to make us a high-profile target for these groups.
No platforming is the process by which some activist groups attempt to delegitimise people, ideas, and thoughts of which they do not approve, such that they are hidden from view. It is the opposite approach to that encouraged by civil libertarians who tend to believe in competition or the ‘battle of ideas’ as the best of way of encouraging better thinking and thus informed outcomes.
These campaigns can involve lobbying media companies to deny us freedom of expression, pejorative labels, smearing our motives, impugning the integrity of those who work for us, or our donors and repeating false allegations about all of the above as though facts.
The Who Funds You campaign has been used in this way. There is a serious and genuine debate in the think tank sector about where the line lies on funding transparency. No one believes in either full disclosure, or absolute opacity, there are however a range of views in between. Some, for example, believe think tanks should be regulated like campaigners during elections, some believe the current balance, where we are treated like university departments or private colleges is about right.
Sadly, the expression ‘who funds you’ is almost never deployed by people wishing to debate these issues, but as an attempt to delegitimise the other ideas being debated such as whether people should be free to eat crisps on the Underground. It should not surprise anyone that liberals and libertarians tend to think that they should, regardless as to whether they work for, or are funded by, a salted potato snack manufacturer.
In 2019 the IEA complained about a radio presenter inaccurately attacking the IEA, without the IEA being given a right to reply. The presenter claimed only think tanks who revealed all their funding would be permitted a right to reply. Such a rule has no basis in the law or rules governing broadcasting. The presenter further could not say what transparency criteria would be accepted as meeting this test. It was a good example of the ‘Who Funds You’ campaign being both incoherent and used principally as an excuse to ‘no platform’ views with which the presenter disagreed.
An internal complaint to the presenter’s broadcaster was set in motion and the presenter was then compelled to issue a partial retraction a few months later. This amounted to a limited right to reply, but insufficient in the view of the IEA. The matter was then escalated to Ofcom to test the legitimacy of the action taken under the Broadcasters Code. After a two and half year wait the complaint was rejected. The partial retraction was considered by Ofcom to have been an adequate redress.
The ruling has since been used, predictably and dishonestly, by activist groups to claim it confers legitimacy on the content of the original broadcast. It doesn’t; that broadcast was corrected by the broadcaster. Meanwhile, an upside of the ruling is that it gives regulated broadcasters of ‘authored’ (i.e., biased) content greater latitude to discuss topical issues, which is a boon to free speech.