These are some of the statements (note statements, not questions) made by the Guardian reporter on which we were invited to ‘comment’:
- “The IEA has a policy of not disclosing its donors… critics have alleged that this lack of transparency allows unseen donors to influence political debate.”
- “The (IEA’s US) donations… raise the question of wealthy Americans having undue influence in British politics”
- “The IEA is a partner in the Atlas Network, whose members operate separately but cooperate closely to further a shared agenda of limited government, low taxes, and deregulation.”
These are not new assertions from the Guardian. They essentially published the same article last September, and appear now to be rehashing claims of conspiracy already debunked at the time they were first made. Claims that were then subject to two regulatory inquiries, both of which found them to have no merit. One outcome is available here; the other (based on a complaint submitted to the Charity Commission by Labour’s Jon Trickett MP with a co-ordinating puff piece in the Guardian) was so weak we were never even asked any questions about it.
The notion of shadowy foreigners controlling British politics is also not a new idea and it will not be a surprise to readers of this blog to learn we do not agree with the Guardian about their view of American support. We believe that the relationship between liberals and libertarians in the UK and US - in sharing ideas, people and resources - has been a powerful force for good in the world. Often in ways of which Guardian readers will approve.
The IEA was founded in the UK in 1955 by, amongst others, Sir Antony Fisher. He went on from the IEA to set up various bodies, including in 1981 the Atlas Network, an American organisation dedicated to helping other free market organisations like the IEA around the world.
That network now includes more than 500 Institutions operating in 98 countries on 6 continents. They do everything from publishing educational texts in multiple languages for students where access to a book can be treated as an act of subversion, to challenging controls that prevent people from making a living or owning property. They also help think tanks in the developed world reform taxes and regulations that stifle competition and opportunity.
A particularly inspiring programme - Poverty & Freedom or Doing Development Differently includes case studies on breaking up local monopolies to allow better civilian access to water in Peru, and ending the Permit Raj in India that kept millions out of legal employment.
These are efforts that should inspire journalists who write for a so called progressive paper or at least cause them to pause for thought. Instead, in what is now a semi-annual tradition, the IEA receives inquiries that amount to a request to prove that by talking to other institutions, in other countries, sometimes in private, they and we are almost certainly up to no good.
The claim is that we are using Brexit to, oh horror, improve free trade between the UK and US. I believe one is supposed to pause for effect after saying that, and perhaps add ‘Dum Dum Dum’ with a brass section to highlight the implied villainy.
Of course, there’s nothing odd or sinister about free market think tanks promoting free trade. Free trade increases standards of living, generally for the poorest first, by upping access to opportunity and reducing the cost of living through increased competition and lower costs for essential goods.
It should not surprise anyone that a nation forged in liberty – or rather by winning a war over a tax dispute, and now one of the prosperous on earth as a result – is taking a stronger interest in supporting liberty, trade and capitalism around the world than most.
As a result, it has more individuals, trusts and organisations who have the means to advance those causes. It appears to be curiosity of the British left to assume that spending your own money on things you believe to be right is somehow unfair and wrong. Or worse sinister, because it is foreign.
Therein lies a similar mindset on the left to the one currently making such a chilling hash of dealing with allegations of anti-Semitism. Conspiracy theories about rich foreigners are not new, perhaps the Guardian’s younger militants are unaware of this?
The IEA conversely is a staunchly anti-racist organisation and we warmly welcome support from and dialogue with people of all nationalities (although we refuse to accept donations from state agencies).
We support internationalism across the board, and do query whether the Guardian has been rather hypocritical in its latest attack on the IEA. (The Guardian supported a campaign to get people from around the world to write to American voters in swing states pleading with them to vote Democrat. Was this a sinister involvement by a major U.K. media interest – which appears to acquire funds via highly opaque tax planning– to unduly influence US politics?)
The IEA conversely is very happy and grateful to be part-funded by American institutes and American citizens who share our values, and whose extraordinary generosity supports our programmes.
In any year around 5-10% of our income comes from the US (most of the rest from the UK). Some comes directly, some indirectly via American Friends of the IEA (who make their own decisions about who and what to fund). Sometimes we share the costs of bilateral trips or exchange visits with other Institutes. Next year we are hoping to raise funds from UK and US sources to expand our activities into a ‘do tank’ that empowers people to find solutions to ‘Welfare without the State’.
Perhaps Guardian readers would like to contribute?
What all our donations have in common, however, is that they must meet our donor protocols, which precludes donors from directing our activities or influencing the outcomes of research. That protects our independence and charitable purpose.
Reality is far more mundane than the theories.
It is certainly true that the IEA defends donor privacy, leaving disclosure decisions to the donor. This has been twisted by ‘no platform’ campaigners to imply that every donation not published on a website must be considered improper until proven proper. A curious approach to justice, which also has historical precedents in authoritarian regimes.
This usually means we get sent lists of donations in the public domain… sometimes… American donations… Dum Dum Dum… with commentary inviting us to deny they represent evidence of a conspiracy by… American institutions… Dum Dum Dum… to promote things of which the Guardian does not approve (say, like promoting free trade, saving lives, doing development differently or providing solutions to poverty without the state).
But the Guardian know all this – we’ve highlighted these arguments to them time and time again. It is very tedious, and this then our response.
We invite the Guardian to consider whether allowing themselves to be fed a narrative which paints foreigners as a collective evil is a wise decision, in line with their wider and more noble principles.
And we leave it to you, the reader, to decide whether talking to foreigners about freedom and welcoming their support is a force for good or ill.
UPDATE: On Friday 29th November 2019 the Guardian published a set of 3 articles related to their inquiry. We note within them, as predicted, the rehashing of old conspiracy theories, some going back 65 years, underpinned by a sinister tone of anti-Americanism. Their premise is that there is something improper in the relationship between UK politicians, think tanks and Americans, despite all parties believing more freedom, and free trade in particular, is a good thing. And by ‘relationship’ we mean they talk to each other, and sometimes agree.
The mainstream work of bodies like the Atlas Network, influencing the development of freer societies and the prosperity that follows, is ignored (and this in a ‘long read’ piece, in part, based on a two hour interview with one of our trustees in the summer). The purpose of the article appears purely to impugn the reputation of those cited with old innuendos, previously debunked. It does not seem coincidental that it is published in an election when, regrettably, anti-Americanism has formed part of the narrative.
The Guardian’s anti-Americanism is both chilling and risks doing real damage to causes where we might agree.