1946: Recently demobilized from Britain's Royal Air force, highly decorated fighter pilot Antony Fisher finds in the Reader's Digest a condensation of F. A. Hayek's classic critique of socialism, The Road To Serfdom. It confirms his own worries about his country's tilt toward socialism.
Traveling to London, Fisher seeks out Hayek at the London School of Economics (lse). "What can I do? Should I enter politics?" he asks. With Fisher's war record, good looks, gift for speaking, and excellent education, it is no idle question.
"No," replies Hayek. "Society's course will be changed only by a change in ideas. First you must reach the intellectuals, the teachers and writers, with reasoned argument. It will be their influence on society which will prevail, and the politicians will follow."
1949: Ralph Harris, a young researcher from the Conservative Party, gives a Saturday afternoon lecture in a small village in southeastern England. Fisher-now a farmer-is present and loves what he hears. Taking Harris aside after the meeting, he explains his ideas for an organization to make the free-market case to intellectuals. "One day," he says "when my ship comes in, I'd like to create something which will do for the non-Labour parties what the [socialist] Fabian Society did for the Labour Party."
Harris is excited. "If you get any further," he says, "I'd like to be considered as the man to run such a group."
1953-57: In 1953 Fisher starts what is to become the highly profitable Buxted Chicken Co., the first attempt at factory farming in Britain. By September 1954, it is showing a profit, and he can begin to think more about starting a free-market institute.
In November 1955, Fisher and two friends sign a trust deed establishing the Institute of Economic Affairs. Looking for someone to run the IE A, Fisher remembers Harris. They have not communicated since that first meeting in 1949. Harris is now 31 and, after seven years teaching economics at St. Andrews University in Scotland, is writing editorials at the Glasgow Herald. In June 1956, the intellectual Harris meets the businessman Fisher in London. On the promise of a starting budget of Â£1,000 and a part-time salary of Â£10 a week-the same starting salary as Buxted Chicken's general manager-Harris agrees to become the new Institute's general director on January 1, 1957.
Also in the summer of 1956, the embryonic Institute interests economist Arthur Seldon in writing a paper on pensions. A former socialist and the son of a cobbler from London's East End, Seldon had become a classical liberal while studying at the LSE. Within weeks of reaching London, Harris meets Seldon and an extraordinarily fruitful partnership begins.
1987: It is early January and cold. Some 30 years have passed since Ralph Harris-now Lord Harris of High Cross-left Scotland. Today, sitting in the offices of the IEA in London-so close you could hit a cricket ball through Parliament's windows-he reviews the list of 250 major corporations that support its work; it has a budget approaching $1 million and a staff of a dozen. For the past decade, its ideas have clearly been in the ascendancy. Some commentators have gone so far as to call the iea's cramped offices the home of the new orthodoxy.
South of London in his home in rural Kent, Arthur Seldon, now 70 but as active, creative, and productive as ever, also reviews a list. It is a list of over 300 titles he has produced and more than 500 authors he has nurtured and developed for the IEA. On his coffee table lie copies of the Institute's glossy bimonthly magazine Economic Affairs and a new book, The Unfinished Agenda: Essays on the Political Economy of Government Policy in Honour of Arthur Seldon, containing chapters by 11 internationally renowned economists including Milton Friedman, F. A. Hayek, James Buchanan, and Gordon Tullock.
Six thousand miles west, in downtown San Francisco, Antony Fisher enters the offices of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, which he established in the 1970s to aid and encourage the formation of new institutes around the world. Now a full-time think-tank entrepreneur, he too has a list-36 institutes in 18 countries, all based on the IEA model.
On the walls of the former house where IEA has its offices hang the portraits of famous economists, most notably Hayek, Friedman, and Ludwig von Mises-but also John Maynard Keynes. And hanging there, too, is Keynes's famous statement that "the ideas of economists...are more powerful than is commonly understood." It is from here that the IEA team has steered market ideas from total heresy to partial orthodoxy-at least in certain quarters.
Looking back to his decision 30 years ago to give up a secure, well-paid job to risk his future and that of his young family in the service of an unpopular cause, Harris laughs so loudly the tape jumps. "I was mad!" he says, and one can almost believe him. "I did not calculate the risk at all! Fisher's enthusiasm and my desire to return to London and do something were sufficient."
Arthur Seldon was more careful. Becoming part-time editorial director in June 1959, he managed to hold onto his main job as an economist for a brewing-industry association until he too became full-time in July 1961. Ever since his days at the LSE in the mid-to-late '30s, Seldon had wanted a chance "to fight back." This was it.
Government planning was in its ascendancy. Market ideas were scoffed at as oldfashioned-or worse. Recalls Jack Wiseman, a University of York professor long associated with the IEA: "One day leaving the London School of Economics a fellow economist asked if I could use a lift. I said I was going to the IEA. 'Good God,' he replied, 'you aren't one of that Fascist lot, are you?' I went to the IEA-he later became Governor of the Bank of England!"