MONT PELERIN SOCIETY
During the last week of August each year the members and guests of an exclusive international society of classical liberals meet to renew acquaintances and discuss the prospects for a free society. The organization was founded in 1947 at the inspiration of F.A. Hayek, who served for 12 years as its President. At the first meeting were Milton Friedman, Henry Hazlitt, Ludwig von Mises, Leonard Read, and about 30 other prominent scholars.
The 1976 meeting was held at St. Andrews University in Scotland. The entire meeting was devoted to a commemoration of Adam Smith and the bicentenary of the publication of The Wealth of Nations. Adam Smith was born, lived, died, and is buried within a few miles of St. Andrews, which is well known as the origin of the game of golf.
Over 400 members and guests were at the meeting, which was one of the largest ever held. Although the program for the meeting is academically oriented, the purpose of the society is primarily social. When Hayek conceived of the Mont Pelerin Society, named after the location of its first meeting, his intention was to bring together isolated individuals from various countries who shared a commitment to human freedom. By regular interchange of ideas and social contact, he hoped to inspire a renewed vigor to the cause of international liberalism (libertarianism).
Whether because of the society or not, the expansion of free-market economics and the ideals of peace, justice, and liberty has been very great in the past 30 years. An early member of the society, Ludwig Erhard, instituted a new economic policy in post-war Germany which abolished wage and price controls and ended inflation and unemployment almost overnight. Hayek and Friedman are now among the most famous economists of the century.
The Mont Pelerin Society is not a secret society, but its annual meetings are closed to the public and the press. The primary function of the society is to permit social contact among (1) famous academics, (2) younger scholars who share libertarian ideals, and (3) non-academics of achievement and means who desire to meet and talk with intellectuals who believe in freedom. A number of fruitful discussions involving the funding of research and publications have begun at such social gatherings.
One of the friendly divisions in the society is between those who refer to themselves as conservatives and those who refer to themselves as liberals—in the classical sense. The fashion is changing, with the term "libertarian" replacing the other labels with increasing frequency. At one point in the meeting, Hayek started to say, "conservative" but cut the word off and used the word libertarian instead to make his point.
SCHOLARSHIP AND POLICY
One of the first, and perhaps the most successful policy-oriented research organization in the world is the Institute of Economic Affairs, 2 Lord North Street, Westminster SW1, in London. Founded in 1957 by Ralph Harris and Arthur Selden, the IEA has published and reprinted several hundred books, articles, and research papers on economic issues in education, central planning, unemployment and inflation, and welfare, to name a few. The British press almost always gives detailed and favorable reviews to the work of the IEA.
The IEA, of course, has often been an irritant to the more dogmatic among socialist intellectuals. The mess which the labor and conservative governments have made of the British economy since 1945 (both are more oriented to economic intervention than either of the American parties) provides the IEA with many easy targets for empirical research. Last year, one hostile writer accused the IEA of publishing "right-wing propaganda." He was successfully sued for libel under the strict British law. The IEA is not "right-wing." It is unfortunately the case that government programs tend to fail in their objectives, cost more than they are worth, and produce unanticipated side effects. It is also the case that most such programs are inspired by socialist visions. The opposite of "left-wing" is not "right-wing" but "objective and rational."
In the United States and Canada, the publications of the IEA are available through Transatlantic Arts, Inc., Levittown, NY 11756. An annual subscription for all publications is $30.00. A catalog is available on request.
TAX-FIGHTING IN BRITAIN
Two years ago, self-employed persons in Britain found themselves slapped with an eight percent tax to pay for various welfare benefits—for which self-employed people are not eligible. The Labor Government tends to look upon self-employment as a socially undesirable vestige of laissez-faire capitalism.
An organization was formed, the National Federation of Self-Employed to fight the government. Almost immediately the NFSE found itself with 45,000 members and more money than it could use. In true market style, smaller groups with names like National Association of Self-Employed with less expensive dues were formed. These groups represent over 10,000 members. The various groups, although seeming to have excellent potential as political action groups, have so far been ineffectual. The problem was that the NFSE and NASE had no philosophy and no leadership. The NFSE, for example, tried to manage itself with a prestige committee of 20 or so prominent people. As we might predict, nothing was ever accomplished and policy proposals included things like government grants to small businesses.
Last year, in frustration with such a mess, Teresa Gorman organized the Association of Self-Employed People, 279 Church Road, London SE19. Teresa Gorman is a libertarian and an entrepreneur. Her ASP ("When we're trodden upon, we strike back") has grown to over 1,000 paid members and gained more public notice than the 55,000 have gained in two years. Her newsletter, Counterattack is hard core freemarket, tax avoidance, and rebellion-oriented. The NASE buys the newsletter in bulk for distribution to its members. The NFSE has approached her to assume a leadership position. Characteristically, they offered her a job. She refused-since she prefers to remain self-employed. She may accept the NFSE presidency, however.
Teresa Gorman is very much aware of the political potential of her organization. Her plans include precinct-level organizations in each Parliamentary District and running candidates for office if that seems to be effective. She stood for Parliament herself in the last election with a solid libertarian program: less government, less taxes, more choice. The self-employed movement may become the seed of genuine anarcho-capitalist politics in Britain, if it is not too late already.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Frontlines".