One of government’s favourite ways to solve a problem is to throw money at it. But what if the problem is a think tank or public policy institute? The true value of a think tank is that they can say what they think – whether to the benefit or detriment to the government of the day. When the government starts throwing money at think tanks, there is a real danger that they undermine their capacity to critique the government effectively and make a positive contribution to civil society.
Unlike the CIS, many think tanks and university-aligned public policy institutes receive financial assistance from the Government. This often takes the form of endowments, donations, corporate memberships or grants. The latest example is the Gillard government’s $7 million contribution to refurbish the building that will house the Labor-aligned Whitlam Institute, the Whitlam Prime Ministerial Library and an art gallery.
Other examples include a $112 million contribution towards the Australian National Institute for Public Policy in 2010; the $30 million that the Brumby and Rudd governments gave to establish the Melbourne based Grattan Institute; the Centre for Social Impact’s $12.5 million endowment; the $7 million for the University of South Australia to establish the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding ‘under the leadership of former Prime Minister, the Hon Bob Hawke AC’; and the Howard Government’s $25 million endowment of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.
That is a huge amount of money being spent.
A recent report by the Institute of Economic Affairs in the UK illustrated this point well when it found that thousands of politically active charities only survived because of taxpayer support. Government intervention in the marketplace of ideas distorts public debate and the organic growth of civil society. Allowing ‘zombie’ ideas without popular private support to live on long after they are declared dead by the marketplace is not in the public interest.
For the last 36 years the CIS has relied on philanthropy, private donations and individual memberships to fund our research and advocacy for small government and free markets. This makes the CIS more productive and efficient, and we are more able to say what we think is right than similar organisations that take taxpayer money. Only without financial assistance from the government can a think tank be truly independent.
It is staggering how many lobby groups are effectively funded by the Government.