CIS on think-tank funding

July 3rd, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Andrew Baker from writes:

 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.

I agree.

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.

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.

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15 Responses to “CIS on think-tank funding”

  1. berend (1,671 comments) says:

    DPF: It is staggering how many lobby groups are effectively funded by the Government.

    It’s equally staggering to know that this is another problem John won’t be tackling. Too busy borrowing $300 million a week.

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  2. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    The Maxim Institute in Auckland is the only serious (in that it continues to exist, publishes stuff across a decent spectrum of topics, and regularly gets invited on to TV/Radio) think-tank in NZ that is not tax-payer funded.

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  3. Martin Gibson (229 comments) says:

    Even more astonishing are the lobby groups that are ministries funded by the taxpayer . . .

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  4. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    … and I should add, is (as far as I know) not funded by big business

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  5. RRM (9,606 comments) says:

    (1) Sorry but I can’t really see anything fundamentally wrong with the government having external research groups developing policy proposals?

    (2) Moreover why would I trust the CIS (or the people funding the CIS) to be acting in the general public’s interest any more than a gubermint-funded think-tank? They sound scarcely and different than any number of other websites out there that are written by those who think the answer to every question is a tax cut and more freedom to rip people off.

    The Centre for Independent Studies is the leading independent public policy ‘think tank’ within Australasia. The CIS is actively engaged in supporting a market economy and a free society under limited government where individuals can prosper and fully develop their talents. through positive recommendations on public policy and by encouraging debate amongst leading academics, politicians, journalists and the general public, the CIS aims to make sure good ideas are heard and seriously considered.

    That word “independent” in their name, it sounds oddly reminiscent of the “democratic” in “Democratic Republic of Glad I’m Not There” for some reason…

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  6. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    Here’s an idea I just thought of. The government should say “we will continue to fund charities at the rate we are now funding them, but from now on the public can choose were the money goes”. And every year we all get a cheque for $500 (or whatever the magic number is) that goes to charity funding agencies (not directly to charities) who then donate to the actual charities on our behalf, based on how wisely and effectively they donated the previous year.

    Or maybe a $400-charity/$100-think-tank split.

    Groups that produced crap would quickly find their support dry up under the scrutiny of four million auditors looking at them every year.

    I’d wager that smaller groups and more minority groups would get a better look in, because you wouldn’t need to get an MP’s/Minister’s patronage to get attention.

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  7. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    @ RRM

    Yes, because history clearly shows that politicians and those in power always act with beneficence and for the good others.

    Seriously, are modern statists that naive? Do they really think that governments are immune from group think? That politicians won’t spray resources into their political armies if they can get away with it?

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  8. mikenmild (11,234 comments) says:

    There’s nothing special about CIS. It’s no different from any one of many different groups pushing an agenda.

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  9. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    @ mikenmild

    “There’s nothing special about CIS. It’s no different from any one of many different groups pushing an agenda.”

    Exactly! The difference though, is that the aussie tax-payer is not paying CIS (or Maxim Institute in NZ) to push their agenda.

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  10. RRM (9,606 comments) says:

    Seriously, are modern statists that naive? Do they really think that governments are immune from group think? That politicians won’t spray resources into their political armies if they can get away with it?

    My, you’ve got a cheeky gob on you.

    Can you explain why I should prefer a mouthpiece of self-serving corporate interests to a mouthpiece of Govt group-think?

    One seems about as bad / bemusing / pointless as the other IMHO…

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  11. Harriet (4,614 comments) says:

    I think it was Luke Malpess from the NZ Initutive[I may be wrong though] who said something like this in a monograph on Child Welfare a year or 2 ago –

    “The government naturally listens to the biggest because they have the most facts and have the most available resources, which is then generally those who have the biggest vested interests; government departments.They then continue to hear the current orthodox practices.”

    With regards to the Clarke government – that’s about spot on.

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  12. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    @RRM

    “prefer a mouthpiece of self-serving corporate interests to a mouthpiece of Govt group-think”

    First, I think you need to recalibrate your view of businesses. After all, they provide the jobs in New Zealand.

    It’s not a question of whether you, RRM, have to prefer either. I don’t really care. My point is that soft-money for government funding lobby groups is wasteful and potentially gives extra ammo to political forces. I pay my taxes for roads, cops, hospital, schools, and those in real poverty. Not for lobby groups to tell me how to think.

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  13. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    @ Harriet.

    Indeed.

    These organisations, though perhaps with staff with good intentions, are still staffed with people who have mortgages and need to feed their kids. They’re never going to recommend their organisation should be down-sized. And therefore policy must be given more critical review. It’s hard to do this when all your professional peers in Wellington are all in the same boat. People like RRM don’t get this. Or don’t want to get this.

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  14. RRM (9,606 comments) says:

    Not for lobby groups to tell me how to think.

    Is that what lobby groups do?

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  15. Paulus (2,546 comments) says:

    I am told there are over 2500 Maori ??Charities alone. (who pay no taxes of course).
    Years ago I was shown a list pages long.

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