How To Achieve Free Market Success In Australia

It is a sad fact that the state of liberty in Australia is in a rather sorry shape. The size and scope of government is consistently increasing, our economic and social freedoms are shrinking, and there is no respite in sight. There can be no denying that freedom is on the retreat.

Yet why is this? Our think tanks are world-class. We have many believers of small government in state and federal parliaments (albeit somewhat hidden in the closet), and youth political organisations like the ALSF are completely onside. Why, by any objective standard, have we failed?

Rather than using excuses of political culture, and blaming external forces, I would suggest that we look squarely at ourselves as the reason. We need to take responsibility for our failings, and address them for the way forward. I believe that one of the fundamental reasons we have not succeeded is that we have failed to look at the battle for liberty in a strategic manner, and instead have approached things in a manner that can be described as ad hoc at best.

Allow me to explain. Think, if you will, of the promotion of liberty as analogous to the structure of production, and the way institutions fit together. For this example, I will use a simplified and bastardised version of Hayek’s model (apologies to puritans)!

The structure of production in a developed economy can rather easily be defined. First you have the initial stages, representing investments and businesses involved in the enhanced production of basic inputs – raw materials. The middle stages convert these raw materials into various types of products that add more value – intermediate and capital goods. The final stages take these, transform them, and package them as consumer goods.

This theory, I suggest, can be applied just as equally to the structure of social change, and, through that, to the institutions of social change and political battle. So. How would this work?

Firstly you have your raw materials – ideas. These are raw intellectual materials; abstract theories and concepts. These are generally removed from the average citizen, and abstract in nature. These then become converted into policy analysis and policy papers. Slightly more accessible perhaps, but still generally removed from your average layman. Then you have the third stage. Consumer goods. Policies are neatly packaged, simplified, and presented to the people. The proposals are translated in a way the citizenry can understand and act upon.

So, how does this translate into something a little more concrete and into an institutional setting. Firstly, we have the raw ideas – these come from the universities. A great example would be the work in the University of Chicago in the 1960’s and 70’s. These are then developed into policy proposals by think tanks – to continue the example, Cato and others in the 1980’s. Then, we have the ‘implementation phase’ where grassroots advocacy and activist organisations fight in the trenches to convince the public, and then lobby the politicians – the National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Tax Reform etc. After all, it was this combination that ensured the great deregulations here, leading to  significant increases in economic growth and prosperity.

Success is achieved in this model when all organizations work together in a holistic manner and are equal in strength. It is only when all three components are in play and institutions in all three stages are health that we can actually achieve true policy change.  It is essential that all three stages are strong and functioning to maximise output in the final stage.

Now look at Australia. We certainly have the raw ideas – whether it be through the work of those in our Academy (eg Sinclair Davidson and Alex Robson) or that we steal it from abroad, whilst outnumbered by the left, we certainly are represented here. Then it comes to the middle stage, the think tanks. The CIS and the IPA are without doubt world class, and produce brilliant policy papers and proposals. Now we come to the implementation stage. And….. um… hmm…

There is nothing.

This, I suggest, is the fundamental problem we face. We have no organisations dedicated to free market ideas that are focused to a)packaging the message in a nice simple format for the average Australian to be able to digest and b)lobbying politicians to adopt this. None. The left have them. Social conservatives have them. Even crazy insane people have them. But not us. Granted, the IPA has recently started moving in that direction, which is great, but ultimately that isn’t their comparative advantage. What we need in Australia is a genuine grassroots free market advocacy organisaiton.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I’m currently in the US learning the skills to do just that. As part of that, I’m participating in the Koch Associate Program in conjunction with my employment at Americans For Tax Reform; whilst many don’t know the name Koch, it is not only the largest private company in the world (revenue exceeding $100 billion USD a year), it also funds pretty much the entire small government movement. At the risk of turning this into blatant self promotion, the year long program’s aims are “ to identify up-and-coming leaders and entrepreneurs interested in liberty and help them develop the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary for careers with market-oriented think tanks, policy institutes, and other non-profit organizations”. In just two weeks I have learned more on how to effect change than I have in many years at home (and will try to go into concepts of the Science of Liberty and Market Based Management in a later post). So my grand plan down the track is to set something up like this back in Australia (hence the self-serving nature of this post!)

I know many in Australia doubt the efficacy and practicality of grassroots organisations as opposed to think tanks (I had a debate with the doyen of the ALS, Mr. Humphreys, on this very matter a few weeks ago). However I am convinced that until we set up a vibrant grassroots advocacy movement – that actually works – to promote the free market back at home, we are doomed to continue the failures of the past.

For us to succeed, we must step down from the ivory towers of intellectualism, we must tear ourselves away from online debates, and we must get into the trenches are really start to fight. Only then can we really create change.

(Note: This post was based on From Ideas to Action: The Roles of Universities, Think Tanks, and Activist Groups by Richard H. Fink. Whilst my desire to set up a free market grassroots advocacy organisation in Australia has been around for years, this specific model and argument is completely taken from Richard Fink and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and I can claim no credit for it whatsoever)

Cross-posted at Thoughts On Freedom


17 Responses to “How To Achieve Free Market Success In Australia”

  1. How To Achieve Free Market Success in Australia « Thoughts on Freedom Says:

    […] by How To Achieve Free Market Success In Australia « The musings of an Australian classical liber… | July 2, […]

  2. Daniel Says:

    Tim – You should set up an organisation called “Free Australia! Reduce Taxes”? I think FART would be the coolest lobby group in town.

  3. Manny Says:

    Looking at the guys going thru the ranks of ALSF and other such orgs to being MPs / Senators, I reckon that they believe in political expediency over politicial ideals. And that tends to be because the smart ones that could prob defend ideals don’t go into politics but go private sector and make more money. The ones that would have less of a chance in private sector go public and hence we could adverse selection happening big time. Even if they got paid commensurate wages, I still think same thing would apply because being a politician sucks balls.

  4. TerjeP (say tay-a) Says:

    Those that join a major party have already chosen political expediency over ideals merely by virtue of joining a major party. Sorry but it’s true.

  5. Ronald Says:

    Tim You’re doing good work! Please advise us of your progress in Aust. We agree with you completely.

  6. ralph Buttigieg Says:

    Those that join a micro party that has never elected anyone have chosen political oblivion. Sorry but true.

  7. Tim Humphries Says:

    Brilliant Tim, I’d work for ya if you setup something like that 🙂

    I’ve already started a podcast called The Liberty Circus and going to get some more material together. I want to get a fan base going to make freedom ideas more mainstream here re: communication.

    Will have to look at advertising revenue structures as I put a website together. Will take some time to make it self-sustaining. But the kernal of the idea is there and ready to move. I recall from a previous post you were hankering for my podcast commentary on healthcare. Check it out in a post I’ve called “It’s packer time”

    It’s at the bottom, I had to rush it through because it was just before I went into surgery, so I’ve stuttered a couple of times, but you’ll get my free market drift 🙂


  8. Robert Candelori Says:

    There hasn’t been a serious grass-roots free-market lobbyist effort because Australians, by virtue of our isolation and sparse population, have generally viewed governments, in some shape or form, as part of the solution to problems, rather than the embodiment of those problems.

    It will take a vigorously committed campaign to shift that view.

  9. Sean Says:

    Robert is correct in placing Australian history within this discussion. We are on the far side of the world, a white colony far away from the UK or the US. Therefore this creates the case where government has a bigger role and is viewed as being positive. In addition, being sparesely populated makes social institutions less strong compared to the US or UK where social institutions can and are used instead of the government.

  10. Tim Andrews Says:

    I think that’s a fair point to some degree, however I don’t think it disproves my general thesis of the necessity of grassroots organisations. If anything, it demonstrates even more why we need such a thing – to create the ‘vigerously committed campaign ‘ mentioned!

  11. Sean Says:

    I think it means we must adapt small government policies to the Australian political and social environment. There are many Liberals who ask “what should the government do?” We need policies that are about improving non-governmental groups that even Hayek mentioned (I believed he used the term “local” groups) in The Road that are part of a classical liberal society where individuals and community are important and act rather than be dictated to from up high.

  12. Igor Palmer Says:

    Tim, liked your article, however, I disagree with your supposition that economic progress or fine brain trusts will bring progress in liberty. I see no evidence of this anywhere in the history or in the current political arena to support such supposition. The Liberty is earned and won not through smart economic practices and clever strategies. It is the Liberty, once won, that brings progress both in social and in economic terms.

    Without dampening your enthusiasm for grassroots political “upraising”, I also question the validity of the notion of grass roots activism as an effective vehicle to spread, defend or reclaim Liberty. If anything, the grass-root movements favored the raise of tyrannies. Liberty stands for freedom and liberty of individual not a collective. A free society means every individual is free. It is reasonable therefore to deduce that unless free men and women perceive their freedoms are in jeopardy and to the same extent, there’s little else there powerful enough to band the free for a common cause. If history is any guide than only the oppressed and the manipulated band vigorously for a political cause.

    more on:

  13. My Blog: One Year On « The musings of an Australian classical liberal in Washington DC Says:

    […] How To Achieve Free Market Success in Australia […]

  14. Club Troppo » Attention Aussie billionaires — Tim Andrews needs your help Says:

    […] Australia needs is a "genuine grassroots free market advocacy organisaiton [sic]", writes Tim Andrews. And he’s convinced he’s the man to make it […]

  15. Tel Says:

    In 1915, the Australian Federal Government introduced income tax to help fight WWI, at the time they solemnly swore it would be a temporary thing, only for the duration of the war. When the war ended they broke their promise and we are approaching the 100th anniversary of that broken promise.

    The Australian Taxpayer’s Association was formed in 1919 in an attempt to force our government to keep its original promise, and they also continue to this day. You talk about the National Taxpayers Union in the USA, but skip on even mentioning our own Australian Taxpayer’s Association!

    We don’t need yet another “grassroots” organisation that everyone can ignore, we need genuine swell of opinion and effort put into the institutions that already exist. By the way, have you heard of Independent Contractors of Australia? They are a part professional association and part lobby group designed to help small business, especially in union-dominated workplaces where contractors are regularly leaned on to join a union.

    Have you heard of the Liberty and Democracy Party (LDP) sometimes calling themselves Liberal Democrats? Their web page is clear and easy to understand, their policies are pro-freedom and sensible. If you looked hard last election you might have seen them on your ballot paper.

    By the way, don’t whinge and wring hands too much — people will mistake you for a Socialist.

  16. Australia’s place in the global web of climate denial | Science Blogs and News Says:

    […] ALS treasurer is Tim Andrews, who in 2009 spent a year in the US with the Koch Associate Program – set up by the same Koch […]

  17. Australia’s place in a global climate denial web « Graham Readfearn Says:

    […] ALS treasurer is Tim Andrews, who in 2009 spent a year in the US with the Koch Associate Program – set up by the same Koch […]

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