Questioning Statism in Manhattan and Elsewhere

  • Public-Policy Reform
  • 1978

While visiting the U.S. after World War II, entrepreneur Antony Fisher was impressed by the work of agriculturalists at Cornell University who were transforming chicken farming from a cottage industry into an efficient modern process. When he went back to Britain he set up similar operations growing chickens on a large scale, which altered Britain’s diet and made Fisher a wealthy man. With some of the first profits from this business he set out to feed new thinking in his home country.

Discouraged to see centralizing economic policies sweep Britain after a war that had been fought to preserve freedom, Fisher visited free-market thinker Friedrich Hayek and told him he was considering entering politics. Hayek argued that the better course would be help change the intellectual currents running in the direction of socialism. In response, Fisher founded London’s Institute of Educational Affairs, one of the world’s early think tanks, which produced new ideas and experts that subsequently redirected both British and American politics. In recognition of Fisher’s achievement, Nobel economist Milton Friedman wrote that “the U-turn in British policy executed by Margaret Thatcher owes more to him than any other individual.”

Though business reversals later cost Fisher his fortune, he kept raising money for additional think tanks—this time in North America. In New York he was the progenitor, in 1978, of today’s Manhattan Institute, which quickly shaped national debate by supporting landmark books on supply-side economics (Wealth and Poverty by George Gilder) and welfare reform (Losing Ground by Charles Murray). In the 1990s, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani looked to the Manhattan Institute for crucial ideas on law enforcement and other subjects.

Fisher was also behind the launch of the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, and the Fraser Institute in Vancouver. He created the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, which raises capital to launch new free-market groups in parts of the world that have inadequate experience in capitalism. Atlas has seeded more than 400 market-oriented organizations in over 80 countries.

By funding fresh ideas, and thinking of change in terms of decades rather than months, Antony Fisher helped create an international backlash against statism during the second half of the twentieth century.