Meet Antony Fisher
Antony Fisher never knew his father. He was killed by a sniper’s bullet in Gaza during World War I when Antony was two-years old. He and his brother Basil served as pilots in the Royal Air Force in World War II, part of “the few” in Winston Churchill’s memorable phrase about the Battle of Britain: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” Indeed, the sacrifices had been great, and Basil Fisher had been killed in that historic battle.
After victory came at last in the war against Germany’s National Socialism, Fisher was distraught to see the British people elect a Labor Party government that set the country on a socialist course: nationalizing industries and using central planning to run the economy. He came across an abridged edition of F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, which posits that “central planning” inevitably erodes individual liberty and enables tyranny. Fisher was motivated to seek out Hayek, who was then teaching at the London School of Economics. Fisher told Hayek that he agreed with every word in the book, and was going to go into politics to save Britain from socialism.
Fisher told the professor that The Road to Serfdom had inspired him to enter politics to defend individual liberty against creeping socialism, but Hayek advised against this. Positive reform would be impossible, he cautioned, without first affecting a change in the climate of ideas.
Several years later, after achieving success as an entrepreneur (creating the first factory-style chicken farm in Britain), Fisher decided the most effective way to act on Hayek’s advice would be by establishing an independent research institute that would bring innovative, market-based perspectives to issues of public policy. In 1955, he founded the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in London, which gradually gained credibility and laid the intellectual groundwork for what later became the Thatcher Revolution. After Britain rebounded from the malaise of the Winter of Discontent, thanks to market-oriented policies consistent with the work of the IEA, Fisher was, for the second time, saluted by a British Prime Minister as one of “the few” involved in the country’s rescue. Thatcher saluted the founders of the IEA: “They were the few, but they were right, and they saved Britain.” During the 1970s as the IEA’s reputation was growing, Fisher found himself asked to advise on how to start an effective think tank. He helped in the early stages of the Manhattan Institute, the Pacific Research Institute and the Fraser Institute.
Fisher lived in San Francisco in 1981 when, with the help of his second wife Dorian, he founded the Atlas Economic Research Foundation to institutionalize this process of helping start up new think tanks. Friends like Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and Margaret Thatcher applauded the idea of replicating the IEA model far and wide.
In its first three decades, Atlas has played a role in the work of numerous market-oriented public policy organizations all over the world: the Manhattan Institute in New York, the National Center for Policy Analysis in Texas, Instituto Libertad y Democracía in Peru, the Acton Institute in Michigan, Fundación Libertad in Argentina, the Lithuanian Free Market Institute, Instituto Libertad y Desarrollo in Chile, the Centre for Civil Society in India, Istituto Bruno Leoni in Italy, and the Association for Liberal Thinking in Turkey, among others.
Fisher died in 1988, just weeks after being honored with knighthood by Queen Elizabeth. British MP, Oliver Letwin later commented on the incredible influence of this RAF pilot turned chicken farming entrepreneur turned think tank pioneer: “Without Fisher, no IEA; without the IEA and its clones, no Thatcher and quite possibly no Reagan; without Reagan, no Star Wars; without Star Wars, no economic collapse of the Soviet Union. Quite a chain of consequences for a chicken farmer!”
Today, the Atlas Network connects more than 400 think tanks in 80+ countries. While the think tank movement has grown significantly over recent years, the spirit of Atlas’s work remains the same as that which motivated Antony Fisher. To win the long-term policy battles that will shape history, we need Intellectual Entrepreneurs to create credible institutes – well-managed and independent of vested interests – that use sound business practices to advance sound public policy ideas.
Read the condensed version of Frost’s biography of Atlas founder Antony Fisher here.