catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Why are there few successful left-wing think-tanks?

leave a comment »

In the SMH this morning, Evan Thornley is lamenting the lack of left-wing think-tanks in Australia:

I’ve just come back from a few weeks in the US and Britain meeting progressive think tanks and, by implication, learning about their larger, better-funded opponents.

I could do the same in Australia on my lunch break. Clive Hamilton at the Australia Institute is the only person in the entire country employed full-time thinking and writing about progressive politics – and much of that is closer to the Greens than Labor.

By contrast, the Centre for Independent Studies, the Institute of Public Affairs and other conservative equivalents have about 25 people active almost daily in major newspapers and behind the scenes in the Howard Government.

As usual, this exaggerates the size of the right-of-centre think-tanks. Until fairly recently, the CIS had only two full-time researchers. The rest of us combine the CIS with retirement, motherhood or, in my case, another job. Even counting part-timers, the IPA and the CIS would struggle to get to 25 media active people. And what ‘other conservative equivalents’?

But while small on both sides in Australia, why are think-tanks more successful on the right than the left? According to Don, this is because right-wing think-tanks benefit business. But 2nd generation money has long funded left-wing causes, and even some 1st generation money from Thornley’s own deep pockets.

On my theory of think-tanks, they have to fill some gap in the political ideas market. That may be harder (though not impossible, as Hamilton demonstrates) on the left than the right. This is because the very large number of left-wing academics covers almost the full range of left-wing views, leaving less for a left-wing think-tank to say.

The left have also made the mistake of creating think-tanks – Chifley, Evatt, Whitlam – that are too closely aligned with the ALP. This further narrows the possibility of saying anything interesting or different. In my view, the balancing act between think-tank and political party is almost impossible to perform. Unsurprisingly, the Menzies Research Centre has pretty much gone the way of its Labor counterparts – so far as I know, none have been abolished but none are doing any significant work either. The CIS has always been carefully non-partisan, and the IPA has tried to balance its close personal ties to the Liberal Party by employing people like former Keating Minister Gary Johns.

Another important factor in think-tanks – though I think this is flukish rather than a left or right thing – is that they tend to rely on one entrepreneurial individual. In the CIS’s case it is Greg Lindsay. In the Australia Institute’s, it is Clive Hamilton. Even if Thornley throws millions at left-wing think-tanks I don’t think they will have long-term impact unless he can find that rarest of things, an effective think-tank executive director.


Written by Admin

November 7, 2005 at 7:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: