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Ralph Harris RIP

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Some sad news via Greg Lindsay. It hasn’t been reported in the mainstream media yet but Ralph Harris, or as he is known by his official title, Lord Harris of High Cross has passed away. He would be 82 this year so he has lived a relatively long life. And a fruitful one. He was involved in setting up the UK free market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs. 

You can find the transcript of an interview with Lord Harris conducted for the excelllent Commanding Heights TV documentary series here.

In the extract below he talks about his role in founding the IEA:

INTERVIEWER: What was Hayek’s influence in the forming of the IEA, and why he was taking that kind of trouble?

LORD RALPH HARRIS: I don’t think Hayek was a very practical man. He had a very good secretary for much of his life, who looked after him and kept his papers in order and the publishers happy. I can’t imagine, if I may say so, Hayek running a picnic. He wasn’t a practical, active man; he just had these ideas and was absorbed in argument. [He] didn’t treat people offhandedly if they weren’t very much up to speed. He would be patient and he would say, “That’s an interesting question,” perhaps nonsense often, and he would bring them along into his terms of reference so that he inspired other people to do things.

He inspired a man called Anthony Fisher, who was a very simple, uncomplicated farmer, to invite me to start an institute …

INTERVIEWER: … What was [the IEA’s] basic long-term objective? Was it to try and spread these ideas to influence the political process?

LORD RALPH HARRIS: Yes. The Institute started in 1957, the direct result of the Mont Pelerin Society, of The Road to Serfdom, of Hayek’s meeting with my friend Anthony Fisher. Its purpose was to bring together likeminded individuals to explore alternative policies, and that depended upon analysis and theory before prescription and policy. It was very modest, because we didn’t have a handful of beans; we hadn’t money initially. Anthony Fisher put up £5,000 — that’s a long way short of the $500,000 Hayek was talking about. There weren’t many people we knew who had these strange ideas of freedom and competitive enterprise.

Update: The Times has published an obituary:

Lord Harris of High Cross died at his home in north London after a suspected heart attack. His death was announced by the Institute of Economic Affairs, the free market think tank that he joined in 1957 as its sole employee and transformed into one of the most influential sources of British economic policy…

In 1956 he joined forces with Antony Fisher, a chicken farming entrepreneur and former fighter pilot, who had come up with the idea of the Institute of Economic Affairs two years before. Harris became the think tank’s first general editor and within months met Arthur Seldon, the editor with whom he would form a legendarily prolific partnership …

For 30 years, Harris and Seldon worked side by side, commissioning economists including Hayek, Milton Friedman and a generation of young free marketeers who would emerge to shape the market-oriented economic policy that defined Thatcherism and the Blairite premiership..

In 1987 Thatcher used the opportunity of an IEA anniversary dinner to pay tribute to Harris’s work, saying: “What we have achieved could never have been done without the leadership of the IEA.”

Written by Admin

October 19, 2006 at 11:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Yes, sad news. I heard him speak once – he was very funny – at a conference in southern France, and then Harris, his wife and I hitched a lift from a French PhD student to a Mont Pelerin conference in Barcelona. As we hurtled along at very high speed I think all three passengers were revising their opposition to regulation, at least so far as speed limits were concerned. Our driver, however, apologised for us taking so long as other cars overtook us. In some matters at least, the southern Europeans are more libertarian than us.

    Andrew Norton

    October 20, 2006 at 7:03 am

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