An Open Letter to the CIS

To begin with, to clear away misunderstandings:

  • My arguments are over how the Centre for Independent Studies can improve in its free market advocacy, not whether they have been successful in the past. I am willing to believe that the CIS has been very influential and that without the CIS the political situation would be worse. I am not wishing to denigrate any achievements or rewrite any histories. Everyone will agree that the CIS does not have a unanimous following, that their job is incomplete and that they want to be more influential. Surely, it will be agreed that the rate of reform that the CIS has brought about is not enough to make them beyond reproach or their strategy immune from debate.
  • My arguments are over how the CIS can improve in its free market advocacy, not whether they or a different group deserve money. Unlike Neville Kennard, I am not trying to advise philanthropists where they should put their money. I do not look at things from the perspective of a philanthropist, because I am not now nor have I ever been one.
  • My arguments are over how the CIS can improve in its free market advocacy, not whether they should have their continued existence compromised. Indeed, if the CIS cannot deal with criticism sufficiently and defend its point of view and reputation for radicalism, then, well, why blame the critics rather than the object of their criticism? (For the record, Neville Kennard’s suggestion for a radical group within the CIS was rejected.)

My three main objections to the CIS are:

  1. The CIS does not support a free-market in every area, and often endorse positive government programs. One obvious example is education (if you want more examples, just ask). My question to the CIS is: if you do not support a free-market in every area, where is your criticism of Gustave de Molinari, Lysander Spooner, Murray Rothbard and of the arguments in the middle and right columns of economics.org.au?
     
  2. The CIS focusses on utilitarian arguments, rather than clear statements of economic and legal theory and pointing out contradictions in beliefs for reasons other than utility indices. Debates revolving around interpreting graphs, surveys and happiness/wealth measures are not conducive to a final 'show-down' type situation, but always leave the door open for counter-examples, counter-case-studies, etc. For example, a debate about the minimum wage would be better if it did not include any statistics or real-life case-studies, but focussed solely on economic theory and hypotheticals. To argue that “arm-chair” theorising is bad strategy, is to have too short a time-frame in mind and to ignore the huge consequences of bad ideas. My question to the CIS is: why so much focus on utilitarian arguments, on sinking to the level of the mainstream debate at the expense of pointing out the incorrect theories underlying socialistic ideas?
     
  3. The CIS does not appear to have a well-thought-out strategy, for seven reasons:
  1. They quote Hayek saying they advocate discussion of the philosophical foundations of a free society, but they do not leave leave practical compromises to politicians, like the previous Hayek paragraph to the one they quote advises.
  2. They may argue that it is unrealistic to advocate without compromise, but as the former MPS Treasurer Clarence Philbrook explained, this line of reasoning shows its ridiculousness when you realise that the most likely to be accepted and realistically proposed view is one which will be accepted anyway.
  3. The CIS treats government as though it is not a criminal organisation that through unjustified use of force discourages productive work and investment. I do not deny that government deserves a fair trial, but as the prosecutor there is no reason to hold back, as there is no line of reasoning where the evidence is insufficient, compromised or invalid, and so no reason to go for little victories, since there is no lack of the usable evidence that is required to get the big conviction.
  4. My question to the CIS is: where do you think the place is for uncompromising free market advocacy, if not in independent think tanks aimed at long-term reforms?
  5. There may well be arguments for a softly softly approach, and the CIS may well be successful in getting a following through this approach, but there are also strong arguments for a radical approach, and getting media attention from that.
  6. A radical principled approach also has the benefit that what you espouse is also, as Philbrook said, what you believe when you put it in plain language.
  7. But, in any case, have the CIS ever tried the radical straightforward approach, and have they ever actually written about pros and cons of strategy?

See also 'Why is the CIS supporting a Carbon Tax?'.