A solution looking for a problem

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For American talk radio host Bruce DuMont ideas are just another product traded in the marketplace. And unlike some right wing whiners, he thinks the marketplace is working just fine:

Yes, my Classically trained friends, "Praise be to Adam Smith!" It is my position that maybe, just maybe, the media market in fact reflects demand: that it supplies exactly what is demanded, and what is demanded is a little bit of everything…

In this market, think tanks supply questions and answers, "constructing mental widgets as fast as the public mind can deconstruct and absorb them."

Most think tanks don’t supply very many answers – or rather – they supply the same answers to every question. Is unemployment a problem? Deregulating the labor market will create new jobs. Are wild animals threatened with extinction? Private ownership will save them. For ‘classical liberal’ think tanks like Australia’s Centre for Independent Studies, the free market is the answer to almost every problem. And surprisingly often, government interference turns out to be the problem.

So if the public sphere really is a marketplace, why are think tanks so keen to give their ‘mental widgets’ away for free? And why are their donors so interested in helping them to do it?

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9 Responses to A solution looking for a problem

  1. dk.au says:

    “why are think tanks so keen to give their ‘mental widgets’ away for free?”

    The CIS wants $5.95 for a piece on ‘Morality and Foreign Policy’ and I doubt Mr. DuMont is working pro bono. Am I missing something here Don? Or, could it be – the PoMo discussions have reached a tipping point and infected your political commentary too??

    I certainly reading enjoyed the Atlas Economic Research manual, though. That section on ‘Funny money and Government money’ is priceless.

  2. Andrew Norton says:

    Don – It isn’t that the free market is the solution to every problem, it is that think-tanks like the CIS specialise in areas where markets would help (due to their capacities in preference satisfaction, information transmission, and incentives).

    As for why we give most of our material away, that’s the economics of this kind of work. Most of it is provided free or at marginal cost, either by government subsidy (education, ABC) or advertising (commercial media). The CIS does it by donation.

  3. Andrew Norton says:

    Don – It isn’t that the free market is the solution to every problem, it is that think-tanks like the CIS specialise in areas where markets would help (due to their capacities in preference satisfaction, information transmission, and incentives).

    As for why we give most of our material away, that’s the economics of this kind of work. Most of it is provided free or at marginal cost, either by government subsidy (education, ABC) or advertising (commercial media). The CIS does it by donation.

  4. Andrew Norton says:

    Sorry about reinforcing my point this way. I was distracted by a phone call and forgot I had already pressed ‘post’.

  5. derrida derider says:

    “Institutes that promote the prejudices of rich old men will never want for funding” – J K Galbraith

  6. Andrew Norton says:

    “Institutes that promote the prejudices of rich old men will never want for funding” – J K Galbraith

    That’s why the CIS is always short of cash, and Galbraith’s Harvard is lavished with billions:)

  7. Rafe says:

    Classical liberals do not claim that free trade will solve every problem under the sun, just the ones that are caused by constraints on free trade. I will try to avoid saying this twice:)

  8. Jason Soon says:

    While ‘Big Pete’ is an admirable and erudite fellow, I wouldn’t classify him as a classical liberal. There’s still too much of the sociologist in him to deserve that honourable title:-)

  9. Rafe says:

    Don, taking up a few points in your post, I would be interested to know who are the “right wing whiners” that you mention? The so-called right encompasses a wide range of people, some of them at each others throats (intellectually speaking). The whiners you mention may not even be free traders.
    The second point is, do you have serious problems with the notion of free trade under the rule of law?
    Thirdly, are you aware of the research that has been done on free market environmentlism, including the protection of endangered species? It would help to engage with this in detail, rather than just throwing out a hint that you think it is rigid and ideological in a bad sense to suggest this kind of strategy.
    On the deregulation of labour markets, what is your objection to the direct negotiation of workers with management to agree on pay and conditions? What do you suggest the centralised arbitration system adds to that process in the way of better outcomes for the workers (and the unemployed) and the consumers?
    I hope we can find some common ground to work on here, then approach differences in a way that generates light rather than heat.

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