by Benjamin Marks, Economics.org.au editor
Australian think tank veteran, Neville Kennard, is always emphasising to me that the most effective way for an educational institution to get the word out is for it to fund itself by directly selling something (rather than indirectly via asking for donations and memberships). For example, he tells of his own arrival at the libertarian position by reading the financial advice of Harry Browne in 1970. Browne attracted huge numbers of people to the libertarian movement, by exposing investors to sound economic ideas; in other words, to the Austrian school of economic and political thought.
Are there any think tanks in Australia directly selling something? Quite a few do sell magazines and books, but that delivers only a small percentage of their funding. As far as I can tell, there is only one whose entire income comes from directly selling something: The Daily Reckoning Australia.
They are newer than almost all the other Australian think tanks, yet they have several tens of thousands of Australian paying subscribers (and many more non-paying subscribers) to their investment advice newsletters, and the number is growing fast.
But selling stuff is one thing; selling good stuff another. Is the stuff they sell any good?
I cannot personally speak about the investment side of what they do, because I don’t invest in anything but myself, and have not followed their investment ideas enough to know anything but that they are gold bugs in the best Austrian tradition. I can tell you many other things about them.
At the recent Daily Reckoning Australia conference, themed “After America,” Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard were the two names most talked about. Few in the audience of 300 would have realised the radicalism of Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard, but they liked what they heard about their explanation of the business cycle.
I was ashamedly ignorant of many of the presenters at the conference, but it was fairly easy to follow what they said, what their attitude to the Austrian school is and, even if that wasn’t possible, to get one’s bearings from the regular Rothbard and Ron Paul mentions. It was great to “discover” Australian fans of Rothbard and Ron Paul that I hadn’t heard of.
To attempt to balance the equation, here is an important Australian who deserves the notice of The Daily Reckoning Australia: Bert Kelly. Bastiat scholar Dr David Hart says his writing is up there with Bastiat himself! Have any of you ever imagined what Dan Denning, Nickolai Hubble or the other Daily Reckoning columnists would say if they were elected to Australian parliament? Wonder no more, because they would be asking the same question Bert Kelly asked in 1975:
The most effective question I ever asked was put to the Labor Treasurer, Jim Cairns, while we were in Opposition. There had been some criticism in our Party Room because the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were getting all the questions, it being a convention that, if either of these stood, the Speaker would call them before any of us. And as the two leaders were hot on the scent of all kinds of scandals, they naturally had to hog question time more than some of us liked. I defended their right to do this, saying that we had elected them as leaders and we should let them get on with it, but I added that I was pregnant with the best question ever conceived and that I was jumping up and down trying to catch the Speaker’s eye in a way that was positively dangerous to a man in my condition. So when I did at last get the call, everyone listened intently.
My question to the Treasurer was: “Last week the Treasurer told us about his policy of using deficit financing to lower the present level of unemployment. How is this solution of burying the unemployment problem under a mountain of money actually working out? If printing money is a good solution for the unemployment problem, why not print more of the stuff and get rid of the unemployment problem altogether?” And Jim Cairns, with his kind heart brimming over with love and affection, just could not resist agreeing with me and replied that that was just what the government had in mind. Many keen political observers pinpoint the beginning of Cairns’ decline from that reply.
The Daily Reckoning Australia respects Australian history better than any of the big long-established Australian think tanks. For example, before I started putting up Lang Hancock stuff at LangHancock.info, the only organisation I could find who had written on Lang Hancock, other than the great Ron Manners, was The Daily Reckoning’s Dan Denning here and here. It is a sorry comment on other Australian think tanks that it was a recent American arrival who was the first to show any interest in such a major figure in Australian history.
The Daily Reckoning Australia also distinguishes itself from think tanks like the CIS and the IPA in being consistent. It is impossible to guess what the position of the CIS and the IPA, who bill themselves as radical defenders of free-markets, will be on on government funding of education, government funding of healthcare, government intervention overseas, etc. To give one example, guess the position of the CIS on the just-released Gonski report on school funding? … Wrong, it was: “The model could be improved by making one simple change — expand the categories of schools that can receive full public funding to include any school that does not charge compulsory tuition fees.” Why not expand the categories of those who receive unemployment handouts to include those who are still working?
Incidentally, Professor Judith Sloan, academic advisor to the CIS, does advocate an increase to unemployment handouts:
So what should the Government do about the level of the Newstart Allowance [unemployment handout]? And should thought be given to the means of adjusting the allowance over time? The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) has recommended an immediate increase in the Newstart Allowance of $50 per week. This would not close the gap with the DSP, but such an increase to the Newstart Allowance would be a first step. Costed at around $1 billion per year, it is quite expensive but achievable. Note that the Federal Government spends some $360 billion per year. [“Newstart needs a boost,” October 31, 2011, on a government-funded website.]
A billion here and a billion there; what would another billion matter? A loss of incentive here and a loss of incentive there; what would more loss of incentive matter?
The Daily Reckoning Australia has more respect for Australian history, and is more popular, more radical and more consistent than the Australian think tanks. That they do not position themselves as a think tank, and try to avoid being identified as political, is beside the point; after all, the CIS call themselves a radical free-market think tank and we do not take that at face-value either.
But that’s enough from me, read this recent radical article from Nickolai Hubble and this one from the same author a couple of years ago to get a better idea of what The Daily Reckoning Australia is all about.
UPDATE: April Postscript
The current IPA Review (April, 2012) — in addition to featuring a cover story on pro-freedom films that wantonly ignores this Economics.org.au essay — contains the claim that the IPA issues “Australia’s most widely-read weekly email” with 22,275 subscribers (page 4, repeated on the inside backcover). That is an impressive number. Congratulations. But why say that it is “Australia’s most widely-read weekly email”? The Daily Reckoning Australia’s weekly email goes to over 70,000! Why are the IPA ignoring other Australian free-market advocates?
I have tried to get the attention of IPA Review editor James Paterson previously, when he, in only one word, dismissed Ron Paul for his “kookiness” in a holier-than-thou rant — originally published on a government-funded website! — against the “lacklustre is putting it politely” field of Republican presidential candidates. I cannot find where Paterson has spent any more time than this on Ron Paul.
I am almost tempted to speculate what the explanation is for such behaviour, but I just don’t know. But here is a speculation from the biggest think tank insider of them all, Neville Kennard:
I wish the think tanks with their classical liberal positions would reply and respond to my views as to the benefits to them of such classical liberal vs anarchocapitalist debates. Are they too scared? They have the talent, the scholars, the finance … Perhaps they don’t have the guts.
Neither Ron Paul nor Daily Reckoning Australia identify as anarchocapitalists, so the suggested gutlessness runs even deeper. But that’s not my opinion; I’ll leave the speculating to others.
Lastly, to add one more proof of the radicalism of The Daily Reckoning Australia, this month Kris Sayce praised Albert Jay Nock’s Our Enemy, The State!
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