A pox on Davos' economic experts, the IEA's economic experts cry

The 'right wing think tank' or 'educational charity' is furious about crony capitalists and the vested interests of the rich and powerful currently gathering for the World Economic Forum in Davos. So who would it be that funds this organisation? 

James Moore
Chief Business Commentator
Tuesday 22 January 2019 13:15
A venue for Crony Capitalism? That's what the Institute of Economic Affairs has to say about the World Economic Forum in Davos
A venue for Crony Capitalism? That's what the Institute of Economic Affairs has to say about the World Economic Forum in Davos

Who doesn’t like a bit of Davos bashing, with the rich and powerful gathering at the famous Swiss ski resort for the annual World Economic Forum bash where they’ll all shed crocodile tears about the world’s problems without doing very much about them.

“The perfect economy environment for ‘crony capitalism’ to flourish,” said one commentator, and there are plenty who’d have some sympathy with that.

But wait, this didn’t come from a Corbynite, keen to bring down the cronies of the established order in favour a socialist alternative. It was actually put out by the Institute of Economic Affairs, which is generally considered to be a right wing think tank, despite its protestations otherwise.

“Davos remains a huge magnet for politicians to work alongside leaders of the largest businesses and other vested interests to devise yet more regulations, interventions and barriers to entry that will undermine competition, by making it even harder for small businesses to operate in their markets,” the senior academic fellow from this ‘educational charity’ Professor Philip Booth growled.

“The gathering perpetuates the myth that economic welfare is promoted by ‘experts’,” he declared, rounding off.

You can see the problem, can’t you. If you call yourself a “senior academic fellow” and a “professor” doesn’t that sort of imply that you’re some sort of expert? The sort of person Britain’s had quite enough of, according to Michael Gove, the Brexit backing Environment Secretary.

But wait, I put that point to the IEA and got a clarification. Apparently the prof wasn’t railing against experts. He was just making a point about “over-reach by experts” not against exerptise as such. I’m not sure that clarifies anything, but there you go.

Anyway, there’s a reason I mentioned Gove in the context of the IEA, because a chinwag with him was mentioned as an apparent inducement when an undercover reporter posed as an agribusiness investor to discuss funding a report on innovation and agriculture after Brexit last year.

The Institute got quite cross about this, and accused Greenpeace and the Guardian, which collaborated on an investigation into it, of being “childish”. Ouch!

“We can’t control or guarantee any sort of access to or any sort of sanction against any politician. MPs attend our events entirely of their own volition and we have no ability to enhance or diminish their careers. If politicians speak to us, it is because they want to and think we have something useful to say,” said Mark Littlewood, the IEA’s director general, who was filmed dropping the name of the UK’s foremost opponent of experts, in a lengthy blog in respose.

The organisation he runs insists that it’s not affiliated with any political party and takes no official position on Mr Gove's beloved Brexit. I mention that because it was notably told by the Charity Commission to take down a pro Brexit report on Britain’s economic prospects after it leaves the EU in December for overstepping the mark. And it appears to be quite influential in right wing circles.

Quite what is supposed to be educational about Prof Booth’s ranting about experts, or experts’ over reaching themselves, is beyond me. Ditto his bemoaning crony capitalism, vested interests, and the leaders of large businesses, particularly when the IEA states that it gets money from corporations and individuals, presumably wealthy ones. When those of us with more modest means give to charity think tanks tend not to be high on the list.

If the IEA were the educational charity it claims to be, and not the hard right wing think tank its opponents characterise it as, it really ought to put a lid on such cynical populism. Perhaps the Charity Commission might like to give it a nudge?

But perhaps we should simply follow the advice of Mr Gove with respect to what its experts put out.

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