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The state funding swindle: how left wing think-tanks are pulling taxpayer-funded wool over our eyes

Left wing think tanks are receiving hundreds of thousands of taxpayer pounds to spread their ideology. Those on the right prefer voluntary donations rather than coercive taxation to win the battle of ideas

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Robbing Peter to pay Paul Krugman
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Guy Bentley
On 20 September 2012 11:10

Yesterday, the union-funded Richard Murphy (though the BBC would hesitate to introduce him as such) made a bit of a faux-pas regarding the Adam Smith Institute and how think-tanks in the UK are funded.

Against this backdrop, it is important to remind ourselves about how left-wing think-tanks get their money, and how despite all their efforts to brand themselves as 'transparent', the underlying rationale behind their detoxification efforts is that they full well know that the use of union money (i.e. vested interests) and taxpayer-funding is far more morally questionable than free-market groups who benefit from donations from private, albeit anonymous citizens. 

Many will be outraged that the government spends hundreds of thousands of pounds on left-wing think-tanks whose roles include advocating a zero-growth economy, regulation of lifestyle choices and massive redistribution of wealth from the makers in society to the takers in society.

Government, local and central, has been giving grants to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the New Economics Foundation (NEF). Not only this but supranational government in the form of the EU Commission has also deemed these organisations worthy of precious funds. 

The IPPR has received money from three UK city councils, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, as stated, the European Commission. The NEF received between £100,000 to £200,000 from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and £50,000 to £99,000 from the European Commission. 

No wonder these organisations preach the virtues of the public sector, quangocracy and government subsidies for unworthy causes. They can most certainly count themselves among them. 

It is strange that government should see fit to spend money it has expropriated from the taxpayer on organisations that produce research encouraging more profligate spending and an increase in the size and scope of government. Or is it?

The NEF is perhaps the most sinister of examples.

These are the people who came up with bonkers idea that we should only be aiming to be working 21 hours a week so we can have more time to become better parents and citizens. 

Being very fond of the new 'science' of happiness, the NEF also proclaimed 1976 to be the happiest year since the Second World War. The organisation constantly calls for slower economic growth, reduced consumption and more active government intervention to redistribute income.

Whatever the merits of their arguments, the rest of public should not have to fund them.

This is a symptom of a wider problem highlighted by the Institute for Economic Affairs's research: Sock Puppets: How the government lobbies itself and why

The government is currently involved in funding numerous charities and special interest groups such as Action for Smoking on Health, which is dedicated to restricting the choices you can make about your own body. 

The research lead on this project, Christopher Snowdon, points out that there are now 27,000 charities which depend on government for 75 percent of their funding.

State funding for think-tanks and special interests lobby groups has meant that the government funded third sector has metastasised into a hideous growth of regulators, big spenders and tax hikers. 

The reason these groups are able to get away with robbing the taxpayer is a very simple one.

The amounts of money being spent on these groups are relatively trivial compared to the national budget. 

How many of us are really going to notice the couple pennies which come out of our entire tax bill which goes to these organisations?

But those who receive the benefits will notice, and they will fight hard to retain their ill-gotten cash. 

Some of these organisations will no doubt protest that they don’t lobby the government, but that government comes to them offering money to produce research.

The use of tax money and taxation has become a hot moral topic in our recent discourse so let me submit a sense of morality which has not been given the attention it should in the mainstream media.

It is morally reprehensible for the government to assume the public's money under the threat of imprisonment, only to  give it to lobbyists who the public may passionately disagree with, to lobby the government to regulate what we smoke, how long we should work and how money we earn and can keep.

Let us not forget what taxation is. 

For all the fuss that is made about taxes funding schools and hospitals, it is taken from you by threats and coercion. It often goes to things which many people think are either morally wrong or extremely wasteful. There has to be an extraordinarily good reason for the state to engage in this harmful activity. 

I submit that funding or helping to fund puritanical, leftist policy wonks is not one of them.

Organisations that advocate smaller government, that rely on private donations, are often are questionedabout their how independent their research is. Yet the same treatment is not given to groups who are funded by the state.

No one side in the political spectrum should have the taxpayer subsidise its activity, but if the government feels that is vital to fund third sector organisations, be they charities or think tanks, I will be awaiting the announcements of new funding for groups trying to repeal the smoking ban, cut taxes and abolish the working time directive. I won’t hold my breath.

Guy Bentley is the editorial assistant at the Commentator. Follow him on Twitter @gbentley1 

Read more on: think-tanks, taxation, taxpayers, new economics foundation, IPPR, institute of economic affairs, subsidy, european union, charities, free market, quangos, department for business innovation and skills, public choice theory, lobbying, smoking ban, tax cuts, working time directive, coercion, regulation, richard murphy, trade unions, and Adam Smith Institute
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