Maya Berinzon and Ryan BriggsJanuary 20 2017 at 7:00 AM
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, left, takes the oath of office during the swearing-in ceremony lead by Chief Justice Georgina Theodora Wood at Independence Square in Accra, Ghana, on Jan. 7. (Luc Gnago/Reuters)
When Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo took the oath of office on Jan. 7, by his side was a judge wearing a traditional British horsehair wig and black judicial robes. Just how far had Ghana shifted away from colonial rule since gaining independence in 1957?
Many Africans — and political scientists — believed that the newfound sovereignty of African nations in the 1950s and 1960s would cure ills, from economic underdevelopment to political repression, from low levels of social trust to high levels of corruption.
Many of these hopes remain unrealized. While countries did gain independence, some researchers argue that they held on to many of the rules put in place by former colonizers. Our research examines if this idea of colonial endurance is plausible in the legal sector.
Do colonial rules persist?
Colonial-era bureaucracies and legal systems were designed to control the population and extract wealth from the colony back to the colonizing power. After independence, governing and judicial institutions continued to run much as they had in the past, like trains moving along the same track.
Examples are easy to spot. Judges in a number of other African Commonwealth nations continue to wear the horsehair wigs and robes of their British predecessors. Some laws in Commonwealth nations also mirror older British laws — many African countries still maintain harsh colonial-era laws criminalizing homosexuality, for instance.
In the United States as well, we can easily find antiquated laws. Hey, New Yorkers, it’s illegal to wear slippers after 10 pm. Seriously.
While we have some anecdotal examples of legal institutions staying the same, we also have examples of countries making major changes to their laws. Rwanda, for example, is in the process of changing its entire legal system from the colonial Belgian civil law system to the common law system.
So, we have competing narratives. Do examples of colonial endurance tell us something about the general state of institutions, or are they just weird exceptions to a more general pattern of change?
Do colonial laws hold countries back?
If these laws have stayed largely the same, this could help us understand why some countries have had slower economic growth. For example, researchers have found that there is a correlation between the kind of colonial legal system and economic outcomes today. Generally, civil law countries perform worse than common law countries.
So, if civil law countries kept their colonial laws, this might account for worse economic growth. Changing these laws might help them perform better economically. If, however, laws have already shifted, then further modifying the laws themselves is unlikely to promote economic development. In this latter case, there must be other reasons for the constrained growth, like informal institutions or norms.
We scrutinized the entire criminal code in 7 countries
Our research challenges the idea that there is widespread persistence of colonial legislationin African civil law countries. We examined how much of the colonial criminal code endured across much of French West Africa — Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. We looked at whole legal codes rather than cherry-picking individual laws.
The French implemented a single criminal code across its colonies, with a final version instituted in 1955 (five years before most French African colonies gained independence). We wanted to see how much of this colonial law was evident in the present codes of these sub-Saharan successor states of French West Africa.
Each criminal code includes hundreds of articles, so we wrote a program to make these comparisons. The program takes every article of the 1955 code and finds the article in each country’s present code that most resembles it. It tabulates what fraction of the old article must change in order to turn it into a new article. If very few changes are necessary, then the language of the old article carries into the present code. If a lot has to change, then this is evidence that colonial influence is waning.
All of these countries made large changes to their criminal codes
The figure below shows how much of the colonial code was retained in each of the seven West African countries in our study. Every country substantially changed more than half of the colonial criminal code. Most changed significantly more.
Senegal retained the largest share of colonial articles, but even then, less than half of the colonial code exists in the present code. Togo retained the least, keeping only a few colonial articles in its modern criminal code.
Figure 1: How much of the 1955 French penal code remains in West African nations? This figure measures the extent to which the 1955 AOF (Afrique occidentale française) criminal code remains embedded in present-day legal code. Every country in our study changed more than half of its criminal code after independence, though some countries changed far more than others. Source: Ryan Briggs
So what do our findings say about the persistence of colonial law? First, we should be skeptical of claims that Africa’s laws are unchanged since the colonial period. Our results suggest that the laws in these countries are dynamic and varied.
Second, these findings suggest that if inherited colonial institutions are responsible for economic or political outcomes today, then this effect probably occurs through the transmission of informal rules or culture. It’s not directly because of the laws themselves.
Third, these results imply that it is not enough, and potentially not even useful, to suggest that a problem like corruption or weak shareholder protection can be fixed simply by writing new laws. Any prescription for change should start from a proper diagnosis. In these countries, there is little need to rewrite laws to remove colonial influence; that influence has already waned.
Maya Berinzon is a researcher at Virginia Tech’s Institute for Policy and Governance.
Ryan Briggs (@ryanbriggs) is an assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Political Science.
Tanzania is receiving development assistance to further develop the agricultural sector through public-private cooperation. The projects are being promoted under the premise that fertile land is abundant but, in practice, this land is almost always occupied. This means that large-scale agricultural projects are driving people off their land. An example is the case of the Maasai of Mabwegere, who are being dealt with harshly.
Land, water and access to natural resources become scarcer due to climate change, population growth, and the increasing demand for land for investment.
The Tanzanian government wants to develop the country by attracting investors, and for that it needs land.
Maasai unwelcome in their own village
The village of Mabwegere in the district of Kilosa in the Tanzanian province of Morogoro is home to 4105 nomadic pastoralist Maasai, while the surrounding villages are made up of crop farmers.
Although Mabwegere is an officially registered village and the Maasai have been living there since the 1950s, the elites and the local government are abusing their power so as to drive out the Maasai and to drive a wedge between the crop farmers and the cattle herders. They want to use the land for speculation or for growing crops.
This fuels the conflicts between these two groups, who are given less and less land and living space.
The first time the local authorities tried to evict the farmers was in January 2009. We interviewed nine men and seven women from the village who were there at that time. For their own safety, they prefer to remain anonymous.
‘The district administration gave the order to seize the cattle. They wanted to cash in the cattle and evict herders to give the land to agriculturists,’ says one of the village elders.
During the large-scale operation to remove pastoralists from Kilosa, police and paramilitary units throughout the district confiscated their livestock.
The villagers say 5000 cows and goats were seized in their village alone, but the exact number is difficult to determine. A report of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) shows estimates ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 or 300,000 confiscated animals in the entire district.
‘Although we paid the fines, we never saw our cattle again. The police sold every animal at a large cattle market in Dar es Salaam.’
‘We tried to stop them, but the police held us at gunpoint and fired warning shots. They bombarded us with teargas and beat people,’ says a villager.
‘There were at least 200 of them and there were also people from neighboring villages with whom we don’t get along.’
All the cattle were herded into large stables. The villagers had to pay a fine of 30,000 Tanzanian shillings, about 15 Euros, for each cow and 5 Euros for a goat or sheep.
‘Although we paid the fines, we never saw our cattle again. They sold every animal at a large cattle market in Dar es Salaam,’ says one of the villagers.
The Maasai’s livelihood depends entirely on their cattle. At the time of the seizure, a cow was worth about 500 Euros on average. People were left in poverty.
‘We had no money to buy cattle. Some borrowed cows from relatives to survive, but those who were not so lucky still have nothing today,’ said one of the villagers.
‘The cows were all we had,’ says one of the women from the village. ‘We cannot grow crops. Our sons moved to the city. They now live far away in Iringa.’
Blocking access to water may be a strategic move to prevent the Maasai from returning to their territory.
Farmers from neighboring villages used the chaos to their advantage by occupying Maasai land and using it to grow crops.
Much of the land they confiscated is located at the river and drinking spots.
The farmers let the IGWIA know that blocking the herders’ water access was a strategic move to prevent them from returning to their territory.
One of the women shows a plastic bottle that appears to be filled with lemonade: ‘This is our water. We no longer have proper water. The cattle can’t drink it. It makes us ill, too.
Whenever we have our blood tested, the results show we have typhoid. When we want to let our cattle drink from the rivers, the farmers who are now growing tomatoes and sugarcane stop us. We have to get our water from puddles.’
‘We sued those farmers but lost the case, even though in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that Mabwegere officially belongs to us’, says one of the men from the village.
‘We have been living here since 1956. The local government is ignoring court orders.’
‘The government considers this a good region for farming rice. There are important people in the government who are particularly interested in this land.’
One of the reasons why the local authorities ignore court orders may be that the district administration has already given parts of the region to influential people without following the legal procedures.
‘There are rich people from the cities that want our land’, says one of the older women from the village. ‘What are they expecting? That we’re going to live in trees like baboons or birds?’
According to the men from the village, some of those who want their land are in the government themselves: ‘The government considers this a good region for farming rice. There are important people in the government who are particularly interested in this land.
That’s why they are turning our neighbors against us. They are conducting a hate campaign, portraying us as violent and uncivilized.’
Murder, arson and rape
This hate campaign also fits in with the policies and discourse of Jakaya Kikwete, who was president of Tanzania until late 2015. Kikwete considered the lifestyle of the nomadic cattle farmers unproductive and outdated, something that didn’t belong in a modern state.
He stated in his speech at the start of his tenure that the people of Tanzania should go from being nomadic herders to become modern sedentary farmers.
‘They came with clubs, spears and machetes. They tried to seize our cattle. They torched houses and raped women.’
Local politicians continue to incorrectly label the nomadic cattle farmers as illegal immigrants who cause conflicts.
In January 2015, the conflict escalated further when residents of the neighboring villages invaded Mabwegere.
‘They came with clubs, spears and machetes. They tried to seize our cattle. They torched houses and raped women.
The IWGIA report that six women were raped, the villagers themselves say there were four. ‘The real number is much higher’, says Maasai leader Chris.
Chris is not his real name, because he, too, fears persecution. He represents 200,000 people and, in the past, he has reported to the UN about the situation in Tanzania.
‘Women in my community can’t say they’ve been raped. They feel it would damage their reputation’, says Chris.
Chris believes those who attacked the village were trained units.
‘The elite are financing these conflicts. They want our land in order to sell it to investors. They finance the farmers from neighboring villages and train them to fight. This is not just a conflict, it’s war.’
‘The elite are financing these conflicts. They want our land in order to sell it to investors. They finance the farmers from neighboring villages and train them to fight. This is not just a conflict, it’s war.’
‘Women and children are the most vulnerable during such violence’, say the women. ‘The men are often away from home and can stay in the cities or in the forest, but we are always at home to take care of the children. We have nowhere to go.’
The trauma runs deep. The women of the village cry when talking about the seizure of the cattle in 2009 and about the more recent rapes. A recurring theme is their indignation about the fact that they do not get help in coping with the traumatic events.
‘After the invasion in 2015, the representative of the regional government even came to the village, but nothing happened. Everything stayed the way it was and no one was punished’, says a resident.
Since the cattle seizure, there has been a culture of impunity. The cattle farmers sued at different levels of government, but to no avail. They were given no protection at all.
The Tanzanian newspaper Daily News did report this February that the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau has started investigating politicians and others who may have spurred on the conflict.
Land disputes and demarcation
Mabwegere is not an isolated case. The IWGIA has gathered statements from cattle herders in about twenty villages in five provinces of Tanzania. The general narrative is always the same.
Tanzanian NGO HAKIARDHI reported in 2012 that, in the span of a year, there were 1825 land disputes in courts and, in sixty percent of those, a powerful investor was involved.
The village of Mabwegere is located in the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor (SAGCOT). The government, donors and the private sector want to realize this fertile region’s agricultural potential and modernize it through public-private cooperation, focusing on small-scale farmers.
This supports the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NASFN), an initiative launched in 2012 by the G8 in order to pull 50 million people in Africa out of poverty and hunger through public-private cooperation in the agricultural sector.
The initiative is supported by the EU, the US, the UK, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.
In this case, the demarcation is not intended for securing the rights of the villagers, but for providing security to investors.
The NAFSN projects are aimed at the SAGCOT region.
The Tanzanian government promised to demarcate the SAGCOT region’s land in order to obtain the support of the NAFSN.
This would allow the government to create a mechanism to provide investors with land in a correct and transparent way.
A clear demarcation could help villagers secure the rights to their land. However, in this case, the demarcation is not intended for securing the rights of the villagers, but for providing security to investors.
Paolo De Meo of Terra Nuova, an NGO cooperating with the Hands on the Land coalition, considers EU policy partially responsible for the land grabbing.
‘Nomadic cattle farmers are one of the most vulnerable communities, because their lifestyle is not productive from an industrial perspective.’
‘EU support of African agriculture is increasingly focused on expanding an industrial agricultural model. This makes nomadic cattle farmers one of the most vulnerable communities, because their grasslands are considered unused and because their lifestyle is not productive from an industrial perspective.’
Edward Louré of the Tanzanian NGO Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT), which supports the rights of nomadic cattle farmers and hunter-gatherers, is also concerned.
‘The NAFSN is receiving much support from the World Bank. We are worried because the project documentation for the NAFSN does not mention the rights of indigenous peoples. This is unusual for the World Bank. They know much about the rights of indigenous peoples.
Their silence in this matter leads us to assume that they are allowing the ousting of local communities to make room for big investors.’
Land that isn’t there
Tanzania divides all land into three categories. Under SAGCOT, the only category accessible to investors is general land, but this only constitutes two percent of the land. The other two categories are village land and reserved land.
The president can convert village land into general land if this serves public interest, such as in agricultural projects. SAGCOT wants to increase the percentage of general land in the region from 2 to 20 percent.
This would free up 350,000 hectares of land for agriculture and would require converting village land or reservations to general land.
‘The World Bank does not want to be accused of facilitating land grabs.’
Professor Lusugga Kironde of the Ardhi University conducted a non-published study for the World Bank concerning land matters in the SAGCOT region.
‘The World Bank requested that study because they wanted to know if the land is really available. We believe it is not. The World Bank wants to know which steps they need to take in order to acquire the land. They do not want to be accused of facilitating land grabs.’
‘The conflicts between farmers and nomadic pastoralists are a clear sign that there is no free and available land’, says Professor Kironde.
‘If the land were available, we would not be seeing these conflicts. Farmers would not be taking the nomadic pastoralists’ land if they had enough land available themselves.
The conflicts are growing in frequency and lethality. A project like SAGCOT is impossible without taking families’ land.’
Investors who want land have to go through the Tanzanian Investment Center (TIC). A TIC employee, who wished to testify only anonymously, also agrees that there is no land available.
‘Now that they are revising policy, there is a strong lobby that wants to convert village land to general land in order to make it available to investors. If this happens, it will lead to large-scale land grabs.’
‘There is no indisputably available land. The procedures to make land available for investing are time-consuming, because the village land needs to be converted into general land. The investors have to wait for months until the conversion is complete.’
National policy concerning land is currently being revised, which worries Professor Kironde.
‘There is much pressure because it is difficult for investors to gain access to land. Now that policy is being revised, there is a strong lobby that wants to convert village land to general land in order to make it available to investors. If this happens, it will lead to large-scale land grabs.
It will take some time, because converting all land to general land would require changes to the constitution. However, the process could become more simplified and faster.
‘It would be good if they could shorten the procedures for conversion, for instance by involving the Minister for Lands rather than the President’, says the TIC employee.
No budget for proper consultations
State organization RUBADA (Rufiji Basin Development Authority) is in charge of the demarcation of the land under SAGCOT. This organisation visits villages to demarcate land and, at the same time, tries to attract investors.
RUBADA made Tanzanian headlines last year because of a corruption scandal involving the disappearance of about one million Euros of development and investment money.
‘One of our main goals is attracting investments in the SAGCOT region’, says RUBADA Director for Planning and Investment John Rutabwaba.
A RUBADA employee told academic Mikael Bergius that they handle as many villages as possible each day. Bergius has been researching agricultural development in Tanzania for decades at the Norwegian University NMBU and for the Oakland Institute thinktank.
‘We cannot adequately consult the villagers because we lack the budget’, says Rutabwaba. ‘We are a governmental organisation, but the government doesn’t support us. Luckily, we’ve gotten some help from the UNDP, otherwise we would not be able to do anything at all.’
Ebe Daems & Kweli Ukwethembeka Iqiniso This article was created with the support of Journalismfund.eu
Think tanks are important institutions that provide information and analysis to both policy-makers and the public. But when they court donations, it can become unclear whether that analysis is tainted by donor agendas.
Ken Silverstein in the Nation (5/21/13) recently exposed the extent to which positions at the center-left Center for American Progress (CAP) and other think tanks were shaped by the interests of donors. “Staffers were very clearly instructed to check with the think tank’s development team before writing anything that might upset contributors,” Silverstein reported.
The 25 institutions in FAIR’s study of think tank citations have gotten money from corporations, foundations, governments and individual donors. The law does not require public disclosure of who the donors are, though donations above $5,000 are reported to the IRS. Many think tanks thank their donors in their annual reports, while others list donors on their websites. Sometimes the trawling of tax documents is required to figure out who is giving—and what they’re getting in return.
The sobering news about atmospheric carbon dioxide passing 400 parts per million (Guardian, 5/10/13) is another reminder that the global community needs to quickly take serious steps to avert looming ecological catastrophe, but with world leaders relying on research funded by the energy industry, it is unlikely the drastic measures required will be considered.
Billionaire Pete Peterson has ties to five top think tanks (cc photo: Lingjing Bao/Talk Radio News Service)
Almost two-thirds of the think tanks studied (16 out of 25) took money from at least one oil company. Thirteen—more than half—were funded by ExxonMobil, while more than a third, nine, were funded by Chevron; the Koch brothers contributed to seven. Shell gave to four think tanks, and Conoco-Phillips and BP each funded three.
Reflecting the clout that big donations bring, various think tanks have Big Energy sitting on their boards. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has Rex W. Tillerson, chair and CEO of ExxonMobil, on its board of trustees, along with John Hess of Hess Oil. Duke Energy chief Jim Rogers sits on the boards of the Brookings Institution and the Aspen Institute. Aspen also has David Koch of Koch Industries, who’s on the board of the Cato Institute as well. The board of trustees of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) features the “Honorable Richard B. Cheney.”
War-related issues are also of vital public concern—and the companies that most profit from war are using their wealth to shape the discussion in ways that benefit them. Just under half (12 of 25) of the most-cited think tanks take money from weapons manufacturers; General Electric bankrolls 11 of them, while Boeing and Lockheed Martin each contributed to six. Four got donations from Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon financed three.
Ten of the 25 think tanks received donations from finance corporations. Five have finance executives on their boards; Brookings has three different Goldman Sachs–linked individuals, while Aspen has two. The board of the Institute for International Economics (IIE) has three members linked to Citigroup, and the Carnegie Endowment has one.
Thirteen of the think tanks had connections to the for-profit healthcare industry, either by donation or by board members. Nine received donations from pharmaceutical interests like Pfizer, Merck and the lobbying group PhRMA, while three have accepted money from health insurance companies like MetLife. AEI’s board has Wilson Taylor, chair emeritus of Cigna, while Brookings’ contains former Cigna chair Ralph Saul. IIE’s board holds Karen Katen, former vice chair of Pfizer, and Ronald Williams, retired chair and CEO of Aetna.
Think tanks are also funded by charitable foundations, often channeling the fortunes of wealthy families of individuals, many of which have an ideological agenda that can be seen clearly in their choice of beneficiaries. Foundations tied to Richard Mellon Scaife, the Mellon banking heir who has helped to “fund the creation of the modern conservative movement in America” (Washington Post, 5/2/99), have bank-rolled the Manhattan Institute, AEI, Heritage, Hoover, Cato and CSIS. Scaife sits on the boards of Heritage and the Hoover Institution.
The Koch brothers foundations support Cato (where David Koch is on the board), Heritage, AEI, Manhattan and the Woodrow Wilson Center. The DeVos family, whose fortune derives from Amway, fund through various foundations AEI, Heritage and Cato. The Gilder Foundation funds the Manhattan Institute (where its founder is chair emeritus), Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), Cato and Heritage. The Bradley Foundation donates to AEI, Heritage, Manhattan, Hoover and Cato.
The Walton Family Foundation, created by the family of billionaires who own Walmart, have given money to conservative groups like AEI, Heritage, Manhattan, Hoover and Cato. They’ve also given money to the centrist Brookings and the center-left CAP, which backs President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a program that may drive up costs for Walmart’s small business competitors (Business Insider, 6/30/09).
Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson, who has relentlessly campaigned against retirement benefits through programs he helped launch like the Concord Coalition and the Fix the Debt campaign (Extra!, 3-4/97, 6/10; CounterSpin, 3/15/13, 11/16/12), is the former chair of the Council on Foreign Relations (and is still on CFR s board) and the founding chair of the IIE. His entities have bankrolled the Atlantic Council, Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and New America Foundation (NAF).
Billionaire financier George Soros is an outlier among wealthy givers, contributing through multiple foundations and corporations to a variety of institutions ranging from center-right to progressive: the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Woodrow Wilson Center, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Carnegie, Aspen, Brookings, Cato, CFR, EPI, NAF and CAP.
Corporate-funded think tanks have played a central role in promoting free market environmentalism onto the policy agenda throughout the English speaking world. These think tanks have consistently opposed government regulation and advocated the virtues of a ‘free’ market unconstrained by a burden of red tape. The role of think tanks in the establishment of this ‘neoliberal’ agenda in the US and the UK in recent decades has been well documented. However their central role in a range of specific policy areas, such as environmental policy, has been neglected.
Conservative think tanks are generally set up as private, tax-exempt, research and advocacy institutes, and are largely funded by foundations and corporations. They have sought to insert neoliberal ideology into environmental policy. They advocate the use of the market to allocate scarce environmental resources such as wilderness and clean air and promote the replacement of legislation with voluntary industry agreements, reinforced or newly created property rights and economic instruments.
Presidents from Carter through to Clinton have made wide use of think tank personnel to fill high level government positions [Abelson:1995 108-09; Smith:1991 206-07]. Think tanks also employ ex-government officials giving them access to politicians and others in government. The interchange of personnel between think tanks and government officials observed in the US is now a feature of the Australian scene.
In Britain a few conservative think tanks have been extremely influential. These think tanks, particularly the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) and the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), played a major role in setting the policy agenda of the Thatcher government, providing it with most of its policy initiatives, including trade union ‘reforms,’ privatisation of public authorities such as water and electricity, and welfare cuts. The influence of think tanks continues with the Blair government.
To be effective, think tanks insert themselves into the networks of people who are influential in particular areas of policy. They organise conferences, seminars and workshops, publish books, briefing papers, journals and media releases for policy-makers, journalists and people able to sway the policy makers. They liase with bureaucrats, consultants, interest groups, lobbyists and others. They seek to provide advice directly to government officials and to government agencies and committees, through consultancies or through testimony at hearings. Ultimately think tank employees become policy-makers themselves, having established their credentials as a vital part of the relevant policy/issue network.
In their efforts to influence and become part of the policy-making process think tanks have more in common with interest groups or pressure groups than academic institutions. Nevertheless employees of think tanks are treated by the media as independent experts and, as such, are often preferred to representatives from universities or interest groups as a source of expert opinion.
Some Key Think Tanks
Think tanks put a great deal of effort and expense into ensuring the work of their ‘scholars’ is marketed and disseminated effectively. The Heritage Foundation in the US has often been credited with changing the face of think tanks with its aggressive marketing tactics. The greater proportion of its budget goes on marketing and fund raising, including 35-40 per cent of its budget on public relations. Many other think tanks have emulated Heritages’ marketing techniques.
The Heritage Foundation has a budget of over $25 million per year of which almost 90% comes from more than 6000 private donors. These donors include corporations such as automobile manufacturers, coal, oil, chemical, tobacco companies, foundations (about 25% of the foundation’s total income).
Heritage promotes deregulation of industry, an unrestrained free market and privatisation, including the sell off of public lands. In line with this ideology it advocates free market solutions to environmental problems or free market environmentalism [Anon:1992 49-53; Shanahan:1993]. It seeks to cast doubt on environmental problems such as global warming and to lobby against legislation or international agreements to prevent such problems.
The Institute of Economic Affairs, (IEA) in the UK which has promoted laissez-faire libertarianism or ‘economic liberalism’ for decades. It formed an Environmental Unit and launched Global Warming: Apocalypse or Hot Air in 1994. It promoted property rights as a way of protecting the environment and sought to apply free market solutions to all aspects of society including environmental problems and to reduce the role of government and regulation [Desai:1994 29]. For example, one of its publications stated: “There is a strong case for letting market forces work in energy… A policy for energy is not only unnecessary but undesirable. It hampers market adjustment and induces producers to spend time influencing government rather than improving efficiency.” [Weaver:1989 573]
In Australia a prominent conservative/neoliberal think tank, and the oldest, is the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). Almost one third of IPA’s $1.5 million annual budget comes from mining and manufacturing companies. The IPA produces articles challenging the greenhouse consensus, attacking mandatory recycling, and promoting the use of pesticides. [Burton:1995 279], [IPA Report:1991 1-3].
Additionally a number of smaller specialist think tanks have been set up, particularly in the US, to promote free market environmentalism, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, (CEI) the Political Economy Research Centre and the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP).
These particular examples are merely illustrative of the much larger push that has been evident in the last decades. What they have in common is the desire to downplay the urgency of environmental problems, to reduce environmental regulations, and to apply neoliberal policies to environmental problems, as has occurred in other areas of policy. These ideologically motivated think tanks have sought to discredit environmental legislation, giving it the pejorative label ‘command and control’, highlighting its deficiencies and ineffectiveness (ineffectiveness that corporations and corporate-funded think tanks have done their best to ensure). In their place they have advocated market-based mechanisms including price-based and rights-based measures.
Free Market Environmentalism
Think tanks have popularised and promoted the work of environmental economists who promote economic instruments and many of the leading scholars in this area are associated with think tanks. Such scholars include one of the foremost proponent’s of tradeable pollution rights, Robert Hahn, a resident scholar of the American Enterprise Institute, Terry Anderson, who has written for several think tanks in Australia and the US, Robert Stavins and Bradley Whitehead, authors of a Progressive Policy Institute study as well as Alan Moran, from the Tasman Institute.
Think tanks produce numerous books and papers promoting free-market environmentalism. Their books have included Free Market Environmentalism published by the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy in 1991; Reconciling Economics and the Environment published by the Australian Institute for Public Policy in 1991; and Markets, Resources and the Environment published by the Tasman Institute in 1991.
The market solutions being advocated by neoliberal think tanks provide corporations and private firms with an alternative to restrictive legislation and the rhetoric to make the argument against that legislation in terms that are not obviously self-interested. While legislation is aimed at directly changing the behaviour of polluters by outlawing or limiting certain practices, market-based policies let the polluters decide whether to pollute or not.
Some neoliberal think tank economists also argue that there is little incentive to protect environmental resources that are not privately owned. The solution put forward is to create property rights over parts of the environment that are currently free. Rights-based economic instruments such as tradeable pollution rights, for example, “create rights to use environmental resources, or to pollute the environment, up to a pre-determined limit” and allow these rights to be traded. [Cth Govt. of Australia:1990 14] Rights-based measures are also a way of providing a pricing mechanism for allocation of scarce environmental resources.
The influence of neoliberal think tanks on environmental policy has been pervasive. Yet their efforts to replace legislative solutions with free market programs have been accepted largely without scrutiny of the ideological agenda behind them. Many environmentalists have been persuaded by the rhetoric of free market environmentalism. For example the US Environmental Defense Fund has been at the forefront of the push for tradeable pollution rights and the Natural Resources Defense Council has also supported them.
The ideological and political shaping of these instruments has been hidden behind a mask of neutrality. Stavins and Whitehead exemplify this in arguing that “Market-based environmental policies that focus on the means of achieving policy goals are largely neutral with respect to the selected goals and provide cost-effective methods for reaching those goals.” [Stavins & Whitehead:1992 8] Far from being a neutral tool, the promotion of market-based instruments is viewed by many of its advocates as a way of resurrecting the role of the market. They serve a political purpose in that they reinforce the role of the ‘free market’ at a time when environmentalism most threatens it.
By accepting market instruments as a solution to environmental problems, environmentalists have accepted the conservative definition of the problem-that environmental degradation is caused by a failure to ‘value’ the environment and a lack of properly defined property rights and therefore environmental degradation results from a failure of the market to attach a price to environmental goods and services [Beder:1996]. By allowing this redefinition of the environmental problem, environmentalists and others not only forestall criticism of the market system but in fact implicitly agree that an extension of markets is the only way to solve the problem.
The root of the environmental problem, however, is the priority given to economic considerations over environmental considerations. Economic instruments, privatisation and environmental ‘valuation’ ensure that priority is still given to economic goals and they enable firms to make decisions that affect others on the basis of their own economic interests. Even if those economic interests have been slightly modified to give a small economic value to environmental impacts, the basic paradigm remains unchanged: whenever big profits can be made the environment will be destroyed.
America’s first think tanks developed in the early 1900s and grew out of a desire to improve government and to help government think, according to McGann. The first kind of think tank was the academic model, such as the Brookings Institution, founded in 1916 by reformers devoted to fact-based studies of national public-policy issues. Experts at Brookings played a role in shaping plans for the United Nations and the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II. The next model, McGann says, was the RAND Corporation, established in 1920 as a consulting agency for the government.
The advocacy think tanks emerged in the 1960s. These new-style organizations, which campaigned actively for their policy preferences, tended to reflect that decade’s swing to the political left. But the next two decades saw what McGann calls “a sort of conservative counter-revolution,” leading to a “war of ideas,” with openly ideological or partisan think tanks proliferating on both sides.
In 1963, during the period of the Vietnam War and the Great Society, the first advocacy institution was the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies. The neoconservative Heritage Foundation was founded in 1973.
Conservative think tanks have more power and influence today in U.S. politics, McGann says, adding that there is “increasing criticism and worry over the domination of the right on policy.” David Callahan wrote in the Washington Monthly in November 1999, “The big development of the 1990s is that conservative institutes have had spectacular new success in tapping business money to fund ideologically charged policy research.” According to Callahan, “Corporate giving to right-wing groups has steadily increased as private sector leaders have seen the effectiveness with which conservative think tanks, and their armies of credentialed ‘experts,’ advance business interests in the political arena. Money, it turns out, can buy scholars as well as politicians.”
Callahan wrote that the “current gusher of corporate funding for right-wing policy work has its roots in the 1970s, when leading conservative thinkers appealed to corporations to fund intellectuals who supported their economic interests.” He pointed out that corporate leaders make up the overwhelming majority of board members at most conservative think tanks. “Even the American Enterprise Institute, among the most scholarly of conservative think tanks, has some two dozen corporate leaders on its board and only one academic, James Q. Wilson.” Wilson, who taught at Harvard, died in 2012.
One of the most powerful underwriters of far-right-wing conservative causes is Koch Industries, the oil and chemicals conglomerate based in Wichita, Kansas, with annual revenues estimated to be $100 billion. The conglomerate operates oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota and controls some four thousand miles of pipeline.
Writer Jane Mayer described the political activities of Koch’s owners, David and Charles Koch, in an August 30, 2010, issue of TheNew Yorker magazine. Since the 1980s, the Koch brothers have provided more than $30 million to George Mason University, in Arlington, Virginia, much of it for a think tank called the Mercatus Center, which describes itself as “the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas and real world problems.”
Mayer quotes an environmental lawyer who has clashed with the Mercatus Center and who explained to her how corporate interests use think tanks to promote their private agendas. “You take corporate money and give it to a neutral-sounding think tank” that “hires people with pedigrees and academic degrees who put out credible-seeming studies. But they all coincide perfectly with the economic interests of their funders.” Among the largest and most influential of the conservative think tanks, in addition to the American Enterprise Institute, are the Heritage Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California.
More than twenty AEI people wound up with top jobs in the George W. Bush administration. Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary and backer of the Iraq War, is now a visiting scholar at the AEI, which has an annual budget of about $20 million. It has about fifty so-called scholars and about 150 on the payroll. Its objective is to influence public policy. Christopher DeMuth, president of the AEI from 1986 through 2008, who worked in both the Nixon and Reagan administrations, put it this way: “We try to get in the newspaper op-ed pages and hawk our books and magazines much more aggressively than a university would feel comfortable with.”
If you watch the op-ed pages in the newspapers carefully, you will find the AEI and other think tanks well represented, week after week, month after month. You will also see them on television presenting their point of view. When network-television talk shows and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) want “experts” on foreign policy, they often turn to the AEI or other prominent think tanks. But they don’t always tell the public who is paying the salaries of the “experts.” You can bet it is corporate America.
DeMuth, for example, has said that his board of trustees is composed of twenty-four business and financial executives. “They read our work. They tell me what they like, and they tell me what they don’t like.” In his 2005 interview, DeMuth said the AEI raised $20 million to $25 million a year with a third of the money coming from corporations, a third from individuals, and a third from foundations. “We have over three hundred corporate donors,” he said.
Rob Stein, by profession a venture capitalist, but a former strategic adviser to the Democratic National Committee, has spent years studying conservative groups. From 2003 to 2005, by his estimate, conservative organizations spent about $295 million seeking to influence policy while those of the left spent about $75 million.
More recently, bestselling author Thomas Frank wrote in a New York Times column, “During the last three decades a cottage industry of conservative institutions and foundations has grown into a powerful quasi-academy with seven-figure budgets and phalanxes of ‘senior fellows’ and ‘distinguished chairs.’ While real academics dither and fret over bugbears like certainty and balance, the scholars of the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute act boldly in the knowledge, to quote a seminal conservative text, that ideas have consequences.” The AEI “has long been the reliable source of corporate money. Its principals effectively ran the Goldwater campaign in 1964 and it was deep thinkers from the institute who, after moving into the Bush administration, dreamed up the war in Iraq.”
A prominent opponent of the war was the libertarian Cato Institute, which is conservative on domestic issues but traditionally opposed to foreign intervention. In California’s Orange County Register, Cato vice president Ted Galen Carpenter wrote—just days before the war began—that the pro-war camp’s justifications for invading Iraq were faulty: “The United States is supposed to be a constitutional republic. As such, the job of the U.S. military is to defend the vital security interests of the American people. U.S. troops are not armed crusaders with a mission to right all wrongs and liberate oppressed populations. American dollars are too scarce and American lives too precious for such feckless ventures.”
As for the idea that Saddam’s overthrow would trigger a democratic transformation in the Middle East, Carpenter said, “This is a fantasy. The harsh reality is that the Middle East has no history of democratic rule, democratic institutions or serious democratic movements. To expect stable democracies to emerge from such an environment is naïve.” He went on, “If free elections were held today in such countries as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, they would produce virulently anti-American governments.”
The libertarians were right. The hawks were wrong.
HAWKS IN AFGHANISTAN
Two of Washington’s most successful think-tank hawks are Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, the husband-and-wife team who spent a year in Afghanistan working as unpaid volunteers for the U.S. general in charge of the war. Frederick Kagan is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, which has a history of supporting American military intervention around the world.
Having written papers that advocate an aggressive U.S. military policy, the Kagans moved to Afghanistan in 2010 and embedded themselves as “de facto senior advisors” to General David Petraeus. The Kagans were given top-level security clearance in Kabul, where they reviewed classiﬁed intelligence reports and participated in strategy sessions. The Kagans used their positions to advocate substantive changes in the U.S. war plan, “including a harder-edged approach,” according to a Washington Post report about them, published December 18, 2012.
Think-tank hawks have always sought to impact defense policy. The Kagans found a way to go beyond traditional inﬂuence peddling and gain the ear of the military man in charge of a real war. The Kagans were not paid by the U.S. government for their work, but their proximity to Petraeus provided valuable beneﬁts. The Post article reported that the arrangement with Petraeus “provided an incentive for defense contractors to contribute to Kim Kagan’s think tank,” the Institute for the Study of War, which advocates an aggressive U.S. foreign policy. At an August 2011 dinner, Kim Kagan thanked two contractors, DynCorp International and CACI International, for funding her institute and making it possible for her to spend a year in Afghanistan with Petraeus.
I still recall my long summer vacations in Argentina. That was before globalization and competitive pressures pushed most of the elite of developing countries to take shorter and shorter breaks. Europeans continue to buck the trend. They seem more attached to their long vacations than to the welfare statethat sometimes mandates those long relaxing weeks.
Volleyball was part of my South American beach life. It was easy to recover between endless games by taking a relaxing swim in deep sea water and then the mandatory, and now we know, dangerous sun-bathing. However, I am not writing here about life as a temporary beach-bum; I want to focus on how one of my most admired volleyball partners responded to economic incentives. Being a firm believer that all humans deserve a chance to rebuild their lives, I was hesitant to use his name, but as he wrote a book about this, mentioning him might help him increase his sales.
Enrique Piana was tall and handsome. His girlfriend and future wife, Solange, was also picture perfect. “Quique” as we called him, had a killer volleyball smash and killer looks. His family owned one of Argentina’s oldest and most respected trophy and medals companies. He seemed to have everything.
During part of the ’90s, the government of President Carlos Menem, and then-Minister Domingo Cavallo, had a policy for the importation of gold and exports of gold fabrications that amounted to a major subsidy for exporters. Attracted by the incentives, Quique, who had become CEO of his company, became a key player in a scheme whereby exporting overvalued gold-plated products netted them 30 million in subsidies for fake transactions. As it seems that none of the medals were sold at artificial value to true customers, the only victims here ended up being the Argentine tax-payers.
The scheme involved a “business” in the United States. As there is still substantial respect for rule of law in the United States, Quique was indicted, captured, and—after some months in a U.S. jail—extradited to Argentina. In his book, he lists the government officials who he claims knew about the scheme and who received bribes for his fraudulent activities. I will not mention them here. None of them were sentenced to jail.
If it would not be for the fraud in the value of the medals, the entire scheme would be just a case of crony capitalism. Receiving legal export subsidies (or export reimbursements as they are called in Argentina) is not a crime. No one would have ended up in jail. Quique was greedy. By overvaluing medals and overstating the gold content, he would help maximize his profits—but Quique lost his freedom for a while, and his century-old family company is gone forever.
Think tanks from all over the world that favor free-enterprise are trying to counter the flood of news about private players who use government and corruption to increase their profits. Through books, videos, and conferences, they are trying to portray the good side of capitalism. (I leave for another article a more complete list of groups engaged in this task.) In the United States, a short list of think tanks investing more of their budget on the moral defense of capitalism or free-enterprise should include the American Enterprise Institute and its Values and Capitalism program, the Acton Institute, The Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and several organizations which are inspired by Ayn Rand’s writings. Talented entrepreneurs such as John Mackey, author of “Passion and Purpose: the Power of Conscious Capitalism” and Steve Forbes, in his “How Capitalism will Save Us” have also entered the debate. The Centre for Independent Studies in Australia, CEDICE in Venezuela, and PAFERE in Poland, are active in other parts of the world. The battle against this privileged form of capitalism is also taking place in social media, with AgainstCronyCapitalism.org and a special Crony CapitalismFacebook site gradually growing in presence.
As the true story I told about Quique shows, there is a fine line between corruption and crony capitalism. Several think tanks are active in exposing corruption, but they have learned that mentioning culprits can lead to more headaches or worse. The Adriatic Institute in Croatia, has been waging a David-versus-Goliath battle and has received multiple threats. Those who have exposed crony capitalism and corruption in Venezuela are currently being sued in the United States for defamation. The billions earned by cronies can buy lawyer power from the left, center, and worse, from leading rightwing legal counsel. Most free-market think tanks therefore prefer to speak about the generalities of corruption and crony capitalism rather than mention the guilty parties. This is seldom effective. I confess that in this column, I am guilty of the same prudence.
Considerable credit should be given to Transparency International for having created the most important effort to measure the perception of corruption, which has been a helpful tool to combat corruption. Having measurements to assess the magnitude of a problem, like monetary inflation, or huge deficits, helps think tanks confront the problem. To win the moral debate about free-enterprise, it would help to develop a comprehensive index of crony capitalism. There is a need to develop measurements about what percentage of profits in the United States and the world economy come from exchanges which result from favoritism, contracts between state-owned companies, corporate welfare (which the Cato Institute measures for the United States), corruption, and “sanitized corruption”—or getting legal favors, cheap loans, and foreign currency at preferential rates. This won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible.
Alejandro Chafen, CONTRIBUTOR
I cover think tanks, scholars, and champions of innovation. I have been president of Atlas Network since 1991. A member of the board of advisors to The Center for Vision & Values and a trustee of Grove City College, I am also the president and founder of the Hispanic American Center of Economic Research. I serve on several boards including the Chase Foundation of Virginia, the Acton Institute, the Fraser Institute (Canada), and am an Active Honorary Member of the John Templeton Foundation. In 2014 I received the Walter Judd Freedom Award from the Fund for American Studies.
Transparify provides the first-ever global rating of the financial transparency of major think tanks. In early 2014, we visited the websites of over 150 think tanks in over 40 countries to find out whether they provide information on who funds them and how much they receive from each source. The good news is that there already is momentumtowards greater transparency. In early 2015, we followed up with a second round of ratings of the same think tanks to see whether their transparency has improved. This momentum has held for our 2016 ratings — think tanks around the world are becoming more and more transparent.
Think tanks are playing an increasingly important role in public debates and the formulation of public policy worldwide. Think tanks can play a positive role by generating new ideas and producing independent research to inform politicians, media and the public as they wrestle with complex issues and try to decide on how to tackle them. However, there are concerns that some policy advice provided by some think tanks may be driven more by the vested interests of their funders than by truly independent research and analysis.
Transparency builds credibility
Every think tank needs money to operate, and there is nothing wrong with accepting funding from a variety of public and private sources. The problem is hidden funding, no matter from which source.
Today, some think tanks still fail to disclose who funds them. This can create the appearance or actuality of hidden agendas, and undermines the credibility of the think tank community as a whole. Our project assesses how transparent think tanks currently are about their sources of funding, and challenge them to bolster the credibility of their policy advice by publicly disclosing who funds their research.
We are the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Research Organization (STIPRO), formerly ATPS-Tanzania.
The Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Research Organization (STIPRO) is an NGO that is conducting independent policy research on science, technology and innovation (STI) in Tanzania with a view to contributing to the resolution of the contemporary, complex and inter-related issues in STI for the purpose of informing STI policies.
In its inception, the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Research Organization (STIPRO) by then ATPS-Tanzania was a chapter of the pan African ATPS; and therefore, its history is traced back to the history of African Technology policy Studies (ATPS) Network. ATPS’s history dates back to early 1980s when IDRC supported Technology Policy Workshop series organized in three African countries.
These workshops were followed by the establishment of two regional networks – one for Eastern African countries (EATPS) where Tanzania was one of the founding members, and the network was coordinated from Tanzania. The other was for the Western African (WTPS) countries.
These networks provided competitive research grants, together with mechanisms to strengthen capacity for research and to link researchers to each other and policy makers in the area of science and technology. The two networks were brought into a single network (ATPS) in 1994 which was located within IDRC as a semi-independent secretariat.
In 2000, ATPS became an independent organization with objectives, among others, to build individual and institutional capacity in the Sub-Saharan African region. As ATPS became independent from IDRC, it advised its national chapters to register as autonomous non-governmental organizations in their own countries.
Consequently, ATPS-Tanzania was registered as an NGO in Tanzania in December 2001. In 2012, it changes its name to STIPRO (Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Research Organization) so as to increase the visibility of this policy research organization by including the word “innovation” in the name itself, among other reasons.
Before TTI support in 2009, STIPRO by then ATPS-Tanzania was – for almost 10 years had been operating on ad hoc basis, relying on and-off research projects, which were also very rare and lacked systematic linkage to the policy process..
In terms of size and organizational structure, it had only one full time employee at the level of Administrative Assistant, and totally relying on network of interested researchers from other organizations to carry out research in the field.
With innovative support from TTI in 2009, STIPRO drew its first comprehensive four years strategic plan that included research programs, research capacity building and policy linkage activities, and started engaging researchers on full time basis.
As a result of this organizational innovation, STIPRO is now a well-recognized and valued organization in the Tanzanian National Systems of Science, Technology and Innovation.
The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA Kenya) is a think-tank that provides a platform for informed discussions in order to influence public policy in Kenya. We seek to promote pluralism of ideas through open, active and informed debate on public policy issues. We undertake research and conduct public education on key economic and topical issues in public affairs in Kenya and the region, and utilize the outcomes of the research for policy dialogue and to influence policy making.
To inform decision-making in Kenya through policy innovation, research, analysis and dialogues.
A prosperous Kenya that has a well managed economy and that upholds constitutional principles of governance.
Our core values drive IEA Kenya’s mission as we strive to uphold the highest ethical standards in our work:
We discharge our duties diligently and in line with nationally and internationally recognized ethical and professional standards. Further, we uphold honesty, transparency, reliability and consistency in all our decisions and actions.
We are committed to continuous learning and improvement in how we do our work. We produce high quality policy and research products and outputs by encouraging and supporting positive critique, new ideas, tools, methods and techniques in policy analysis, research, planning and capacity building.
We believe in initiative as value for encouraging and developing leadership in our organization. We encourage staff to learn to work without supervision and for individuals to be the first in identifying an opportunity and taking appropriate action.
We are an inclusive organization where differing points of view and experiences are valued as opportunities for mutual learning.
IPAR’s activities are centered around major themes of intervention at the heart of current agricultural issues: demographics, employment and migration, public policy, performance and productivity of family farms, land and the management of natural resources, support for producer organizations.
The Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) is Uganda’s leading think tank in economics and development policy oriented research and policy analysis.
The Economic Policy Research Centre was established in 1993 as an autonomous not-for-profit organization limited by guarantee to fill fundamental voids in economics research, policy analysis, and capacity building for effective in-country contributions to Uganda’s policy processes.
Today EPRC is a reputable, credible and independent policy think tank in Uganda renowned for providing research based evidence and policy analysis to support the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of government policies.
Our Mission To foster sustainable growth and development of the Ugandan economy by advancing the role of research in policy processes. We do this through provision of high quality applied research, practical policy analysis and advice, and policy focused dissemination and discourse. We also undertake capacity building activities through intellectual and scholar exchange, networking with accredited national and international institutions and scholars and hands on skills sharpening for young professionals, technocrats and policy makers.
Our Vision The EPRC envisions itself as a centre of excellence providing national leadership in intellectual economic policy discourse, through timely research-based contribution to policy processes.
Professional excellence through quality assurance
Integrity, accountability and transparency
Independence and confidentiality in conduct of research
The Economic and Social Research Foundation was established in 1994 as an independent, not-for-profit institution for research and policy analysis.
The formation of ESRF was based on the assumption that there was need and demand for an improved understanding of policy options and development management issues, and that the capacity for this was lacking in the Tanzania civil service.
ESRF addressed this gap by putting into place qualified Professional Staff, modest resources and a favourable research environment for the analysis and discussion of economic and social policy.
The primary objectives of the Foundation are to strengthen capabilities in policy analysis and development management and to enhance the understanding of policy options in the government, the public sector, civil society, and the donor community and the growing private sector.