Statement on attendance at Young America’s Foundation Conference

The Edmund Burke Institute [EBI] recently arranged for a number of Irish students to attend the 41st National Conservative Student Conference, hosted by the Young America’s Foundation [YAF]. The event involved over 1,300 American students coming together to hear from senators, professors of business and law, administration officials and advisors, and the vice-president of America.

The trip was organised in order to give Irish students an opportunity to see political and intellectual defenses of the free market at a level of sophistication that simply does not occur in Ireland, whilst also giving students the chance to see the impact that young people can have when they are involved with an organisation that takes the development of young people seriously.

Following the conference a piece was published in the Irish Independent that stated there was anger within Young Fine Gael that our students had attended the event. The piece, which we were not asked to comment on before print despite the author being told we had organised the trip, relied nearly entirely on anonymous sources to show that this anger existed.

Because of this poorly researched and biased reporting our students have faced a torrent of abuse and smears focusing on everything from their political views to their appearances to their sexuality. They have been called fascists, racists, misogynists, white nationalists, bigots, and liars.

The wider reporting of this issue has been, in general, odious and has consisted largely of ad hominem attacks and ignorant and inaccurate comments as to the political positions of YAF and, by extension, the Edmund Burke Institute and the students who attended the event.

At a time when we should be encouraging the young to express more of an interest in politics and civic society the fact that attendance at a conference, held by a group aligned with the democratically elected government of one of Ireland’s major trading partners, can be seen as a cause to attack the reputation of young people is shameful. The fact that this has become an issue at all reflects on the intellectual poverty and fragility of political discourse in Ireland.

Additionally we find the public calls of Maria Walsh MEP for the resignation of Killian Foley Walsh to be grossly inappropriate. Maria Walsh positions herself as a champion of mental health and a supporter of younger generations. Given her willingness to publicly move against Killian, despite the immense power differences in their respective positions, and her failure to distance herself from the abuse that both Killian and Chloe Kennedy have now been facing for days, both on social media and in the real world, we would question her commitment to her stated principles

We were honoured to partner with YAF to bring over these students, and we fully intend to bring over students in greater numbers next year. At the conference all of our students showed themselves to be people of the highest calibre, in stark contrast with many of the people now criticising them, and we are proud to continue to support them.

Gary Kavanagh


Edmund Burke Institute

Michael Dwyer


Edmund Burke Institute

– END –

EBI in Washington DC

This week we are delighted to to send a group of five bright conservative students to Washington DC where they will spend a week immersed in talk, debates, seminars learning from our American cousins how to advance the ideas of freedom and market solutions. Gary has gone along too as group mentor.

This has been made possible with the help of our friends at Young Americans for Freedom and the Young America’s Foundation and donors here in Ireland. We hope to send a larger group next year and if you should be interested in sponsoring a student please do get in contact.

Summer Workshops

Just to remind interested parties that we are running leadership and communications workshops throughout July and August and still have a couple of open spots. We usually programme over weekends but in particular circumstances we can be flexible.

Dear Deputy lets talk Tax Certainty

Dear Deputy, The future jobs, tax revenues and economic growth that we expect to derive from Foreign Direct Investment are being put at risk due to recent movements by Revenue against the principle of tax certainty.

Tax certainty, which is the ability of an individual or entity to accurately and confidently assess and predict how much tax they will pay over a set period of time, is considered by both the OECD and the IMF to be one of the cornerstone principles of a fair and just tax system. Beyond that it is an integral principle for businesses, who must be able to tell how much tax they should pay in any given territory in order to accurately assess its suitability for investment, particularly long-term investment. A study of large, international investors, carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit, stated that 87% of study participants rated fiscal certainty as important when making decisions as to FDI.

In countries in which tax certainty is part of the system it is possible for companies to invest large sums, over long periods, as they have the capability to trust that the territory in which they operate will deal fairly and justly with them. Ireland has historically held the principle of tax certainty as a key competitive advantage, which we have drawn on heavily in attracting Multi-National Corporations [MNCs] into the State. By positioning the 12.5% rate as a constant fixture of Irish political life, rather than merely as a low-rate of tax, the Irish state has been able to move beyond the idea of Ireland as a low corporate tax economy and onto the idea of Ireland as a place where you can invest for 30 years because you have certainty as to what you will pay on any investment. As the Taoiseach himself noted on his trip to Washington in March, where he was talking to the US Chamber of Commerce, “There are actually countries in the EU that have a lower tax rate than us…I think what we offer is certainty…and I think that gives investors or potential investors that certainty you need if you’re making the 20 or 30 year multibillion-euro investment in an economy. You want to know the fundamentals of those policies are going to stay the same.”

Unfortunately, recent developments in Ireland have undermined the principle, and the good work that the Irish state and politicians have done to uphold that principle. We believe these developments hold the potential to cause significantly harm, both reputational and economic, to Ireland.

We are aware of multiple recent instances in which Revenue has upwardly reassessed the tax payments of an MNC, despite those companies having paid tax at an accepted rate for years without Revenue raising any issues with their payments, and which would therefore have a legitimate expectation they are paying the correct rate of tax. In some of these instances, the MNCs in question reached out to Revenue and requested clarification as to why their tax payments were reassessed, and were simply told that Revenue would provide no further information and that the MNCs could appeal the decision if they so wished.

Here we are not talking about companies which have obviously tried to defraud or short-change the Irish taxation system, in which case the upward reassessment may have been a legitimate and reasonable response, but rather companies who have acted in good faith, who sought direction and advice in order to be tax compliant and now face a bill for “underpayment” along with interest and penalties. This is not due to an error on their part, but rather because Revenue simply changed its mind as to how their taxation should be paid

Two recent examples of this are Analog Devices, who employ 1,200 people in Limerick, being served with a notice of assessment for €43 million and Perrigo, which is headquartered in Dublin as a result of acquiring Elan in 2013, and faces a fine of €1.6 billion. Both of these cases are under appeal.

This new, aggressive approach to upward reassessment of previously paid taxation has not gone unnoticed abroad. The Hill, an influential paper covering Washington and American political affairs, has covered the issue, in a manner frankly not beneficial to Irish interests, and we in the EBI have fielded multiple queries from American think-tanks and individuals concerned that Revenue’s new behaviour could be harmful to American MNCs headquartered within Ireland and who are concerned about the potential impact of this behaviour on planned expansion and job creation.

The Fiscal Assessment Report published earlier this month by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council highlighted the dependence of the Irish state upon a very small number of corporate entities, with the ten largest corporate entities paying €5 billion of the total €10.4 billion gathered in corporation tax receipts in 2018. That of course doesn’t include the impact of the 229,057 people directly employed by multi-nationals, 58% of whom are based outside Dublin. As Minister Donohoe very correctly pointed out in 2016, “One in five workers in the private sector work for companies that are located here in Ireland due to foreign direct investment.”

Given the scale of employment by MNCs Revenue’s movements against tax certainty are not merely harmful to MNCs, but rather represent a real and tangible threat to the livelihoods of Irish men and women, all across the country. Revenue’s newfound vigour for unorthodox and aggressive reassessments has undermined a key competitive advantage of this country, an advantage which played a substantial role in the prosperity that this country has achieved over the past decades, and an advantage which politicians, of all political stripes, have fought hard to ensure remained in place.

Our concern is that Revenue has been moving, and will continue to move, towards a position which is harmful to Irish interests, Irish economic growth, and offensive to the principles that should underpin a just and equitable taxation system, both for corporate entities and for private citizens.

Standing as we are on the edge of a No-Deal Brexit, and aggressive tax moves from President Trump to encourage repatriation of US companies overseas, that Revenue should now seek to pursue a policy which undermines our hard-won reputation as one of the most attractive countries in the world for large-scale long-term investment, would seem to be short-sighted and deeply misguided

The Board : Edmund Burke Institute

Digital Tax Coalition Open Letter to the G20

June 27, 2019

Dear G20 Finance Minister,

On behalf of billions of taxpayers and consumers around the globe, we, the undersigned, urge you to oppose international efforts to weaponize global conversations about digital commerce to tax tech companies. Imposing higher taxes on tech companies would lead to higher prices on consumers and force millions of small businesses to scale back their online advertising activities. Consumers, businesses, and governments would be better served by a light-touch tax and regulatory regime that encourages growth and innovation.

In the aftermath of the June 9th meeting of G20 finance ministers in Fukuoka, Japan, households and businesses across the globe have expressed concern that the proposed “closing of loopholes” in digital taxation will entail higher prices on digital products such as search engines and social media platforms. A December 2018 PwC report found that, by most estimates, a significant share of any new digital tax is likely to be passed onto consumers in the form of higher prices. This does not bode well for the billions of global citizens forging important business connections on Facebook or furthering their educations via Google and countless online academies.

Government meddling in the digital domain would only increase barriers to entry for startups looking to compete with more established tech companies. Virtually every digital service tax proposal envisions a tax based on revenues, regardless of the level of cost that companies incur. Young companies with a sudden influx of consumers and investors may still have growing pains ahead of it, such as network buildout costs and regulatory compliance issues. Taxing these start-ups will make it harder to overcome these challenges and compete for consumers’ attention and dollars.

Countries such as the United Kingdom and Spain will soon implement digital service taxes, and assure their worried citizenries that only the largest, most financially successful companies will foot the bill. Yet in the tech sector, companies can “go viral” very quickly, and the prospect of hitting a “tax wall” can deter investors from making the necessary moves to support the next social media or search engine giant. If digital service taxation becomes a global phenomenon, the tech sector’s upstart culture of innovation will give way to a placid environment dominated by just a few companies. To keep the digital domain vibrant and responsive to the needs of billions of global consumers, we strongly urge you to oppose any international regime of digital service taxation.


Tim Andrews Executive Director IGO Watch

Dr. Raza Ullah Hon. President Alternate Solutions Institute (Pakistan)
Grover Norquist President Americans for Tax Reform (USA)

Dr. Barbara Kolm Director Austrian Economics Centre (Austria)
Brian Marlow Executive Director Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance (Australia)

Graham Young Executive Director Australian Institute for Progress (Australia)

Bjorn Tarras-Wahlberg Chairman Asia-Pacific Taxpayers Union

Steve Pociask President / CEO The American Consumer Institute (USA)

Norm Singleton President Campaign For Liberty (USA)

Scott Hennig President and CEO Canadian Taxpayers Federation (Canada)

Andrew F. Quinlan President Center for Freedom and Prosperity (USA)

Jeffrey Mazzella President Center for Individual Freedom (USA)

Rocio Guijarro Saucedo Gerente General Cedice Libertad (Venezuela)

Tomasz Kołodziejczuk Centrum Kapitalizmu (Poland)

Andrés Barrientos Executive Director Ciudadano Austral Foundation (Chile)

Tom Schatz President Citizens Against Government Waste (USA)

Iain Murray, Vice President for Strategy and Senior Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute (USA)

Yaël Ossowski Deputy Director Consumer Choice Center (International)

Katie McAuliffe Executive Director Digital Liberty (USA)

Gary Kavanagh Executive Director Edmund Burke Institute (Ireland)

Jason Pye Vice President of Legislative Affairs FreedomWorks (USA)

Federico N. Fernández President Fundación Internacional Bases (Argentina)

Roxani Kargakou Managing Partner Greek Liberties Monitor (Greece)

Jon Coupal President Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (USA)

Federico Rabino Director Ejecutivo Instituto Fernando de la Mora (Paraguay)

Tom Giovanetti President Institute for Policy Innovation (USA)

Masaru Uchiyama President Japanese for Tax Reform (Japan)

Mattie Duppler Senior Fellow for Fiscal Policy National Taxpayers Union (USA)

Carl Szabo Vice-President & General Counsel Netchoice (USA)

Gia Jandieri Vice-President New Economic School (Georgia)

Jordan Williams Executive Director New Zealand Taxpayers Union (New Zealand)

Lorenzo Montanari Executive Director Property Rights Alliance (USA)

Anders Ydstedt Chairman Svensk Tidskriff (Sweden)

Michael Jäger Generalsekretär Taxpayers Association of Europe (Europe)

David Williams President Taxpayers Protection Alliance (USA)

John O’Connell Chief Executive The Taxpayers’ Alliance (United Kingdom)

Maryan Zablotskyy Director Ukrainian Economic Freedoms Foundation (Ukraine)

Nisa Bahçeli President Vergi Araştırmaları Topluluğu (Turkey)

James L. Martin Founder/Chairman 60 Plus Association (USA)

Saulius “Saul” Anuzis President 60 Plus Association (USA)

Book Review: A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell

“It would be good to be able to say that we should dispense with visions entirely, and deal only with reality. But that may be the most utopian vision of all. Reality is far too complex to be comprehended by any given mind.”  – Thomas Sowell

Conflict of Visions, written by Thomas Sowell and first published in 1987, is a book about why it is that political questions, unlike scientific questions, do not appear to have any one answer that is acceptable to everyone. This is an ever present problem that persists even when everyone involved has the same goal in mind, to promote the public good.

Sowell tells us that this can be explained through the theory that there are two primary ways to view man and the interaction between man and society; the constrained and unconstrained visions. These two visions are naturally in conflict with each other due to their incompatible assumptions of the nature of man and society; the conflict between them giving rise to the book’s title.

The constrained vision tells us that man is limited by his past, his present, and his physiology. Man is inherently imperfectible, and is driven primarily by self-interest. The unconstrained vision holds that man, whilst perhaps limited by his past and physiology to some degree, is innately good, or at the very least a blank slate, and that the evils of society are products of institutions and structural incentives rather than a reflection of man’s basic nature or limitations. One is immediately struck that this is very much not a new argument. It is particularly reminiscent of the debate on the state of nature that followers of the likes of Hobbes and Rousseau engaged in.

Sowell also writes of a type of vision he calls the ‘hybrid vision’, of which he offers three primary examples;Marxism, Utilitarianism, and Fascism. These ‘hybrid visions’ are visions of the nature of man and society that take from both the unconstrained and constrained visions and create something purely their own. Sowell does state that this can be done in either an internally consistent or internally inconsistent fashion, and that this will rather depend on the theory in question at any particular time. To give an example of a hybrid vision Sowell states that while Fascism took symbols and certain beliefs from the constrained vision, the actions and the systems that fascists sought to create were products of the unconstrained vision. They used key aspects of the constrained vision (loyalty to one’s people, obedience, etc) and placed them under the control of a totally unconstrained leader who would reshape society at will to remove imperfections and lead their people to the promised Utopia. Sowell makes an interesting argument here that, due to this synthesis of visions, both the political left and the political right see Fascism as being a product of an adversarial vision. Essentially he argues that the left say that Fascism is a far-right doctrine, whilst the right say that Fascism has a central component of socialism in both concept and execution, and thus it cannot be right-wing. Sowell makes the further observation here that the existence of hybrid visions and inconsistent visions, means that it is rather simplistic to say that the unconstrained vision is left-wing and the constrained vision is right-wing. He argues that Marxism is left-wing but does not purely contain elements of the unconstrained vision whilst libertarianism is generally considered to be right-wing,  but in many aspects also holds to an unconstrained view of human nature.

It should come as no surprise then, that the book is filled with quotations and commentaries on the work of Hobbes, Locke, Rawls, Galbraith, Edmund Burke, Hume and Rousseau. It is a credit to Sowell’s eloquence that these sections of the book, despite being quite lengthy in presentation, do not slow the pace of the book or give one the feeling that the book is designed purely for academics who are intimately familiar with the field. The book is very much designed to be read by people of varying ability and knowledge whilst still conveying its core message: that good people can disagree on political matters for understandable and defendable reasons. Sowell’s eloquence, and his ability to discuss complicated matters in a fashion the majority of people can understand, does highlight one of the reasons why he is considered so important to the modern Classical Liberal movement. He is both able and willing to put himself into the public discourse and to argue for the correctness of Liberal ideals in a fashion that the public can understand, as opposed to the ever growing tendency of academics to communicate in a fashion that ensures only other academics understand them.

A large portion of the book concerns itself with interactions between those who hold these different visions and how they appear to each other. Sowell argues that holders of a constrained vision look at those who hold an unconstrained vision as being naive, perhaps dangerously so, but ultimately believe them to have good intentions. Holders of an unconstrained vision are mostly unable to actually understand the viewpoint of holders of a constrained vision. To holders of the unconstrained vision, Sowell argues, institutions do not provide positive incentivisation or structural opportunity to citizens, or at least not as much as their theoretical replacements could and would provide. Anyone who fights for the continued existence of these institutions or societal structures, despite the clear evidence that these institutions privilege one over another and are integral to the continuation of societal inequality, must be one of two things. They may be compromised, in that they benefit from the system and so wish to perpetuate it, or they may be bigoted, in the sense that they want others to be oppressed by the system even if they do not personally benefit from the system. Conversely the constrained vision is, in its treatment of political, societal and cultural institutions, essentially Burkean in outlook. It accepts that these institutions are imperfect, but that this imperfection does not invalidate the societal good that they deliver, and that whilst change is in an integral part of life, both individually and as a societal or cultural entity, one cannot just charge headlong into the void and expect things to work out. Essentially in the constrained vision there are no solutions, only trade-offs. Any attempt to fix these institutions, without recognition of the benefits they provide, can lead to a situation in which the replacement does not work because it does not fully understand what it is replacing. Reading through Sowell’s description and explanation of the constrained vision, I can’t help but feel that, in many ways, the constrained vision could be summarised through the phrase ‘the perfect is the enemy of the great and the good alike”.

One must wonder if Sowell’s theory, for all his professions that he holds the constrained view of mankind, does not reflect a certain utopian view of man’s rational nature and/or behaviour. By positing that everyone holds particular views of human nature, he showcases a view of mankind that is profoundly rational, and that views political conflict as being about balancing these visions through continual change and development. A more pessimistic individual could argue that politics is mostly a matter of identity and that the vast majority of people’s opinions on political matters are not sufficiently understood by even the people who hold them, and that politics is more an attempt to signal to their peers or to otherwise fit in with a predominant political or social culture or subculture. Sowell’s theory privileges rational debate, but one could easily argue that on many political issues rational debate is not possible due to the emotive nature of certain topics, the desire to preserve one’s identity by aligning with one’s chosen group, and the entrenched political narrative. Consider the abortion debate. One side could call you a murderer, the other could call you a slaver. Both sides are equally committed and sincere in their adherence to their viewpoints, but at the same time, both viewpoints can be challenged quite easily.The nature of the problem resembles a Sorites paradox and ensures that no incontrovertible final answer will be reached on the subject. I do wonder if one could take every pro-life activist, and every pro-choice activist, and get them to explain their opponent’s viewpoint in the strongest form possible, and why that argument is incorrect and they themselves are correct, how many of them would even be aware of the arguments that their opponents hold, beyond the most base level of understanding.

Having said that, one must query if Sowell’s theories actually apply to everyone, as he argues, rather than just to a particular ‘intellectual elite’ that has considered their stance on human nature. It is possible that Sowell is fundamentally right in his hypothesis that political differences, at a certain high-level of conceptualisation, are driven by differing views of the state of nature, but that these same theories are then taken by politicians and policy formulators and fed through the medium of the public (along with their attached biases) before becoming actual policies. Sowell does discuss this point briefly, and he proposes that vision can be separated from one’s idea of how society should be and what politics should be adopted. He concludes that adherence to a particular vision is very much not a 0-1 system, and that people hold these visions to varying degrees. In fact, Sowell argues that it is impossible for a person to hold a particular vision absolutely.

Finally, whilst probably not Sowell’s intention, one does wonder if these visions are byproducts of the Christian history of the West, one finds in arguments on the state of nature, and the theory of constrained and unconstrained visions, what is essentially an argument about man’s biblical fall from grace. This might lead the reader to ask a series of questions; Is our understanding of man being unconsciously shaped by the long infusion of Christian concepts into the collective tradition of the West? Does the constrained vision speak of the Fall whilst the unconstrained speaks of recapturing Eden? It is worth questioning, and Sowell does not, at least in A Conflict of Visions, if these visions are due to this Christian history. If so, what about the visions in other regions of the world, particularly those who were not conquered by one of the religions of the Book. Do the Chinese, for instance, hold different ‘visions’ due to the Confucian infused culture; does India hold different ‘visions’ due to the impact of Hinduism on their cultural development? One gets the feeling as one goes through the book that Sowell is aware of this but he never really delves into detail on the subject.

Overall A Conflict of Visions offers rather a lot to those who are interested in learning more about  why political differences exist, both in its own unique work and in Sowell’s explanation of more classical theories concerning man’s place in society and man himself. It is a rather fair book in its handling of both visions, despite Sowell’s public statements of adherence to the constrained vision. Beyond that, and beyond the joy of simply reading Sowell’s work, it also conveys important practical lessons as to how we should consider our political opponents and how they view the world. A libertarian might agree with a left-wing individual on a number of social issues, and that may lead the left-winger to think the libertarian is essentially a left-winger, but if they’re counting on the libertarian chap to support all left-wing policies, they may be unpleasantly surprised with the libertarian’s answer after they’ve asked him to support government-led market intervention.

If you only know people’s actions, but not the drive that creates them, you do not truly know that person, and you will not be able to predict their behaviour with any certainty outside of previously observed experiences.

“Visions are like maps that guide us through a tangle of bewildering complexities. Like maps, visions have to leave out many concrete features in order to enable us to focus on a few key paths to our goals. Visions are indispensable—but dangerous, precisely to the extent that we confuse them with reality itself.” – Thomas Sowell

Gary Kavanagh

Interview with Professor Bo Winegard of Marietta College

Our Director, Gary Kavanagh, recently sat down with Professor Bo Winegard to discuss his recent article, ‘The Twilight of Liberalism?’ which deals with the challenges facing liberalism, the benefits it has brought society, and the steps that should be taken to strengthen it moving forward, lest it die.

They discuss the nature of liberalism; different conceptions of freedom; the use of shame in maintaining social cohesion; the breaking apart of overarching identities and the rise of identity politics; technology and social sorting; what can be done to strengthen liberalism and stop a possible death spiral; and if UBI is a complete solution to increased automation.






World IP Day Open Letter


Below is the text of an open letter delivered by the Property Rights Alliance [PRA] to WIPO Director General Francis Gurry on the 26th of April, 2019 to mark World IP Day.

The EBI is proud to be one of the signatories of the letter, alongside 76 other think tanks and institutions spread across the world.


Today, April 26, 2019, we the undersigned think tanks are delighted to celebrate World Intellectual Property Day with you. Intellectual property rights (IPRs), without a doubt, are essential to the continued flourishing of human life and economic growth throughout the world. Whether it is a new life-saving medicine, a catchy tune, or distinguishing mark, all intellectual properties are products of ingenuity and human labor. In this regard, intellectual property rights are fundamental human rights that ensure innovators have control over the fruits of their labor. We applaud all of your efforts as Director General of WIPO to fulfill the organization’s primary purpose “to promote the
protection of intellectual property throughout the world.”
This year’s theme, Reach for Gold: IP and Sports, is emblematic for World IP Day. Competition, just as it is for sports, is a core principle behind intellectual property rights.
When IPRs are protected, markets are formed that encourage innovators to compete
to make the next breakthrough product consumers demand– be it training equipment,
a smart sensor, or a new media platform. In this way, athletes and innovative markets
are sure to always go faster, stronger, higher! Neither innovation nor sport can exist
without enforceable property rights.

IP Rights Boost Trade
It is now the norm for international trade agreements to bolster intellectual property
rights. These standard setting arrangements allow the competition that sparks “the
fire of genius” to spread across borders. When countries implement strong IP
protections included in trade agreements they see greater imports of R&D intensive
products, as well as renewed competition from inventors, artists, and entrepreneurs
from the global marketplace. It is increasingly imperative that, as firms spend a greater
share of revenues on researching and discovering new innovations, that more
countries enforce IP protections in order for their economies to avoid being left

IP Rights Grow the Economy
Strong IP protections are vital to creating and maintaining high paying jobs, which are
essential to dynamic economic growth. IP-intensive industries are responsible for
generating nearly 40 percent of the combined U.S. & EU GDP and employ about 40
percent of the workforce in the U.S. and nearly 28 percent in the EU. That accounts
for more than 105 million jobs. Workers in these industries are paid 46 percent more
than those employed in comparable jobs in non-IP-intensive industries. In fact, per
capita income in countries with robust property rights is 20 times greater than percapita income in countries with weak protections.

By far the largest employer in both regions is the trademark-intensive sector which
includes sports, retail, real estate, as well as pharmaceuticals, and computer
programming industries. This underscores that the global IP-economy is not confined
to a few tech hubs, but accessible to all countries that choose to enforce IP rights and
allow firms to develop and defend reputational marks.

IP Rights Spur Innovation
For the last eight straight years, world patent applications have continued to break
records. An amazing 3.17 million applications were filed in 2017, each one promising
to relegate a problem once thought of as impossible to the pages of history. Recent
patents include a medicine to treat multiple sclerosis, a method to make batteries
more efficient, and even an A.I. based patent that can simulate human debates.
IP rights make it possible for firms to invest billions into frontier technologies like A.I.
and space transportation, allowing careers paths and industries to develop before
consumer products are available. Such technological progress ensures the next
generation will enjoy longer, healthier lives.

IP Rights Fight Fakes
Counterfeiting and piracy continue to plague the world economy. The most recent
estimates find global share of counterfeit goods rose from 2.5 percent of global trade
to 3.3 percent, or $509 billion, while the cost of online piracy is on its way to reaching
$52 billion. These poisoned products not only fund criminal enterprises and damage
brand reputations, but cause physical harm to consumers. Counterfeit medicines, for
instance, have been linked to disease progression and drug resistance.

The UN Can Help Protect IP
The United Nations plays an important role in guarding the global innovation
ecosystem that propels humanity forward. IP rights are discussed across many UN
agencies that deal with matters of human rights, global health, and development.
Regretfully, IP rights are sometimes attacked in UN bodies, where we have seen shortsighted proposals to undermine IP rights in order to achieve other goals. We regret
that there is not a broader understanding in UN agencies of the well-documented role
of intellectual property in driving health, invention, and prosperity around the world.
We, therefore, urge WIPO to do more to help inform international debates and ensure
that the voices of innovation are heard at every level. We call on WIPO to take action,
namely to: 1) step up efforts to educate policymakers about the ways that IP enhances
economic growth and development; 2) assist countries in strengthening their IP
regimes and protections; and 3) ensure that other multilateral organizations – such as
the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, and the UN
Development Program – promote policies that recognize the value of IP rights for
enhancing human welfare and achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable

Edmund Burke’s Conservative Case for Free Markets

By Dr. Samuel Gregg

“Of all things, an indiscreet tampering with the trade of provisions is the most dangerous, and it is always worst in the time when men are most disposed to it.”

—Edmund Burke

It’s hardly a secret that free markets have fallen out of favor among conservatives throughout the West in recent years. Whether it’s Britain’s Theresa May, Germany’s Angela Merkel, or Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull, many center-right politicians have quietly re-embraced some of the economically-interventionist polices that prevailed between the 1940s and the 1970s. Likewise, important segments of conservative intellectual opinion, such as the American journal First Things, have substantially qualified their formerly strong support for market economies.

There’s many reasons for this. One is growing worries about some of the apparent social and cultural effects of free markets. Another is the undeniable spread of economic nationalism, fueled by the sense that free trade has undermined entire communities’ well-being. Nor did the 2008 financial crisis help the cause of free markets inasmuch as economic liberalization was perceived to be the prime culprit.

I use words like “apparent,” “sense,” and “perceived” because, in many of these cases, what matters is perception. The reality is often rather different. Unfortunately such realities—such as the extent to which the 2008 recession was facilitated by factors such as flawed monetary policy and government efforts to socially engineer the American housing market—don’t get anywhere near the attention they deserve among some conservative skeptics of markets.

But, I’d suggest, this turn against markets among some conservatives is principally derived from a desire for something that has grown in our era of economic globalization. And that is a widespread and perfectly reasonable yearning for stability. The immense economic growth and poverty-reductions generated by global markets requires acceptance of the constant upheaval that’s part-and-parcel of free competition and economic creativity. In the long-term, the overwhelming majority consequently become much wealthier. The downside is considerable instability, and all of us need and want a certain degree of certainty in life, including its economic dimension.

This presents particular dilemmas for conservatives. After all, conservatism emphasizes the benefits of permanency, order, tradition, and strong and rooted communities. Conservatives who believe that free markets are the most optimal of imperfect economic systems thus need to rethink about how to integrate their case for markets into the broader conservative agenda. And here, I’d argue, the man whose thought gave birth to modern conservativism has much to teach us.

Enter Burke

Though widely considered modern conservatism’s intellectual progenitor, Edmund Burke’s economic views generally receive sparse attention. Burke’s conservatism is mainly linked to his religious orthodoxy, his defense of what he called “ancient liberties,” and his relentless criticism of the French Revolution’s destruction of many of the institutions that protected freedom and social order.

Rather fewer people know that Burke was a committed free trader, a strong defender of private property, and a skeptic of government economic intervention. He once described Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations as being “in its ultimate results,” “perhaps the most important book ever written.” Burke’s literary executors, French Laurence and Walker King, even claimed that Burke “was also consulted, and the greatest deference was paid to his opinions by Dr. Adam Smith, in the progress of the celebrated work on the Wealth of Nations.” When Smith’s magnum opus appeared in 1776, Burke reviewed it for the widely-read Annual Registrar. He sang the book’s praises as a text which managed to achieve that most difficult of goals: to “teach things that are by no means obvious.”

Yet even before The Wealth of Nations’ publication, Burke was arguing the case for greater commercial liberty. In parliamentary debates during 1772, for example, he insisted that the best way for society’s poorest segments to receive enough bread was through a market free of legislative interference. Over twenty years later, in the midst of Britain’s epic struggle with Revolutionary France, Burke penned a carefully-worded memorandum entitled Thoughts and Details on Scarcity to Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger in 1795. Here he explained why the state generally shouldn’t interfere with the market-price of goods, services, and labor.

Burke’s strong belief in economic liberty and the institutions and habits which sustain it are not in doubt. The real question is why he held these views. It turns out that Burke’s support for extensive commercial freedom wasn’t chiefly based upon what we today would call libertarian premises. His main reasons for embracing free markets were those of a conservative.

Focusing on the Short-term is Irresponsible

In many ways, conservatism is all about the long-term. The conservative looks back into history to recall the wisdom of the past. Conservatives are also skeptical of responding to immediate concerns, real or otherwise, by acting in defiance of truths knowable by reason and/or historical experience. For the conservative, this outlook is a matter of prudence, perspective, and good government.

These concerns are all found in Burke’s most lengthy reflections on the importance of economic liberty, free exchange, and free prices. The context of his 1795 memorandum was one in which William Pitt’s government was confronted with a scarcity of food throughout Britain after a poor harvest. Like governments everywhere in time of crisis, Pitt’s administration was under enormous pressure to “just do something.”

Some were proposing that the government address the problem by granting subsidies to bolster laborers’ wages. Others wanted Pitt to establish an effective government monopoly of the grain-market in order to set fixed-prices for this commodity. These schemes was accompanied by a rhetoric which decried wealth-differentials and emphasized growing antagonism between the poor and the rich. The implication was that if Pitt didn’t act, Britain could witness the type of extreme social disorder which had manifested itself in France.

Part of Burke’s advice to Pitt involved explaining the economic difficulties with the proposals under consideration. Burke repeated, for example, his 1772 argument that a free market in grain was more likely to meet the needs of the poor than other economic arrangements. State efforts to manipulate the market price of commodities, he noted, were bound to make it harder and harder for consumers and producers to “mutually discover each other’s wants.” Attempts to fix the distorting effects of such interventions upon the price-mechanism via more interventions would, Burke said, just make it even more difficult for people to know the real market-price of any given commodity. The result would be misallocated resources and growing shortages.

Burke’s memorandum also argued against demonizing the large wealth-disparities associated with the accumulation of capital. Capital-accumulation was, he claimed, essential for the type of investment that facilitates the growth which helps those whom Burke called the “laboring people” to find work and escape poverty. In his own lifetime, Burke said, he had noticed how the spread of commercial freedom and the growth of accumulated capital had helped increasing numbers of once-poor people become wealthier, to the point whereby they were developing their own capital-reserves.

These observations were not simply those of someone who grasped the often-counterintuitive insights of modern economics as expounded by Smith. They were also conservative inasmuch as they cautioned governments against acting rashly to appease those who don’t know—or don’t care—about the likely negative impacts of particular policy-choices upon the nation’s well-being.

It wasn’t a question of being elitist. To Burke’s mind, it was a matter of helping policy-makers and electorates understand that certain economic truths (what Burke called “laws of commerce”) don’t change in the face of what he called “idle tales”, “foolish good-intention,” and “the malignant credulity of mankind.” In such conditions, the government’s first responsibility to the people “is information”—i.e., the truth—“to guide our judgment.”

A focused, but limited State.

There is, however, another aspect of Burke’s free market beliefs which are rooted firmly in his conservatism: his view of the state’s role vis-à-vis the economy.

In his Thoughts on Scarcity, Burke articulated the principle that he had developed as a way of determining which particular functions were legitimately carried out by governments. As he put it:

the State ought to confine itself to what regards the State, or the creatures of the State, namely, the exterior establishment of its religion; its magistracy; its revenue; its military force by sea and land; the corporations that owe their existence to its fiat; in a word, to every thing that is truly and properly public, to the public peace, to the public safety, to the public order, to the public prosperity.

This was not an attitude of a priori hostility towards government. For Burke, what mattered was that the functions being performed by the state really were tasks which only governments can accomplish: national defense, the administration of justice, law and order, etc. While Burke was prepared to “admit of exceptions” to this rule, they remained exceptions.

Burke’s reference to “public prosperity” might seem to open the door to extensive state interference in economic life. Burke, however, made it clear that the state’s economic role was limited by three considerations.

The first was that governments should hesitate before embarking upon legislation which seeks to influence directly the exercise of legitimate property-rights and the workings of private contract. Excessive government involvement in these areas, he maintained, could substantially undermine (1) the security provided by property and (2) the freedom of individuals to negotiate agreements in ways which mutually benefit all parties to a given contract. Resolving any subsequent disagreements among the relevant parties, Burke commented, was the judiciary’s responsibility: not government ministers.

Second, Burke thought that the more national governments involved themselves in local and provincial affairs, the more distracted they would become from carrying out their primary responsibilities. This conviction was reinforced by Burke’s third and related consideration: that certain welfare functions were better undertaken by non-state entities.

“Without all doubt,” Burke regarded assistance to the needy as “a direct and obligatory duty upon Christians.” At the time, that designation included almost everyone in Britain. Nonetheless, he added, “the manner, mode, time, choice of objects, and proportion are left to private discretion.”

Burke’s point was that London-based officials simply couldn’t know enough about the nature of poverty in Inverness or Galway to act effectively. By contrast, private individuals and groups close to a given problem were likely to possess deeper insights into the nature of the difficulty than national governments. The latter, Burke implied, should be far more humble about their capacity to assist those in need.

All these reflections on Burke’s part add up to a classic conservative case for the free market. Far from being doctrinaire, Burke’s position underscored the importance of prudence, paid attention to crucial insights outlined in Smith’s Wealth of Nations, insisted that local communities and non-state institutions remain free to address local problems, and stressed that governments should focus on their core functions and have the humility to know their limits. Above all, Burke believed that economies needed to be grounded in certain truths about the human condition which utopians and romanticists of all stripes are inclined to ignore.

If that doesn’t amount to a distinctly conservative argument for free markets, one which compliments the rest of conservatism’s political agenda, I don’t know what does.

Dr. Samuel Gregg is Research Director at the Acton Institute and a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University. He has written and spoken extensively on questions of political economy, economic history, ethics in finance, and natural law theory. He is the author of 14 books, including “Becoming Europe” (2013) and “For God and Profit: How Banking and Finance Can Serve the Common Good” (2016).

On the death of Congressman Walter B. Jones Jr

It is with great sadness that we’ve noted the recent passing of Congressman Walter B. Jones Jr, at the age of 76. Congressman Jones was a conservative stalwart who fought hard for what he believed in but was open to recognising when he was in the wrong, and who then fought hard to make those mistakes right.

He was a constant reminder of the humanity of public figures and the difficulties of the choices that can face politicians, both due to their impact upon others and the impact of making those choices upon the politicians themselves.

Below is an excellent obituary of a man who spent his life working to make America great, and below that is an older NPR piece which highlights the Congressman’s strength of spirit.

Requiescat in pace