THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF OUR FOUNDER: SIR ANTONY FISHER
A firm believer in the impact of independent think tanks, Antony Fisher founded the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in 1981.
Antony Fisher never knew his father. He was killed by a sniper’s bullet in Gaza during World War I when Antony was two-years old. Antony and his brother Basil served as pilots in the Royal Air Force in World War II, part of “the few” in Winston Churchill’s memorable phrase about the Battle of Britain: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”
After victory came at last in the war against Germany’s National Socialism, Fisher was distraught to see the British people elect a Labor Party government that set the country on a socialist course: nationalizing industries and using central planning to run the economy. He came across an abridged edition of F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, which posits that central planning inevitably erodes individual liberty and enables tyranny. Fisher was motivated to seek out Hayek, who was then teaching at the London School of Economics. Fisher told Hayek that he agreed with every word in the book, and was going to go into politics to save Britain from socialism.
Several years later, after achieving success as an entrepreneur (creating the first factory-style chicken farm in Britain), Fisher decided the most effective way to act on Hayek’s advice would be by establishing an independent research institute that would bring innovative, market-based perspectives to issues of public policy. In 1955, he founded the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in London, which gradually gained credibility and laid the intellectual groundwork for what later became the Thatcher Revolution.
Fisher lived in San Francisco in 1981 when, with the help of his second wife Dorian, he founded the Atlas Economic Research Foundation to institutionalize this process of helping start up new think tanks. Friends like Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and Margaret Thatcher applauded the idea of replicating the IEA model far and wide.
Fisher died in 1988, just weeks after being honored with knighthood by Queen Elizabeth. British MP, Oliver Letwin later commented on the incredible influence of this RAF pilot turned chicken farming entrepreneur turned think tank pioneer: “Without Fisher, no IEA; without the IEA and its clones, no Thatcher and quite possibly no Reagan; without Reagan, no Star Wars; without Star Wars, no economic collapse of the Soviet Union. Quite a chain of consequences for a chicken farmer!”
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Purchase “Freedom Champions: Stories from the Front Lines of the Battle of Ideas,” published by Atlas Network in 2011 during its 30th anniversary year. It contains chapters written by 30 think tank leaders on their work advancing liberty, as well as an introduction and epilogue by Atlas Network CEO Brad Lips.