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Thinking the Unthinkable: Think-tanks and the Economic Counter-revolution, 1931-83 Hardcover – 19 May 1994


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (19 May 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0002236729
  • ISBN-13: 978-0002236720
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 4.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 669,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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From the Back Cover

"Between the years of triumphant Keynesianism in the 1930s and the administration of Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s there was a tremendous swing of the pendulum of public opinion away from collectivism and welfarism towards economic liberalism and acceptance of the working of free market forces. All the while between those extremities there rose and fell organisations, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies, which worked away explaining and promoting the operation and the blessings of a 'free economy'. It is a story which Richard Cockett has brilliantly and excitingly reconstructed… in his remarkably well documented and organised study."
J. ENOCH POWELL, ' Spectator '

"Cockett's book is intellectual history of the most readable and persuasive kind. He describes and analyses the intensive interplay between ideas and politics in a most lucid manner."
HARRY REID, ' Glasgow Herald '

"When intellectuals and politicians conspire, the outcome can be complicated – and unpredictable. Richard Cockett's superb book traces the 50-year campaign by a band of economic liberals, inspired by Austria's Friedrich von Hayek, to smash Britain's post-war Keynesian consensus."
ECONOMIST

"Fascinating… Cockett has put together, in highly manageable form, an intellectual political history of our times. The British often affect to be non-ideological. This proves that affectation to be false."
PATRICK COSGRAVE, ' Literary Review '

"Cockett has produced a first-rate narrative that is both gripping and enlightening."
STEVE BRIGGS, ' Scotland on Sunday '

"Cockett has seized on a superb subject. It is a case-study in the way that ideas are dangerous, for good or evil. He ends by anticipating a counter-revolution against economic liberalism: a provocative conclusion to a provocative book."
PETER CLARKE, ' London Review of Books '

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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1 of 13 people found the following review helpful By William Podmore on 19 Jan 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This fascinating book explores the rise and fall of dogmatic economic liberalism. This is the ideology of capitalism, embraced first by Thatcher then by Labour, whose inevitable conclusion is the present slump.

The monetarists - Friedrich von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman - believed that the market was the solution to every problem. They passionately urged the privatisation of everything, a policy now almost universally seen to have failed. As Professor Robert Nield, a member of the 1968 Fulton civil service reform committee, wrote, "I cannot think of another instance where a modern democracy has systematically undone the system by which incorrupt public services were brought into being." (Public Corruption, Anthem Press, 2002, p. 198.)

The market is neither fair nor efficient. As Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz pointed out, "In spite of the confidence that is so often expressed in how well markets work, there is a huge body of research suggesting that many investors are simply not rational, and if that is the case, then the prices that emerge in the market may not provide good `directions' for what to invest in." This refutes economic liberalism's main claim, that only the market can produce a rational price system. The price system works only with `perfect competition ... under conditions of perfect information', which of course never happen in the real world.

Cockett admits, "economic liberalism as applied in the 1980s effectively wiped out a large part of Britain's manufacturing industry. ... maybe it would have been better to `see ideology less proud and industry more content'.
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Amazon.com: 4 reviews
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Camouflage for Corporatism 23 July 2006
By Robert A. Williams - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Richard Cockett teaches history at a state-funded university in London, England. He supplements his taxpayer-provided salary by writing books such as this one - "Thinking the Unthinkable: Think Tanks and Economic Counter-Revolution, 1931-1983". However, the research for this book was also funded by taxpayers in the form of a Research Fellowship through the British Academy. He has shown continued and consistent success in reaping handouts from the State, gotten by confiscating the wealth of tax victims and redistributing it amongst others. That said, he has compiled a nearly exhaustive history of free-market think tanks and their usurpation by conservatives and Tories to camouflage their advancing of anti-capitalist corporatism. This is a very informative, well-researched, and necessary book to anyone who doesn't know what is happening.

After Antony Fisher died in 1988, percipient observers realized that this founder of Buxted Chickens (England's first factory chicken farm) was also the mainspring to the revival of free market ideas in Britain. These ideas, honed by the Mont Pelerin Society and evangelized by Fisher, gave the conservatives and Tories the cannon fodder that their propaganda guns shot at the British public in their successful attempts to replace British Keynesian-style socialism with a new corporatism - an anti-capitalist economic fascism that is kept hidden and camouflaged by their rhetoric of the free market. Hence, an interesting history of propaganda and disinformation in need of being fleshed-out and written.

Cockett is to be commended for fleshing out what he was able to flesh out. There is simply nothing comparable to his history of the rise of free-market think tanks and the usurpation of their rhetoric by conservatives and Tories. Cockett's book contains 394 pages that are nicely divided into 8 chapters preceded by a List of Illustrations, Acknowledgements, and an Introduction. These 8 chapters are then followed by an Epilogue, Appendices, Reference Notes, Sources, Bibliography, and an Index. The 8 chapters are 1) Keyenes and the Crisis of Liberalism, 1931-1939; 2) The Beveridge Report and `The Road to Serfdom'; 3) The Mont Pelerin Society; 4) The Vision of a Chicken-Farmer: The Institute of Economic Affairs; 5) `A Confounded Nuisance' - The IEA at Work; 6) The Failure of Edward Heath's Government and the Founding of the Centre for Policy Studies; 7) `The Heroic Age' I: The Years of Opposition, 1974-1979; and 8) `The Heroic Age' II: The Years of Government, 1979-1983.

In his index, one will find conservative and libertarian organizations listed (along with a rare error) such as the Adam Smith Institute, American Enterprise Institute, the Austrian Institue for Economic Research, the `Chicago School' of economics, the Foundation of Economic Education, George Mason University, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Institute of Humane Studies[sic] instead of the correct name Institute for Humane Studies, the Libertarian Alliance, `Readers Digest', and Saint Andrews University in Scotland. Individuals who were major players are also listed (along with a rare error again) such as Lord Acton, John Blundell, Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk, Eamonn Butler, John Casey, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli, Milton Friedman, Sir James Goldsmith, Friedrich von Hayek, Henry Hazlitt, Ronald Reagan, Lionel Robbins, Wilheml Roepke, Murray Rothbard [incorrectly listed as page 187 rather than page 189], Arthur Seldon, and Margaret Thatcher. Missing from the Index are important players such as political scientist Nigel Ashford formerly of Stafforshire University, notorious state terrorist William Casey and his U.S. publishing house, historian Stephen Davies of Manchester Metropolitan University, and economist Ludwig von Mises.

Some of the juicy morsels that await the reader in this riveting history include "In what was then a comparatively novel intellectual formulation, anticipating George Orwell by almost a decade, Lippmann identified . . . Fascism and Communism, as . . . the same collectivist impulse"(p10) and "As Rougier and Lippmann had in Paris in 1938, Greenleaf identifies the two great currents of the British political tradition as the opposing ideological positions of `libertarianism' and `collectivism'(p13).

Cockett exposes Hayek as the British secret weapon who would promote a government-generated competitive business cycle (aka `corporatism'), which would benefit corporations at the expense of individuals, stating "This, of course, was very different from a state of `laissez-faire'"(p113).

Cockett also exposes `privatisation', or `privatization' as the Americans spell it, as `corporatisation' or `corporatization'. Although he doesn't discuss the corporation as a creation of the state or that the corporation behaves as inefficiently and as bureaucratic as it parent because it is the child of the state, he does see that it is simply restructuring without markets - thus no laissez-faire. In the conservative attack on the `welfare state' and unions, corporate welfare and the role of corporations as artificial persons in law were ignored. As long as corporations were behaving like Roman generals in a neo-Roman state, individuals who did not band together into a comparably sized army in the form of a labor union were left disadvantaged and unprotected from the whims of anti-capitalist corporations. Cockett laments "As it was, [the false rhetoric of] economic liberalism as applied in the 1980s effectively wiped out a large part of Britain's manufacturing industry and, at the end of decade of economic experiment and dislocation, left as many unemployed as there were in the 1930s"(p330).

Today with the Blair-n-Bush Gang waging World War III in Afghanistan and Iraq like Hitler's Nazis did in Czechoslovakia and Poland, Britain and America are mired in what Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas has described as a "soft Fascism" complete with secret prisons and blatant disregard for law or human rights. History tells that as we travel down the slippery slope of Nazi Germany, WW III will expand to include other countries until somebody BIG who cares about human rights decides to counter the fascists who have hijacked our once democratic nations. Already Israel is behaving like Mussolini when he attacked Ethiopia with the Israeli invasion of Lubnaan (Lebanon). How did we come to this? Britain and America behaving like Nazi Germany, and Israel teaming up with the Nazis like Mussolini did with Hitler? How did Hitler's faults take revenge on the Allies? Read Cockett's book - before it's banned and disappears down the memory hole.
Understanding the rebirth of conservatism in the UK 29 Jun 2013
By A reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A mostly readable history of the institutional and political means used from the 1940s to make conservatism once again popular among politicians and the public. This is written for an academic audience and sometimes the amount of details is overwhelming. Overall I enjoyed it even though I skipped a few parts.
6 of 13 people found the following review helpful
The long road back to reality and opportunity. 26 Feb 2002
By Junglies - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This magisterial tome captures much of the flavour of the fight back from the collectivist vision of the control of the commanding heights of the economy to the more market orientated societies that we have today. The story begins with Friedrich Hayek, the main protaganist of John Maynard Keynes who's ideas were hijacked in the name of social justice continues through the advice of Hayek to Anthony Fisher to make the intellectual case among intellectuals through the founding of the Institute of Economic Affairs to the end of the first Thatcher Government in 1983.
More than this it is the story of a classical liberal revival mainly through the tenacity and dedication of a team of two who were once described as the last remaining free marketeers in England - Ralph Harris and Arthur Seldon.
It is the story of the importance of ideas and their acceptance and implementation. It is the story about a group of people around the world struggled against the tide to show how their philosophical beliefs had relevance to men and women across the world. It is the story of visionaries, of those who think outside of the box, who turn their dreams into reality. The people who believe in human nature and the ability of people to want to be free, who want to express their individuality, their initiative, their enterprise and who cannot be forever suppressed and oppressed.
It is a story of faith and hope. A journal of change in society against all the reactionary forces raging against it. It is a testament to the power of ideas and to the fact that one or two people can affect change throughout the world.
I highly recommend this book to any serious student of politics and change in contemporary Britain.
2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Useful study of mad monetarists 19 Jan 2009
By William Podmore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This fascinating book explores the rise and fall of dogmatic economic liberalism. This is the ideology of capitalism, embraced first by Thatcher then by Labour, whose inevitable conclusion is the present slump.

The monetarists - Friedrich von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman - believed that the market was the solution to every problem. They passionately urged the privatisation of everything, a policy now almost universally seen to have failed. As Professor Robert Nield, a member of the 1968 Fulton civil service reform committee, wrote, "I cannot think of another instance where a modern democracy has systematically undone the system by which incorrupt public services were brought into being." (Public Corruption, Anthem Press, 2002, p. 198.)

The market is neither fair nor efficient. As Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz pointed out, "In spite of the confidence that is so often expressed in how well markets work, there is a huge body of research suggesting that many investors are simply not rational, and if that is the case, then the prices that emerge in the market may not provide good `directions' for what to invest in." This refutes economic liberalism's main claim, that only the market can produce a rational price system. The price system works only with `perfect competition ... under conditions of perfect information', which of course never happen in the real world.

Cockett admits, "economic liberalism as applied in the 1980s effectively wiped out a large part of Britain's manufacturing industry. ... maybe it would have been better to `see ideology less proud and industry more content'." These arrogant, ignorant dogmatists failed to see the danger that the EU posed to Britain's sovereignty, and thus to our capacity to pursue whatever economic policy we chose.

Before the present slump, the US State Department's publicity-man Francis Fukuyama foolishly claimed that liberal democracy was free from `fundamental internal contradictions'. Thatcher used to claim, `there is no alternative' to her policies, but we can now see that capitalism is the problem not the solution.

Capitalism doesn't work - and we need anew and better system. Cockett finishes by predicting a `counter-revolution against economic liberalism', the sooner, the better.
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