PanAm Podcast: Fred Smith of CEI Discusses How to Advance Capitalism


David Unsworth, English editor of the PanAm Post, recently sat down with Fred Smith, longtime head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in Miami to discuss his new project aiming to put free market ideology into action. Smith, who has worked at various think tanks on economic and environmental matters, has been a leading critic of big government socialism and the bureaucratic class of technocrats it has spawned in its defense. CEI has been on the front lines for decades, drawing particular attention to their fight against the climate change movement and the control it seeks over our lives, businesses, and governments.

Smith views himself as something of a capitalism evangelist, arguing that with all of the intellectual firepower at the disposal of classical liberal and libertarian movements, it is not enough to merely write brilliant research. Intellectuals and academics inclined to free market economics must reach out to capitalists and business leaders to form an alliance to confront the ever-encroaching administrative state…the Davos crowd if you will…head on. To that end he has launched the CEI Center for Advancing Capitalism.

“I’d formed CEI back in 1984 to address what I saw as a weakness in the classical liberal movement at that time. We had wonderful think tanks, good analysis, but in fact, the goal was to produce brilliant analysis, put in on the shelf, and hoping that someone would come along and pick it up off the shelf, and do something with it; well in all honesty that doesn’t happen. Build better mousetraps and all you are going to do is end up with warehouses full of wonderful mousetraps unless you sell them…you’ve got to market them.

So I though that we ought to do what the left was doing, which was downstreaming, going from the analytic thing to marketing to building alliances, marketing teams, and actually doing the advocacy, the selling of the ideas. So we started that and it worked well.

Now almost all the think tanks…are much more activist than they were in 1984. It’s done a lot of good, but still we’re not winning. The administrative state around the world is still expanding, even though the number of policy groups has dramatically expanded. What is left out? The one thing I think that is left out…is the failure of free market advocates, policy types, the intellectuals, to work more closely with free market practitioners. Capitalists. The ones who actually create wealth.

It occurred to me that we were trying to defend capitalism without capitalists…it’s kind of questionable…so how do we create that alliance between doers and thinkers? People who actually are the ones who have made the world what it is today, but lack legitimacy. And those of us who recognize the legitimacy of economic liberty and the fruits that it has produced, but actually don’t produce things ourselves. We’re thinkers; they’re doers.

Could we create a thinker/doer alliance that could bring the brilliance of our movement and the strength of the business community together in a campaign to restore the legitimacy, the respectability that capitalism deserved?

It’s done more than anything in the history of the world to bring billions out of poverty, to create networks of communication that have given people around the world, effectively, access to the Alexandrian libraries of the world. All of the brilliance that capitalism has achieved, yet it’s criticized in the movies, in the novels, it’s the whipping dog of pop culture. What could we do to reverse that?”

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