Free market thinkers could be largely categorized into three distinct types – Anarchists, Minarchists and Minimaxes, representing varying degrees of government control. The Anarchists, as evident from the name, believe in zero intervention from the government and envision a society that is self-governed by market forces. The Minarchists believe in minimal intervention only to enforce the rule of law and protect the rights of the citizens. The Minimax free marketers believe in minimizing the maximum losses possible, by varying degrees of governmental control.
While these are the broad theoretical frameworks within which free marketers operate, for theory to translate to praxis, public policy comes into play. Public policy is the point of convergence of the legislative and executive wings of a government, and in a democracy, is actively shaped by public advocacy. This is why think tanks are integral to the democratic functioning of the state. They are public research institutes that provide studies that aid policy formulation as well as contribute to rallying public opinion.
In the last two decades, a number of significant free market think tanks have emerged in India that have contributed to affecting neoliberal policies. Mostly located in the capital city, these not-for-profit research institutes have contributed significantly to the proliferation of free market ideology and policy formation in India. Here are some of the notable ones.
Centre for Civil Society (CCS)
Started by the eminent economist, Parth Shah, in 1997, CCS ranks fiftieth among the world’s 150 most influential think tanks. This is according to the 2014 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report, published by the University of Pennsylvania. The centre has received numerous funds and awards from other global free market foundations, the most notable of which are the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. This not only aids the centre in doing better research, it also gives it a firm place in the global realm of free market advocacy. One of its significant achievements was when its campaign for freedom of street entrepreneurs resulted in the Street Vendors Regulation and Protection Act of Livelihood Act in March 2014.
This non-governmental think tank was established in 1996 and since then has been instrumental in rallying free market thinkers from across the country. It is committed to improving the understanding of free market economics, identifying the factors that have limited market growth and provide solutions for overcoming those factors. It strives to propose market based alternatives to government regulations to enable an economy in which the government’s role is reduced to a minimum. The institute’s core areas of interest include developmental economics, education, environment, health, security and trade. One of the key ways in which the institute has helped promulgate free market ideology is by holding annual national essay writing competitions in schools on the seminal book written by Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead. At a more senior level, the Julian Simon Centre for Policy Research, a part of the institute, holds annual lectures to disseminate free market concepts.
This think tank, established in late 2010, has already achieved international acclaim for its efforts in evidence-based public advocacy and litigation for free market policies. Its key areas of interests include school education, higher education and law. It too has contributed significantly in its limited period of operation to the dissemination of free market concepts, and has been very active in holding events to do so. In August 2015, the institute organized a property rights conference to introduce the India Property Rights Alliance, which strives to form a network of organisations and individuals who are dedicated to the promotion of the rule of law and protection of property rights. This is the very hallmark of a free market economy and the institute’s efforts to achieve this are truly commendable.
While think tanks and public advocacy are still in their nascent stage, especially with regard to free market policy advocacy, the efforts of some committed institutes and their repercussions bode well for the future of Indian neoliberalism. Moreover, global exposure to free market advocacy and incorporation of best practices will not only enhance the theoretical grounds on which these think tanks operate, but will also strengthen their influence to bring about real changes in public policy making.