Atlas Network, formerly known as Atlas Economic Research Foundation, is a non-governmental 501(c)(3) organization based in the United States that provides training, networking, and grants for libertarian, free-market, and conservative groups around the world.[4][5][6]

Atlas Network
Founder(s)Antony Fisher
Established1981; 43 years ago (1981)
ChairDebbi Gibbs[1]
Chief executive officerBrad Lips
BudgetRevenue: $15,545,000
Expenses: $12,963,000
Formerly calledAtlas Economic Research Foundation

Atlas Network was founded in 1981 by Antony Fisher, a British entrepreneur, who wanted to create a means to connect various think tanks via a global network. Described as "a think tank that creates think tanks,"[7] the organization partners with nearly 600 organizations in over 100 countries.[8][9][10]

Notable members of Atlas Network include think tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs in the United Kingdom; the Cato Institute, Heartland Institute, Heritage Foundation, American Legislative Exchange Council, Manhattan Institute, Pacific Research Institute, and Acton Institute in the United States; the Fraser Institute and MacDonald-Laurier Institute in Canada; the Centre for Independent Studies in Australia; and the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.[11][12]

History edit

Atlas Network was founded in 1981 in San Francisco as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation by Antony Fisher, a British entrepreneur who was influenced by economist F.A. Hayek and his book, The Road to Serfdom.[13][14][15][16] After founding the Institute of Economic Affairs in London in 1955, Fisher had helped establish the Fraser Institute, the Manhattan Institute and the Pacific Research Institute in the 1970s.[14] The late Linda Whetstone, Fisher's daughter, served as chairman of Atlas Network.[17][18] Margaret Thatcher, F. A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman, all friends of Fisher, formally endorsed the organization.[9][15]

Fisher conceived Atlas Network as a means to connect various think tanks via a global network through which the organizations could learn best practices from one another and "pass the best research and policy ideas from one to the other."[19] Initially comprising only Fisher's think tanks, Atlas Network grew to include many others, including those affiliated with the Koch family.[11] Major American think tanks in Atlas Network now include the Cato Institute, the Heartland Institute, The Heritage Foundation, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which are active in conservative politics.[11] Atlas Network states on its website that it is nonpartisan.[20] Atlas Network has received funding from American and European businesses and think tanks to coordinate and organize libertarian organizations in the developing world.[21][22]

Atlas Network has been described as "self-replicating, a think tank that creates think tanks."[23] The 2019 and 2020 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report ranked Atlas Network as 54th among the "Top Think Tanks in the United States."[24][25] The organization's website says it is not named after Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged,[26] but some published sources say it is.[27][15] Atlas Network has "hundreds of member think tanks across the world, and their members produce white papers, meet with politicos, liaise with the media, write legislation, and much more," as described by WNYC.[28]

In 1981, Atlas Network helped economist Hernando de Soto found the Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD) in Peru[9] and invested in the Institut Economique de Paris (IEP) in France.[29] In 1983, Fisher helped launch the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) in Dallas, Texas,[9] and the Jon Thorlaksson Institute in Iceland (now replaced by the Icelandic Research Centre for Innovation and Economic Growth).[29] Atlas Network helped establish the Hong Kong Centre for Economic Research in 1987 and the Liberty Institute in New Delhi in 1996.[9] Atlas Network grew from 15 think tanks in nine countries in the mid-1980s to 457 think tanks in 96 countries as of 2020.[9] The rapid growth of Atlas, now arguably the largest think tank network in the world, was partly prompted by challenges to fossil fuel interests from governmental efforts against climate change, Bryan S. Turner suggests.[30] Atlas Network generally refrains from taking any institutional positions on public policy subjects that its affiliates support.[third-party source needed]

According to The Guardian, more than a fifth of Atlas Network affiliates worldwide had either opposed tobacco controls or taken tobacco donations.[31][32][33] A 2017 paper in the International Journal of Health Planning and Management said that Atlas Network "channeled funding from tobacco corporations to think tank actors to produce publications supportive of industry positions."[34] The University of Bath's Tobacco Control Research Group said Atlas Network "appears to have played a particular role in helping the tobacco industry oppose tobacco control measures in Latin America" during the 1990s.[35] Le Monde identified 17 Atlas Network partners engaged in lobbying and advocacy for "tobacco harm reduction," which supports vaping as a substitute for smoking.[32]

Atlas Network has been linked to oil and gas producers, and to efforts opposing initiatives by governments and activists on climate change.[11][36][37][38][39][30] It collaborated with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute of Canada in a push for oil and gas development on Indigenous land, according to documents described in The Guardian.[40] Its affiliates in Canada have "extensive and deepening board interlocks" involving the fossil fuel industry, other policy groups, and academia, and are "a reactionary current" against most climate actions, Nicolas Graham wrote in the Canadian Review of Sociology.[41] An article in The New Republic blamed Atlas Network for its members' efforts in some countries to criminalize climate protesting, particularly in Germany.[11] Various academics have described Atlas as an "oil-industry-funded transnational network"[36] and "the predominant vehicle for fossil capital's global mobilization against climate science and policy",[42] and its affiliates as being "partly funded by Koch and allied capitalists, with heavy support from fossil fuel-based fortunes".[30]

The Intercept, The Guardian, and The New Republic have described Atlas Network as having ties to right-wing and conservative movements, including the administration of Donald Trump in the United States, Brexit in the United Kingdom, and anti-government protests in Latin America.[4][43][11] According to The Guardian, "Atlas took no position on Brexit itself, and many of its European partners were opposed, but directors of UK groups in the network were prominent in the official campaign to take Britain out of the EU."[43] In Brazil, Atlas Network had a role in the "Free Brazil" movement in 2014 that led to the rise of Jair Bolsonaro and sponsors the Liberty Forum where policies of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva were opposed.[11][44]

Atlas Network was linked to an online campaign that used fake accounts against the Cuban government during the 2021 Cuban protests, according to disinformation expert Julián Macías Tovar. Tovar, cited in The Guardian, also said that Atlas Network members' Twitter accounts had been involved in bot or troll center campaigns during the 2019 Bolivian political crisis, the 2021 Ecuadorian general election, and the 2021 Peruvian general election.[45]

Leadership edit

The chief executive officer of Atlas Network is Brad Lips.[46] Lips joined Atlas Network, then known as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, in 1998[9] and became CEO in 2009. He is the author of Liberalism and the Free Society in 2021.[47] He has said he advocates for a "freedom philosophy,"[48] and quoting Friedman, has summarized Atlas Network's function as "to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable."[43] In an opinion article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Lips argued for funding market-oriented nonprofit groups instead of increasing traditional foreign aid.[49] He has said Atlas Network is nonpartisan and "willing to talk to all parties."[50]

Matt Warner is the organization's president, while Tom G. Palmer serves as executive vice president for international programs.[51][52] Warner and Palmer co-authored the book Development with Dignity: Self-Determination, Localization, and the End of Poverty.[53] Palmer, known in libertarian circles since the 1970s, has promoted libertarian efforts in various countries including communist and post-communist Eastern Europe, Iraq and Afghanistan; after the 2022 Russian invasion, he traveled inside Ukraine to help coordinate Atlas Network aid,[54] which according to the Washington Examiner totaled $3.5 million by December 2022.[55] Atlas Network worked with its partners to create the Ukraine Freedom Fund, acquiring, transporting, and providing goods to Ukrainian civilians affected by the war.[56]

Only 30 people work specifically for Atlas Network, although more than a thousand people participate in it via its partner think tanks, according to Global Think Tanks: Policy Networks and Governance, published in 2020.[57]

Atlas Network is organized into centers by region.[58] Entrepreneur Magatte Wade is director of the Center for African Prosperity and the historian Ibrahim B. Anoba is a fellow at the center. Wade said in Reason that the solution to Africa's economic problems lies in a "cheetah generation" of young Africans who embrace free markets, individualism, human rights, and transparency in government.[59] In her words, "[Africa is] poor because we don't let our entrepreneurs work."[60]

Antonella Marty of Argentina served as a fellow for the Center for Latin America, which publishes the annual Index of Bureaucracy.[61][62] Atlas Network also runs the Center for United States and Canada and the Center for Asia and Oceania.[63][64]

Activities edit

Training and networking edit

Atlas Network offers training, consulting, and professional certification related to fundraising, marketing, organizational leadership, and think tank management through its Atlas Network Academy program.[57][65] In 2020, Atlas Network trained nearly 4,000 people in promoting free-market voices, preparing nearly 900 people to work at global think tanks.[8][66] Philadelphia Magazine described Atlas Network as "supporting free-market approaches to eliminating poverty and noted for its refutation of climate change and defense of the tobacco industry."[33]

Atlas Network holds four regional Liberty Forums (in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe) and an international conference in the United States.[51] At its December 2021 "Liberty Forum and Freedom Dinner" in Miami, Florida, for think tank partners from around the world, Mario Vargas Llosa and Yeonmi Park were among the 800 attendees, and Yotuel performed.[23][67][68][69] Llosa, a Nobel Prize winner and classical liberal, is considered a "friend" of the organization.[70][71] An Atlas Network executive wrote in the New York Post that its Liberty Forums are "like an Anti-Davos," offering trade-show-type environments for think tanks to exchange ideas.[10]

In Canada, Atlas Network partners with about a dozen think tanks.[40] Atlas Network has partnered with the F.A. Hayek Foundation in Slovakia, the Association for Liberal Thinking in Turkey, the Lithuanian Free Market Institute, and Libertad y Desarrollo in Chile to establish Free Enterprise Training Centers.[51] The organization also partners with Chile's Fundación Piensa and Argentina's Libertad y Progreso.[70]

In 2021, Atlas Network partnered with Cuban anti-communism activist Ruhama Fernandez to share her story after Fernandez was arrested for criticizing the Cuban government.[72] The Ukraine-based Bendukidze Free Market Center is also an Atlas Network partner.[73] Commentator Deroy Murdock, an Atlas Network senior fellow as of 2017, wrote that the organization "encourages institutions to use local knowledge to reduce government obstacles to upward mobility," featuring local entrepreneurs who overcome such obstacles.[74]

In Australia, Atlas Network has partnered with several free-market think tanks, including the Centre for Independent Studies, Institute of Public Affairs, and LibertyWorks.[38][75] In New Zealand, Atlas Network has partnered with the free-market think tank New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.[12]

Grants edit

Atlas Network provides limited amounts of financial support to new think tanks on a case-by-case basis. Grants are usually given for specific projects and range between $2,000 and $5,000.[76]

In 2020, Atlas Network provided more than $5 million in the form of grants to support its network of more than 500 partners worldwide.[77][78][non-primary source needed] According to Atlas Network, its grants fund coaching, networking, pitch competitions, award programs, and other "ambitious projects for policy change."[10]

The organization funds Costa Rica's IDEAS Labs, which helped reform the country's pension laws in 2020.[67] Atlas Network also supports the Philippines-based Foundation for Economic Freedom, which works on property rights.[67]

Atlas Network supports the Burundian think tank CDE Great Lakes, which has helped reduce the paperwork and fees required to start a business in the country. The think tank works with local entrepreneurs such as "Papa Coriandre," who formalized his small business and has since grown it from two to 139 employees.[79]

Awards edit

Atlas Network’s Templeton Freedom Award, supported by Templeton Religion Trust and named after Sir John Templeton, was established in 2004.[80][81] In 2015, the Acton Institute was awarded $100,000 for its documentary film “Poverty, Inc.[81] In 2020, the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies won the award for its Affordable Food for the Poor Initiative.[82][better source needed] In 2021, India's Centre for Civil Society was the winner.[83] In 2022, the Sri Lanka–based Advocata Institute, an Atlas Network partner, won its Asia Liberty Award and the Templeton Freedom Award.[84][85]

The organization's Think Tank Shark Tank competition allows professionals to pitch their projects to judges.[86] In 2018, Dhananath Fernando won the Asia Think Tank Shark Tank championship for his research on the high cost of construction in Sri Lanka and his proposal to lower the taxes on construction materials.[87] In 2019, Students for Liberty and Entrepreneurship (South Sudan) led by John Mustapha Kutiyote won the award for promoting home ownership by women.[88][89][third-party source needed] Students for Liberty Brasil won the 2021 Latin America competition for their project on educating Brazilian favela residents about property rights.[90]

Financials edit

As a non-governmental 501(c)(3) organization, Atlas Network receives donations from foundations, individuals, and corporations, but not government funding.[57]

It has received major funding from Koch family foundations including the Charles Koch Foundation and the Charles Koch Institute,[4] along with Koch-affiliated funds such as Donors Trust.[32] Other donors include the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation and the Lilly Endowment.[67]

Research by the activist website DeSmog said Atlas Network had received millions of dollars from Koch-affiliated groups, the ExxonMobil Foundation, and the Sarah Scaife Foundation.[11] As of 2005, Atlas Network had received $440,000 from ExxonMobil,[91] and has received at least $825,000 USD from the tobacco company Philip Morris.[34][verification needed] Of Atlas Network partners, 57% in the United States received funding from the tobacco industry between 1990 and 2000.[34] Analysis in the International Journal of Health Planning and Management in 2016 said that a lack of transparency and data about think tank funding had made it difficult to ascertain the amounts of tobacco industry funding to Atlas Network and partners since 2003.[34] Atlas Network said that corporate funding accounted for less than 2% of its total donations in 2020.[8] National Review said in 2021 that "fossil-fuel and tobacco interests" provided less than 1% of Atlas Network's funding over two decades, versus 98% from individuals and foundations.[67]

As of 2020, Atlas Network had assets of $15,450,264.[92]

References edit

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Further reading edit

  • Marie Laure Djelic: Building an architecture for political influence: Atlas and the transnational institutionalization of the neoliberal think tank. In: Christina Garsten, Adrienne Sörbom (eds.), Power, Policy and Profit. Corporate Engagement in Politics and Governance. Elgar, Cheltenham 2017, ISBN 978 1 78471 120 7

External links edit

38°54′14″N 77°01′43″W / 38.9038°N 77.0285°W / 38.9038; -77.0285