Conservative Spotlight: Atlas Economic Research Foundation

In recent decades, universities have often been eclipsed by think tanks as the source of scholarship and public policy ideas that have a relationship with actual reality. “I believe that think tanks have been much more dynamic, much more responsive than universities,” said Alejandro Chafuen, president of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation based in the Washington, D.C. area.

“The Atlas Economic Research Foundation was founded in 1981 by the late Sir Antony Fisher,” says Atlas’ website. “It is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization headquartered in Fairfax, Va. that brings freedom to the world by helping develop and strengthen a network of market-oriented think tanks that spans the globe.” The group wants “to achieve a society of free and responsible individuals, based upon private property rights, limited government under the rule of law and the market order.”

As part of its nurturance of a world-wide network of think tanks, Atlas’ new Templeton Prizes recognize the good work done by those think tanks and the personnel associated with them. The Templeton Prize for Free Market Solutions to Poverty is given for “outstanding research and innovative projects addressing how free enterprise and sound economic and legal institutions can solve problems of poverty.” The Templeton Prize for Ethics and Values is for “outstanding research and innovative projects concerning the relationship between free enterprise and the ethics, values and character that sustain it,” and there are also the Templeton Prize for Social Entrepreneurship and the Templeton Prize for Student Outreach. Each annual award comes with $15,000, usually distributed to a first-place winner at $10,000 and a second-place winner at $5,000.

In addition, Atlas gives out Templeton Freedom Award Grants to “extremely promising think tanks that are at their early stages or operating in very difficult environments.” Fifteen or so groups receive grants of about $10,000 annually.

Chafuen said that there are many positive signs of shifts toward free markets around the world. Contrary to what one might think, the victory of a Muslim party in Turkey has led to greater openness toward freedom. “Turkey had for several decades operated under military power. Although the people we work with in Turkey are secular, they always respected the Muslims,” said Chafuen. “Our scholars were harassed by the government but now they are like stars. The Muslim party is more sympathetic to the free

Chafuen said that many former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe, particularly the Baltic states, have turned into free market success stories with high economic growth. Asked about the danger of being stifled by Brussels’ regulatory behemoth as members of the European Union, Chafuen said, “That’s the big danger. Not everything in life is economics, though. Some countries with high growth rates have very corrupt establishments. Joining the EU could shake the corrupt establishment and level the playing field.” Countries that join the EU are “buying into institutions that are more stable,” he said.

Atlas held a reception for this year’s Templeton prize-winners in Washington on May 3. The Liberty Institute of India, a nation fast turning into a peaceful and pro-American alternative to Communist China for American outsourcing, won first place in Social Entrepreneurship for “its Language of Liberty Summer Camp, where low-income Indian high school students from rural Himalayan villages learn English while discussing the ideas of freedom and liberty.” In Ethics and Values, “the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich. won first place in this category for its extensive body of work on the moral defense of the free market.”

Chafuen noted that despite problems in Latin America–collapse in Argentina, a Communist elected president in Brazil, a wacky Marxist dictator in Venezuela–“Central America was the scene of killing fields 15, 20 years ago. Now it has rapid growth.”

He said that he believed that the Muslim world had a lot of potential to recover from its economic malaise and provide jobs for its young, fast-growing population–a key concern given the likely results of continued economic deterioration in that part of the world. “The prophet [Muhammad] was a tradesperson,” said Chafuen. He said that America’s stand with Israel in her travails “will always be a stumbling block” in our efforts to reform and relate to the Muslim Middle East but insisted that the United States could not alter her foreign policy “from a position of weakness.”


Atlas may be reached at 4084 University Dr., Suite 103, Fairfax, Va. 22030 (703-934-6969; fax: 703-352-7530; website: