July 16, 2012


Profiles in Liberty: Iain Murray

By: Christine Smith

You can tell a lot about a person just from hearing about his or her political hero. One familiar with John Lilburne—an English political Leveller during the 1640s—associates his name with advocacy of liberty through “freeborn rights” as opposed to rights granted by the government as well as advocacy for a small government role in society. Iain Murray, the Vice President for Strategy at Competitive Enterprise Institute and the director of the Center for Economic Freedom, declares Lilburne his “political hero” and leaves no doubts as to why that’s true after explaining his political beliefs and motivations.

Early political exposure that shaped Iain’s career

“I was exposed to the political power of trade unions very early on”, Iain stated during an explanation of his career path. He claims that his interests and career choices have been influenced by his early experience with the dysfunctional British bureaucracy.

Iain grew up in industrial northeastern England during the time period where the two major industries, coal mining and shipbuilding, were dying as a result of technological innovation. Rather than let the creative destruction run its course, Iain witnessed the trade unions from these industries fighting the government “tooth and nail” to keep the failing industries alive so workers would not lose their jobs. He soon realized that unions had enough power to build up the leaders who agreed with their views and completely destroy those who did not. This reality concerned 14-year-old Iain, causing his interest in politics to take root and continue throughout his career.

Not “all talk”.

With each story Iain tells about his life, it becomes apparent that he takes his fear of big government very seriously and always does what he believes is the right thing to do, even if it involves sacrifice on his own part.

Murray’s first job was, ironically, part of the civil service in the British Department of Transport. He jokes about the most important thing he learned from his first job in a bureaucracy, saying, “I really got to learn how the government works. Or, rather, how it doesn’t work.” At the Department of Transport Iain looked after large transit projects and contributed to the privatization of British rail. He says, “I helped privatize British rail, which we did, and I privatized myself out of a job”. Iain believes in small government so strongly that he gave up his job to fulfill his vision. That type of risk-taking proves his great dedication to his beliefs.

After the loss of his job at the British Department of Transport, Iain moved to the United States. He became frustrated with the bureaucracy in this country as well, explaining that it took him two years to fully immigrate to America. Iain was even unemployed for nine months, but not because he didn’t want to work or didn’t look hard enough to find a job. It was simply because the INS did not provide him with a work permit and he did not feel right working illegally. This is just another example of Iain’s sacrifices for the sake of his political values.

When Iain was finally able to work he joined the team at the Statistical Assessment Service and later moved on to work for CEI, where he remains today as the Vice President of Strategy and the director of the Center for Economic Freedom.

Four short words explain Iain’s success: “I want to win.”

Murray explains that just the possibility of defeating the threats of big government is what keeps his commitment to his beliefs strong.

I want to see the constitutional republic re-established. I want to see that tradition continue. I want to see a tradition of liberty continue. At the moment it’s under threat, in many ways under even more threat than it was in the 1930’s. But I want to win. I want to beat back those threats, because somebody’s got to do it. That’s what drives me in my job—the possibility of winning.

Final advice from Iain.

Besides suggesting that ambitious young people read all of the “classics”—including Adam Smith, John Locke, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and the Letters of Cicero—Mr. Murray advises that we all consider the words of the courageous Margaret Thatcher when we consider how to handle tough situations.

During the run-up to the first gulf war, when President Bush was starting to worry about kicking Sadaam Hussein out of Kuwait, [Thatcher] turned around to him and said, “This is no time to get wobbly, George!” We all face times when we’re tempted to go wobbly. But if we remember Mrs. Thatcher we will remember that there is no time to be wobbly.

If you are interested in the work of Iain Murray and CEI, be sure to visit CEI.org and check out Iain’s books: Stealing You Blind: How Government Fat Cats Are Getting Rich Off of You and The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Don’t Want You to Know About—Because They Helped Cause Them.