by Gary North
The Mises Institute has done a spectacular job in reprinting everything written by Mises and Rothbard that ever came into print. Only copyright restrictions have prevented the publication of just about everything on www.mises.org. More than this, most of these materials are offered for free.
Then the site publishes daily articles that apply Austrian economic principles to contemporary problems.
In short, the site pays attention to the past, which is a great treasure, and the present, which is a great challenge. The organization thereby affirms that the tradition is alive and well, that it is still remaining true to the past — an affirmation of permanence — and also the present, on behalf of the future.
Any organization that does not do this is dying. It may appear to be functioning, but it is dying.
With the advent of the Web, every idea-based organization can make all of its materials available to the public free of charge. There is no excuse not to do this for "dead inventory," i.e., those published materials that are long out of print and without hope of future sale. The one valid reason for not publishing everything for free is that the organization relies on book sales for part of its income. Book sales also get out the message.
I think the best way is to do both: make new books available on-line, but also in book form for those who like to hold a book, mark it up, and store it of a shelf.
Years ago, I posted all of my non-profit organization's materials on-line, plus most of my once-for-profit books. I personally pay to keep this material on line: www.freebooks.com.
Why did I do this? Because I am committed to the ideas. Also, I understood that the Web is the greatest tool of evangelism in the broadest sense. Anywhere on earth, people can find a site through the semi-planned yet seemingly random practice of Web surfing. Web search engines add to this ability of people to find out. Then there is word-of-mouse. The process is just magnificent.
Any ideological organization that is not part of this process is dying. It is absorbing donors' money, but it is dying.
THE SCENT OF THE CORPSE
In contrast to the Mises Institute are numerous old-line right-wing organizations. They have not come to grips with the Web. They have not spent money on building a Web site that offers their supporters access to the complete works of the organization.
Here is this wonderful tool of spreading ideas, yet these organizations have no Web presence with respect to all the work they did for so many years. The directors of these organizations have little memory of the battles of the past and the people who fought them. They have no commitment to showing today's supporters that what the organization did way back when was part of the self-conscious extension of a consistent worldview, and involved great sacrifice.
In order not to embarrass today's heirs, who you have never or rarely heard of, I shall not mention any names here. The heirs are busy sending out fund-raising letters to shrunken lists of supporters, holding seminars that few people attend, and publishing articles that no one reads because the organizations have no meaningful Web presence due to lack of concern and budgetary commitment. But, as Dave Barry used to say, I am not making this up. I have two in mind, one from each side of the post-World War II American Right.
In both cases, the organizations were noted by their monthly publications. These publications defined the organizations. They informed the troops, educated newcomers, and served as the equivalent of Gospel tracts that used to serve fundamentalist churches. Both organizations published books and newsletters and special reports. Both sold lots of books by mail. But the heart, mind, and soul of each organization was its monthly magazine.
When the founder of each organization died, each went into decline. Neither was able to sustain its mailing list. Both disappeared off the radar screens of the conservative public. Both were superseded by similar organizations, which in turn recruited new supporters.
The donor bases grew old. Legacy money poured in as the original donors died, but there was no visible new blood. For all intents and purposes, both organizations ceased to exert any influence on the movement they had helped to create. They simply disappeared.
The historic window of opportunity on the Web that LewRockwell.com and Mises.org took advantage of is now gone. It is today extremely expensive to build a large constituency of regular visitors to any Web site.
Most of us visit a few favorites, spend our hour a day, and do a little surfing. Our time is too valuable to spend on old sites that never grabbed our attention. The only way for a site to gain visitors today is by replacing some other site. This is never easy and always expensive. It can be done, but it requires a systematic program. It requires a Jeff Tucker or an Eric Garris to design the assault. These people are few and far between.
Here is my main thesis: The mark of sclerosis of an ideological organization is its failure to commit to its own past. If today's troops are not reminded of the consistency of the vision and the sacrifices that went before, there is no reason for them to commit today. Why bother? They will not be remembered, any more than the founders are remembered by the heirs. If an organization is not committed to its foundational past, then it is not committed to the future, either.
There are some ideological organizations that have not published their old materials because they have been taken over by people who do not share the vision of the founder. They may not be sclerotic organizations. They may be merely hijacked organizations.
BEFORE YOU WRITE THAT CHECK. . . .
There is always fund-raising for ideological organizations. But donors are well advised to look carefully at the uses for their money. Unlike in profit-seeking organizations, there is no clear-cut success indicator for ideological, non-profit organizations. This much is sure: the ability to spend money is not unique to productive ones. Non-productive ones can spend money with the same degree of commitment.
Here are some legitimate questions to ask:
What have you
published in the past? I want to read it.
What have you published lately? I want to read it.
How many people are reading this material today?
How many of these readers have become teachers or writers?
How many people under age 30 are reading it?
How many people have attended your conferences lately?
Are there CDs or DVDs of these conferences?
Are all these numbers growing?
Is your top priority the Web?
Does your budget reflect this?
The more money you plan to donate, the more reason to ask.
Here is the #1 question to ask yourself before writing that check:
Is my money going to fund those things in which I believe deeply, which apart from my donation may not be achieved?
This is what Kennedy's Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara called "more bang for the buck." He meant it literally. I mean it figuratively.
You do not have unlimited time or money. You must pick and choose among those organizations you plan to donate to. You would be wise not to donate to either corpses or hijacked organizations.
February 4, 2006
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