Born in Tottenham in 1924, Lord Ralph Harris was a foremost champion for free markets in twentieth century Great Britain. After a first in Economics at Cambridge and a subsequent teaching stint at St. Andrew's University, Lord Harris became general director of the Institute for Economic Affairs in 1957 (Lord Harris would hold the post of founding director until 1987). This institute would lay the intellectual groundwork for the vast free-market reforms in late 1970s and 1980s Great Britain. For this, Lord Harris earned the moniker “The Architect of Thatcherism.” A famous story relates how Harris teased Margaret Thatcher about this moniker, insisting that, in fact, Thatcher was an IEA-ite since the IEA had been promoting free-market ideas decades before Thatcher's assent to the role of Prime Minister. To this, Thatcher is reported as replying, “Ralph, the cock may crow, but it's the hen that lays the egg.” In 1979, Thatcher raised Harris to a peerage.
The power of Lord Harris came not only from his intellect, but from the more intangible talent to translate economic arguments into pithy, commonsensical phrases and proverbs such as “the vote motive”, “prices effect quantities”, and “if it's free, I'll take six.” His joviality and good nature won the devotion of his friends and the admiration of his enemies.
Lord Harris was also well known as a pipe-smoke enthusiast. As an active campaigner and the honorary president of Forest, a group that defends the right to smoke, he fumed against strict regulations on citizens' freedom to smoke. His defense of freedom also took form as staunch opposition of the European Union, what he feared was European socialism reborn.
A member of the Church of England, Lord Harris believed that the poor were best served by creating wealth and that such activity occurred most efficiently in a liberalized market. However, Lord Harris did not oppose governmental “safety nets” for the poor, only “hammocks.”
From the founding of the IEA (which has inspired some one hundred similar think tanks in some seventy countries), to his involvement in the founding of Britain's only private university, the University of Buckingham (rated tops in student satisfaction, due to the fact, said Lord Harris, that the student, not the state, was the customer), to his numerous writings, Lord Harris's influence truly has been worldwide, and its effect truly revolutionary.