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In her recent book Suiting Themselves, bestselling author Sharon Beder exposed how the global corporate elite have brazenly rewritten the rules of the global economy to line their pockets. In this new book she trains her sights on the insidious underbelly of this global trend to show how they have also orchestrated a mass propaganda campaign to manipulate community values and convince us that their interest – co-opting and controlling all of us in the name of the free market – is in our interest During the 20th century, business associations coordinated mass propaganda campaigns combining 20th century American PR methods with revitalized free market ideology from 18th century Europe. The insidious aim was to persuade people to eschew their own power as workers and citizens, and forego their democratic power to restrain and regulate business activity. Sophisticated corporate-funded think tanks augmented these campaigns in the 1970s and 80s, promoting free enterprise and business-friendly policies.>

These ‘free market missionaries’ now seek to change individual and institutional values through bolder strategies such as the expanding share ownership and manipulating wider public concerns. In the end the outcome is the same, the triumph of business values over community values and the manipulation of democracy. Beder’s is an intellectual call to arms: fight back or be converted to the ideology of the free market missionaries.

  1. The Free Market Gospel: The rise of the public relations industry, in combination with corporate money and influence, have enabled free market ideology to be spread throughout the world beginning in the 1920s. Free market missionaries from PR firms, think tanks and corporate boards have preached the gospel of free enterprise and enrolled others to help them.
  2. Promoting Business Values: During the 1930s the entire capitalist system was increasingly called into question. American business responded with a coordinated nationwide PR effort to promote the capitalist system and the values of free-enterprise. Trade and industry associations formed and coordinated these PR efforts. Free enterprise was presented as being in the national interest. It was claimed that business interests were the same as worker interests and the same as consumer interests: what was good for business was good for society. Download excerpt (pdf)
  3. Advertising Free Enterprise: The free enterprise campaign was promoted by advertisers and public relations specialists. Pollsters surveyed public opinion to show how ignorant the public was of the economic system and provided feedback about how well the propaganda was working. After the second world war the Advertising Council coordinated  a major nationwide  public ‘education’ campaign to sell the free enterprise system to the American people. It was augmented by similar campaigns by the NAM, the Chamber of Commerce and many individual companies.
  4. Free Market ‘Education’: After the second world war a number of organisations were formed to propagate free market economics so that people would be more pro-business and accepting of market values and less tolerant of government regulation. In economic education programs around the country school students and employees were indoctrinated with free enterprise ideology. Unions were portrayed as aligned with communism and communism was said to pose a grave threat to individual freedom and the American way. Download excerpt (pdf)
  5. ‘Economic Education’ in the 1970s: Business again came under attack during the late 1960s and early 1970s when a proliferation of public interest groups challenged the authority of business and sought government controls over business activities. The corporate response included a renewed public relations push, including an Advertising Council sponsored public education campaign to promote free enterprise. As in the 1940s and 50s complementary programs of school and employee education were organised by individual corporations, trade associations and chambers of commerce. Constraints on economic freedom were portrayed as reducing personal and political freedom.
  6. Exporting Free Market ‘Education’: Economic education spread from the US to other English speaking countries during the 1970s and 1980s. In Australia, after the election of a Labor government in 1972, the Australian Chamber of Commerce reacted with a nationwide ‘economic education campaign’ to promote free enterprise. Enterprise Australia (EA) was set up in 1976 to sell the free enterprise message via educational institutions, the media, small business and employees. The conversion of many University economics courses to the conservative neoclassical economics pushed by organizations like EA had a profound effect in Australia.
  7. Pro-Business Policies as Ideology: From the 1970s business interests advocated a set of neoclassical economic theories that advocated government spending cuts, privatisation of government services and assets, and deregulation of business activities—all in the name of free markets, competitiveness, efficiency and economic growth. Theories such as monetarism, supply-side economics, contestability theory and public choice theory were promoted by the Chicago School of economics and became influential, replacing Keynesian theories as the prevailing ‘truth’. Download excerpt (pdf)
  8. Disseminating Pro-Business Policies: Think tanks and policy groups have played a major role in disseminating and popularising neoliberal ideas and ideologies.  In the US in particular, conservative foundations and large corporations established and/or funded a new set of think tanks which were ideologically compatible with right wing causes and corporate interests, promoting the free market and attacking government regulation. The rise of Thatcherism in Britain and Reaganism in the US can be attributed in large part to the endeavours of these think tanks. Their influence remains strong today.
  9. Think Tanks Down Under: Since the late 1970s  corporate-funded think tanks proliferated in Australia and to a lesser extent New Zealand. Most of them were pro-market, opposed to government intervention and had a free market agenda. They were heavily supported by the business community and had close links and overlapping memberships with each other. They ensured that profits and economic considerations were given priority over all other social considerations.
  10. Economic Advisors: Economic advisers played a key role in promoting market policies around the world. During the 1980s and 90s the free market sales spiel was used to promote and justify the privatisation of government enterprises, the liberalisation of trade, and the deregulation of labour, investment and business around the world. Free market economists ensured the support of a business-friendly agenda by governments despite the evidence that such policies result in growing inequities and poorer public services. Download excerpt (pdf)
  11. People's Capitalism: The ownership of stocks and shares seems to change people’s values. Stockholders are more interested in the well-being of  corporations and more likely to support corporate-friendly government policies. The ownership of shares, including through  pension schemes, encourages working people to identify with the aims and interests of employers. Children who play stock market games at school are taught to view the stock market as a fair and just system of rewards that are available to anyone who chooses to participate. Download excerpt (pdf)
  12. Shareholder Democracy: The idea of a shareholder democracy has been used to promote free enterprise and portray it as democratic, accountable and equitable. Share ownership has been portrayed as a substitute for public ownership and a way of ensuring corporations are accountable. The rapid increase in share ownership in recent decades is mainly due to the increase in indirect ownership of shares through pension schemes and investments in mutual funds. Moreover, individual shareholders have almost no say in the running of companies they hold shares in. Download excerpt (pdf)
  13. Fiddling with Kiddy Minds: Efforts at teaching people to love and defend the free enterprise system continue today at the school level and with public campaigns. Economic education has become mainstream. It is no longer an obvious expression of the campaign to sell free enterprise but rather is disguised as a means to give children and young adults the necessary economic knowledge to live successful lives.
  14. Conclusion