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The Fraser Institute and the subversion of Canadian values: part one

Since the early 1970s, there has been a broad international agenda led by right-wing American foundations to sway public opinion towards greater acceptance of an economic philosophy called Neoliberalism, of which Canada’s Fraser Institute has been a pivotal part.

It is by tracing the connections between the Fraser Institute and several prominent Canadian politicians, like Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and other far-right conservatives, including Premier Gordon Campbell of British Columbia, that we can identify the source of their disdain for traditional Canadian virtues. These politicians' dismissive attitudes toward democracy, a penchant for slashing social programs, their unconditional support for American foreign policy expeditions, and an utter refusal to condemn the gross human rights abuses of Zionism in Israel are all a part of the larger movement they support by their policies.

Despite its radical nature, the Fraser Institute is a part of everyday Canadian life. Each year, the group announces a Tax Freedom Day, the first day of the year when the country of Canada has theoretically earned enough income to fund its (supposedly horrific) annual tax burden. The institute’s “Report Cards” on the school and the health care systems are widely-circulated and designed to convince Canadians of the importance of reducing public spending and privatizing these and other social services.

As reported in The Tyee, Paul Shaker, dean of the faculty of education at Simon Fraser University, said recently, “Part of the international movement of neoliberalism is to treat schools as simply another service that can be commodified and deserves no special place in society. This movement has been coming along since Thatcher and Reagan, and reached a fevered pitch over the last ten years." If you want to analyze why things have deteriorated in Vancouver, Shaker said, "it probably has to do with this global and political movement.”


The premise of Neoliberalism, and that of Neoclassical Economic theories in general, is the pessimistic view that human beings are selfish creatures. It develops from a crass Darwinian attitude which deems that people ought to be responsible for their own “failings” (like poverty), and therefore, that governments should not provide services to assist them when they are in need.

Ultimately, the pursuit of self-interest is thought to create efficiencies that should be favored over any form of government activity. However, while the profit motive is certainly tolerable in certain situations, it is contrary to the public good in others, as in cases of essential human needs like education, health, water, energy sources and so on.

Essentially, Neoliberalism draws support from the philosophy of Adam Smith, who maintained it was not necessary for governments or any other social organizations to enforce a redistribution of wealth, because the free pursuit of self-interest would create enough surplus to benefit all. The disguised intent here is to induce societies to expose what should be publicly-held assets or industries to exploitation by private interests, and to then prevent governments from taxing these corporations, or regulating their activities in ways that might restrain their owners' lust for profits.

The chief propagandists of Neoliberalism were Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, who, in 1947, founded the Mont Pelerin Society to coordinate the creation of an international network of think-tanks and foundations designed to spread their philosophy. The basis of their propaganda was a scare-tactic of equating “big government” with totalitarianism. In Capitalism and Freedom (1962), Milton Friedman proposed that centralized control of the economy was always accompanied by political repression. Similarly, in The Road to Serfdom (1944), Hayek argued that “Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is the control of the means for all our ends.”

It was at the Rockefeller-funded University of Chicago that Friedman helped build an intellectual community that produced a number of Nobel Prize winners, known collectively as the Chicago School of Economics. In 1975 Friedman accepted the invitation of a private foundation to visit Chile and speak on principles of “economic freedom”, completing the CIA’s mission, following their support of the Pinochet coup against the democratically-elected socialist Allende.

Friedman’s activities were part of a broader strategy for the subversion of cultures and social democratic institutions around the world, carried out by the CIA and assisted by both the Ford and Rockefeller foundations. Frances Stonor Saunders, author of Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, details how the CIA ran cultural congresses, mounted exhibits and organized concerts, sponsored abstract art to counteract art with any social content, and subsidized journals that criticized revolutionary politics throughout the world.  Among the more prominent intellectuals benefitting from CIA funding were Hannah Arendt, Arthur Koestler, George Orwell, Jackson Pollack, and Gloria Steinem.

Another was Irving Kristol, often called the “godfather” of Neoconservatism, a right-wing political philosophy that emerged in the US, and which supports using American economic and military power to purportedly bring liberalism, democracy, and human rights to other countries.

A number of prominent think-tanks and organizations closely related to the neoconservatives include the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Project for the New American Century and Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).  Kristol became a senior fellow at AEI, arriving from the Congress for Cultural Freedom following the widespread revelation of the group’s CIA funding.  The stated mission of the AEI is “to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism—limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and responsibility, vigilant and effective defense and foreign policies, political accountability, and open debate.”

The ranks of  Kristol’s Neoconservatives were largely filled with former Marxists of mostly Jewish academic origin, who eventually transferred their devotion to an ideal of American military power.  Their swing to the right during the sixties and seventies is viewed as a result of the change in Israel's geopolitical status to military superpower.  As political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg describes:

“One major factor that drew them inexorably to the right was their attachment to Israel and their growing frustration during the 1960s with a Democratic party that was becoming increasingly opposed to American military preparedness and increasingly enamored of Third World causes [e.g., Palestinian rights]. In the Reaganite right’s hard-line anti-communism, commitment to American military strength, and willingness to intervene politically and militarily in the affairs of other nations to promote democratic values (and American interests), neocons found a political movement that would guarantee Israel's security.”

Today, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, in their controversial bestseller, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, list the AEI s a principle aspect of America’s powerful Zionist lobby, which is dominated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The group, which would eventually furnish 59 members of the Reagan national security team including the president himself, focused on exaggerating the threat of the Soviet Union as a cover for their activities, maintaining: “the principal threat to our nation, to world peace, and to the cause of human freedom is the Soviet drive for dominance” and its “long-held goal of a world dominated from a single center -- Moscow.”  This Cold War scenario became the rational behind the CIA’s covert support for the Mujahidden war in Afghanistan, beginning American’s entry into a long-lasting battle for control over Central Asia, known as the Great Game.

Their domination of the Reagan administration provided them the opportunity to push their Neoliberal agenda.  By the end of the 1970s, many of the world’s economies were suffering as a result of the Oil Crisis and stagflation.  This presented the scenario by which, in the early eighties, Reagan and Thatcher were able to propose their drastic reforms--breaking down trade barriers and reducing government power--to supposedly revitalize their stagnant economies, thus ushering in the modern rush of Neoliberal policy implementations.

Part two of this article, which follows next week, will look further into the activities and supporters of the Fraser Institute.