Last week, David Livingstone traced the history of right wing think tanks up until the end of the 1970s. This week, he completes his look at the people behind 'astroturf' groups like the Fraser Institute by bringing us up to the present.
Ronald Reagan said of the AEI in 1988, “The American Enterprise Institute stands at the center of a revolution in ideas of which I, too, have been a part. AEI's remarkably distinguished body of work is testimony to the triumph of the think tank. For today the most important American scholarship comes out of our think tanks – and none has been more influential than the American Enterprise Institute.”
The Fraser Institute, according to Media Transparency, is heavily funded by the same group of right-wing American foundations that support the AEI. As revealed by Richard Cockett, in his book Thinking the Unthinkable, it was Antony Fisher of the Mont Pelerin Society, who played a critical role in the development of the Fraser Institute in 1974.
Hayek inspired Fisher to establish the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in London during 1955, the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., during 1973, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in New York City during 1977 and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in 1981. In turn the Atlas Foundation supports a wide network of think tanks, including the Fraser Institute.
In a strategy paper written in February 1985, Fisher wrote of the need to transform the “extremist, anti-government, radical free market policies of the Mont Pelerin Society into the “new orthodoxy” through the launching of hundreds of small think tanks on every continent.
The IEA describe their mission as being “...to improve public understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society, with particular reference to the role of markets in solving economic and social problems.” The IEA experienced the height of its influence during the right-wing Tory administration of Margaret Thatcher. Milton Friedman characterised the IEA’s intellectual influence during the period as so strong that, “the U-turn in British policy executed by Margaret Thatcher owes more to him (i.e., Fisher) than any other individual.”
Prominent Mont Pelerin members have included Chancellor Ludwig Erhard of Germany, President Luigi Einaudi of Italy, Chairman Arthur F. Burns of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe of Sri Lanka, Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe of the U.K., Italian Minister of Defence Antonio Martino, Chilean Finance Minister Carlos Cáceres, New Zealand Finance Minister Ruth Richardson and President Václav Klaus of the Czech Republic. Eight Mont Pelerin members, including Hayek and Friedman, have won Nobel prizes in economics. Of seventy-six economic advisers on Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign staff, twenty-two were from Mont Perelin.
According to Cockett, “on the strength of his reputation with the IEA, [Fisher] was invited in 1975 to become co-director of the Fraser Institute in Vancouver, founded by the Canadian businessman Pat Boyle in 1974. Fisher let the young director of the Fraser Institute, Dr Michael Walker, get on with the intellectual output of the Institute (just as he had given free reign to Seldon and Harris at the IEA) while he himself concentrated on the fund-raising side.”
After his success at the Fraser Institute, Fisher went on to found the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., in 1973. In New York in 1977 he set up the International Center for Economic Policy Studies (ICEPS), later renamed the Manhattan Institute. The incorporation documents were signed by prominent attorney Bill Casey, later Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, where he greatly expanded it covert support of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, such that it became the agency’s largest of its kind in history.
The IEA website states that, “since 1974 the IEA has played an active role in developing similar institutions across the globe. Today there exists a world-wide network of over one hundred institutions in nearly eighty countries. All are independent but share in the IEA’s mission.”
In its 2005 Annual Report, the Fraser Institute featured a photograph of Michael Walker with then American neoconservative Vice President Dick Cheney, followed by a photograph of Canada's “future Prime Minister” Stephen Harper attending the Institute’s annual general meeting. Likewise, on November 23, 2009, at an event celebrating the Institute’s 35th Anniversary, Gordon Campbell served as its “Honourary Chairman”.
The Fraser Institute’s list of Senior Fellows includes Tom Flanagan, professor of political science at the University of Calgary, who was campaign manager to Stephen Harper in federal elections in 2004 and 2005. Other senior fellows include Preston Manning, founder of the Reform Party, as well as former Conservative Premier of Ontario, Mike Harris, former Alberta Conservative premier Ralph Klein, and former Liberal cabinet minister and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier, Brian Tobin.
Typical public policy stances which the Fraser Institute will support are greater free trade throughout the world, the right to own and acquire firearms without controls, marijuana legalization, but most importantly, the privatization of government social programs, including education and health care, which would open them up to ownership by American corporations.
Funding for the Fraser Institute derives from, among others, ExxonMobil, a major portion of which is owned by the Rockefeller foundation, an oil company descended from the family’s original Standard Oil.
The Fraser Institute also receives funding from a number of Rockefeller-affiliated American foundations like the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, and John M. Olin Foundation, who are also responsible for funding the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. Founded in 1973, by brewery magnate Joseph Coors and Richard Scaife, Heritage published a set of policy recommendations called “Mandate for Leadership” that proved to be the intellectual blueprint for the so-called “Reagan Revolution.”
For nearly four decades, conservative foundations like the Bradley, the Olin and other foundations, have mounted a concerted campaign to reshape politics and public policy according to Neo-Liberal principles. These organizations pursue an agenda based on industrial and environmental deregulation, the privatization of government services, deep reductions in federal anti-poverty spending and the transfer of authority and responsibility for social welfare from the national government to the charitable sector and state and local government.
Three books in particular, written by Bradley-funded writers, played key roles in this effort: Wealth and Poverty, by George Guilder; Losing Ground, by Charles Murray, and Beyond Entitlement, by Lawrence M. Mead. In Losing Ground, Murray argued that poverty is the result, not of economic conditions or injustices, but to individual failings, maintaining that most government-sponsored anti-poverty programs were ill-conceived and should be eliminated. In particular, he called for an end to all government programs that provide economic support for single mothers such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), subsidized housing, or food stamps.
After writing Losing Ground, Murray teamed up with the late Harvard psychologist Richard Hernstein to write the book the Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. The book argued that poverty is the result, not of social conditions or policies, but of the inferior genetic traits of a sub-class of human beings. It relied heavily on research financed by the Pioneer Fund, a Neo-Nazi organization that promoted eugenics research.
In 1978, William Simon, with Irving Kistol, founded the Institute for Educational Affairs (IEA), whose purpose was to seek out promising PhD candidates and undergraduate leaders and help them, through grants and fellowships, to establish themselves with activist organizations, research projects, student publications, federal agencies or leading periodicals. In 1980, IEA merged with the Madison Center (founded in 1986 by William Bennet, Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind, and Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield) to become the Madison Center for Educational Affairs.
Also in the early 1980s, a number of these foundations, including Scaife and Olin, teamed up to fund right-wing newspapers on college campuses. One notable example was The Dartmouth Review, where a young Dinesh D’Souza, author of Illiberal Democracy, got his start attacking the purported “liberal bias” at U.S. universities.
The AEI recently emerged again as one of the leading architects of the George W. Bush administration’s foreign policy. Irving Kristol’s son and successor William founded the Project for the New American Century, one of the leading voices behind that administration’s plan for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
In September 2000, the PNAC published a report titled, Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century, in which it envisioned an expanded global military role for the U.S., by stipulating, “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein. Presciently, given the events of September 11, 2001, the report noted that “the process of transformation,” of the U.S. military into an imperialistic force of global domination, “is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor.”
According to leading neoconservative Michael Ledeen, who held a chair at the American Enterprise Institute, and was also a founding member of JINSA, “regime change” must be achieved by any means necessary in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority. In his book, Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli's Iron Rules Are as Timely and Important Today as Five Centuries Ago, Ledeen proclaimed:
“Change – above all violent change – is the essence of human history.” Ultimately, Ledeen believes that violence in the service of the spread of “freedom” around the world is merely a continuation of America’s revolutionary struggle. “Total war” says Ledeen, “not only destroys the enemy’s military forces, but also brings the enemy society to an extremely personal point of decision, so that they are willing to accept a reversal of the cultural trends. The sparing of civilian lives cannot be the total war’s first priority... The purpose of total war is to permanently force your will onto another people.”
Through this vast network of influence peddling for American Big Oil and unconditional support for Israeli Zionism, we find not only the roots of recent Canadian foreign policy in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but also an explanation for the push recently proposed by at the G20 to tighten social spending, which will ultimately undermine the great social democratic tradition which is the foundation of the humanitarian values which are the basis of our collective pride as Canadians.