The Fraser Institute and the Subversion of Canadian Society
How American right-wing foundations, Big Oil and the CIA collaborate to undermine the social democratic systems of Canada and other countries around the world
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 BC Premier Campbell of British Columbia, that we can identify the source of their disdain for 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.
Every year, the Fraser Institute announces a Tax Freedom Day, the first day of the year when the country of Canada has theoretically earned enough income to fund its annual tax burden, and its “Report Cards” of schools and the health care system, 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 deserve no special place in society. This movement has been coming along since Thatcher and Reagan, and reached a fevered pitch over the last 10 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, that deems that people aught 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 cases, it is actually 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 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 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, to spread their philosophy of corporate greed. 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 with 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, assisted through 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, 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 composed of 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 1970s, many of the world’s economies were suffering as a result of the Oil Crisis and stagflation. This presented the scenario by which 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.
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 who 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 to found the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., in 1973, and on to New York where 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, help the 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, noted the report, the “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.
David Livingstone is an independent historian, and partner in Lone Sheep Publishing.