Forty years ago, American (and, by logical extension, Canadian) business worried about future survival of free enterprise. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce commissioned Lewis Powell, later a Nixon appointed Supreme Court Judge, to report on the crisis and design a campaign to deal with perceived threats. Powell’s document is published online at PBS Supreme Court pages. It was a confidential message to the Chamber’s senior officers and is published by PBS with this description:
“In this 1971 memo to Eugene Sydnor at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, lawyer Lewis Franklin Powell Jr. calls for business to play a more activist role in American politics. The memo was written two months before President Nixon nominated him to the Supreme Court. The memo is credited with inspiring the founding of many conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Manhattan Institute.”
Reading Powell’s work again might affirm fears that people held or hold or it might be simply amuse or bemuse. At any rate, its worth a read. Here are excerpts:
“…We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.
“The sources are varied and diffused…Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries …These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society, than ever before in our history…
“The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians…
“…One of the bewildering paradoxes of our time is the extent to which the enterprise system tolerates, if not participates in, its own destruction.
“Favorite current targets are proposals for tax incentives… usually described in the media as “tax breaks,” “loop holes” or “tax benefits” for the benefit of business…
“…American business “plainly in trouble”; the response to the wide range of critics has been ineffective, and has included appeasement; the time has come — indeed, it is long overdue — for the wisdom, ingenuity and resources of American business to be marshalled against those who would destroy it.
“…But independent and uncoordinated activity by individual corporations, as important as this is, will not be sufficient. Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.
“…It is still Marxist doctrine that the “capitalist” countries are controlled by big business. This doctrine, consistently a part of leftist propaganda all over the world, has a wide public following among Americans.
“Yet, as every business executive knows, few elements of American society today have as little influence in government as the American businessman, the corporation…”
Undoubtedly, the strategy Powell laid out in 1971 has been successful. Wealthy leaders of industry and commerce put up the necessary money, establishing budgets within businesses and funding organizations that ensured the appropriate messaging was delivered everywhere.
In British Columbia, the Fraser Institute is the best example of a think tank that follows Powell’s prescription, representing the interests of the top 1%. Media organizations like Postmedia provide the platform, the Fraser Institute provides the content. Their misrepresentations are tiresome but they continue unfettered, at least in Postmedia publications, where qualities essential to fine newspapers are lacking.
In 1921, C.P. Scott, famed editor of the Manchester Guardian, listed those essential qualities as honesty, integrity, courage, fairness and a sense duty to the reader and the community. Scott’s famous assertions include:
- ‘Comment is free, but facts are sacred’,
- ‘[Newspapers have] a moral as well as a material existence’, and
- ‘the voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard’.
Probably, Lewis Powell would have regarded C.P. Scott as a leftist extremist who was sympathetic to “revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic.” At least, he would have considered Scott’s would have been one of the disquieting voices from respectable society joining the chorus of unwelcome criticism.
Powell and business leaders of the seventies claimed to fear for the future of free enterprise. In reality, they wanted a bigger share of economic wealth for themselves and this chart demonstrates the success of their movement. In reading it, remember that income of the top 1% has grown substantially since 2007.