In 2015, Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren accused a think tank associate of publishing research for which a corporate sponsor had paid C$110,000. Washington Post reported:
Warren called the report “highly compensated and editorially compromised work on behalf of an industry player seeking a specific conclusion.”
Her complaint pointed to a form of influence peddling in the nation’s capital, with industry groups and even foreign governments paying think tanks and scholars for research papers that support lobbying goals.
Think tanks have this patina of academic neutrality and objectivity, and that is being compromised.
The Fraser Institute, a lobbying and public relations agency for Canada’s one-percent, publishes an annual piece aimed at convincing Canadians that Justice Holmes was wrong when he said, “I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.”
Writing at iPolitics, Alan Freeman made a comment that reinforces Holmes’ concept:
It’s quite clever, talking about taxes rather than detailing the things that taxes actually pay for.
Can I give you a list? Universal free medical care, free public education, heavily subsidized universities, policing, highways, roads, parks, old age pensions, garbage collection, national defence, and the list goes on.
I don’t know about you but every one of those things is a necessity as basic as clothing and rent in a modern society, though not in the institute’s eyes.
There is no sweeter time of year for those perennially convinced of government’s greed and bloat than the release of the Fraser Institute’s annual Canadian Consumer Tax Index, which never lets the truth get in the way of a bit of anti-tax panic.
In most everything, from promoting unregulated capitalism, fossil fuels, climate change denial, tobacco products, private schools and American-style healthcare, Fraser Institute churns out predictable disinformation.
But that is not surprising. It is the neoliberal agency’s raison d’etre.
Think tank CEO Tevi Troy wrote that the ideal function of think tanks was to conduct expert research and offer fact-based options for debate. He now worries that some institutions:
…are less likely to expand the range of options under debate. Rather, these institutions are helping politicians avoid the difficult task of pursuing creative policy solutions by giving them more ways to persist in failed courses.
Neoliberalism has brought us extreme concentrations of wealth and power and a society governed by and for the rich. The Guardian reports America’s three wealthiest billionaires—Bezos, Gates and Buffett—have as much wealth as the bottom half of the US population combined.
Funders like the American Koch brothers and Fraser Institute directors— who are connected collectively to around a trillion dollars in assets— do not want creative solutions to labour’s stagnant wages or growing inequality.
As prime beneficiaries of neoliberal government, the winners want to persist in present policies, even though free market advocate Alan Greenspan sees inequality as a fundamental threat.
Professor John Komlos wrote 15 Things That Markets Must Deal with to Work as the Textbooks Say They Do:
- Information is vital but costly to acquire so not everyone has access to the same information, given the unequal distribution of wealth.
- Free markets allow people to take advantage of situations in an immoral, unprincipled, cunning, crafty, or deceptive manner or with guile.
- Rationality is assumed but humans are not all rational.
- Not everyone is equally capable of solving complex economic problems.
- Children are completely disregarded in most of economics.
- Time inconsistency refers to the serious problem that our actions today continue to have consequences far into the future.
- Economists neglect the disciplines of sociology and social psychology.
- Power imbalances skew economic policies in favor of the wealthy and lead to political power imbalances that further the privileges of the elite.
- Uncertainty is a formidable challenge to markets. The subprime mortgage crisis demonstrated just how much pillaging can result when people misunderstand risk, misprice it, and do not assess it properly.
- Financial markets are inherently unstable. As we have seen hundreds of times since the Industrial Revolution, and most vividly in 2008, financial markets, as a human invention, can go haywire.
- Transaction costs, which typically go into pockets of the wealthy, put a damper on welfare and hinder efficiency, because they use up resources but do not increase welfare.
- Time and space are variables essential to the understanding of why markets are generally inefficient but not firmly integrated into mainstream thinking.
- Markets, by themselves, produce too much pollution because no one owns the atmosphere. Consequently, pollution has become our very biggest global challenge.
- The inability of decentralized markets to set limits gives us too many incompatible standards and too much inequality.
- Safety is not easily provided by markets. It is a difficult-to-ascertain, intangible attribute and both producers and consumers have psychological bias toward the present.
Of course, the Fraser Institute and Canada’s other neoliberal think tanks find uncritical platforms readily available for their output. That is no coincidence since the main players in corporate media are owned by the country’s wealthiest families.