Written By: - Date published: 10:52 am, February 20th, 2013 - 24 comments
Categories: activism, business, class war, climate change, democracy under attack, news, newspapers, overseas investment, thinktank - Tags:
The latest article by the excellent George Monbiot, exposes how some of the wealthy and influential international, right wing elites operate through a network of well funded ‘think tanks’. Unlike well-orchestrated, well-planned conspiracies, networks are loosely connected and often continually changing. Through networks, a mixture organisational and interpersonal links, various lines on communication tend to be favoured over others. The networks exposed by Monbiot, are substantially funded by a small number of wealthy individuals or groups, and generate a fair amount of climate denier propaganda through the MSM, which usually fails to expose their partisan origins.
Conspiracies against the public don’t get much uglier than this. As the Guardian revealed last week, two secretive organisations working for US billionaires have spent $118m to ensure that no action is taken to prevent manmade climate change. While inflicting untold suffering on the world’s people, their funders have used these opaque structures to ensure that their identities are never exposed. The two organisations – the Donors’ Trust and the Donors’ Capital Fund – were set up as political funding channels for people handing over $1m or more. They have financed 102 organisations which either dismiss climate science or downplay the need to take action.
However, there are a couple of main funders behind the apparent diversity of voices:
A small number of the funders have been exposed by researchers trawling through tax records. They include the billionaire Koch brothers (paying into the two groups through their Knowledge and Progress Fund) and the DeVos family(the billionaire owners of Amway). More significantly, we now know a little more about the recipients. Many describe themselves as free-market or conservative thinktanks. Among them are the American Enterprise Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council, Hudson Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Reason Foundation, Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, Mont Pelerin Society and Discovery Institute. … One name in particular jumped out at me: American Friends of the IEA. The Institute of Economic Affairs is a British group that, like all the others, calls itself a free-market thinktank. Scarcely a day goes by when its staff aren’t interviewed in the broadcast media, promoting the dreary old billionaires’ agenda: less tax for the rich, less help for the poor, less spending by the state, less regulation for business. In the first 13 days of February, its people were on the BBC 10 times.
It’s concerning that such right wing, ‘think tank’ fuelled PR initiatives get such a free pass by one of the major English language news outlets. And it is through such propaganda that dominant corporate entities covertly, and indirectly influence public perceptions:
Most of the media is owned by billionaires, who are happy to promote the work of people funded by the same class. One of the few outlets they don’t own – the BBC – has been disgracefully incurious about the identity of those to whom it gives a platform.
Monbiot concludes by saying that the solution to this concerning situation is more transparency. So I did a quick online search to see if there are any connections between the organisations Monbiot mentions, and New Zealand. This turned up connections between the New Zealand Initiative, connected with the NZ Business Round Table, and the American Enterprise Institute. The NZ Initiative links to an article about the 2005 visit to NZ by an AEI representative, as guest of the Business Round Table. A US website, Think Tank Watch, Covering The Think Tank Scene in Washington, DC & Beyond, has a 2012 article about the Libertarian NZ Initiative. This is based on an April 2012 report in the NZ Herald, which says.
The country’s newest libertarian think tank, the New Zealand Initiative, has been launched in Wellington, merging the New Zealand Business Roundtable and the New Zealand Institute into a new body to lobby for pro-market economic and social policies. Leading the new organisation will be German-born economist Oliver Hartwich, a research fellow at the Australian Centre for Independent Studies, a Roundtable-equivalent organisation that at one stage had operations in New Zealand. … While Hartwich is a fresh face for New Zealand, he is a well-known television and print commentator in Australia, on a wide range of economic issues from the eurozone crisis to welfare reform, to the politics of climate change. Before his CIS involvement, he was chief economist at a British think tank, Policy Exchange.
Both Rodney Hide and Don Brash have delivered speeches to the UK Institute of Economic Affairs, a think tank mentioned in Monbiot’s article. Given this situation, I am very interested in Sue Bradford’s current PhD research, which is investigating the possibilities of countering the prevalence of right wing think tanks, with left wing initiatives. In her 2011 article on it, Bradford concludes:
I continue to hold a small flame of hope that we just may be able to find ways in which Left social democrats, socialists, eco-socialists and anarchists can build organisation(s) that will allow us to develop the intellectual, research and advocacy depth we need to take on a brutal economic system – and maybe start winning one day. Such organisations can and will take many forms, but I reckon one of them is that of “think tank”.
I have hopes that the new left wing DailyBlog that will be launched on March 1st, will be one of the ways of contributing to the development of and communication about a new left wing politics. With people like Bradford listed as one of the DailyBlog bloggers, I am hopeful that it will have a positive influence on NZ politics and its underlying economic system and culture.