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Think tanks & global-local networks

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 conspiraciesnetworks 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.


24 comments on “Think tanks & global-local networks”

  1. Colonial Viper 1

    Monbiot concludes by saying that the solution to this concerning situation is more transparency.

    This is an absolutely weak line to take. The answer to this is to put money into public service oriented news investigation and reporting, and so that they don’t have to rely on cheap and easy sources of prefiltered ‘information’.

    • muzza 1.1

      CV – The answers are far more complicated, and you know it.

      Karol, a timely piece to be sure, however its one which hardly touches the sides, and certainly does not answer the inevitable question

      What outcome are the funders, and members of such think tanks, driving towards?

      There has to be some purpose to it, or why bother!

      Another point, is that the names mentioned being associated with think tanks in this article, are simply the bit part players, you will never see (publically), names of the true backers, these get blown off as, conspiracy!

      Good to see this getting some air time though, its an important message.

      • Colonial Viper 1.1.1

        CV – The answers are far more complicated, and you know it.

        That is a reason why Monbiot’s suggestion of “transparency” is not adequate in of itself.

      • Colonial Viper 1.1.2

        What outcome are the funders, and members of such think tanks, driving towards?

        There has to be some purpose to it, or why bother!

        You’re not suggesting that the funders handed over all that money without first ensuring that there were clear goals and objectives for the use of those funds? I very much doubt that would be the case.

        • muzza

          It was tongue in cheek, of course there will be clear goals and objectives involved..

          I’m sure it’s all easily explained away as, *conspiracy theory*

    • karol 1.2

      Yes, that’s a very good point, CV, about Monbiot’s weak conclusion. I think it can be part of the solution, to expose the activities of the right wing ‘think tanks’ and related activities.

      But the powerful grip of the Neocons on most of the national and international institutions need to be challenged. This can partly be done through a massive left wing input into the media and other communicative technologies, like blogs. The power of the collective, in the form of small and large groups, need to be continually mobilised to challenge all the right wing propaganda and the policies they attempt to mask.

  2. MrSmith 2

    Seeding the Doubt, or Poisoning the well, all you need are a few drops, it’s tasteless odorless and almost undetectable.

    Never forget these lot have access to some of the best PR and Marketing minds alive, they will alway win because they play on our self-doubt and insecurity, and if that fails they can alway play the ‘are you prepared to take a drop in your standard of living line’.

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      ‘are you prepared to take a drop in your standard of living line’.

      Some of us know that it is inevitable. But the very few at the top will keep squeezing the rest of us harder and harder so that they can maintain their own privilege as long as is possible against ongoing energy decline.

    • muzza 2.2

      Don’t forget, psychology was born long before PR/marketing officially became a *religion*, and understanding the human mind, has been a key component in the control. PR etc simply plays on what is known about the human mind, and the masses, defenseless against the plethora of attacks against them, which they do not, cannot even see happening!

      Others who deny its happening, have also succumbed to the attacks!

      • Afewknowthetruth 2.2.1

        Apparently the term ‘manufacturing consent’ arose in the early twentieth century.

        Don’t forget ‘smoking is good for you’. ‘ thalidomide is perfectly safe’, ‘nuclear energy will be so cheap we won’t need to meter it’, ‘there is no link between vehicle exhaust and gobal warming’……

        The dumbed-down masses remain dumbed-down, glued to the crap on the goggle box and uninterested in their own futures.

        The Great Die-off has commenced, via apathy, obesity, diabetes, cancers, ‘rogue gunmen’, Fukushima, poor harvests etc. The elites will be pleased. Disaster Capitalism can now take it’s ‘rightful’ place.

  3. joe90 3

    The DeVos mob are also funding the campaigns against same sex marriage and public education.

    And then there’s Erik and his private army’s participation in the Syrian conflict

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      mercernaries good

        • Draco T Bastard

          Quoting article:

          But Standing sees the precariat as potentially easy prey to the extreme right, bringing risks of fascism and violent racism. His view is it should be possible to avoid this, but first we must acknowledge that precarious work is here to stay.

          Once we overcome denial of this state of permanence we can go on to identify what precarious workers need for a good quality of life.

          And this is where the Universal Income comes in, it would be an acceptance that things have changed. The problem is that people are still treating work and income the same way that they were being treated in the 19th century (and earlier, National shows a tendency to think that people need to be forced to work which, IMO, is where their beneficiary bashing comes from), that people have to work 40+ hours per week to survive despite the fact that productivity has grown so much that we could easily have what we have on 10 hours per week or less each. The only people benefiting from the excess work that we do are the few at the top, the people who own the businesses.

      • McFlock 3.1.2

        really? are they under UN mandate? Are UN member states refusing to commit troops to prevent a genocide in Abu Dhabi? Or are you full of shit?

        You’re beginning to be a bit of a parrot CV – as soon as you hear something that might be interpreted as at all relevant to an old debate you squawk the same out of context, false, and quite stupid lie.

        Another fucking derail, by the way.

        • Colonial Viper

          I suppose you think that mercernaries won’t be doing contracts for other ’employers’ inbetween their UN ones. Especially after you funnel large sums of taxpayers money into that ‘industry’ in order to grow it.

  4. Afewknowthetruth 4

    Corporations have it made -well in the short term; in the long term they are totally screwed, just like the rest of us- because at the moment corporations overcharge customers (ordinary folk) and funnel a portion of the profits they make into providing those customers with misinformation (or outright lies); another portion of profits goes toward buying politicians, who dutifully implement policies geared towards enriching corporations.

    I’ve just been watching a documentary about light bulbs. The problem companies had was that some were producing light bulbs that lasted far too long. A cartel was formed and the life of bulbs was reduced in order to stimulate consumption. Similar things go on throughout all aspects of western society. Hence, humanity has a very grim future,dominated by resource depletion and environmental collapse.

  5. Rogue Trooper 5

    Gr8t to see the “A” word karol (nothing primitive about it; Anarchist political thought and discourse has been characterized as amongst the greatest of human achievements; ref-personal communication).

  6. klem 6

    Yea its all very secret, that’s why everybody knows about it.

    I know, its some kind of right wing conspiracy that’s what it is. Just like the faked
    moon landings and 911. Lol!

    • felixviper 6.1

      Who said anything about it being secret?

      • klem 6.1.1

        The article did, here’s a quote “Conspiracies against the public don’t get much uglier than this. As the Guardian revealed last week, two secretive organisations working for US billionaires …” blah blah blah. Secretive is the word they used.


        • Colonial Viper

          Everyone has heard of the CIA. But the CIA remains an extremely secretive organisation.

          See what I did there?

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