The Empire Justifies Itself—Part II

Young oyster shuckers, Josie, six years old, Bertha, six years old, Sophie, ten years old, Port Royal, South Carolina, 1912

In my previous post, I discussed articles by Helen Elka Meyers that justified police practices targeting the Black community. On her LinkedIn page, Ms. Meyers says she was with the New York Police Department (NYPD) for over five years, and also worked with the FBI for six months. Currently, she is a “fellow and director of policing and public safety” at the Manhattan Institute.

You know what the NYPD and FBI are. So what is the Manhattan Institute?

The Founders

The Institute’s founders were Antony Fisher, a wealthy Englishman, and William J. Casey, former director of the CIA.

Although I had never heard of Antony Fisher before doing this research, he has had a huge impact on public affairs. According to SourceWatch, a publication of the Center for Media and Democracy, “was one of the most influential background players in the global rise of libertarian think-tanks during the second half of the twentieth century.” Through his mother, he was an heir to part of the Astor fortune. He attended Eton and Cambridge. After WW II, he used some of his money to set up one of England’s first battery chicken farms, which made him one of the wealthiest men in the nation. (Battery chicken farming was subsequently made illegal.)

After raking in millions by torturing chickens, Fisher founded a series of libertarian think tanks to push for small government, reduced welfare payments, and less regulation of business. One of these institutes advised Margaret Thatcher. Others generated propaganda to cover for corporations with environmental and health problems, including the tobacco industry. The SourceWatch article goes on to say, “One of the keys was to give these organisations names that never indicated that they were part of a global network operation… Eventually all became coordinated by the Atlas Foundation and the Atlas network. [Named in honour of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ the ultra-Libertarian novel by Ayn Rand.]”

Older Americans will at least have heard of William J. Casey. Casey grew up during the Great Depression and, according to a 1990 biography, told a friend that “I want to devote my life to remedying the crying injustices of our blind economic system.”   What he did instead was take a job explaining to businessmen how little they needed to do to stay within New Deal regulatory legislation. He wrote a book teaching businessmen how to set up a tax shelter—in fact, he invented the tax shelter. On the day World War II broke out, he and his partner produced another book on how the conflict would create marketing opportunities. He worked on Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign, and later was Ronald Reagan’s campaign manager—for which, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, he was rewarded with the CIA directorship.

“Under his leadership,” the Brittanica bio goes on to say, “covert action increased in such places as Afghanistan, Central America, and Angola. He was viewed as a pivotal figure in the CIA’s secret involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair, in which U.S. weapons were sold to Iran and in which money from the sale was funneled to Nicaraguan rebels…” During this time, in Honduras the CIA trained locals in what later came to be known as “enhanced interrogation” techniques. “Eyewitness testimony revealed that Honduran torturers often ‘prepared’ prisoners for U.S. interrogators.”

In other words, Fisher tortured chickens, and Casey tortured people.

Policies of the Institute—and the Associated Results

Policy: Tax Cuts for the Rich

During the Reagan era, the Manhattan Institute published books that supported supply-side economics, contending that tax cuts for the wealthy produce economic benefits that trickle down into the overall economy, and advocated the privatization of public services. In Wealth and Poverty, a best-seller written by Institute program director George Gilder, the author blames the impoverished for their own plight, stating that “the current poor, white even more than black, are refusing to work hard.”

In December 2016, Institute fellow Diana Furchtgott-Roth argued for lowering the corporate tax rate and not taxing profits that multinational corporations made overseas. The resultant savings supposedly would trickle down to workers. She was on the transition team for the incoming President Trump. Her proposals were enacted in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Results: Supply-side economics has been a terrific success—for the 0.1%. According to the Economic Policy Institute, as reported in The New York Times, “average CEO pay has increased by a whopping 1,322% since 1978. During this period, average worker pay grew by only 18%.” Adjusted for inflation, however, workers have lost purchasing power—and continue to lose heavily. I described that in detail in my post of February 12, 2022.

As for trickling down, the 2017 tax cuts have largely served to line the pockets of already wealthy investors.

Policy: Income Inequality Is Good

In 2014, former Institute fellow Scott Winship produced a report stating that greater income inequality benefits everyone, as it “might…incentivize more innovation and investment, producing stronger economic growth and higher incomes even among those who do not amass fortunes. By rewarding work and human capital investment, inequality between the upper middle class and the poor could also promote stronger earnings growth for everyone over time.”

Results: Numerous studies show the opposite. According to the Economic Policy Institute, economic inequality has the effect of slowing the national economy. Per the Seven Pillars Institute, “Societies with pronounced economic inequality suffer from lower long-term GDP growth rates, higher crime rates, poorer public health, increased political inequality, and lower average education levels.”  And according to the National Institute of Health—a United States government agency— income inequality leads to higher mortality, “…increased rates of crime and violence, impeded productivity and economic growth, and the impaired functioning of representative democracy.” Even a casual search produces many more such references.

Policy: Increasing the Minimum Wage Is Bad

In 2015, Manhattan Institute fellow Oren Cass wrote that instead of legislation ordering employers to raise the minimum wage, low-wage workers should be paid a subsidy from the government. Both the Manhattan and American Enterprise Institutes push policies to actually lower the minimum wage to benefit employers. Mr. Cass says that funds from other federal programs that currently provide a safety net, such as food stamps and Medicaid, would be diverted to pay for the subsidy, so there would be no increased cost to the taxpayer. The subsidy to workers would consist of a certain dollar amount for each hour worked, to encourage all household members to take on more hours or more part-time jobs.

Results: Although Mr. Cass’ subsidy hasn’t been put into effect, we can imagine the results. Taking on two and three jobs is what the poor are already doing, just to pay rent and feed the kids. Obviously the real beneficiaries of such a program would be employers, who would be free to continue paying less than living wages and still keep all the profits of their workers’ labor. The losers would be individuals and families that might still need the federal safety-net programs that had been reduced or eliminated to pay for the subsidies.

Policy: Get Tough with the Poor

In 1982 the Institute developed the “broken windows” theory of policing. Instead of making arrests after a crime has been committed, senior Institute fellow George L. Kelling and his wife Catherine Coles advocated “an aggressive, get-tough confrontation of public disorder in its various forms: vagrancy, vandalism, panhandling, etc.” This would supposedly prevent the disorderly from moving on to felonious behavior. We will note that vagrancy by definition is homelessness, and the homeless often support themselves by panhandling. This policy advocates formalizing the criminalization of poverty.

Results: Under Mayors Guiliani and and Bloomberg (1994-2013) the New York police department used this theory to launch an accelerated program of stopping and frisking anyone who looked suspicious, usually young Black or Hispanic males. As The New York Times reported in 2020, “students heavily exposed to stop-and-frisk were more likely to struggle in school…more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression… this exposure fostered cynicism in policing and government…”

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, those subjected to stop-and-frisk policing who were caught with small amounts of marijuana did jail time, missed school or work, lost student financial aid, lost eligibility for public housing, lost child custody, and incurred burdensome fines and court costs. Although white people use pot at higher rates than Blacks, Black people in Brooklyn and Manhattan were nine times more likely to be arrested for it.

Other Policies

The Institute has also been in favor of fracking, denied or been a “moderate” on climate change, opposed allowing the government to negotiate pharmaceutical prices, and proposed that states should be allowed to reroute Medicaid funding to other programs at the states’ discretion. It also promoted the policy that government (meaning our taxes) should pay for vouchers for private and religious schools.

The only program it supported that I considered positive was a partnership with the state of New Jersey to find private industry jobs for released prisoners. Unfortunately I don’t have information about the results, other than the Institute’s claims. In any case, the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have aborted that program.

Who Are These “Fellows?”

After reading their position papers, I looked up the authors. They are all Republicans, and most of them are associated with Harvard.

George Gilder is a godson of David Rockefeller and a Harvard graduate. Diana Furchtgott-Roth is British by birth. Her father was an economist for the World Bank. She has an M.Phil degree from Oxford. Scott Winship is a Harvard PhD, and Oren Cass is a Harvard JD. George L. Kelling and his wife, Catherine Coles, are fellows at Harvard.

In another century, fellows at the Manhattan Institute and other conservative think tanks might have written screeds endorsing the divine right of kings. Somewhat later they would probably have told us that the slave trade civilized Africans and that, for the most part, slave owners were kind and took good care of their property.

What’s Next?

While doing the research I thought, next thing they’ll be trying to overturn the child labor laws. Sure enough, according to the Economic Policy Institute, “Ten states have introduced, considered, or passed legislation rolling back protections for young workers in just the past two years.”

Not that the corporations are waiting for legal changes. The Department of Labor (DOL) is investigating Packers Sanitation Services, Inc. (PSSI) for employing over 100 children between the ages of 13 and 17 in hazardous occupations at 13 meatpacking facilities owned by JBS, Cargill, Tyson, and others. PSSI is owned by Blackstone, a private equity group. Multiple factories in Hyundai-Kia’s supply chain in Alabama are also being investigated for employing children as young as 14. Many of the children are unaccompanied migrants seeking asylum, and are vulnerable to traffickers. As the Economic Policy Institute observes, those cases known to the DOL “represent just a tiny fraction of violations, most of which go unreported and uninvestigated.”

The Manhattan Institute hasn’t yet produced a treatise in favor of child labor, but two others—the American Enterprise and Cato Institutes—have done so. (All three are part of the Atlas network.) The papers, one by Mark Perry and the other by Benjamin Powell, argue that child labor in Bangladeshi sweatshops helps their families, and will eventually result in prosperity for the nation. Powell tells us of an 11-year-old girl processing 150 pair of Hanes underwear per hour, eight hours a day, six days a week. But, he suggests, we shouldn’t feel sorry for her. “Passing trade sanctions or other laws that take away the option of children working in sweatshops only limits their options further and throws them into worse alternatives. Luckily, as families escape poverty, child labor declines. As countries become rich, child labor virtually disappears.”

Bluntly, this is a bunch of hooey. In the U.S., child labor didn’t just “decline” as a result of some trickle-down beneficence from the increasingly wealthy upper classes. Employers resisted every effort to eliminate it, since kids work cheaper than adults. As Prof. John Hansan explains, it was outlawed as the result of a long struggle by labor unions and progressive reform groups, culminating in legislation passed during the New Deal.

As Malcolm X said, the chickens come home to roost. For decades United States corporations have imported products made by child labor in other countries, and Atlas group institutes have justified this. Now the corporations are using kids here at home. Not, however, the children of Institute fellows.

*          *          *

Addendum:  I just learned that the Atlas network now includes 449 think tanks and has been a “strategic partner” of Big Tobacco. Per the National Institute of Health, “Thirty‐seven per cent of Atlas partner think tanks in the USA received funding from the tobacco industry.”

4 Responses to The Empire Justifies Itself—Part II

  1. Perry Brass March 23, 2023 at 3:51 pm #

    Thanks for this, Martha. I have always described Libertarianism as the “sucker ball of politics.” Whatever you want, Libertarianism has an offering for it. You’rte against religion; fine. You’re for religion; fine. You’re for totally open markets with no regulation; fine. You’re for closed markets, monopolies, even better. The only true god is money—but that does not keep a lot of phoney demigods away from it. I have had several libertarian ex-friends; they become explosively angfry when you dispute any aspect of their religion to them—the one thing libertarians are totally against is anyone disputing libertarianism. They start foaming at the mouth when you do it. I used to tell them, “You’re philosophy works perfectly fine as long as no one does two things: has childrfen, or gets old. Since most kids and the old aren’t born spitting money, libertarianism just doesn’t work for them.

    • Martha Shelley March 23, 2023 at 10:58 pm #

      I don’t think the Institute people are really libertarian–whatever that philosophy means–as much as they are propagandists for the wealthy. I haven’t seen Institute papers saying that drug laws should be abolished, and people should be free to sell heroin, fentanyl, etc. They haven’t agitated for unrestricted migration–after all, shouldn’t people be free to go wherever they think they can have a better life? But they are in favor of the free movement of capital across national borders, to wherever it can find cheaper labor and no protections for workers or the environment.

      They’re against “handouts” for the poor but are happy to take whatever subsidies they can get from the government. Even Ayn Rand, in her old age, didn’t object to collecting her Social Security money.

  2. Miriam Beinin March 23, 2023 at 6:06 pm #

    Capitalism sucks! Thank-you for this research anh and commentary.

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