Surprise! Elected officials tend to do what the rich tell them to

Elite influence is no myth

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Lee HardingDo you believe “Big events (wars, recessions, elections) are controlled by small groups secretly working against the rest of us”?

Abacus surveyed 1,500 Canadians on that question, and 44 per cent agreed. However, the pollster characterized those who “believe dangerous contrarian theories” and “mistrust what media report and what governments say” as “a poison affecting our media discourse.” That conclusion deserves to be challenged.

Could a few interests start a war or overthrow a regime? U.S. Marine Corps Major General and two-time Medal of Honor recipient Smedley D. Butler thought so.

In 1933, bond broker Gerald MacGuire approached Butler to rally 500,000 veterans to march on the Capitol, insisting that $300 million was available to facilitate the coup. Bad press on the president would be followed by the march on Washington, a force so intimidating that power would be handed over without a shot fired. A “Secretary of General Affairs” would be installed and turn the presidency into a figurehead role – or so the plan went.

Butler asked who was behind the plot; MacGuire said they would announce themselves shortly. Soon, the new American Liberty League lobby group made headlines. As a 2021 article in the Washington Post recalled, “Its members included J.P. Morgan Jr., Irénée du Pont and the CEOs of General Motors, Birds Eye and General Foods, among others. Together they held near $40 billion in assets …  –  about $778 billion today.”


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In 1934, Butler told authorities about the plot, and the press called it a “gigantic hoax.” However, a Congressional committee investigated and concluded, “There is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient.”

Butler would later write, “War is a racket. It always has been. … Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

Now for recessions. Could a few entities working in tandem start a financial avalanche? Yes – if they wanted to, and create opportunities by positioning themselves for what others could not see coming.

A Swiss study in 2011 entitled The network of global corporate control revealed a high concentration of financial power in the hands of a few corporate entities. The authors looked at 43,060 trans-national corporations (TNCs) and analyzed how each firm had partial or full ownership of other companies.

The analysis found “transnational corporations form a giant bow-tie structure and that a large portion of control flows to a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions. This core can be seen as an economic ‘super-entity’ that raises new important issues both for researchers and policymakers …

“[N]early 4/10 of the control over the economic value of TNCs in the world is held, via a complicated web of ownership relations, by a group of 147 TNCs.”

As for elections, the father of public relations, Edward Bernays, made this observation in his 1928 book Propaganda: “A presidential candidate may be ‘drafted’ in response to ‘overwhelming popular demand,’ but it is well known that his name may be decided upon by half a dozen men sitting around a table in a hotel room.

“In some instances, the power of invisible wire-pullers is flagrant.”

Surprise! Elected officials tend to do what the rich tell them to. In 2014, Cambridge University published a study by two U.S. professors that examined responses to 1,779 survey questions between 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. The authors broke the responses down by income level, and looked at what policymakers did, only to find, “[E]conomic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Then there’s the February 4, 2021, article by Molly Ball for Time magazine, The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election.

“There was a conspiracy unfolding behind the scenes,” Ball wrote of the U.S. presidential election, “… a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information. They were not rigging the election; they were fortifying it.”

The reader can decide whether this effort fortified or subverted the election, but either way, it proves powerful interests working in tandem can sway a ballot. Recent Canadian history offers more proof.

In 2017, the National Post shone a light on LeadNow, an organization funded in part by the U.S.-based Tides Foundation. LeadNow’s December 2015 report boasted, “We selected target ridings with field teams run by paid Leadnow organizers … The Conservatives were defeated in 25 out of 29 ridings, and … in the seats the Conservatives lost, our recommended candidate was the winner 96 per cent of the time.”

Lee Harding is a research associate for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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