Welfare and Party Politics in Latin America
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The network is expansive, currently boasting loose partnerships with think tanks around the world. Nowhere has the Atlas method been better encapsulated than in a newly formed network of Brazilian free-market think tanks.
Recently formed institutes worked together to foment anger at socialist policies, with some cultivating academic centers, while others work to train activists and maintain a constant war in the Brazilian media against leftist ideas. The effort to focus anger solely at the left paid dividends last year for the Brazilian right. The millennial activists of the Free Brazil Movement, many of them trained in political organizing in the U. The landscape that MBL sprang from is a new development in Brazil.
Now, he said, with the support of Atlas, there are close to 30 such institutes active in Brazil, all working collaboratively, along with groups, such as Students for Liberty and MBL. Defense is the academia.
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The forward guys are the politicians. The only way to reverse the socialist trend has been to out-maneuver them. He argued that the only way to radically reshape society and reverse popular sentiment in support of the welfare state was to wage a permanent cultural war to confront left intellectuals and the media. The Breitbartization of public discourse is but one of the many ways the Atlas network has subtly influenced political debate.
He hoped to copy the model of Margaret Thatcher, who relied on a network of libertarian think tanks to push unpopular reforms. Yet the only way to make all that possible, he added, would be to build a network of politically active nonprofits all waging separate battles to push the same libertarian goals. The existing model — the constellation of right-wing think tanks in Washington, D. Atlas, for its part, is busy doing just that.
It gives grants for new think tanks, provides courses on political management and public relations, sponsors networking events around the world, and, in recent years, has devoted special resources to prodding libertarians to influence public opinion through social media and online videos. Producers from a Wisconsin group that worked to create online videos to discredit teacher protests against Gov. A cable laid out a strategy from U. Machado has publicly recognized Atlas for its work. In another session, strategies were debated for attracting industry support to back economic reforms.
The idea is consciously modeled on similar strategies from the U. Think tanks are traditionally associated with independent institutes formed to develop unconventional solutions. But the Atlas model focuses less on developing genuinely new policy proposals, and more on establishing political organizations that carry the credibility of academic institutions, making them an effective organ for winning hearts and minds.
Rebranding economic libertarianism as a public interest ideology has required elaborate strategies for mass persuasion.
Welfare and Party Politics in Latin America
But the Atlas model now spreading rapidly through Latin America is based on a method perfected by decades of struggle in the U. Antony Fisher, a British entrepreneur and the founder of the Atlas Network, pioneered the sale of libertarian economics to the broader public. As recounted by his close colleague John Blundell, Fisher suggested Hayek enter politics. But Hayek demurred, replying that a bottom-up focus on shifting the public discourse could better shape society.
Meanwhile, in the U. To counter the growth of the welfare state, a more elaborate response would be necessary to share popular debates around the direction of society, without the visible link to corporate interests. There, libertarian economist F. Harper, at the time working at FEE, advised Fisher on methods for creating his own nonprofit in the U. During the trip, Fisher also traveled with Harper to Cornell University to observe the latest animal industry breakthrough of battery cages, marveling at the sight of 15, chickens housed in a single building.
Fisher was inspired to bring the innovation home with him. His factory, Buxted Chickens, grew rapidly and made Fisher a substantial fortune in the process. Businesses provided the bulk of funding to IEA, as leading British industrial and banking giants — from Barclays to BP — pitched in with annual contributions. As the economic slowdown and rising inflation of the s shook the foundations of British society, Tory politicians gravitated more and more to the IEA to provide an alternative vision — and IEA obliged with accessible issue briefs and talking points politicians could use to bring free-market concepts to the public.
It made possible not her election as prime minister but the policies that she was able to follow.
And the same thing in this country, the developing thought along these lines made possible Ronald Reagan and the policies he was able to follow. IEA had come full circle. Hayek set up an invitation-only group of free-market economists called the Mont Pelerin Society.
Fisher had used his success with IEA to court corporate donors to help establish a string of smaller, sometimes regional think tanks in New York, Canada, California, and Texas, among other places. Fisher began to fundraise, pitching corporate donors with the help of letters from Hayek, Thatcher, and Friedman, including an urgent call for donors to help reproduce the success of IEA through Atlas. The proposal was sent to a list of high-level executives and soon, money began pouring in from corporate coffers and Republican mega-donors, including Richard Mellon Scaife. But their influence would need to remain cloaked for the project to work, Fisher contended.
Atlas grew rapidly. By , the network featured 27 institutions in 17 countries, including nonprofits in Italy, Mexico, Australia, and Peru.
Emir Sader, The Weakest Link? Neoliberalism in Latin America, NLR 52, July–August
In one letter from the International Communication Agency, a small federal agency devoted to promote U. He encouraged Fisher to send over a proposal. Memos and other records from Fisher show that, by , Atlas had helped schedule meetings with business executives to direct U. In one instance, an official from the U. With corporate and U. He spent his teenage years playing tennis, dreaming of becoming a professional athlete.
Chafuen credits his youthful ideological path to his appetite for devouring libertarian texts, from Ayn Rand to booklets published by FEE, the Leonard Read group that had originally inspired Fisher.
Party Politics in New Democracies
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