In this work, the primary question being asked by Gutstein is: what is the effect that business propaganda has on society? In examining how conservative public opinion is shaped in North America, Donald Gutstein focuses on the impact that corporations have on majority interests. He specifically looks at conservative propaganda and how it has worked to influence the attitudes of individuals through both the government and the media – both of which have become mechanisms of corporate powers. Gutstein does this by analyzing how the media has sought to implement right-wing policy through institutions like foundations and think tanks in order to further corporate interest.
In Gutstein’s opinion, propaganda is used to shape public opinion to ensure that business interest remains paramount in comparison to the majority. For the author, business has succumbed to mechanisms of propaganda and is used as a way of promoting the conformity of the masses to the free-market systems. Gustein attempts to prove his research through sociologist, Alex Carey’s distinguishing between “grassroots” propaganda and “treetops” propaganda. While grassroots propaganda looks to shift public opinion in order to support business interest, treetops propaganda focuses on bureaucrats, newspaper editors, etc. Gutstein believes that these two types of propaganda have worked together in order to create a mechanism of industry propaganda, thus allowing businesses to become the hegemonic power of the state. This Business propaganda specifically works to ensure that the public does limit industry. From this, it can be noted that many big corporations and lobbyists fund think-tanks in order to promote the well-being of business.
There are many things that are valuable about this reading. Gutstein uses a wide range of empirical analyses in order to prove that business propaganda, and specifically, think-tanks and institutions are fuelling the capitalist, free-market industry. A great example of this from the book is an example from the Fraser Institute. As smoking cigarettes is clearly not a healthy habit, the Fraser Institute helped the company Big Tobacco market themselves through “research” which stated that second-hand smoke is not actually toxic to those breathing it in. Although the Fraser Institute is recognized as a non-partisan public policy think-tank, this action demonstrates the power that these institutions have in manipulating economic interest as they willingly skewed information in favour of big business.
Secondly, Gutstein successfully explains how the government is able to radically reform the beliefs of citizens in order to obtain the economic and governmental system desired through manipulation. Gutstein recognizes that the reshaping of opinion is done through think-tanks and popular institutions promoting big businesses. In this, the hegemonic entities are using tactics of manipulation and implicit coercion in order to maintain an overarching power over the popular ideologies of the society.
Furthermore, Gutstein does a great job in demonstrating how neo-liberalist tactics have manipulated the world in a negative way, thus denouncing the overarching understanding of Canada as a democratic country This book recognizes that certain institutions that have the ability to manipulate the ideological themes found in our world as a means to furthering their own interests. This completely contradicts the notion of democracy where all of the individuals of the nation should be able to influence the important ideologies put into place. From this it becomes evident that capitalism is controlled by the government as a means of suppressing the masses and implementing regulations from the top down. This is done through convincing the masses to support business industry and the free market through the means of government policy and the media.
While this book does make a lot of good points, there are definitely some weaknesses to Gutstein’s writing as well. Although Gutstein’s approach has attempted to prove his thesis through a detailed empirical analysis, he fails to give a complete understanding of these analyses. Furthermore, he attempts to manipulate too many empirical cases for his own benefit and fails to do so properly. I am hoping that we discuss the empirical methods that he used within his writing to critique the accuracies of his proofs. He jumps from one topic to the next extremely fast and does not integrate his theorization properly. An example of this is: when he discusses treetop and grassroots propaganda on page 18, he transitions into discussing the tax returns of Canada’s highest-income earners on page 22 but does not make a direct connection between the two in doing so.
In stating this, as Gutstein’s interpretation is overwhelmed with empirical evidence, it is also overwhelmed with theoretical evidence. Gutstein attempts to prove his argument through the overuses of information, both empirically and theoretically. Instead of strengthening his argument, this limits his perspective because he only touches the surface of each argument. Gutstein also limits his understanding of the North American Conservative ideology. By making his main focus the actions of more radical Conservative groups and how they implement policy in order to fit their own mandate, he fails to observe that Conservative ideology does not always surround the implementation of business driven policy.
All in all, I highly suggest this book. I particularly enjoyed the empirical analysis that it provides as it is helpful in further understanding his thesis. I also think that it is important to understand how many different democratic systems function in the 21st century – by way of a corporate agenda.
A question to answer before and after this reading: Do you think that a real democratic system can exist within the confinements of the corporate world? If not, why?