Economic education spread from the US to other English speaking countries during the 1970s and 1980s with the active help of key US public relations people.
In Britain in the 1970s the Department of Education and Science (DES) stated that young people needed to be taught ‘how industry creates national wealth’ and that they ‘need to reach maturity with a basic understanding of the economy and the activities, especially manufacturing industries, which are necessary for the creation of Britain’s national wealth.’
The British Aims for Freedom and Enterprise group (AIMS) held an International Conference in London in 1978 on ‘The Revival of Freedom and Enterprise’ and organised a Free Enterprise Day.
At the Conference, F. Clifton White, a director of the US Public Affairs Council and adviser on all presidential campaigns between 1948 and 1976, argued that those who supported increased government intervention—’the enemies of freedom’—had ‘proved more adept’ at influencing the political process’ and should be put on the defensive. He pointed out that the decline in voter participation in elections in Western societies provided an opportunity for those committed to promoting free enterprise: ‘Fewer people are participating in elections, which increases our ability to influence the outcomes of elections, and thus to change rules which we find to be detrimental to freedom.’
Conference goers were also exhorted to use the media to promote the free enterprise message. One speaker suggested that not only could advertising time be used to support free enterprise—’announcements can be purchased to expose young people to the good points of our system’—but also public service announcements could be used for the same purpose:
[A]ll of us must ask the philanthropies that we do support, be they youth organisations, athletic clubs, medical research groups, hospitals, universities, etc, to incorporate in their radio public service announcements a recognition of the contributions of freedom and enterprise to their success. Separately radio stations should receive from business people and professionals the encouragement and assistance to schedule announcements which tell the story of freedom and enterprise.
Similarly Kenneth Giddens, a former director of Voice of America, argued at the same London conference for the use of international radio to promote free enterprise. Apparently unaware of the irony of what he was saying Giddens accused international radio broadcasts from ‘authoritarian nations’ of censoring and distorting their news ‘to try to manipulate and control the thinking of people of other lands through their international broadcasts’ and therefore being primarily propagandist. In contrast, he said, international broadcasters such as the BBC, Canadian Broadcasting, Radio Australia and Voice of America had large audiences because of their adherence to truth and because they do not slant the news. He then went on to say such news media ‘offer an extremely useful potential instrument to carry the stories of the blessings of free enterprise and capitalism, to both the free and authoritarian worlds… for the story these free enterprise international broadcasters can tell is both thrilling and inspiring evidence of the superiority of our system’.
School and university education was also addressed at the conference. Frank Broadway, director of Facts about Business, a UK firm that supplied educational material for schools and employees, claimed that ‘apathy and hostility towards free enterprise begin in the schools’. He argued that this was not because teachers were Marxists but rather because they didn’t know enough to provide children with a good understanding of free enterprise and its benefits. The solution was to provide teachers with this material and his experience was that most teachers were willing to use ‘quality material supplied by business’.
Facts about Business had its own schools program launched in 1975, Business and Profit, which included a free booklet and purchasable wall charts and study folders. By 1978 the program was being used in a quarter of all secondary schools in Britain and they launched another called ‘Discover British Industry’ which was taken up by over 400 schools in the first four months.
Broadway argued that whilst companies provided literature and speakers to schools and arranged school visits to factories, ‘a more intensive, widespread and sustained effort’ was needed to equip school leavers with ‘a substantial understanding of free enterprise’. This would involve employer organizations, chambers of commerce, trade associations, and big companies at the national level as well as companies at the local level, all explaining the achievements of free enterprise. Such materials would have to be attractive to teachers and students, have some educational content, and ‘be intellectually respectable factual explanations of profit-earning’ rather than ‘obvious political apologia for capitalism… The prize is not only the survival of free enterprise, but in many cases survival of the individual company.’
Michael Forsyth, former chair of the Federation of Conservative Students, argued that Freedom Groups be established on university campuses to counter the left; mobilize students to join in student ‘representative’ bodies; ‘communicate the positive arguments for a free society’; and ‘to monitor examination papers, booklists and the content of courses, in consultation with groups of teachers and lecturers, for bias and one-sidedness.’
In 1984 the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) criticized schools for failing to give students a more positive attitude towards business and industry. They accused schools of promoting ‘negative attitudes to authority, entrepreneurial activity and the fundamental concept of a market-driven, profit-oriented economic system.’
In its early years the Institute of Economic Affairs also had some influence in the universities and produced undergraduate and secondary school texts. The Association of British Chambers of Commerce also argued in the 1980s that teachers should be encouraged to seek business experience and be rewarded by increases in salary and promotion for having it.
A Foundation for Economic Education was also set up in Canada (CFEE) in 1974 because, business activists claimed, ‘the level of economic education and economic literacy across Canada was woefully low’. Similarly the Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (Institute of the Germany Economy) called for businesses to offer economic education to teachers as well as business experience.