site logo

Business-Managed Democracy

“Business-managed democracies are those in which the political and cultural arrangements are managed in the interests of business”

Sharon Beder

Business-Managed Culture

Australian Universities and Free Market Campaigns


In Australia, Enterprise Australia (EA) recognised that ‘tomorrow’s public opinions are being largely forged in today’s tertiary institutions’ and it sought to develop ‘beachheads’ in universities, technical colleges and other tertiary institutions through conferences; addresses to academics; forming ‘Students Industrial Groups’ in which students could interact with businesspeople; and executives-in-residence.


Monash University hosted one such executive-in-residence in 1983 and by 1984 12 universities had similar arrangements in place whereby business executives explained the free-enterprise system to academics and students at formal meetings. Monash also employed a person full time from 1983 ‘with special duties which include encouraging schools to use Enterprise Australia materials’.


The conversion of many University economics courses to the conservative neoclassical economics pushed by organizations like EA had a profound effect in Australia. Michael Pusey, in his 1991 book Economic Rationalism in Canberra, found that 54 percent of the top public servants in the Federal government had degrees in economics, commerce, business administration or accounting or called themselves economists. This was in contrast to the British civil service where they were more likely to have a liberal arts education and in Europe where they were likely to have a law education. This was particularly true of the central government departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), Treasury, and Finance where 72 percent of Senior Executive Service people had an economics/ commerce/ business administration education.


Because of the conservative nature of economics courses at most Australian universities these senior public servants expressed more conservative economic thinking than those with different types of education. They were more likely to favour a deregulated labour market; to argue that Australian GDP was biased toward wages rather than toward capital; to claim that relations between capital and labour tended to be complementary and equal; and to argue that trade unions had more power than business interests. They also favoured small government, less provision of social services, less government intervention in the economy and more individual initiative and incentives to encourage it.

Pusey noted in his study that these economically trained public officials in the central agencies set the agenda:


they had captured the promotions system from about 1982 onwards and used it to favour their own kind. From undisturbed positions of power in the central agencies they had—with successive waves of rationalisation and restructuring—demoralised, colonised, and in many cases driven out the real problem-solvers in the public service... In this way they obtained an overwhelming domination.

back to top