It’s not a pretty spectacle when a very rich man tells little people they ought to get by with less, particularly when his firm benefitted handsomely from the pump and dump operation that led to the financial crisis.
Pete Peterson, one of the two founders of the Blackstone Group, has had a longstanding campaign against Social Security and Medicare. He’s sufficiently aggressive that to combat consistent poll ratings that show that both programs enjoy substantial support, his foundation set out to generate different survey results by stacking the deck heavily in its favor. As we recounted last July:
For those who did not catch wind of it, the Peterson Foundation, which has long had Social Security and Medicare in its crosshairs, held a bizarre set of 19 faux town hall meetings over the previous weekend to scare participants into compliance and then collect the resulting distorted survey data, presumably to use in a wider PR campaign. It’s important to keep tabs on this propaganda effort, since its big budget (the Foundation has a billion dollars to its name), means it will keep hammering away on this topic. But it appears that they overestimated how much public opinion expensively produced and stage-managed presentations can buy.
The brazenness and ham handedness of these so-called “America Speaks” sessions, which have garnered well deserved criticism on the Internet, is probably due to at least two factors: deluded confidence that the average person will fall into line when a confident and well-credentialed presenter makes a pitch and a stunningly naive belief that aggressive efforts to manipulate opinion and mislabel it as polling would not be called out.
And we also noted:
It is refreshing that this effort failed, but it is a given that the Peterson crowd will go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to credibly produce the answer it wants.
The Peterson Institue’s new ruse is to avoid grownups with fully formed opinions, since they are not amenable to short-form reprogramming. Instead, they are targeting high school students with an anti-deficit “education” program, on the assumption if they can inculcate a belief system, the desired policy choices will follow.
From Remapping Debate (hat tip Dean Baker):
No one has done more than the billionaire private-equity investor Peter G. Peterson to stir America’s anxiety over deficits, debt, and what Peterson (among others) considers out-of-control entitlement-program spending. Those same concerns now lie at the heart of a “fiscal responsibility” curriculum being developed for America’s high schools. The curriculum bears the stamp of Columbia University’s prestigious Teachers College, but reflects the focus suggested by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which provided $2.4 million in funding for the project.
Teachers College gave Remapping Debate access to a set of 24 lessons set to be test-taught in four states this spring prior to a wider roll-out in 2011-12. Heavily weighted toward the themes and arguments of Peterson and other deficit hawks, the trial lessons could be seen as part of an effort by one of the country’s wealthiest men, now 82, to spread his gospel to coming generations…
Yves here. Tactically, this is very clever. Education schools are academic backwaters, which means they have no brand to tarnish by association with a venture like this And it’s patently clear what is at work here. Teachers College initially approached the Peterson Foundation to get some modest funding to develop a program about personal finance. The Foundation came back to pitch a completely different concept with ultimately 48 time as much money to the college involved. Guess whose idea prevailed? Back to the article:
[T]he trial lessons repeatedly point toward two core ideas of Peterson’s long crusade: first, that America’s future is threatened by deficit spending, and, second, that Social Security and Medicare have helped put our economy on an “unsustainable course.”
Andrew Fieldhouse, one of several economists asked by Remapping Debate to review parts of the 409-page curriculum, objected strenuously to what he said was a loaded discussion of the debt and deficit, one designed both to fuel alarm and to put undue focus on the spending rather than the revenue side of things.
Fieldhouse, a federal budget analyst at the left-of-center Economic Policy Institute, questioned the practice of treating taxes, spending and fiscal balance as issues unto themselves. “Budgeting is the numeric embodiment of all your national values and priorities,” he said. “It’s about the public goods you want to provide for the nation, and how you pay for them.”
Robert Prasch, an economics professor at Middlebury College, voiced similar complaints about the way the curriculum deals with Social Security. “No effort is made to explore whether, and to what extent, there may or may not be a fiscal crisis facing Social Security,” Prasch said. “It is presumed or taken as an unimpeachable fact.”
In its discussion of Social Security and other issues, the curriculum does sometimes cite materials from liberal as well as conservative sources, but the effort to provide balance is often brief or oblique….
The article is very much worth reading in full, since it discusses the biases and scare messages woven into the
indoctrination course in some detail.
Parents may want to make inquiries to see if their children will be among the guinea pigs. If you don’t like the answers, consider writing letters to school administrators, the local media, and the Dean of Columbia University about the propriety of letting a billionaire use high schools as a marketing channel for his long-standing political agenda. At a minimum, Soros should demand equal time.