by Oana Godeanu-Kenworthy
Part 4 - Cartoon capitalism
The efforts produced more than just print and billboard messages.
In 1946, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, founded by the former head of General Motors, paid the evangelical Harding College to produce “Fun and Facts about American Business,” a series of educational cartoon videos about capitalism, produced by a former Disney employee.
Between 1949 and 1952, Metro Goldwyn Mayer distributed them in theaters, schools, colleges, churches and workplaces.
The films promoted the same messages as the Ad Council campaigns, although they were not part of the project. They continued a decade-long effort by the Sloan Foundation to start, in the words of its executive director, “a bombardment of the American mind with elementary economic principles through partnering with educational institutions.”
To both Sloan and the movement’s backers, business interests were synonymous with the national interest. The free-enterprise system was a shorthand for freedom, democracy and patriotism. Unlike in Europe, the videos suggested, class struggle – of the kind that required unions – did not exist in the U.S.
In the cartoon “Meet the King,” Joe, the archetypal American worker, realizes he is not an exploited proletarian. Instead, he’s a king, “because he can buy more with his wages than any other worker on the globe.”
Conversely, government regulations of, or interventions in, the economy were described in the cartoons as socialist tendencies, bound to lead to communism and tyranny.
“Make Mine Freedom,” and “It’s Everybody’s Business” presented the state as a perpetual threat. A money-sucking tax monster, the government reduces everyone’s profits, crushes private enterprise and takes away individual freedoms: “No more private property, no more you.”
According to an estimate from Fortune magazine, by 1952, American businesses spent US$100 million each year, independent from any Ad Council campaigns, promoting free enterprise.