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Manipulation of Public Opinion

by Albrecht Mueller Monday, Oct. 31, 2016 at 1:50 PM

Timocracy-rule of the propertied-threatens to replace democracy. The large majority is blocked from political participation and from forming their social future-unlike what was intended in the model of the majority principle in democracy.


By Albrecht Mueller

[These excerpts from the 2009 book "Manipulation of Public Opinion. How the Economy, Politics, and the Media Influence our Thinking" are translated from the German on the Internet,]

Since my university days, I observed political events, ways of shaping political opinion and their significance for political decisions. As a student of the national economy, I focused on the effect of language as the bearer of prejudices on economic policy and the significance of propaganda in the breakdown of the Weimar Republic. Later I analyzed manipulating public opinion and other strategies of influencing opinions.


Even among the like-minded, being skeptical is not easy. The head counsels mistrust and instinct demands trust. Resolving to question and doing this systematically with others is imperative. Knowledge of the methods of manipulation helps:

Repetition. "Demographic change and globalization are the two great challenges" or "The financial crisis came from America." are examples.

Sending a message from different senders. Then it becomes more trustworthy.

Using the good sound of a word for another objective. The best example is "reform."

Group-specific jargon. "Performance must be rewarding again" and "Freedom" – empty words with hardly any relation to reality – persist in the majority of talk-show guests.

Come across as affirmative. Angela Merkel, Peer Steinbrueck, and Gerhard Schroeder did this very well.

Evoking the self-evident authority in language: "As we all know" and "as is well-known"

Appealing to experts. This is a current method in stock market broadcasts, economic news and many other platforms.

"TINA": There is no alternative.

Pars pro toto. What is true for a part can be transferred to the whole.

Exaggeration. "Word inversion," "freedom instead of socialism," and "grace for the 68ers" are examples.

Transporting message A with message B. This method is often used in conscious, subconscious, and planned ways.

Using the (strategically planned) conflict between two persons as a conveyor belt for a mediated opinion.

Silencing, omitting, and fading out was used for all the mistakes of the Kohl government and its advisors in the German reunification, particularly in the political-economic decisions.

Using polls to promote an opinion. This instrument is used constantly.

Whoever knows and considers these tips will understand the processes of shaping opinions more readily. This is an important basis for building a counter-public.


In 1973, a friend recently elected to the German Bundestag told me he was under enormous pressure because of the massive cuts in social fees and taxes. He was vehemently attacked as a delegate of a large government party. Today people would not be surprised about this.

Concrete proposals were worked out in the SPD Tax Reform commission under the chairmanship of the former development assistance minister Erhard Eppler in November 1971.

"Altogether tax reform should make possible better services for our population that only the public authority can provide." That was the first of four goals.

The population obviously needed additional public services at that time. There was an enormous catch-up need in Germany in education, building the infrastructure, care of the environment, water supply, and urban development. The commission urged better public services for the population.

The so-called Long Term commission under the chairmanship of the later German chancellor Helmut Schmidt met a year after the resolution of the Tax reform commission. In June 1972, this commission emphasized raising the share of public expenditures in the gross domestic product from 29% at that time to 34% in 1985. Spending for education, science, transportation, and urban development should have priority. The share of spending for education and science should be raised from 4.1% in 1972 to 7.6% of the gross domestic product in 1985.

Today people who have no prejudices against state activity understand these ambitious goals for greater public responsibility. The change of mood has an effect. What is factually right and necessary is sometimes contradicted by the mood. If we had only realized a little bit of that and pragmatically tackled the ideas about more public responsibility at that time, we would have less worry today about deficient training and education and about poor integration of those persons and their children whom we brought to Germany as emigrants and foreign workers.

Those persons and political groups that sought an expansion of public services over 30 years ago were not marked by any ideological idolization of the state. The idea that socialization solves our problems played a role in small circles at the margin. Rational considerations were in the foreground. People knew some goals and some services are sensibly provided by the state. The most economical kind of production is when competition is not possible or only possible with crutches and because public service is the fairest kind of service.

The saying "only the rich can afford a poor state" was heard in public debates at that time. This saying was based on the sober judgment that the large majority and especially the weaker fight a losing battle without state activity. It was not grounded on state idolization. Only the better-off can afford private old age provisions. The others fall by the wayside. Old age poverty threatens when they are older.

Poor normal wage-earners can hardly afford private schools or private health insurance. As a rule, top earners live in the better quarters and can easily evade environmental and traffic troubles. The large majority of people depend on the state, all of us, on doing something to reduce the vexations and creating more quality of life. In natural disasters, the financially weaker depend on a strong state and its efficiency. The financially strong citizens of New Orleans could evade the devastations of Hurricane Katrina.


A hardened campaign against the public authority as provider and for transferring public interests to private actors, for deregulation and against the observation of public tasks by the state lies between then and today. This campaign influenced public opinion. The campaign began when the mentioned Bundestag delegate recounted his experiences. Within a few months, the positive mood for more public services and for a rational weighing between private activity and public activity capsized

"The strong state is sleek." That is the general mood up to today. In June 2008, the Federation of German Industry (BDI) presented a "Manifesto for Growth and Employment" with a reduction of the state share from 4.3 to 3.5%. This manifesto was founded on the hope of finding approval from the economy and creative media persons. That Germany is a country with a very above-average high state share is anchored in the heads of the multipliers in Germany.

But that is a deception… The total burden of taxes and social fees in Germany is only the ninth-highest in Europe. The tax rate in Germany is lower than in the Scandinavian states, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Austria. Denmark's tax rate is nearly 10 points higher than the German at 49.1%. The Swedish rate is 48.9%...

A state-hostile general mood has gained a foothold. The "Handelsblatt" paper even titled a report "Father State as a Hate Figure"…


We are no longer investing sufficiently for the future…

A proposal to lower taxes occurred because the tax assessors expected additional revenues for the public treasury of 100 billion euros. The German finance minister wanted to reduce debts. Peter Bofinger, a member of the Council of Experts, saw spending for education and the infrastructure as obvious.

Only the two options are up for debate: lowering taxes or reducing debts. This is not a surprise given the aggressive discussion against the state and for achievers for decades.

Our infrastructure is miserable. The sewage system has gone to seed and there isn't enough money for education and training.

Germany spends less on education proportionately than in the middle of the 1990s. At that time, 6.9% of the German gross domestic product was available for education. In 2006, only 6.2% was earmarked. Too few young persons are studying, continuing education stagnates, and the discrimination of migrant children remains.

A remedy is hardly in sight. According to an education report, teachers and educators will be increasingly scarce for the up-and-coming generation. "Spiegel" titled a report on our universities "Rotten in the core."

We know what should be done. There is even an astonishing consensus across all the parties that we must invest more in the future. The fancy speeches of our politicians are full of worried analyses and beautiful phrases: education for everyone, the knowledge society, knowledge as the raw material for the future and education as the mega-theme (Herzog). Education is the social question of the 21st century, a CDU party convention spouted over ten years ago. However, education was always sparsely funded in this time period.

We know what has to be done. We need more all-day schooling and better pre-school education. The teacher-student ratio must be improved and our schools and universities revitalized and modernized. Our universities are overstretched. 300 students are accommodated in a seminar for 50.

The study conditions are felt to be miserable to catastrophic. We know where we must invest. We need more money for personnel.

We know children and youths from low-income sectors have problems advancing in our educational system. We know our universities will be attended more and more by children of the better-off and children of the financially worse-off will be at a disadvantage. An "education emergency" was declared in the 1950s and 1960s. We know the great big end of this malformation is coming to our society. We know this consequence of the impoverishment of the state constitutes the real disadvantage of the young generation. We know this but nothing decisive happens.

This is also true for adjacent areas of our social life. We know we must do more for our youth – for youth centers, for mental hygiene, and youth work altogether. Nevertheless, there are cancellations of youth welfare services instead of new investments.

We know we have integration problems. We need more language instruction for children of refugees and foreigners.

But the funds were cut in Kohl's time even though the Kohl government brought many refugees into the country.

The impoverishment of the state will be felt by future generations… We would do young people and children a favor if we leave them a good modern infrastructure as perfect as possible.

Those in the younger generation who wail today about state debts and the resulting discriminations should look at the US or at least read what is reported there. "Spiegel" has a critical US correspondent who reported on "The Collapse of the US Infrastructure" on August 2, 2007: worn-out bridges, decrepit streets, and rotten dams. The bridge catastrophe in Minneapolis is writing on the wall. "More than 160,000 bridges in the US are in danger of collapse. Long-distance routes, tunnels, dams, and dikes are in such miserable condition that engineers have long sounded the alarm – in vain up to now."

These are the consequences of a systematic impoverishment of the state.

This will burden future generations. Well-organized interests and the dominant ideology must be understood and tackled. The profiteers of the impoverishment of the state are manifest. Concrete interests and virulent ideologues of neoliberal economic conceptions are now recognizable.

Private interests offer their help when public schools and universities lack money for their necessary modernization. An impoverished state indirectly ensures children of the higher-paid have a greater chance for a good education and a privileged professional life. With today's impoverished state, the course is set for segmented education – and occupational chances corresponding to the origin and financial strength of the elites.

Cities privatize hospitals when they lack money and feel overstretched. Mammoth private hospital corporations stand ready…

When the German transportation ministry lacked money for highways and traffic jams grew, private parties offered to take them over. The nice-sounding Public-Private partnerships – initiated in Great Britain – are chosen because privatization is so striking and resistance dissolves.

When doubts grow because taxes cannot finance public expenditures, interested parties call for privatization of public enterprises, public institutions, and the public housing stock. Some earn money in the sale of state property to private parties and others in the inexpensive purchase of new assets. The public deformed through permanent manipulation of public opinion really believe the state authority, communities, states and the country win something when their balance sheets are reduced – fewer assets on the left and fewer debts on the right – as in Dresden by selling state housing.

Those who want to evade taxes are in a good position when the state lacks money for adequate financial personnel. The Memo-group, a group of critical economists, sees national shortfalls between 70 and 100 billion euros. However, adequate personnel for tax investigation and tax auditing do not exist.

The state has funds when more money is needed to serve mammoth private interests… Our money is spent on worthless securities. The 480 billion made available by the bailout umbrella amounts to more than one-and-a-half times the entire German budget.

Several other countries are consciously taking another path. For example, the Scandinavian countries have a markedly higher tax rate. Denmark and Sweden "burden" their citizens with a tax rate almost a quarter higher than the German rate. Despite or perhaps because of – high tax rates, the Scandinavian countries realized greater economic success. This should lead us to rethink. First of all, we must cleanse our language from prejudices. It is wrong to speak of "burden" when the state provides good services for education and the infrastructure and collects more taxes and fees for that. A better, transparent educational system, a good infrastructure and a good social net for unemployment and old age are services that are obviously worth their price and are wrongly called "burdens."

The fact that deregulation and economic success are not positively correlated must trigger rethinking among our opinion leaders.

But this rethinking has not happened. The "Bild" newspaper, the Bertelsmann foundation, the New Social Market Economy initiative, trade associations, the established parties and a host of foundations and PR agents disseminate their propaganda against the state. Politicians distinguish themselves with their austerity virtue that isn't really a virtue on account of the intensified strangulation of the economy. The more Germany skids into a real economic crisis, the more this primitive profiling becomes a horror to the burden of public services and an active economic policy. The sad result of targeted management of public opinion prevents rational political decisions.


Uneasiness and feelings of powerlessness are not only emotional pains. They have a real basis. Many things that were dear and precious to us were reorganized in the last 20 to 30 years – always in one direction. What we created together in social institutions and common property is taken from all of us bit by bit and given to private actors. What we anchored together in the mutuality of social security is torn away. Social security has been taken away from a large number of people, presumably the overwhelming majority. Important common institutions and achievements are redefined. With Hartz IV, unemployment insurance is not unemployment insurance anymore. The legal pension will only be a base pension through intentional cuts that reduce its adequacy. Influence at our universities is simply transferred or "sold" to the economy. Schools are reformed often without considering what preconditions would make the reforms successful. Young persons are required to become indebted when they cannot or will not work off their tuitions through jobs on the side. Vital public enterprises are squandered – undersold in a bad economy – like service areas along highways, industrial partnerships, urban development, waterworks, public home building associations and housing projects. These changes correspond to the ideology of the dominant neoliberal movement. That movement prevails and leaves behind a trail of devastation.

The destructive work was grounded in a well-organized public relations and lobbyism that went to work and is still at work. It was prepared and accompanied by massive manipulation of public opinion.

Propaganda has always been a popular and effective means of exercising rule in undemocratic and anti-democratic organizations. Manipulation of public opinion is really nothing new. That manipulation was used by the dictators of this world. Propaganda was and is the lubricant for wars. For countries like Germany, manipulation of public opinion is the most noiseless and softest means of conquering power and exercising power today. With propaganda, people are kept at a distance and animated to resignation that amounts to a subjugation when only the voices of those participating in elections count.


Chapter 12: Incompetence in economic policy

Chapter 13: Impoverishment of the state as a strategic lever

Chapter 14: Handing over universities to the economy

Chapter 15: Bachelor and master degrees

Chapter 16: The strongest motor in the destructive work: the Bertelsmann foundation

Chapter 17: The plundering of our national wealth

Chapter 18: Capital market as a casino and the plundering of German businesses

Chapter 19: The destruction of trust in secure old age provisions – a classical example of successful brainwashing


The spectrum of projects extends from kindergarten, school and university to labor law. Bertelsmann makes proposals to master demographic change, integration of migrants, old age provisions, reform of federalism, family policy, health policy, transatlantic cooperation and global enforcement of principles. Bertelsmann offers its services for "modern governing" and at the same time sees a high-profit business field for the corporate subsidiary Arvato in public administration.

Bertelsmann wants to be a "motor" for reforms in all these fields. Everywhere the foundation offers its "solutions for the future." Bertelsmann presents its proposals to the President of the German Republic, the German chancellor and the ministries to local government. The solution concepts are eagerly taken up on all planes by governments and parliaments and by nearly all parties from the FDP, the CDU or the SPD to the Greens in the sense of the dominant modernization thinking.

Bertelsmann designs many projects for the schools: from the project "Education in the Information Society," health education, the "Notebooks in Satchels" initiative, "promoting music for children," the project "Economy in the School," "Toolbox Education" to the projects "Independent Schools" and "Quality Comparison in Education."


The methods used by Bertelsmann and the CHE in their "persuasion work" are always the same:

Expert opinions, conferences, surveys, rankings, and benchmarks are very popular. For years, the foundation ranked locations and Germany regularly landed in the last place. The conclusion is always that Germany needs less state, a lower state share, reorganization of the social state, lower wages, lower non-wage labor costs, deregulation, and less protection from unlawful termination.

Bertelsmann gained an international renown with its "Center for Applied Political Research" (CAP). Nearly all its activities serve the Bertelsmann understanding of promoting "public welfare" …which means concretely furthering "social change" and "reforms" in all social areas.

This is all according to the Bertelsmann "conviction that competition and the principles of entrepreneurial action for building a future-friendly society" are the most important characteristic features. In that "the principles of entrepreneurial formation are applied in all areas of life," governing should be better since everything is always according to the principle "as little state as possible."


Many people regard the criticism of the Bertelsmann influence as exaggerated or even dismiss it as a conspiracy theory… Obviously, Bertelsmann does not pass laws itself but submits bills to the executive that are passed by the parliament.

Through its opinion-making power and personal networks, the Bertelsmann "reform motor" becomes an independent political driving force that creates a kind of elite consensus outside the parliament and gains a positive image for the company.

Every entrepreneur who thinks of contributing something for improving society has the right to establish a foundation and work on themes. The meeting of the like-minded will be unavoidable. It is also the good right of every government to commission the one who is politically sympathetic with political consultation. But whoever fulfills public functions and wants to change laws that interfere with the creative rights and life chances of millions of citizens must face political controversy. The collaborating must disclose their political and economic objectives. The public must be able to understand the process and recognize who exercises what influence and what will be the consequences of the process. The paradox in the conduct of the Bertelsmann foundation is that it calls for competition everywhere but consistently prevents competition.

The network character and project development of the Bertelsmann foundation are so designed that criticism makes no impression on its attitude of self-certainty. The spectrum of public opinion and politics was not expanded but narrowed and channeled…

The state takes up the "cooperative" services of private think tanks very gladly under the pressure of empty public treasuries and under the euphemistic label of a "civil society engagement." The state withdrew from its responsibility more and more and left important social areas to the self-help powers of civil engagement. Democratically-legitimated power in a state is forced back more and more through economic power. The real rulers will come out of and partly replace private networks.

A private institutional power of wealth has formed, a strictly hierarchically-organized force that extends its influence over the whole political system, infiltrates the power distribution between parties, parliaments, and the executive and simultaneously shapes public opinion.

This kind of "civil society" promotes the increasing material inequality between poor and rich. This way blocks the large majority of the less well-to-do population more and more from political participation and from forming their social future – unlike what was intended in the model of the majority principle in democracy.

This insidious system change from the democratic welfare state to the rule of big money is even intensified by the pathos of "more freedom."

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