Spotlight: Ted Loeffler
A classroom of students at an Eastern college fell silent as the 16mm projector began to chatter. IRS agents flashed on the screen, ordering an Amish farmer to hand over his two horses for nonpayment of taxes. Minutes later, masked Federal agents stormed into a house without identifying themselves, terrifying the innocent couple inside. When the film ended, after showing dozens of other true cases of governmental intrusion in civil liberties and the economy, the classroom erupted with debate—over the proper role of government and the nature of individual rights.
Similar reactions to the film occur each week with increasing frequency around the world, in high schools, universities, civic halls, business meetings, libertarian gatherings, and special screenings by corporations for their employees. An astonishing 15 million people have been exposed to a longer version of the movie (expanded to include commentary by Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, former Treasury Secretary William Simon, and Professor Walter Heller) on television in recent months. The name of the film: The Incredible Bread Machine. The man behind its success: a soft-spoken libertarian named Ted Loeffler.
Loeffler, a 51-year-old former book publisher, is the creator of a unique educational center called the Campus Studies Institute. Gifted with a talent for marketing and a sense for both the ludicrous and menacing aspects of current trends, he has overseen preparation of numerous highly-effective materials in the eight years since the Institute's founding. If the materials evoke a strong response from youth, it is because young people have played the major role in preparing them. Only two of the Institute's 21 employees are over 28 years of age.
Yet despite the informal style, a serious purpose underlies the activities of the Institute. Loeffler graduated from Yale in 1949 as a self-described "liberal elitist," but became dissatisfied with the superficiality of liberal dogmas in subsequent years. After a stint in the Air Force, and a number of years as sales manager for a large New York printing firm, he moved to California and became acquainted with works by Max Eastman, Henry Hazlitt, F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Ayn Rand. Their thinking reinforced his own concern with the visible decline in incentives for productive work, and his frustration with the collectivist bias in the public education of his three children.
In 1969, after reading a special issue of Fortune magazine on campus unrest, Loeffler decided to act. He sold his book publishing business, and, with an associate, invested $36,000 to market free-enterprise ideas to students via direct mail. "The student opinions were pretty wild," he remembers of the Fortune survey. "It confirmed my thinking that no one was presenting the other side."
The response to the new Campus Studies Institute was impressive. Using the experience he had gained as a publisher in direct mail promotion of his products to bookstores, Loeffler targeted college students in the San Diego area with lively, provocative literature. Virtually all of it defied stereotyping; indeed, Loeffler is quick to point out that his Institute is not pro-business, but pro-freedom. A large proportion of the students wrote back favorably impressed, and an opinion poll taken after the mailing persuaded Loeffler to expand to other campuses.
Through word of mouth and direct mail, word of CSI's intriguing materials spread among faculty members. "One of our unexpected successes has been getting so many faculty people involved," Loeffler says. "Our appeal to professors is 'Have an interesting class.'" Thirteen thousand teachers to date have requested study materials from the Institute, and hundreds of them have sent in letters praising their results. One professor said he had never before been stopped in the men's room by a student who wanted to talk about what happened in class.
In response to requests by teachers for a text to accompany the CSI brochures, posters, and leaflets, the Institute decided to rewrite and adapt Richard Grant's book, The Incredible Bread Machine. Among other things, the original book told, in verse, the story of a capitalist whose cheap bread-making machine became the object of political attack. By illustrating the same phenomena with real-life examples, the Institute staff prepared a devastating paperback reissue that has sold 150,000 copies.
So favorable was the response to the book that Loeffler in 1974 began laying plans for a movie. Despite recurring financial troubles—CSI in its early stages was $50,000 in debt—Loeffler raised $140,000 for the film production. The first, 32-minute film appeared more than 17 months ago, amid predictions that it would be a success if as many as 100 prints were made in the first year.
The actual response has almost defied belief. A total of 1200 prints is now in circulation. An hour-long videotape of the film with commentary by economists has been snapped up by 200 television stations so far, half of them network affiliates. Some report that the film has drawn ratings that approach those of entertainment programs, a virtually unheard-of attraction for an educational broadcast. The show is scheduled for national broadcast soon in a voiceover translation on network German TV, and a Spanish group has just negotiated rights to distribute the book and the film in Spain and Latin America. Other organizations in Holland, Britain, and Japan have similar negotiations under way.
As might be expected, Loeffler is pleased with the results of the Institute. Staffers are now gearing up for a second movie, which they hope will complement the first. For the future, Loeffler has plans to make greater use of television as the medium best suited for a maximum impact on the public. The success of the Incredible Bread Machine movie gives ample reason for hope. "It has just sort of happened," he says of the stir caused by the film. "It's evidence of the power of the market—if people want something, it happens.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Spotlight: Ted Loeffler".