In the late 1940s, the Ad Council—the folks who later brought us Smokey Bear, the crying Indian, and McGruff the Crime Dog—decided it was time to coordinate a massive propaganda campaign for American-style capitalism. "The American way is threatened by ignorance," the Ad Council explained in 1949. "While Americans today are as favorably disposed toward their economic system as at any other time in American history, they cannot effectively defend it against attack unless they have a better knowledge of how that system works. Very few Americans have that knowledge. They can be mislead by exaggeration of its faults, be made to forget the benefits it has brought them. Especially if a recession came, wide popular understanding of the virtues of our system in comparison with others would be vital to its survival. Particularly in view of the propaganda attack from within and without, we had better get started now to bring to every American the basic facts about our economic system."
Utterly devoid of irony, the ads come across as boosterishly simplistic today. And many other ads in the series, which ran for more than a decade, endorse less freedom-friendly positions—such as massive increases in defense spending and protectionist policies—but the underlying point stands: Markets make people's lives better, more pleasant, and more hopeful. So this weekend, as you traipse around in inexpensive sturdy shoes, eat cheap delicious hot dogs, and watch the fireworks on your enormous TV in air-conditioned comfort, why not take a minute to appreciate the "miracle of America" with some vintage propaganda?
(Many thanks to the marvelous Olivier Ballou for sending these my way.)
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