The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market (Hardcover)
The bestselling authors of Merchants of Doubt offer a profound, startling history of one of America's most tenacious-and destructive-false ideas: the myth of the "free market."
Merchants of Doubt exposed the origins of climate change denial. Now, its authors unfold the truth about another disastrous dogma. Why do Americans believe in the “magic of the marketplace”?
The answer, as The Big Myth reveals: a propaganda blitz. Until the early 1900s, the U.S. government's guiding role in economic life was largely accepted. But then business elites, trade associations, wealthy powerbrokers, and media allies combatted regulation by building a new orthodoxy: down with “big government,” up with unfettered markets. Unearthing eye-opening archival evidence, Oreskes and Conway document campaigns to rewrite textbooks, combat unions, and defend child labor. They detail the ploys that turned hardline economists Hayek and Friedman into household names, recount the libertarian roots of the Little House on the Prairie books, and tune into the General Electric-sponsored TV show that beamed free-market doctrine (and the young Ronald Reagan) to millions.
By the 1970s, this crusade had succeeded. Its ideology would define the next half-century across Republican and Democratic administrations, giving us a housing crisis, the opioid scourge, climate destruction, and a baleful response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Only by understanding this history can we imagine a future where markets will serve, not stifle, democracy.
Erik Conway is a historian of science and technology and works for the California Institute of Technology. He is the author of seven books and dozens of articles and essays. He lives in Pasadena, California.