In L. Frank Baum's novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the "wizard' turns out to be a phony — just an old guy sitting behind a curtain, using his booming voice to spew nonsense in a vain effort to fool people.
But now, a century after Baum's fictional Oz, a real-life incarnation of the phony wizard has been discovered, hiding behind not one, but two curtains. He's recently been booming out his nonsense in full-page newspaper ads that are hyperbolic screeds against economists who favor raising the minimum wage, denouncing them as "radical researchers."
The ad directs readers to a website named MinimumWage.com, implying that it's the site of independent, unbiased, non-radical economists. But, no — it's not a group at all, just a curtain.
Who's behind it? Something that goes by the name of The Employment Policies Institute, which sounds rock-solid, but it, too, is just a curtain.
Go to 1090 Vermont Ave. in Washington, the address of this "Institute," and you won't find any economists or any other employees, for the institute has none. But you will find the old wizard sitting there — manipulating statistics, twisting logic, and spewing out economic nonsense.
The wiz turns out to be nothing but a 71-year-old public relations and advertising hatchet man named Richard Berman. Various corporations pay him to set up official-sounding front groups that advance their political agenda.
The Employment Policy Institute, for example, is a front for the big restaurant chains. They want to keep profiting by paying poverty wages to their workers, so they've hired Berman to trash any and all who support raising America's wage floor.
The "Institute" provides a varnish of academic legitimacy for unvarnished corporate greed. As the watchdog group PRWatch says of Berman's flim flam, "They are little more than phony experts on retainer."
Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.