- Prominent supporter of, and apologist for, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Founded in November 1999, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) is a Washington, D.C.-based organization whose professed objective is to “ensure that the citizenry has the information and analysis that allows it to act effectively in the public interest.”
CEPR has focused much attention to the issue of welfare reform. At the time of welfare reform’s passage into law in 1996, CEPR researchers furnished numerous studies denigrating its prospects for success. A 1997 report by Co-Director Mark Weisbrot, insisted that the implementation of welfare reform would “cause not only an increase in poverty among welfare recipients, but also an increase in the numbers of the working poor.” In fact, by 2002, the total number of welfare recipients in the U.S. stood at just over 1.4 million, a marked decline from a peak of 4.5 million in 1993.
In 1996 CEPR produced an analysis celebrating the passage of Ordinance 442, a Baltimore “living wage” law that raised the minimum wage for service workers in the city’s tourist hub. It dismissed the “concerns of critics about negative economic and fiscal consequences” as being “not well-founded.” But as Steven Malanga chronicled in his book The New New Left, the law crippled Baltimore’s economy to such a dregee that by the mid-1990s, the city had lost nearly 60,000 jobs at a time when 120,000 jobs were being created throughout the otherwise prospering state.
In an October 1999 Z Magazine article, CEPR’s Weisbrot inveighed against the worst excesses and irrationalities of a market system that allegedly caused crises, panics, overshooting, recessions and even depressions. [T]he welfare state, he said, has softened the impact of these irrationalities and also mitigated the injustices that result from market outcomes. Weisbrot urged nation states to impose their own “regulatory mechanisms,” not least by establishing “socialist” governments. CEPR followed up on Weisbrot’s manifesto in a 2000 report contending that the proposition that “more open economies grow faster” was “inconclusive.”
In the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, CEPR opposed all calls for tax reductions as means of spurring economic growth. Instead it advocated an economic “stimulus” package founded on the premise that “[i]ncreases in government spending will have to be an important source of stimulus in the near future.”
The only area in which CEPR opposed higher government spending was national security. In spelling out its objections, nominally on economic grounds, to the looming war in Iraq, a December 2002 CEPR policy paper expressed concern that a “serious terrorist threat would require considerably more expensive measures” and lamented that “resources that could have gone to consumption or investment are instead being diverted to security.” The CEPR paper asserted that the “nation would have lost approximately 800,000 jobs after ten years as a result of the post-September 11th security measures.”
In 2003, CEPR published findings purporting to prove that those European Union member nations that opposed the U.S.-led toppling of Saddam Hussein had outperformed the economy in “George Bush’s America” between the months of January 2001 and December 2002. Ignored by CEPR’s conclusion was that during each of those months, so-called Old Europe, especially its largest economies in Germany and France, posted higher unemployment rates than the supposedly suffering American economy.
CEPR consistently lauds the professed achievements of socialist regimes, most notably Venezuela. In 2003, the Hugo Chavez government established a U.S.-based lobbying group, the Venezuela Information Office (VIO), in Washington, D.C. Working in concert with a bevy of radical leftist groups like Global Exchange, the VIO acts as a publicity arm for the Chavez regime, polishing Venezuela’s troubled image in America. Among those who took an immediate interest in the mission was CEPR. On the same day that VIO registered with the U.S. Justice Department, Mark Weisbrot co-signed a letter addressed “to the progressive funding community,” urging potential donors “to take an interest in this issue [democracy in Venezuela], and provide funding to groups [like VIO] that are working on it, before it is too late.” Weisbrot’s fellow signatories included, among others, Medea Benjamin (founder of Global Exchange), her husband Kevin Danaher, and Chuck Kaufman, National Coordinator of Nicaragua Network.
A longtime supporter of Chavez, Weisbrot, in a December 2002 article titled “U.S. Intervening Against Democracy in Venezuela,” impugned the U.S. for sponsoring democratic opposition groups in Venezuela, organizations he dismissed as “mostly managers and executives” who “are trying to cripple the economy in order to overthrow the government.”
A June 2005 CEPR research brief blamed Venezuela’s lagging economic growth on these allegedly meddlesome opposition groups, stating: “[I]t would not be fair to hold the government accountable for the loss of output due to opposition actions aimed at toppling the government. The oil strike of 2002-2003 caused enormous damage; one might also include the military coup and other de-stabilizing actions. If not for these efforts, economic growth would almost certainly have been substantially higher and well above the average for the region.” In a November 2005 column, CEPR claimed that the corruption-plagued Venezuelan system exemplified “the way democracy is supposed to work.”
In a January 2007 interview, Mark Weisbrot defended Hugo Chavez’s attempt to do away with private property in Venezuela, to silence all opposition media, and indefinitely to extend his political dominion over his nation. Since many of the enterprises seized by the state were previously state-owned, Weisbrot explained, there is nothing all that radical about returning them to state ownership. That private owners were unwilling to part with their companies did not impress Weisbrot, who admitted that he was not sure what the complaint is — and what it has to do with democracy. The bottom line, Wesibrot argued, was that Chavez ran on a program of 21st century socialism, and won 63 percent of the vote, the largest majority of 9 elections in Latin America last year. So it should not be cause for surprise, or alarm, that the government would attempt to deliver some of what Venezuelans voted for.
Chavez is not the only Latin American despot to draw the favor of CEPR. In a 1999 op-ed column, Co-Director Weisbrot stated that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro‘s rise to power occurred because his followers had “no choice but to take up arms against a succession of military governments backed by the United States.” In 2000, Robert Naiman, a senior researcher at CEPR, further explicated the Center’s analysis of U.S-Cuban tensions. Cuba, Naiman explained, was the victim of an “extreme U.S. embargo,” imposed to “punish it for having an independent economic policy for the majority rather than for the profit of foreign corporations and investors.” “Human rights abuses in Cuba pale compared to regimes supported by the United States,” he wrote, adding that “citizens in the U.S. and elsewhere increasingly support the very economic policies that Cuba has been punished for: a focus on human needs and production for the domestic economy.
In February 2013, CEPR released a study suggesting that a worldwide switch to a “more European work schedule, which includes working fewer hours and more vacation time” could “prevent as much as half of the expected global temperature rise by 2100.” According to David Rosnick, who authored the report: “If the world were to follow a more European model of work, we would expect fewer hours, less output, and lower emissions of greenhouse gases.” By Rosnick’s calculus, a 10-hour weekly reduction in hours worked could prevent a “1.3 degree Celsius temperature increase.”
The Center’s records indicate that it receives 80 percent of its funding from large foundations, including, but not limited to, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Bauman Family Foundation, the Fannie Mae Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Rockefeller Foundation.