This episode is about Freud's American nephew Edward Bernays.
Bernays is almost completely unknown today but his influence on
the 20th century was nearly as great as his uncle's. Because Bernays
was the first person to take Freud's ideas about human beings and
use them to manipulate the masses. He showed American
corporations for the first time how to they could make people want
things they didn't need by linking mass produced goods to their
President Woodrow Wilson had announced that the United States
would fight not to restore the old empires but to bring democracy to
all of Europe. Bernays proved extremely skillful at promoting this
idea both at home and abroad and at the end of the war was asked to
accompany the President to the Paris Peace Conference.
Wilson's reception in Paris astounded Bernays and the other
American propagandists. They had portrayed Wilson as a liberator
of the people. The man who would create a new world in which the
individual would be free. They had made him a hero of the masses.
And as he watched the crowd surge around Wilson, Bernays began
to wonder if it would be possible to do the same type of mass
persuasion but in peace time.
Paul Mazer of Lehman Brothers was clear about what was
necessary. "We must shift America", he wrote, "from a needs to a
desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things
even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a
new mentality in America. Man's desires must overshadow his
Peter Solomon - Investment Banker - Lehman Brothers: "Prior to
that time there was no American consumer; there was the American
worker and there was the American owner. And they manufactured,
and they saved and they ate what they had to and the people shopped
for what they needed."
Beginning in the early 20's the New York banks funded the creation
of chains of department stores across America. They were to be the
outlets for the mass produced goods. And Bernays' job was to
produce the new type of customer. Bernays began to create many of
the techniques of mass consumer persuasion that we now live with.
In 1927 an American journalist wrote: A change has come over our
democracy, it is called consumptionism. The American citizen's first
importance to his country is now no longer that of citizen, but that
And then in 1928 a President came to power who agreed with
Bernays. President Hoover was the first politician to articulate the
idea that consumerism would become the central motor of
American life. After his election he told a group of advertisers and
public relations men "You Have taken over the job of creating
desire and have transformed people into constantly moving
happiness machines. Machines which have become the key to
We're coming up to about 100 years of this phenomenon.