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 circulating his nonsense in full-page newspaper ads that hyperbolically denounce economists who favor raising the minimum wage as “radical researchers.”

wizard of oz

Mraz Center for the Performing Arts/Flickr

The ad directs readers to a website named, implying that it supports the positions of independent, unbiased, and non-radical economists. But, no — it’s not a group at all, just a curtain.

What’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 Avenue NW in Washington, the address of this “institute,” and you won’t find any economists or any other employees. The institute has none. Instead 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 PR and advertising hatchet man named Richard Berman. He’s just another lobbyist. 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.”

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Jim Hightower

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

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