The economic content of Cold War freedom increasingly came to focus on consumer capitalism, or, as it was now universally known, “free enterprise.” More than political democracy or freedom of speech, which many allies of the United States outside western Europe lacked, an economic system resting on private ownership united the nations of the Free World. A week before his Truman Doctrine speech, in a major address on economic policy, the president reduced Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms to three. Freedom of speech and worship remained, but freedom from want and fear had been replaced by freedom of enterprise, “part and parcel,” said Truman, of the American way of life.
Even more than during World War II, what one historian calls the “selling of free enterprise” became a major industry, involving corporate advertising, school programs, newspaper editorials, and civic activities. Convinced that ads represented “a new weapon in the world-wide fight for freedom,” the Advertising Council invoked cherished symbols like the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell in the service of “competitive free enterprise.” To be sure, the free enterprise campaigners did not agree on every issue. Some businessmen believed that defending free enterprise required rolling back much of the power that labor unions had gained in the past decade, dismantling New Deal regulations, and restricting the economic role of government. Representing what might be called business’s more liberal wing, the Advertising Council, in its “American Economic System” ad campaign of 1949, reaffirmed labor’s right to collective bargaining and the importance of government-business cooperation. Indeed, despite talk of the glories of the free market, government policies played a crucial role in the postwar boom. The rapid expansion of the suburban middle class owed much to federal tax subsidies, mortgage guarantees for home purchases, dam and highway construction, military contracts, and benefits under the GI Bill.