Brooks: FREE ENTERPRISE?: Look who's financing nonprofit groups

Brooks: FREE ENTERPRISE?: Look who's financing nonprofit groups

August 2nd, 2013 by By Chris Brooks in Opinion Columns

Chattanooga's free-market charlatans have been busy of late. They recently created a disingenuous front organization named Citizens for Free Markets in an effort to sow fear and lies in the media with the hope it will slow the union organizing efforts of workers at the local Volkswagen assembly plant.

This right-wing mouth-piece for big business is so obviously dishonest that it is hard to not just laugh them off. If they truly cared about "free markets," then why didn't they hold forums back in 2008, when our city, county and state governments provided the largest public subsidy to date of any private auto manufacturing company in United States history (over half-a-billion dollars) to Volkswagen?

More recently, the state is finishing up on constructing a $6.5 million road connecting Highway 58 to Volkswagen, a road that will be closed to the public. But we don't hear a peep from the free-marketeers when we use public money to build a private driveway for a very profitable private business. There also were no ill-attended media events being organized by right-wing front-groups when similar deals were made by our government to pad the profits of Amazon, Alstom, or the Carmike Cinemas at the Majestic Movie Theater. It's hard to imagine a less free market than the hundreds of millions of dollars our local and state governments are spending in an effort to create a "business friendly" environment.

Looking at this pattern we can see "free enterprise" for what it really is: the name we have given to a system of public subsidies and private profit. Big business, in our system of "free enterprise," is parasitic on a strong interventionist state - large corporations and their owners seek huge subsidies and legal protections from the government to offset the risks of the market and ensure a huge return on investment.

The people who have become fabulously rich off this system understand this perfectly well, that's why they spend millions of dollars buying off our government with their armies of lobbyists and creating right-wing "non-profits" to intentionally peddle misinformation and lies to the public.

One such non-profiteer is the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is working with Citizens for Free Markets to engage in attacks on organized labor. This is nothing new for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has received hundreds-of-thousands of dollars from wealthy people and Big Oil to run media campaigns denying the reality of global climate change and the effects of mountain top removal on the environment and local communities.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has a long history of working for whomever pays. In the early 1990s they were paid to shill for Big Tobacco - they ran a national media campaign denying the health risks of smoking and attempting to discredit the FDA as another "out-of-control" government regulator.

By separating the rhetoric from reality we can see that the "invisible hand" of the market is actually quite visible - it is busy lining the pockets of our elected officials, writing checks to "nonprofits" that spread every kind of malicious deceit, demanding public money to offset business costs to ensure larger private profits and choking the throats of workers trying to exercise their basic right to organize and have a voice at work. The closed fist of the market is busy right here in our city, using astro-turf organizations like Citizens for Free Markets in an attempt to smash worker rights and hammer home their corporate agenda. That is the true nature of free markets: It is a term that makes for great talking points, but no one takes it seriously as a doctrine, least of all those in business or in the government.

Chris Brooks is a local organizer and writer, you can contact him at and read more of his work at