03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Wanted: Free-Market Mouthpieces

For my entire adult life, I have watched free-market fundamentalists do their thing. They demonize government, run for government, capture government, then dismantle and privatize government. Usually, but not always, they are called Republicans. Sometimes not, because the philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism is sold, even to Democrats, as the engine of economic well-being. Since jobless voters don't like incumbents of either party, it was for decades presumed that to be skeptical of the almighty free market was to mess with your political career.

No longer. As popular as it once was, the fundamentalist philosophy lies today in ruins. The idea that government has no legitimate role in markets has failed, noisily, expensively and in full view of everybody. To paraphrase the Stetsoned balladeer: the free market ain't free at all.

It's not free to compete. Competition means a winner and a loser -- and banks can't lose as long as they're big enough.

It's not free to set prices. Health insurance corporations have uniformly bled the public dry using their antitrust exemption. Financial bubbles distort prices terribly.

It doesn't provide jobs or economic well-being. It provides 10.2% unemployment, skyrocketing foreclosure rates, falling wages and plummeting standards of living for the vast majority.

It doesn't provide economic growth for working families. It provides rising costs, predatory consumer interest rates and popped-bubble home prices.

Worship of unregulated capitalism is as discredited as the science of eugenics. As bankrupt as Lehman Brothers.

Which is why its persistence as a world view needs my help to continue.

Yes, my help. In my career, I do communications work for non-profit charitable groups and small businesses. I learn of opportunities to do writing of various kinds from a range of places. One is a service aimed at freelancers. Here's a listing that came across my screen the other day:

Freelance Oped Ghostwriter
Publication or Company: DC-based public relations agency
Industry: Newspapers, Public Relations
Salary: Negotiable
Benefits: Flexible Hours, Telecommute Policy
Job Duration: Freelance/Project Basis
Job Location: Washington, DC USA
Job Requirements: We are seeking someone to ghostwrite oped columns for our clients. We get between 1-8 such jobs per month. Ideal candidate can come up to speed quickly on any subject, is intimately familiar with public policy and political current events, is comfortable writing from a free-market perspective, can research independently, and is experienced writing opeds.

Fees are per project. Please send two writing samples that reflect an ability to make persuasive arguments substantiated by facts and research. Opeds are preferred. We're interested in seeing your raw copy -- and not necessarily published pieces that have been edited by others.

Send two samples [...] by email to

(For those not familiar with the freelance writing biz, an op-ed is an Opinion Editorial, not unlike the one you're reading right now - except this is me writing it. Ghostwriting is when a writer writes a piece with the agreement that someone else will put his name on the byline, buying the ghostwriter's silence.)

So. Some free-market think tank or business association / publication needs ghostwriters. I guess that means those opinion-shaping pro-business, deregulatory editorials we read in newspapers and websites don't write themselves - they farm out the work. And they'd like me to try my hand inside a high-profile name.

Well, heck, I can do that. I've read enough howling nonsense from AEI or the Heritage Foundation or Cato to know the drill:

Put 900 words together on some kind of social problem or legislation. Whatever the problem is, never, ever, ever is it the private sector's fault. Blame government. Blame consumers. Blame unions. Blame regulation. Blame employees. Blame elitists. Blame lawsuits. Blame liberals. Consider blaming Mexicans. No matter what the problem is, the solution is to cut taxes. Throw in a couple of quotes from the Manhattan Institute, cite Friedman or Hayek, harrumph about "moral hazard" and call it a day.

The satirist in me is in awe of the comedy here. This is a job posting that calls for dozens of columns advocating the exact thinking that led to today's specific economic disaster. It's like the captain of the Titanic asking you to brush up his resume while you're floating on a lifeboat or clinging to floating debris. "Excellent at identifying seaborne obstacles, including icebergs."

More deeply, it shows a real mechanism behind the tragedy of the last thirty years. Letting free-market fundamentalism run things has meant legitimizing it constantly despite much evidence - 2007-2009 only being the latest and greatest example - it is cancer to the public interest.

The shaping of public opinion has played a central role in convincing the public to act against its own economic interests. When it comes to business and foreign policy, op-eds are the cornerstone of that shaping effort.

Press releases and traditional advertising from private industry can't do it alone. Monstrous campaign contributions can't do it alone. Holding the public's employment and standard of living hostage won't do it either. Promoting such a terrible, discredited idea as unregulated corporate capitalism absolutely needs miles of column inches from public thinkers who advocate for the public what only business interests want.

Now that deregulation ideology has crashed and burned, taking with it our jobs, our vacations, our options and our opportunity, Congress is struggling once again, as it did in the 1930s, to put the reins back on the stampeding elephant before it wipes us all out.

Under these conditions, where can the free-market fundies go for those column inches?

It's got to be pretty dire if they're knocking on my door.