14 October 2012

A Koch brother speaks

The Wichita Eagle newspaper scored one of the year's big journalistic coups by getting an interview with Charles Koch of Koch Brothers fame. He complains of all the threats he, his family and his businesses have received since their support for the opposition to President Obama became widely known, and he quite predictably denies the charge that they want to "plunder or exploit people, exploit our employees, exploit our customers." He claims that if fighting Democrats were "the easy way to make money," more big companies would be spending as much as his family is. That doesn't necessarily follow for a number of reasons. Many corporations may be contributing on a proportionately equivalent level to the Kochs, and you can't infer motive from the amount of money spent. It seems self-evident that corporate donors expect to do better with Democrats out of the way. Charles Koch naturally sees his own calling as more high-minded. He's out to preserve "liberty" against "the growth and intrusiveness of government," and in that cause he sees his alliance with the Republican party as a temporary one. Once the Democrats are defeated, the Kochs expect to alienate Republicans with their next big campaign targeting "corporate welfare." The brothers apparently endorse the Tea Party critique of "crony capitalism," complaining that too many corporations (but presumably none run by them) don't want to play by true free-market rules. Here's Charles in his own words:

Businesses, rather than focusing on finding what products and services will add value for people, will improve their quality of life, go to the government and get subsidies, mandates and other things, so the economy is no longer directed by individual consumers, but it’s directed politically. And we’ve seen what happens to societies that go there. And so that’s happening to this society.

As I've said before, this is a legitimate but incomplete criticism. The weakness of the Koch position is its presumption that businesses will behave themselves and play by market rules once the country "starves the beast" of government and eliminates the perverse incentives government creates for anti-competitive practices. This presumption begs the question of where those perverse incentives came from in the first place. Libertarians might say they are unintended consequences of government's self-motivated impulse to regulate the economy. It seems just as likely, to say the least, that business influences have shaped the evolution of government, and that just as property calls government into existence for its own protection, so will corporations. Presuming the Kochs, for the sake of arguments, to be sincerely principled opponents of crony capitalism, how will they prevent corporations from influencing government into promulgating anti-competitive policies for their own protection, when they have no interest, as far as I can see, in keeping government free from corporate influences? The fallacy behind their reasoning is the assumption that governments will generate the sort of rules the Kochs deplore only due to some drive for power on the part of a "political class" of elected officials and bureaucrats. But it seems to me that when corporations have sufficient power, they have sufficient motivation on their own to generate the kind of competition-suppressing government that the Kochs affect to abhor. In that case, however, the only safeguard against corporate corruption of government would be a government immune to corporate influence. But I suspect that the Kochs at least affect a faith in the ability of both principled politicians and principled corporations to resist the temptations that, to their mind, characterized the last century. That is, they expect men to suddenly become the angels Madison warned us not to expect back when he drafted a government of laws, not men.

It isn't Charles Koch but one of his flunkies who makes the interview's most audacious claim. His employers, Rich Fink says, are the moral equivalent of the Founders.

This is going to sound wrong, but what do you say to the Founding Fathers? There was a very small group of people that were a minority that changed the whole country. You say George Washington had too much influence? We shouldn’t allow them to do that?

Fink is right about one thing: it does sound wrong. That whining about the threats they've received somewhat undercuts the analogy, considering how many of the Founders actually put their lives on the line to change the whole country.  But that's capitalism for you. The Kochs clearly think that money is equivalent to heroism, and they're clearly heroes in their own minds.

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/2012/10/13/2528807/the-kochs-quest-to-save-america.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/2012/10/13/2528807/the-kochs-quest-to-save-america.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/2012/10/13/2528807/the-kochs-quest-to-save-america.html#storylink=cpy

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