Thursday, April 03, 2014

How should Charles Koch use his power?



"It's a very dangerous thing to do exactly what you want"
- The Flaming Lips

One of the most startling moments of my life came at a conference earlier this year, when a tenured macroeconomics prof at a good school, whom I had never met, walked up to me and said: "Hey, I agree with a lot of the things you write about macroeconomics. What do you think we macroeconomists ought to be doing?" More than ever before, it sank in that people might care about, listen to, and be influenced by things I say. I know this sounds a little silly, but I had never really believed that before. Blogging felt like a way to have a fun discussion with smart, nerdy people like Brad DeLong and Tyler Cowen. But when enough people start reading you, you become a "thought leader", whether you meant to or not. At that point you basically have three choices: 1) shut up, 2) confidently push on, or 3) try to moderate what you say.

It's not an easy decision. If you think the Marketplace of Ideas is more or less efficient, then it doesn't matter how loud you shout or how many readers you have, society is going to weigh your arguments on the merits, so you might as well say whatever you feel like saying. Or if you think you're facing an implacable, dishonest opposition, then maybe you should make your message stronger to balance out their power - a sort of "dialectical" approach. Or maybe you think you've found the One True Way, and so it makes sense to fight tooth and nail. I don't really think any of these things, so I've decided to moderate my tone on macroeconomics-related issues ever since I talked to that professor at the conference. Not to say things I don't believe, but to tone it down, insert more caveats, and give a more accurate picture of what I really think instead of just blogging my most controversial (i.e. fun) ideas.

Now, I'm a guy with only a tiny amount of power, so I'm not too worried. A more famous writer like Paul Krugman or Michael Lewis has more. But some people have much, much, much more. For example, Charles and David Koch, the famous Koch brothers.

Together, Charles and David Koch have about 80 billion dollars of wealth. Compare that to Bill Gates, with $77B, and you see that if they were one person, the Kochs would be the richest person in the world...and they act as one for political purposes. If John D. Rockefeller were a comic-book superhero who got split into two people, he'd be the Koch Brothers.

This huge amount of wealth gives the Kochs enormous power to affect politics, if they choose to do so. And they do choose to do so - a lot. "Political activities of the Koch Brothers" has its own Wikipedia page. For the last two years, Koch money has been very important for the Republican party. In some political races, the Kochs outspend all other Republican donors combined. In addition, the Kochs have been extremely active in funding academic departments whose political tenor agrees with their own beliefs. And they have spent lots of money to set up think tanks - including the Mercatus Center, which provides supplemental employment to several of my favorite econ bloggers (for which I suppose I should thank them) - and to influence other think tanks.

Why do the Kochs do this? Why do they think their perspective is so much more important and valid than the perspectives of all the people who have less money and power than they do?

Well, they might believe that all their spending doesn't really influence the political process that much - that money doesn't translate into power. And they might have so much money that they don't feel the need to save it. So it all might just be for fun. But I highly doubt this.

Alternatively, they might believe that there are powerful negative forces in American society, and that these negative forces are unscrupulous and unrestrained in their tactics, and that in order to balance out the "bad guys", the Kochs must pull no punches. Finally, the Kochs might just believe that they understand the One True Way, and that the masses of people who disagree with them are simply misguided.

Reading Charles Koch's recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, I'd guess it's a combination of those latter two. Koch is very confident in his view of what is right and good, and he thinks that the people opposing him are unscrupulous and unrestrained:
[T]he fundamental concepts of dignity, respect, equality before the law and personal freedom are under attack...That's why, if we want to restore a free society and create greater well-being and opportunity for all Americans, we have no choice but to fight for those principles... 
Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination...Such tactics are the antithesis of what is required for a free society—and a telltale sign that the collectivists do not have good answers... 
Instead of fostering a system that enables people to help themselves, America is now saddled with a system that destroys value, raises costs, hinders innovation and relegates millions of citizens to a life of poverty, dependency and hopelessness... 
If more businesses (and elected officials) were to embrace a vision of creating real value for people in a principled way, our nation would be far better off—not just today, but for generations to come. I'm dedicated to fighting for that vision. I'm convinced most Americans believe it's worth fighting for, too.
Obviously, if America has elected "collectivist" politicians, it means that many, many Americans support "collectivism". Charles Koch thinks it's worth using his own tremendous personal power to singlehandedly balance out the power of a huge number of the people who disagree with him. He thinks this is OK because he believes so strongly in his cause, and because he thinks his rhetorical opponents use dirty tactics.

But if I were Charles Koch, I wouldn't be so sure of these things.

First of all, why do so many people disagree with Koch's ideas? There are certainly times in history when the mass of people was gravely, horribly wrong. But those times are rare. So if the majority is wrong, they're probably only moderately wrong. This is not a reason for Koch to moderate his views. But it is a reason for him to reconsider his policy of outspending the multitudes of his opponents.

Second of all, Koch should consider that his perception of the unscrupulous ways of the "collectivists" might be mistaken. There seems to be a bit of a tendency for certain rich old men to see themselves as being in more danger than they really are - for another example, witness Tom Perkins. Charles Koch should consider whether part of his perception of vicious tactics by the "collectivists" is just a persecution complex.

A big part of the reason that the Kochs are so reviled is that they have lots of power. Power magnifies the degree to which we don't like people who disagree with us. Charles Koch, with his $40 billion, can exercise a voice in politics that is far louder than the voice of any of the people who disagree with him. And with David Koch totally on his side with another $40 billion, there's basically two of him. That scares many people, and it strikes many others as unfair - why should another guy's voice be thousands of times more powerful than my own?

The Kochs have freedom of speech, so the only check on their use of money for political purposes is their own conscience and sense of responsibility. But those can be powerful checks. Notice that most of the super-rich don't shell out hundreds of millions of dollars on politics. Bill Gates doesn't. Warren Buffett doesn't, despite the fact that he obviously cares about issues. Larry Ellison doesn't. The Waltons do a little bit, but not nearly so much as the Kochs. Sheldon Adelson does, but his reasons are...more cynical. George Soros is the only real rival to the Kochs in terms of individual political spending, though he has only about a quarter of their wealth.

So it seems to me that most super-rich people are more skeptical than the Kochs about the correctness of their views, the badness of those who disagree, and/or the fairness of outspending hundreds of thousands of normal, non-rich individuals. If I were super-rich, I think I'd be more like Buffett or Gates or Rockefeller, and less like the Kochs.

(I do hope they keep supporting econ bloggers, however.)

86 comments:

  1. Great post, but a nitpick: according to Wikipedia, the Kochs don't have $40b each. David has ~$30b and Charles has ~$50b.

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  2. In order to engage Mr. Koch's arguments it's necessary to understand how he defines his terms. Mr. Koch doesn't say but it's apparent from his recent op-ed and other writings that he uses the term collectivist in a way that's so broad that Adam Smith's Moral Sentiments would be deemed a collectivist piece of work.
    The Kochs come from what the historian Richard Hofstadter deemed the "paranoid style" of American politics. The Kochs' father was heavily involved in the John Birch Society and the apples seemed to have fallen close to the tree. I've lately been rereading some of Hofstadter's essays and Daniel Bell's collection The Radical Right which was written in 1955 and updated in 1962. These essays have the mentality and demeanor of the Kochs and folks like Perkins pegged.
    For all their power these fellows use the worst hyperbole, Hitler and Stalin, to characterize those who disagree with them. That's simply paranoia. As for a lack of civility, some of the ads and campaign techniques purchased with Koch money certainly lack any quality that might be described as civil discourse.
    Finally, the think tanks and academic work the Kochs finance is troubling. Does their obvious and evident paranoia carry over or taint the institutions they fund? Is the work put out by those institutions compromised? The Mercatus Institute has put out some fine work but lately it seems less even handed

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    1. @ Jamison: "Finally, the think tanks and academic work the Kochs finance is troubling. Does their obvious and evident paranoia carry over or taint the institutions they fund?"

      The Mercatus Center, directed by Tyler Cowen, and funded by Koch troubles you? The Cato Institute, which had Will Wilkinson as a scholar, and invited Glenn Greenwald to speak about surveillance state before it was cool among the PINKOs.

      The Koch's are principled like it or not. More so than some Obama people who are war or fiscal doves when Republicans walk on the White House, and Hawks when it is Obama or Clinton who do so.

      Let them (and their money) speak! They are a healthy (yet feeble) check against that encroaching PINKOification which is going to transform USA on France or something WORSE. Even something like an ENArchs you're developing, with all of your supreme Court from two East coast Ivy Leagues, and with your fact challenged liberal hegemony on the press and "intelligentsia".

      America need more, not less Koch's.

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    2. 'America need more, not less Koch's.'

      I demand MORE Kock's!

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    3. The Koch's children were brought up at the dinner table with stories of the communist threat and evil big government. Then later in life, they became consumed with Austrian economics and political ideology, ultimately pouring their money and energies into various think tanks and pet projects that to espouse hard right libertarianism.

      David ran on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980 as Vice President. The LP platform was literally abolishing the entire government except for the legal system to protect individual rights.

      After their stinging defeat, they focused even more of their energy and money to make hard right libertarianism an American brand name. At the same time, they became political recluses, staying out of the public. This piece by David Koch is quite rare. The Koch brother don't openly engage the public with their political ideas. Instead, they use their resources to fund an ideology and think tanks that immune themselves from any criticism.

      I agree with Noah, that the Koch Brothers' beliefs are sincere. They are sincere in their beliefs that the Earth is center-stage in an intergalactic battle between unfettered free market individualism and big government collectivism.

      Due to their insulation of over the years, they probably have grown paranoid. If you are a successful businessman and all you consume is whacky Austrian libertarianism for decades, you probably start to feel persecuted to the point of paranoia.

      But there are reasons why economists reject Austrian economics and why the majority of people reject hard right libertarianism. Programs like Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, unemployment insurance, OSHA, Clean Air and Water Acts, and reduced school lunch programs have done a lot of good.

      This is not because liberals had an evil agenda to destroy free markets and stamp out the individual. It is because liberals also understand the freedom also requires some security against accident, illness, hunger, and accident. Simply abolishing the state and handing out boot straps is not a valid solution.

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    4. @Moriarty: "The Koch's children were brought up at the dinner table with stories of the communist threat and evil big government."

      Charles and David Koch were born on 1935 and 1940, respectively. You NOW that the “communist threat” and the risks of “evil big government” were way bigger back on those days, right? Let me remind you some facts from when the Koch brothers were little children or teens:

      (i) The second biggest economy in the world was communist;

      (ii) One third of the world was controlled by communist countries;

      (iii) Harry Dexter White, senior American official at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference was a communist agent that passed secret state information to the Soviets during World War II. He is the guy chatting with John Maynard Keynes in this picture:
      http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/04/WhiteandKeynes.jpg

      (iv) Several other top advisors of FDR administration were also communist agents (some of them out of idealism, see next item), including Alger Hiss, who almost make it to Secretary of State, had he not been turned by an ex-communist old “friend” (remember: McCarthism didn’t happen in a vacuum: they had reason to be a little paranoid back in those days):

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alger_Hiss;

      (v) The great Paul Samuelson, one of the most influent leftist economists from the 20th century, believed Soviet Russia was bound to become richer than the USA and kept saying that as late as the 1980 edition of his influential Economics textbook:

      http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/01/soviet-growth-american-textbooks.html

      Maybe some people, specially those born before World War 2 are justified in their paranoia. They've seen worse days; days when Hayek's jeremiads about "the road to serfdom" were spot on.

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    5. @Unknown

      Essentially, you are justifying that McCarthyism in this day and age is perfectly reasonable and rational.

      I disagree.

      The modern day liberal welfare state of public retirement systems, universal healthcare, unemployment insurance, child labor laws, minimum wage laws, environmental regulations, workplace safety, paid maternity leave, the EEOC, meat inspection, consumer protection, public education, public infrastructure etc. does not equate into a totalitarian society which attacks the individual and makes them a serf to the state.

      I can't tell you how many times I have heard hard right libertarians make this sort of argument.

      There is no reason to believe that abolishing every aspect of the government, save the legal system to protect individual rights, would be beneficial to society.

      Perhaps it is time for some people to shed their skin of McCarthyism and live in reality.

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    6. @Moriarty: "Essentially, you are justifying that McCarthyism in this day and age is perfectly reasonable and rational."

      Liberals and PINKOs have very poor reading skills, I think. No, I wasn't "essentially" justifiying McCarthyism: I was explaining why it happened and why it was so popular on the first place: scary communists (infiltrated even in the top bureaucracy) and PINKO "useful idiots" existed back in those days.

      @ Moriarty: "The modern day liberal welfare state ..."

      This modern day liberal welfare state is too big, too intrusive, too inefficient, and -- mostly -- unnecessary for the objectives that you list. This is a empirical statement, that can be corroborated or refuted by recent research on Economic history. The process of enrichment and improvement in living standards that we’ve seen in the last two centuries PREDATES the consolidation of the Welfare State. It begun in the Netherlands on its golden century (XVII), took off for sure in England on the XVIII, was followed on rapid succession by America and continental Europe. All of this happened still in the 19th century. You can better acquaint yourself with this research reading a little Gregory Clark (A Farewell to Alms) or Deirdre McCloskey (Bourgeois Dignity). Economic scholars that study the Industrial Revolution basically agree on this.

      But, If you don't want to be slowly persuaded by facts, just to be trolled and PWNed by a superior intellect, I invite you to read this ├╝ber-post by the aforementioned Deirdre McCloskey -- boy, this girl REALLY can talk:

      http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/06/factual-free-market-fairness/

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    7. @Unknown.
      lmao....the fact that you are still using the word PINKO's to describe modern day liberals speaks volumes. You are still living in twisted world influenced by McCarthyism.

      "But, If you don't want to be slowly persuaded by facts, just to be trolled and PWNed by a superior intellect"

      lol...is this really your goal? To express your intellectually superiority while sucking up to the Koch?

      I looked at your McCoskley article and it was completely devoid of facts. Then again, what would you expect from a self-described libertarian who believes that economic arguments should be settled by persuasive rhetoric.

      It is apparent that you are simply trolling, and only here to express your devotion to the Koch Brothers in a very self-aggrandizing manner, while linking libertarian articles completely devoid of facts to support your predefined conclusions.

      TTFN

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    8. @ Moriarty: " the fact that you are still using the word PINKO's "

      Actually I'm from South America, and love this word, because we have so much PINKOs here, still. Noah and you, who are at least basically economic literate, wouldn't even DESERVE this title here. You would probably be called "neoliberals" -- a term of derision -- in my country.

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    9. @ Moriarty: "while linking libertarian articles completely devoid of facts to support your predefined conclusions."

      As I've already said, the fact based case -- the consensus -- among economic scholars who research the Industrial Revolution is well synthesized in the two books I've just mentioned ("A Farewell to Alms"* and "Bourgeois Virtue"). You'll find lots of FACTS, and STATISTICS, and BIBLIOGRAPHICAL REFERENCES there, got it?

      If you think McCloskey and Clark are hacks, you can just make a Google scholar search about articles and see that they are pretty honest in summarizing the "state of the art".

      If you prefer pictures, you can convince yourself of the basic truth of what I'm saying by just looking at this beautifully made graph: http://visualizingeconomics.com/?offset=1201999204000&tag=China

      See? Welfare state, socialism, the Democratic Party and water fluoridation don't explain that BIG JUMP on GDP per capita PPP. It began way too soon on developed countries (like I've said) and on developing countries... well. China only "took off" when it abandoned Mao's misguided interventionist policies, and India when it liberated its internal market to domestic entrepreneurs (see De Long, 2001, and Rodrik, 2004) and/or opened its market to globalization (see almost everybody else). China's government only spends 20% of its GDP, and that country doesn't really have a welfare state. I would exchange their economic policies for those of my country (basically: it wants to be like Sweden, but with an income per capita smaller than Mexico's).in the blink of an eye.

      * It seems there is a free version made available by the author himself here: http://nazbol.net/library/authors/Gregory%20Clark/Gregory_Clark%20-%20A_Farewell_to_Alms.pdf

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    10. @Unkown.

      lol....this is some of the most intelligent rubbish I have come across in a long time.

      First off, lets clear away some confusion. I am a liberal. I believe in the Age of Enlightenment. I believe that authority should be dictated by reason rather than superstition.

      I also support the Industrial Revolution, which got it grounds from Glorious Revolution, which was a religious warfare between the Catholics and Protestants, but it laid the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution by establishing BoR, securing private property rights, and limiting the power of the Monarch.

      As a liberal, who also understand economics and history, I am very much market oriented and support individualism.

      Your implication that I would have ever supported Moa simply speaks about your gross understanding of modern day liberalism.

      I like markets, but I don't support unfettered free market capitalism and see no reason why abolishing Constitution and simply resorting to market would create a better world.

      Plus, we tried it your way. The Articles of Confederation turn out to be a complete disaster.

      A few years ago, we tried your free market libertarian experiment in the Northern Marianas. While Conservative Libertarians were championing about the success, even from the CATO Institute warned how "big government" and evil liberalism for enacting labor laws would stymie such a success.

      What happened? It turned out that the free market libertarian experiment turned into sweatshops, people living in squalor, people working 80-hours a week, indentured servitude, sex trade, and forced abortion, all while a few people got rich.

      Pardon me when I say go fuck yourself. Your ideology is not only misguided, but absolutely harmful when put to the test. There is no room for libertarianism in a modern day civilized society.

      Even the libertarian hero, Hayek, supported the welfare state.

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    11. Northern Marianas? Would you start a factory there? Of course not, that's not what liberals do. They give a lot of people better options by...errrr...oh wait. No, I really know the answer. They, ummmm... whine...a lot?

      "They will not indeed submit to more labours and privations than other people, for the relief of distressed fellow creatures: but they make amends by whining over them more. It is not difficult to trace this sort of affectation to its cause. It originates in the common practice of bestowing upon feelings that praise which actions alone can deserve." - J.S. Mill

      Even Krugman grasps that liberals fail to think things through...In Praise of Cheap Labor.

      Millions of people haven't been lifted out of poverty because you whine so much...they've been lifted out of poverty despite your whining. Now stop being so damn ignorant and learn about economics...builderism.

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    12. Just to clarify, Koch and co are extreme right-wing so-called "libertarians". There are also left-wing types of libertarians who wouldn't touch much of what Koch and co believe in with a bargepole.

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    14. The fact the Cons to this day claim that the Northern Marianas as a success against liberalism, while simultaneous using Mill and Krugman as attacks on liberalism speaks volumes.

      Thank god I am not an inbred conservative. The world is a liberal place.

      Cons can either choose to be apart of it or laughed at and I choose to laugh at you.

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    15. If any poor people in the Northern Marianas voluntarily choose to work in a sweatshop...then it's a success. Those poor people were provided with a better option (by their own standards). As a result, their lives are marginally better. And if you're not happy with the quality of their option...then please feel free to go there and give them a better one. If you're factory truly does provide the poor people with a better option...then I'm sure that they will be happy to work for you.

      But like I said, you're not going to do that because you're a liberal. You're not going to engage in ethical builderism...you're just going to sit there and attack the people who actually manage to give poor people better options.

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    16. What the fuck is wrong with you?

      This is why no sane person take libertarianism seriously. They literally believe that sweatshops are voluntary transactions. And evil liberalism to enacts labor laws and minimum wage would be utterly destructive and an attack on liberty.

      Cons/Libertarians never learn. The fact that they are still defending Tom Delay and the Cato Institute decades later speaks volumes.

      Theses asshole literally believe that indentured servitude and trading your labor only frees people.

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    17. No, sane people shouldn't take libertarianism seriously because it's based on the assumption of partial omniscience. You would know that if you didn't suffer from extreme economic ignorance.

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    18. I absolutely agree.....libertarianism......RULZ!

      As a young libertarian, why should I be responsible for funding other people and their mistakes? This is outright theft and an attack on the American spirit. Why should I have to support Vietnam vets? Can't they get a job and take care of themselves? I did not ask you to fight the war. Heck, I wasn't even born, but I have to shell out hard earned dollars for your disability and VA benefits. Same with Iraq vets. I have to pay for your mistakes since you cannot take care of yourself. Stop being deadbeats and go out and learn some skills.

      And children?!? Why should I have to pay taxes to support a poor child? They made the decision to be born into this world and poor, they should deal with it. Quit asking me for money since you cannot afford to buy lunch. The only thing I will give you is bootstraps. Now go get a job and buy your own goddamn lunch and education.

      And what the fuck is up with old people? Why are so many on food stamps? You have a lifetime of experience. Instead of milking the taxpayer, you should be working on Wall St. Stop being so goddamn lazy. Not only do they ask for food stamps, but want heating assistance. Go screw yourselves for choosing to live in a cold weather environment. Not my fault I have to pay for your mistakes. Plus, being cold will only motivate you to get our poverty. Working will make you warm! Disabled people are the worst. I never asked you to be born disabled, but you want to steal from me and put in elevators, large bathrooms, and sidewalk ramps all across the country. You are simply no better than gays who ask for special rights.

      This is why America is going down the tubes. We are sacrificing our rugged individualism and libertarian work ethic and creating a society of deadbeats.

      Instead of people working hard for their money, all they want it mine. When will this madness end

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    19. @xerographica @moriarty

      Stop jumping the shark. This is a public forum, humpf.

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  3. I think that lots and lots of people suffer from persecution syndrome. For example, much the collectivist opposition seems to be worried that the Koch brothers are out to get them. I would be a lot more worried about the Kochs if their opponents actually enumerated the danger that the Kochs pose to them.

    Most of the left-wing blogger writing about them has been of the form "OMG! They are so rich and powerful! And look how much they spend!!!!!!!" It seems hysterical. Give me an example of something that the Kochs want that's not as American as apple pie.

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    1. I don't know, how about not wanting to be criticized for their outsized influence on the American political process? Charles Koch apparently wants a droit du seigneur that is common in countries that have hereditary aristocracy, but not recognized in America. They want to be held up as admirable and unchallengeable simply because they are rich and spend lots of money on political activities.

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    2. Thank you for illustrating my persecution point. I don't think there is any evidence that the Kochs make political contributions in the hopes of getting "droit du seigneur" rights over Americans. And I don't think they are coming after left-wingers who don't admire or challenge them.

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    3. what makes you want to use the term 'collectivist'? Are republicans 'collectivists' because they claim to believe in the nation, military, community, democracy, strong law enforcement, and Christianity?

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  4. You are forgetting that they could be propelled by greed and their political statements are just a cover. I'm not saying that is the only motivation, or even a motivation at all, but it's certainly possible. Maybe they want to be the two richest people in the world and they think buying the political process will help them get there.

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  5. @Hunter: "You are forgetting that they could be propelled by greed and their political statements are just a cover."

    Why? Because you want to prove Koch's point? ("Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination.")

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    1. by using the word 'collectivist' to describe moderate democrats, Koch is attempting to make them sound a bit like "communists" or "socialists", two favourite character-assassination terms deployed by right-wingers.

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  6. I also love your blog but I have a small quibble: As Politifact recently pointed out, if all billionaires were like costumed sentai and could combine in megabillionaires, then actually the Waltons would form the largest megabillionaire.

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  7. @marris: I'm not convinced that wanting something that is not "as American as apple pie" is the appropriate test.

    Trashing the environment and acting in naked self interest probably is as American as apple pie, but I doubt that it is good for the population as a whole, most of whom will not have the resources to enable them to cope with the effects of climate change.

    A better test might be whether they are perverting the political process to the extent that it no longer responds to the needs of the majority of Americans now alive, and particularly those yet to be born.

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    1. Are there a disproportionate number of people in DC who want to pass strong environmental restrictions compared to the rest of America? If so, then what's wrong with the Koch brothers calling these people out? They are supposed to be there to reflect the views of their constituents. That's democratic.

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    2. If there's a large number of people in DC who want to pass environmental restrictions, that's because people elected them.

      The Kochs try to use their vast personal wealth to undermine political causes that they don't personally agree with. They have no interest in whether other people agree with them or not, or whether their views are popular.

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    3. If lots of Koch candidates win and start funneling money to the Kochs, then I don't think you would apply the same criteria to judge those actions:

      "If there's a large number of people in DC funneling money to the Kochs, that's because people elected them."

      Can you give examples of political causes that were undermined due to Koch contributions?

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    4. "If lots of Koch candidates win and start funneling money to the Kochs, then I don't think you would apply the same criteria to judge those actions"

      No, you're right. I am against corruption.

      As for examples, basically any cause opposed to extreme right-wing so-called "libertarianism".

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  8. I think America is fortunate to have the Kochs for three reasons. One, they have built a very successful business that employs tens of thousands of people at very good wages. (Koch Industries is now 2600 times bigger than what they inherited.) Two, they have been extremely generous philanthropists, supporting hospitals, universities and the arts. Three, they have provided some firepower to push back against a media/political universe that is extremely hostile to libertarian ideas and where union money and in-kind assistance far outweighs any and all other sources of political funding. The notion that the Kochs are like Birchers is far-fetched and could only be written by someone who hasn't read them but only third-hand reports. Calling the Kochs paranoid because they are upset that the Senate Majority leader has denounced them on the floor of the Senate as "Un-American" reflects a certain, shall we say, moral blindness. No, I think America is fortunate to have the Kochs helping to level the playing field.

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    1. @Douglas And so all this "good work" that they do means that they should have a right to be above scrutiny and criticism? Because that's what Charles Koch advocates in his WSJ op-ed. And calling all who disagree with you "collectivists" does not reassure me that a person who was reared by one of the founders of the John Birch society to be free of that society's influence.

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    2. @Saha: "Because that's what Charles Koch advocates in his WSJ op-ed."

      Reading skill failure.

      @Saha: " a person who was reared by one of the founders of the John Birch society to be free of that society's influence."

      Is the left advancing inherited depravity and "guilty by association" arguments against their enemies now? My god, you are corroborating Koch's point almost verbatim ("collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents.")

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    3. "a media/political universe that is extremely hostile to libertarian ideas"

      The Koch's are propertarians. That is, they believe that a person's liberty should be determined by their private property. The more you own, the more liberty you should have and vice versa.

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    4. "where union money and in-kind assistance far outweighs any and all other sources of political funding."

      Union money, of course, is dwarfed by political funding from the extremely rich. And the extremely rich tend to have opinions well to the right of the vast majority of the country, or so empirical research indicates.

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  9. +1

    Also, people forget that the rate of carbon emissions decreased more in America than in Europe. It seems regulation is Pwned by innovation (v. g. fracking) as a method of actually delivering the goods. You know : natural gas extracted extracted by this new methods is cleaner than coal and other economically viable energy sources. That's why America is becoming cleaner than Europe (model that: pretence of knowledge doesn't seem to work? We actually don't know which ways will prove more environmentally friendly on the medium and long term? Technocrats in Washington and Brussels are full of it?)

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    1. That's not surprising, because America was starting from a higher baseline to start with. When you have higher emissions than your neighbor, that implies that there is more low-hanging fruit to pick, rather than fruit that is more difficult to get to.

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    2. You know, you might want to double-check your NG numbers. There's been several studies that have found, on balance, there's not actually a reduction in GHG effect right now because we leak a significant amount of NG (methane) into the atmosphere, which is much more potent than CO2.

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  10. Noah,

    Should you have not made an effort to find some redeeming values in Kochs' conservatism?

    By the way, NOVA program on PBS is supported by Koch Brothers. May be they want to influence NOVA toward creationism!

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    1. They use their donations to influence what PBS will air.

      http://www.policymic.com/articles/43793/citizen-koch-pbs-kills-koch-brothers-critical-documentary-for-fear-of-offending-them

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  11. Soros "the only real rival." HA! I'm sure if we were to only get rid of the evil Koch brothers America could right its ship, right? Hopefully you get introduced to the other Republican donors. And the Democrats don't have even more of their own wealthy plutocrat backers either. So nothing to see here....

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  12. An honest debate with Charles Koch.

    Noah: "First of all, why do so many people disagree with Koch's ideas?"

    Koch: "Because they are inferior scum who want free goodies that they don't deserve."

    Noah: "why should another guy's voice be thousands of times more powerful than my own?"

    Koch: "Because wealthy people are intellectually and morally superior. They have more wealth, therefore their value as human beings is higher and their opinions are more valid."

    Noah: "Thank you for being so honest, Mr. Koch"

    Koch: "No problem. Now get the f*ck off my property. And that's Master Koch to you, you pathetic serf"

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  13. Interesting, this post seems to have attracted a strong contingent of trolls. Who would have thought so many Koch lovers would be reading Dr. Smith's Blog?
    Seems like a concreted effort to hijack threads.

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    1. @Jamison: "like a concreted [sic] effort]

      Concerted effort? Now, who is being paranoid? Noah's an excellent blog, and -- let me break you the news -- it tends to atract a strong contigent of trolls (like me, hehe) and people who disagree with some of the points made by him. The most single famous post written by him is about trolls, for God's sake! ;-)

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    2. You miss the point, to focus on the Koch brothers exonerates all the other plutocrats involved in politics.

      Delete
  14. First Amendment proof defense against Kochs and friends buying all the next elections: universal matching funds for every candidate or incumbent for every dollar contributed by anybody. Only mechanical answer possible.

    Just like legally mandated, centralized bargaining (where everyone doing the same kind of work in the same locale negotiates a single contract with every employer) is the only answer possible to the race-to-the-economic and political-bottom. PS. Under mandatory unionization, the middle class will have the same level of (collectivist :-]) financial and lobbying power -- as well as almost all the votes -- sound juicy?

    Instituting the latter may be necessary before we can institute the former.

    Matching funds would facilitate incumbents working for us 100% of the time -- instead of raising money 50% of the time and "earning" it the other 50%.

    Nothing could be easier than selling centralized bargaining (in place over a century in labor markets around the world -- including the worlds most respected economy; think VW). As I have been spamming for years, supermarket workers and airline employees (think the regionals) would kill for centralized bargaining (lots of others too -- try asking).

    Nothing could be more exciting. Why do the Repubs have half the Congress? Because the Dems never venture out with something everybody would die for (or kill for).

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  15. Koch, translated:

    "[T]he fundamental concepts of noblesse oblige, respect for your betters, inequality in the courts and rule by plutocracy are under attack...That's why, if we want to create a neo-feudal society and create greater well-being and opportunity for ultra-wealthy Americans, we have no choice but to fight for those principles...

    Instead of encouraging paid-for propaganda and dishonest debate, the closet communists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They copy the character assassination tactics of the right-wing media which I support...Such tactics, when used by the closet communists, are the antithesis of what is required for a neo-feudal society—and a telltale sign that the closet communists do not have the answers that I want to hear...

    Instead of fostering a system that enables people to starve in the gutter, America is now saddled with a system that gives value to inferior scum that don't deserve it, raises the wages of inferior scum that deserve only a pittance, hinders our plans to destroy the environment, and relegates millions of people to a bare subsistence existence, when they should be starving in the gutter.

    If more businesses (and elected officials) were to embrace a vision of me not paying any tax and doing whatever the f*ck I want, my nation would be far better off—not just today, but for generations of my dynasty to come. I'm dedicated to fighting for that vision. I'm convinced most other ultra-wealthy extreme-right-wing Americans like me believe it's worth fighting for, too."

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  16. The Koch's want to roll back the New Deal, gut environmental regulation, make the world safe for pollution and wage-slavery.

    For example.

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  17. This huge amount of wealth gives the Kochs enormous power to affect politics

    Does it? How much power do they actually have? You listed nothing in the way of actual accomplishments, but merely noted that they spent lots of money in various political races and to support think tanks. The fact remains that for all of that spending, the Kochs have very limited ability to actually change anything. All they can hope to do is persuade people through their messaging. They haven't repealed Obamacare or shrunk government. They haven't cut corporate taxes. They can't issue executive orders. They can't arrest anyone. They can't bomb another country. Whatever power they have pales in comparison to those who operate the levers of government.

    the Kochs must pull no punches.

    What does this really mean? Again, all the Kochs can do is engage in messaging. The worst Charles Koch can do is run an attack ad against someone.

    [That many people disagree with Koch's views] is not a reason for Koch to moderate his views. But it is a reason for him to reconsider his policy of outspending the multitudes of his opponents.

    Why? I don't understand what one thing has to do with the other. Presumably you think it's OK for people like Paul Krugman, who you are a big fan of, to freely espouse his views and out-voice the rest of us -- why not the Kochs? Why is it fine if Krugman can do it for free via the NYT while the Kochs have to take out ads?

    Charles Koch should consider whether part of his perception of vicious tactics by the "collectivists" is just a persecution complex.

    Well, he's got Paul Krugman calling him a "serious evildoer -- language that I have previously only seen associated with Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda -- and the Senate Majority Leader basing his election year strategy around the Kochs, in addition to Jim Messina bashing the Koch brothers in 2012 fundraising letters, so a bit of a persecution complex would seem rather understandable.

    A big part of the reason that the Kochs are so reviled is that they have lots of power.

    Again, debatable. They have lots of cash. Power to actually accomplish things is less apparent.

    That scares many people, and it strikes many others as unfair - why should another guy's voice be thousands of times more powerful than my own?

    Again, Paul Krugman's voice is thousands of times more powerful than my own. Pretty much anyone in the media has a voice far more powerful than the average American. I find nothing unfair about that.

    Warren Buffett doesn't, despite the fact that he obviously cares about issues.

    Warren Buffet also has shareholders, while the Kochs (and Soros) do not. Considering the backlash the Kochs have endured it's not that difficult to imagine why Gates, Buffet and others have preferred to concentrate their efforts outside the political arena.

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    1. Whatever power they have pales in comparison to those who operate the levers of government.

      That's not necessarily true. Individual politicians' power, except for the president, tends to be quite limited. And that of individual bureaucrats is also quite limited.

      Not only that, but elected politicians can honestly say that a large group of people chose them as a representative. The Kochs can't say that.

      Again, all the Kochs can do is engage in messaging.

      That's right. But I think ideas are the most powerful things, so this represents a lot of real power.

      Presumably you think it's OK for people like Paul Krugman, who you are a big fan of, to freely espouse his views and out-voice the rest of us -- why not the Kochs? Why is it fine if Krugman can do it for free via the NYT

      As I mention in my post, Krugman has a lot of power too (though not nearly as much as the Kochs). So he also has to think carefully about how to use it.

      a bit of a persecution complex would seem rather understandable

      Sure, and there's those couple guys on EJMR who start a million threads dissing Yours Truly. Who cares? That comes with the territory when you write stuff or do anything in public. If you can't take that kind of thing, you shouldn't be in public life.

      Again, debatable. They have lots of cash. Power to actually accomplish things is less apparent.

      You're right. But if they're not accomplishing that much, why are they spending all that money and - much more importantly - all that time?

      Again, Paul Krugman's voice is thousands of times more powerful than my own. Pretty much anyone in the media has a voice far more powerful than the average American. I find nothing unfair about that.

      I don't think it's unfair, but I think it means media people should have a sense of responsibility. I am trying to cultivate a sense of responsibility myself...

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    2. Not only that, but elected politicians can honestly say that a large group of people chose them as a representative. The Kochs can't say that.

      Really Noah? Nobody dollar votes for the Kochs?

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    3. individual politicians' power, except for the president, tends to be quite limited. And that of individual bureaucrats is also quite limited.

      Not sure how accurate this is. Mayors, governors, the heads of various cabinet agencies all strike me as people who wield considerable power.

      Not only that, but elected politicians can honestly say that a large group of people chose them as a representative. The Kochs can't say that.

      Unclear of the relevance here. Have the Kochs claimed to be representatives of anyone other than themselves?

      But I think ideas are the most powerful things, so this represents a lot of real power.

      Well, I suppose it all comes down to how one defines power. Again, I just keep coming back to the fact that they don't seem to have a lot in the way of actual accomplishments for all of the alleged power they have.

      Sure, and there's those couple guys on EJMR who start a million threads dissing Yours Truly. Who cares?

      I think there is a world of difference between being targeted by a couple of guys on EMJR (which I had to look up) and leading politicians who wield actual power. While I suppose it can chalked up as being just part of the game, it strikes me as incredibly unseemly, and I'm pretty confident I would feel the same way if, say, Mitch McConnell were blasting Paul Krugman or George Soros on the floor of the US Senate as "un-American."

      But if they're not accomplishing that much, why are they spending all that money and - much more importantly - all that time?

      My guess is that they think they have a lot of ideas that deserve to be heard that may not gain much exposure without their money. Also, I think libertarianism/limited government is a passion for them where cold calculations about $$/ROI don't come as much into play. They probably *think* their ability to impact the public discourse and change the country's course is pretty high (libertarians constantly tell themselves that Americans are libertarian sympathizers who just don't know it and need to be awaken from their slumber/ignorance), but I am much more skeptical.

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  18. NS: "There seems to be a bit of a tendency for certain rich old men to see themselves as being in more danger than they really are ..."

    -I- think they really are in danger. Not from "us" rebelling or anything like that, but from what many of us decry - the routing of the middle class. They see first hand the coming of the robots and the disappearance of medium-skill jobs, the devastation of global warming, the coming inability of us to feed ourselves, etc.

    Tom Friedman tries to be up-beat about this in his book "That used to be us" by saying we should and can get back to an egalitarian society as envisioned by the founders and as we enjoyed in fact since the 1930's, of good public education for all, publicly supported research, publicly supported infrastructure, etc.. There's a reason many of the first states refer to themselves as commonwealths in their constitutions.

    The Kochs and their friends see whats coming and they are very scared. They aren't willing to support an egalitarian country because they believe it's hopeless - not because they are trying to do us in. They they are piling onto the ark and pulling up the ladder.

    They are probably right. They are smart. They want to survive. Heroism is not a survival strategy.

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  19. Noah,

    Don't want to get into this now, but quickly, you should update, "why should another guy's voice be thousands of times more powerful than my own?" The magnitude is way way off, and it's very material. With $80 billion in wealth, they have millions of times the voice, if not tens of millions, as the percentage you can safely spend on politics is vastly greater when you're worth $80 billion than $40,000, or $400.

    Also, quickly, the libertarians and plutocrats must always deceive to get anything close to what they want in a democracy. A big thing they always do is, look how bad communism, or collectivism is, so do plutocracy or libertarianism instead. It's always, those are the only two choices, and that's what liberals and Democrats want. They can never debate the truth, which is the liberals generally want a mixed economy that's mostly free market. This tactic has to be confronted directly much more often. There's so much in between communism, and laissez faire or plutocracy, that's far from either horrifying extreme.

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    1. @Serlin: "With $80 billion in wealth, they have millions of times the voice, if not tens of millions, as the percentage you can safely spend on politics is vastly greater when you're worth $80 billion than $40,000, or $400"

      Don't you think you are conflating money with actual influence on the public discourse? I think @Colin nailed it, when he said "Paul Krugman's voice is thousands of times more powerful than my own. Pretty much anyone in the media has a voice far more powerful than the average American. I find nothing unfair about that."

      Do you DAR to disagree with what Colin said (no bullshit, please). Krugman is way more influent on the public discourse than the Koch brothers, despite their many, MANY, billions. That’s the way of a free, open, society. Get used to it...

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    2. *DARE (not DAR)

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    3. Should influence of government be based on the power of what you say (Krugman), or the power of what you have (Kochs). To a plutocrat it's the latter. To a libertarian, who cares; they care about pretty much just one thing; anything else, no matter how much suffering and loss, is nothing in comparison. But the vast majority, and I, are not plutocrats or libertarians.

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    4. @Serlin : "Should influence of government be based on the power of what you say (Krugman), or the power of what you have (Kochs)."

      Political power should be based on consent of majority, backed on some guarantees for minorities (aka as constitutional rights). Everybody (me, you, Krugman, the Koch brothers) on a mature democracy agree on the basics. The Devil is only on the details.

      On a diverse and vibrant society as America, it is possible to have different centers of meaning. Money is not power which is not knowledge. The Koch brothers can have money; do they have a majority on the Senate? A pulpit on the Grey Lady? An Economic Nobel Prize? Niklas Luhmann is a great theorist for our kind of society (a complex, contigent, differentiated one).

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    5. Did they have enough power to shovel trillions in tax cuts to the rich during the Bush era, to cause untold tragedy by preventing universal healthcare for close to a century, and may still repeal the limited attempt we have now? These billionaire bastards don't have to have dictatorial control to do monumental harm and have vastly more say than the average person based on wealth alone.

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    6. Do you believe in public discussion about these issues (i.e.: taxation and health policy)? Before Reagan's tax cuts in the 1980s, America had twelve or so tax brackets, and the rate of the top one was 70%. Many people (me and the Koch brothers included) think this is WAY TOO MUCH. What would be your favorite tax rate?

      I think it is possible to have reasonable debates on this and other issues. If we have billionaire philanthropists who happen to agree with my side, and so finance classically liberal institutions like the Cato Institute, Mercatus, Econlib, and candidates that are fiscal conservative -- so much better for my side. It is not like your side is a helpless one: Obamacare is the law of the nation, the tax rates are rising again, regulations are achieving new highs, you can be fired for not believing in gay marriage!

      Try to cheer up a little, man! Your side is winning, not mine (Koch money and all). You are not as helpless as you like to think you are. Victim mentality is like a fetish among you guys. Yuck!

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    7. Victim mentality is like a fetish among you guys.

      Did you read Charles Koch's op-ed, you twit?

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    8. Yes. It is a rare event, unlike whining on the left. Also motivated by a strange event: speech on the Senate floor, by the majority leader, against the legal political activities of two private citizens who happens to disagree with him (BTW, this is serious third world country behavior, man.)

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    9. Rare indeed my friend.

      Someone get these whiners a bottle.

      Compare and contrast:

      A person of modest means gets poorer and then feels more insecure about his/her circumstances.

      A person of enormous wealth gets richer and then feels more insecure about his/her circumstances.

      No different, right?

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    10. @mattski: "Rare indeed my friend."

      Every. Person. That. Wrote. About. The. Context. That. Surrounds. This. Brouhaha. Also. Noted. That. The. Koch. Brothers. Don't. Usually. Write. Op-Eds. They. Are. More. Discreet. Than. This.

      You shouldn't conflate everything you hate about the top 10(exp -10) elite and put a “Koch Brothers” label on it. They are like that persecutory enemy of a political fantasy – “the Other of the Other” – that Slavoj Zizek likes to talk about: an amalgamate of mutually contradictory characteristics (shadowy, public, whiny, truculent, democracy-hater, vote-whores billionaires) that – only they should be removed! – would make the regime more equitable and just – UNITE BLUE!

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    11. Oh, I see. When you said, "rare," you were talking about their frequency of public statements.

      That's funny.

      So, what do you think Charles Koch talks about in the privacy of his own home? Do you think he's less paranoid when he knows no one is watching?

      ;^)

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    12. @mattsky: When you said, "rare," you were talking about their frequency of public statements.

      I'm not a natural English speaker. My original language is known as "the last flower of Latium" (i.e.: Portuguese).

      "Raro" ou "raramente" mean "rare" or "rarely" in my language. I'm not being pedantic when I use "rare" roots, that seems a little pernostic ("pern├│stico ", that is: pedantic) in your mostly germanic language.

      Stop oppressing me with your better (" natural") English, man!

      ;-)

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    13. @mattski: So, what do you think Charles Koch talks about in the privacy of his own home?

      I'm really interested. But you have NSA for these kind of things. Wasn't Al Gore complaining about them? Another paranoid old white man, I think...

      http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/11/former-american-president-and-vice-president-nsa-spying-destroying-constitution.html

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    14. OK, now we're talking... Copa Mundial!!

      But seriously, now that we're buds, are you really arguing that Charles Koch's visceral feeling of victimhood is trivial in comparison to your average liberal's "feeling of victimhood"?

      You don't see the perversity of his persecution complex?

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    15. I'm pretty much a libertarian/old school liberal (classical) like them, so naturally I sympathize with the sentiment their are expressing there. But, see: they are hounded by the liberals on the USA, who elected them scapegoats for their frustrations. Some leftish types impute Moriarty or Goldenfinger-like villainous and preposterously exaggerated powers to them. Not you, and not our host, of course. But sufficient people (do a quick Google search to check what I'm saying, if you don't believe me). So, when Harry Reid - that guy doesn't strike me as the brightest match in the box; would you agree? - doubled down on that ridiculous (but probably calculated) Koch brothers obsession of him, it seemed natural to me that the billionaires would make some reaction. As Reid's fit was an more than usual acute one, so was Koch's response.

      Do you hate them more for that reaction? Or - what's way more probable - only were remembered that you really DO hate them? I for myself were remembered that I agree so much with them, and that Brazil would be way better with billionaires with this kind of ideas and effectiveness, instead of crony capitalists and crooks sucking national "development" (ha!) bank public money only to waste it or worse.

      If only my country could exchange Eike "riches to rags" Batista and his playboy serial transit killer son for your proudly bourgeois Koch Brothers!

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    16. My emotions re the Koch's are not very important. True, I have negative feelings about them. I would not use the word "hate."

      What I believe is important is, what kind of society would result if the Koch brothers had their way. I think it would be even less pretty--by far--than what we have now.

      Paranoia is a bad place from which to create public policy. And, although human nature is flawed, still, it is better to err on the side of generosity and compassion than to err on the side of selfishness and cruelty.

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    17. Anonymous11:06 AM

      @mattski: "Paranoia is a bad place from which to create public policy. And, although human nature is flawed, still, it is better to err on the side of generosity and compassion than to err on the side of selfishness and cruelty."

      The point is: (i) I don't agree with you that the Koch brothers are really paranoid: they only DISAGREE with you; (ii) I don't agree that you are erring on the side of generosity and compassion; I think your policies actually HURT the poorest and the people who are in more need of compassion.

      I think you "neliberalish" or leftish people have a too critical vision of we paleo-liberals or libertarians types. Please, do read this guide, and illuminate yourself:

      http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/04/10-questions-libertarians-cant-answer-and-hope-you-wont-ask/

      3. When oppressing the poor, is it better to use kicks or punches? Or should you hire other poor people to beat up poor people for you? This is why libertarianism is so unrealistic–it’s all grandiose visionary nonsense without a sense of strategy. Real political movements know that success is about execution. And while libertarians clearly want to execute the poor, they don’t have a good theory about just how to execute them.

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  20.  So if the majority is wrong, they're probably only moderately wrong. 

    Do your econ tests bear this out? If I need an engineering solution I will seek out the top 10% for ideas. I won't build my bridge by majority view. History is replete with examples of the majority not only being wrong but horribly so. Economics? Check out every bubble known.

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  21. You blog has really gone downhill. How about if we start with actual facts. First off, according to this list, Koch industries is 59th, with about 18 unions that have spend more:
    http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/list.php

    Let's see, ActBlue launched in 2004 is right up there at #1. It's mission is to function as a conduit for online contributions to Democratic candidates and committees.

    Off the top of my head, I can name a bunch of billionaires that support D causes, like Bloomberg (gun control), Zuckerberg (immigration), Warren Buffet (he was the billionaire ok with raising taxes for the wealthy), George Soros...

    Second, money surely allows one to get out the vote and the message. But does it actually win elections? The evidence is that it does not. If it did, the place where you'd see it the most is at the local level. So, how are the billionaires doing?
    Well, the D lost two typically low turnout recall elections in CO

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/11/us-usa-colorado-election-idUSBRE98A06I20130911

    ... even though they outspent the NRA 6:1. Bloomberg personally wrote a check.

    Add it up and there is scant evidence that money buys elections. Zuckerberg has not had much success getting the GOP to support immigration reform, even though he's spent a lot and run ads that irritate the Dems. Bloomberg has not had much success with his agenda, except in states where his agenda was already favored anyway. If it was purely a money issue, the banks and the Koch bros could have written a check and prevented DeBlasio from being elected in NYC.

    It's sad to see healthy skepticism die. Koch bros are a foil so the Dems can raise money, that's it.. They do not have much influence. The unions fund economic research on the left (EPI) and the Koch bros fund it on the right.

    As you say, a lot of what the Koch Bros (and Bloomberg, and Zuckerman) say, people don't agree with. What happens when you go on the corner and yell racial epithets really loudly? Do people suddenly agree? Do you turn a bunch of people into haters? Or, are people just reminded that they disagree? Usually, the latter.





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    1. You blog has really gone downhill.

      Which old stuff of mine did you like the best?

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    2. Anonymous10:05 PM

      Directly from the description in the open secrets link:

      It's also important to note that we aren't including donations to politically active dark money groups, like Americans for Prosperity, a group linked to the Koch brothers, or the liberal group Patriot Majority — because these groups hide their donors; see a list of top donors that we've been able to identify to such groups. We are working to revise this list to take into account the new realities of campaign finance created by the Citizens United decision, but as it currently stands, there are significant omissions.

      Also, you're pretending that the money is only for winning elections rather than influence. You appear to be confusing "skepticism" with confirmation bias.

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  22. On the make to plunder public investments.

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  23. A big part of the reason that the Kochs are so reviled is that they have lots of power. Power magnifies the degree to which we don't like people who disagree with us.

    Close. The reason they are reviled is because they are intellectually dishonest. The reason they are reviled so much -- more than your average dishonest net.libertarian certainly -- is because they have so much power.

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  24. Noah wrote:

    If I were super-rich, I think I'd be more like Buffett or Gates or Rockefeller, and less like the Kochs.

    What if you had a popular, influential blog? Would you use it once a month, since any of your efforts to change public opinion would probably be a move in the wrong direction?

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    1. If the comment section of this blog is any indication, being unusually smart and having a good megaphone don't automatically translate into actual influence over the intended audience... ;-)

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  25. If you had billions of dollars, you don't think you'd spend some of it on academic work doing political/economic thought that you think had promise? If you're spending your life in academia you clearly think that the general work you're doing has some real value (or maybe it's just fun, but I'm assuming you think it's meaningful). Wouldn't endowing some professors or starting up some programs to provide money to grad students doing interesting (to you) work be good for the world? Even if you're being humble about the rightness of your opinions. I'm ignoring the outright spending in political campaigns and thinking about the money that flows through academia and think tanks for libertarian-ish academic work, of which a lot seems to come from the Kochs.

    If you think that the econ blogosphere was nurtured by Koch money (seems like it), the econ blogosphere was important in pushing for QE3 (maybe?? I think so), and that QE3 had a meaningful effect on economic growth (I'm convinced, although I know many aren't) - you get to a situation where the Kochs have benefited the country enormously by helping fund an environment that improved monetary policy last year. Yes, it's probabilistic, but an expected value of 0.1% improved 2013 GDP by15bn dollars, far more if you think that it's somewhat permanent.

    Okay, okay. I think the Kochs are annoying jerks who are corrupting the political process. But I respect the way they fund academic thought they care about - it's soooooo much better than TV ads, which is how pretty much everyone else spending money engages in the political process.

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  26. Making the Koch's feel bad is the best thing we can do to tame them. Social pressure even got to John D in the end.

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