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February 13, 2018

A Surprising Letter from David Koch

Recently we got a letter from David Koch. As you would guess, it is a request for support for Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which he co-founded. What I wouldn’t have guessed before reading is that there is nothing in the eight pages I disagree with and much which is compelling.

Some of the letter could’ve come from the left as easily as the right:

“We are rapidly becoming a two-tiered society where the well-connected thrive and everyone else falls further and further behind.  What’s worse, all of this corporate welfare and the government picking winners and losers is moving us towards as society characterized by cronyism, government dependency, and poverty where individuals and groups are pitted against each other as they compete for government largess.”

Nowhere in the letter (or on the AFP website) is there a complaint against welfare payments to individuals.  There is no discussion of the social issues often associated with the right. The letter is pro-immigration. Koch is afraid of growing socialism; he doesn’t like Bernie Sanders any more than Bernie Sanders likes him.  Koch puts the blame for this lurch to the left squarely where it belongs:

“There is more behind this turn towards government [control] than the economic stagnation and falling standards of living of the past decade.

“I believe the answer lies in the fact that across America, people are seeing that those who are well-connected in Washington and, yes, the wealthy, are winning favors and thriving while the rest of the nation falls further behind.

“…why is it that countless other large companies can get artificially cheap loans while people starting out can’t get any?

“…American consumers …[pay] double the world price for sugar while a small handful of sugar farmers are getting rich off government subsidies and quotas.

“…at the same time as Americans were hurting and record numbers were signing up for food stamps, countless American companies were getting huge corporate welfare payments or thousands of tax breaks that other Americans can’t utilize…"

He quotes a bumper sticker I haven’t seen: “our system isn’t broken… it’s fixed.”  David Koch is honest enough to admit that, although ethanol mandates are one more example of crony capitalism, Koch Industries makes ethanol.

What Koch doesn’t say but I believe is that Americans feeling the system is rigged are responsible not only for Bernie’s near victory over Hillary but also Trump’s actual victory. The Clintons as well as most of the people who ran in the Republican primary are part of the establishment which benefits from a rigged system where success depends on connections and big government and big corporations are in each other’s pockets (or, more accurately, in our pockets). Bernie and the Donald were both perceived as outsiders. If you add their supporters together, that’s an outraged majority.

Yes, there is great irony that this letter is signed by the owner of the second largest privately-owned corporation in America. Bernie’s website points out the extreme platform of the Libertarian Party in 1980 as evidence of what the Koch brothers want and David Koch was the Libertarian candidate for vice president that year. On the other hand, Bernie works for the biggest government in the country and would like to make it bigger.

The lesson of socialism is an equality of misery for most people except those who benefit enormously by being close to the all-controlling government (see Venezuela or North Korea for current examples). But crony capitalism suffers from many of the same faults.  Too often Democrats ignore the dangers of socialism; too often Republicans ignore the danger of oligarchy. Right now the danger is that so many Americans are disaffected and prone to lurch from one extreme to the other.  Part of the solution is to un-rig the system.  Americans for Prosperity seems to be dedicated to that un-rigging.  I’ve signed their petition against corporate welfare and may support them further.

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