Charles G. Koch’s justification in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal for the millions of dollars that he and his brother David throw at ultra right-wing causes, organizations and politicians reminded me of a very old “Saturday Night Live” bit: the one in which Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray and John Belushi are short-order cooks in a restaurant that only offers cheeseburgers and fries. In the article, Koch rails against the current government deficit, but like the Saturday Night Live crew, he offers only one item on the menu: cutting government programs.
He never considers the idea of raising taxes, particularly on the wealthy who pay significantly lower taxes now than they did in 1981 after the first Reagan tax cut, which at the time represented historically low taxes on the wealthy for an industrialized democracy.
Koch changes bogie men in the middle of his screed from cutting government entitlements to ending what he calls “crony capitalism.” As Mother Jones has already pointed out, Koch speaks hypocritically when he criticizes politicians who bend to the will of their cronies in the private sector. The lifeblood of the crony system is one part lobbying and one part political contributions. The Koch Bro’s have spent more than $40 million over the past three years alone on lobbying efforts. We also know they have contributed to a slew of political campaigns, including to elect Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Forget about the hatred for unions that the Koch Bro’s and their Scottie share. Scottie’s budget plan would give the governor—that means Scottie—the right to unilaterally sell off certain government assets to private interests at whatever price he wanted to get. Of course these assets would fit neatly into the Koch’s industrial empire.
Koch closes his Wall Street Journal piece with a plaintive plea to get government out of the economy and just allow consumers to direct resources. What that means is unfettered capitalism with no product and worker safety regulations, minimum wages, pollution controls or regulations against predatory pricing or other business practices considered unethical.
Koch concern is that government intervention distorts the marketplace, and the marketplace in Koch’s world is holy.
What Koch doesn’t mention is that size and money also distort the marketplace.
For example, a small company with a product that cuts air pollution may never have a chance because a larger company floods all the airwaves with commercials for its pollution-generating product, launches websites that look like news sites that tout its product and, in an unregulated world, sells the product under cost until all competitors have gone out of business.
The government distorts the marketplace and it’s a good thing it does so. The government distorts when it bans predatory pricing, it distorts when it sets environmental standards, and it distorts when it provides subsidies to companies that produce or consumers who buy more environmentally friendly products.
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that ended limits on contributions to political campaigns created an unregulated “marketplace of ideas” for the last election cycle. Because there were no “market constraints,” the Koch Bro’s and their ilk were able to distort the last election by throwing tons of money into political campaigns of right-wingers and paying for right-wing think tanks to flood the news media with a multitude of bogus studies and deceptive reasoning that discouraged progressives into staying home and marched other voters rightward.
Everything distorts the marketplace. As a matter of public policy, it’s the government’s job to distort it for the public good, which in the post-industrial Western world has come to include a basic standard of living, education and health care for all, a clean environment and a level playing field in the market and society that sometimes requires constraining the largest market participants.