Charles Koch, the billionaire businessman and giver of lots of money to political causes, along with his brother billionaire (and trustee to the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website) David, has emerged as the Emmanuel Goldstein of the contemporary progressive movement, a figure so reviled that merely to speak his name is to cause instant solidarity with the good and decent peoples of the world. In the current moment, the Koch Bros. are functioning among the left the way that George Soros often functions among right-wing nutjobs, as the motive force in a world where not even a sparrow (or a currency or a school board election) falls unless the big man decrees it.
Do people still read books like Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 and Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's Illuminatus!? They're satires and parodies, folks, not exposes.
Here's a Wall Street Journal column by Charles Koch himself, discussing "Why Koch Industries is Speaking Out."
The Congressional Budget Office has warned that the interest on our federal debt is "poised to skyrocket." Even Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is sounding alarms. Yet the White House insists that substantial spending cuts would hurt the economy and increase unemployment.
Plenty of compelling examples indicate just the opposite. When Canada recently reduced its federal spending to 11.3% of GDP from 17.5% eight years earlier, the economy rebounded and unemployment dropped. By comparison, our federal spending is 25% of GDP.
Government spending on business only aggravates the problem. Too many businesses have successfully lobbied for special favors and treatment by seeking mandates for their products, subsidies (in the form of cash payments from the government), and regulations or tariffs to keep more efficient competitors at bay.
Crony capitalism is much easier than competing in an open market. But it erodes our overall standard of living and stifles entrepreneurs by rewarding the politically favored rather than those who provide what consumers want.
Past Reason.com material on the Kochs here.
There are signs that at least some of the fever among progressives is breaking. Talking Points Memo punctured the conspiracy theory that Koch Industries was pushing on Wisconsin in order to get its blood-soaked mitts on a bunch of sub-investment-grade publicly owned power plants that provide energy for the University of Wisconsin.
The proximate cause for the latest anti-Koch crusade is the budget battle in the Badger State. As Tim Cavanaugh notes below, the bottom-line blues facing the Wisconsin tax-and-service-fee-payers who kick in 100 percent of the state budget has precious little to do with Kansas billionaires and a lot more to do with profligate legislators of both parties (finally, one public policy debacle that can't be blamed on libertarians). As that reality sinks in, and as budget fights spread from the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol, it'll be genuinely fascinating to see how progressives respond. Especially as states with super-high tax burdens start working through the cuts they're going to have to make.