Mainstream America is finally getting to know the billionaire brothers backing the libertarian movement, thanks to a pair of dueling profiles in New York and The New Yorker. Now that we’ve heard about their charitable giving, David’s 240-foot mega-yacht and role as patrons of the Tea Party movement, it’s time to ask a more serious question: How libertarian are they?
The short answer…not very.
Charles and David Koch, the secretive billionaire brothers who own Koch Industries, the largest private oil company in America, have spent millions bankrolling free-market think tanks and pro-business politicians in order, as David Koch has put it, “to minimize the role of government, to maximize the role of private economy and to maximize personal freedoms.” But a closer look at their dealings reveals that for the past 35 years the brothers have never shied away from using government subsidies to maximize their own profits, even while endeavoring to limit government spending on anything else.
In 1977, Charles Koch founded the Cato Institute, an influential libertarian think tank, with the aim of injecting free-market ideas into the mainstream. The Kochs would go on to establish and fund a vast network of overlapping think tanks, institutes, foundations, media outlets, and lobby groups that would vilify centralized government and promote laissez-faire capitalism as the only route to economic prosperity. The Mercatus Center, Americans for Prosperity, Reason Magazine, the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation are just a few of the right-wing organizations that run on Koch cash today.
Koch Industries is America’s second-largest private corporation, with revenue of $100 billion in 2009, and 80,000 employees in 60 countries. According to Charles Koch, Koch Industries has grown 2,000-fold since he took over from his dad in 1967, transforming a middling oil transportation and refinement operation into a corporate mini-state involved in oil, petrochemicals, paper, agriculture and financial services.
Seventy-four-year-old Charles G. Koch, who runs the company from a compound in Wichita, Kansas, has attributed the company’s success to an unshakable belief in the power of the free-markets—a belief that he says can be traced back to an “intellectual epiphany” he experienced at a conference more than 40 years ago. There, Koch realized that free-market economics were an objective reality “as immutable as the laws that work in science,” he explained in 2006.
In its recent profile, the New Yorker called Charles and David Koch “the primary underwriters of hard-line libertarian politics in America.” But the magazine failed to mention that their free market philanthropy belies the immense profit they have made from corporate welfare.
Yasha Levine is an editor of The eXiled. Levine and co-author Mark Ames first broke the connection between the Tea Party and the billionaire Koch brothers in Playboy.com in February 2009, sparking lawsuit threats, and causing CNBC’s Rick Santelli to publicly distance himself from the Tea Party movement and cancel his Daily Show appearance.