In case you missed yesterday’s chat with Daniel Schulman, author of Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty, check out the question and answer archive from two hours of engaging with FireDogLake Book Salon users.
Some concluding thoughts on my part, as someone who has closely followed the Kochtopus for the last four years and often ends out tangling with some of its primary tentacles. As I wrote in the intro to yesterday’s Book Salon, Schulman’s tone in promoting his book has surprised many for its middle-of-the-road feel:
Schulman’s tomb of ‘Kochology‘ has been received with surprise for its non-condemning tone. [...] On the surface Schulman’s descriptions are unexpectedly favorable to Koch in the eyes of, say, this Greenpeace researcher.
A bit more on this. One thing I learned yesterday is that Schulman recently placed four questions he’d like to ask Charles and David Koch into the Columbia Journalism Review. Those four questions are the type of critical inquiry that I expected to hear from someone who just devoted a chunk of their life to studying the Koch family in extreme detail (without being part of their circle). Schulman looks for answers on some key contradictions in KochWorld relating to their denial of climate change science, their selective emphasis on “liberty” (liberty for whom?), and Charles Koch’s preference for an almost non-existent government, keeping in mind his company has repeatedly violated the law (and his nonprofit personnel, like Sean Noble of American Encore).
I’ll admit that after watching Mr. Schulman on The Daily Show, Reason TV, Huffington Post live and other forums where he seemed to dismiss the notion that the Kochs often act in their own self interest, the questions on CJR are the type of journalism I’d prefer to see as a major critic and skeptic of the Koch brothers and their motives (Note that what Schulman really says is the Kochs are “true believers” whose ideology comes first, sometimes overlapping with Koch Industries profits to be sure…but this nuance seems to get lost in the noise).
But I think unlike many hardcore Koch-critics, perhaps because of my own ideology rooted in Greenpeace’s core foundation in nonviolence, I didn’t feel particularly confused or conflicted over the real empathy one feels when reading about the various personal tragedies of the Kochs, keeping in mind their secure root in a privileged upbringing, harsh as that upbringing sounds.
If you have yet to read Sons of Wichita, Schulman’s extensive research conveys a surprising feel: a chronic, underlying heartache felt by Koch brothers Charles, David and Bill alike amid decades of sibling lawsuit warfare over the fortune of the company their father built. Money aside, anyone capable of empathy and compassion feels a familiar inner tug when reading these passages of how clearly hurt each of the three brothers were as they traded blows.
But the Kochs’ own compassion has widely corroborated limits. Their business-funded political activities seem to consistently crush society from the middle class down and violate their self-stated ideologies. This indicates that Charles Koch’s rhetoric of “liberty” and “prosperity” is either dishonest, or indicative of the type of ignorance that only the out of touch, hyper wealthy could hold. Lest we forget that while Koch Industries now employs more people globally, Koch’s US employment just fell by 20,000 while the two brothers made an estimated $48 billion.
If Schulman’s research of the Koch brothers’ upbringing explains some of their psychology, it doesn’t excuse the decisions they have made as grown men that adversely impact their fellow country-people. Making a billion while funding groups that demonize those on the financial margins as lazy and unproductive members of society is dishonest and malicious.
The Kochs’ home state of Kansas is a perfect contemporary case study, where numerous tentacles of the “Kochtopus” succeeded in pushing an income tax cut that has tanked the state’s revenue, increased poverty rates and led to a Moody’s downgrade of Kansas’ debt. Governor Sam Brownback is directly supported by Koch Industries and its billionaire owners, and backed by Koch-funded groups coordinated through the State Policy Network (SPN), a network of national and state-level organizations operating across all 50 states. SPN includes groups like the Kansas Policy Institute–a supporter of Brownback’s tax cut disaster, and national affiliate groups controlled or financed by the Kochs, like Americans For Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Through ALEC its affiliates in the State Policy Network, Art Laffer pushed what New York Times contributing economist Paul Krugman called an “embarrassingly bad” plan ratcheting down corporate income taxes used by Gov Sam Brownback, who is now facing mass backlash from his own party.
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