You are unlikely to find a pair of siblings who are both as admired and reviled as the Koch brothers. Charles and David Koch are billionaire philanthropists, heads of the nation’s second largest private company, and activists who promote libertarian causes. To many on the right, the brothers are virtuous champions of liberty. To many on the left, the duo is the greatest threat to humanity since global warning (which some on the left would directly attribute to the Kochs).
Both defenders and detractors should be able to set aside their differences, though, and join in agreement with the Kochs on at least one issue: croynism. In a recent interview with the Wichita Business Journal, Charles Koch explained how cronyism hurts us all — especially the poor:
I think one of the biggest problems we have in the country is this rampant cronyism where all these large companies are into smash-and-grab, short-term profits, (saying) how do I get a regulation, we don’t want to export natural gas because of my raw materials … well, you say you believe in free markets, but by your actions you obviously don’t. You believe in cronyism. And that’s true even at the local level. I mean, how does somebody get started if you have to pay $100,000 or $300,000 to get a medallion to drive a taxi cab? You have to go to school for two years to be a hairdresser. You name it, in every industry we have this. The successful companies try to keep the new entrants down. Now that’s great for a company like ours. We make more money that way because we have less competition and less innovation. But for the country as a whole, it’s horrible.
And for disadvantaged people trying to get started, it’s unconscionable in my view. I think it’s in our long-term interest, in every American’s long-term interest, to fight against this cronyism. As you all have heard me say, the role of business is to create products that make people’s lives better while using less resources to do it and making more resources available to satisfy other needs. When a company is not being guided by the products they make and what the customers need, but by how they can manipulate the system — get regulations on their competitors, or mandates on using their products, or eliminating foreign competition — it just lowers the overall standard of living and hurts the disadvantaged the most. We end up with a two-tier system. Those that have, have welfare for the rich. The poor, OK, you have welfare, but you’ve condemned them to a lifetime of dependency and hopelessness. Yeah, we want hope and change, but we want people to have the hope that they can advance on their own merits, rather than the hope that somebody gives them something. That’s better than starving to death, but that, I think, is going to wreck the country. Is it in our business interest? I think it’s in all our long-term interests. It’s not in our short-term interest. And it’s about making money honorably. People should only profit to the extent they make other people’s lives better. You should profit because you created a better restaurant and people enjoyed going to it. You didn’t force them to go, you don’t have a mandate that you have to go to my restaurant on Tuesdays and Wednesdays or you go to prison. I mean, come on. You feel good about that?
An unimpeachable classic work in political philosophy, intellectual and cultural history, and economics, The Road to Serfdom has inspired and infuriated politicians, scholars, and general readers for half a century.