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Mike Rowe interviews Charles Koch on work, cronyism, and criminal justice reform

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Mike Rowe was recently criticized for his new partnership with Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries, whose philanthropy for conservative and libertarian causes routinely garners controversy, despite its tremendous fruits.

Rowe, himself an increasingly provocative figure, recently interviewed Koch on their core areas of collaboration, including work, the trades, cronyism, higher education, and criminal justice reform. 

Koch on the politicization of “work ethic”:

Unless you learn to work by the time you’re in your 30s, you’re never that productive. So what do you learn? You learn discipline. You’ve got to show up on time. You’ve got to show up ready to work. You’ve got to work diligently no matter how unpleasant it is, and you’ve got to work as a team with the other people you’re working with. So it develops this attitude of mutual benefit…

Part of [work ethic being politicized] is that somehow people believe that all these goodies we have today just sort of appear out of the sky, because we get spoiled…The worst enemy of success is success. When you become prosperous enough, you take it for granted, and you forget what’s required to make people’s lives better – your own and others – and to have a society of mutual benefit where we’re all trying to help each other…

On the importance of a system and culture of “mutual benefit”:

People who live happy, fulfilling lives are ones that develop their abilities and figure out how to best contribute to that and find something to do where they contribute and they’re rewarded for it and respected for it. And then they feel good about themselves because they’re helping others at the same time benefiting themselves. So it’s this system of “win-win.” Sit there and take stuff or steal stuff or get more stuff by hurting others? I mean how many people are going to feel good about that?

On criminal justice reform:

What we’re trying to do is move society toward a brighter future for everybody…If we have a two-tiered society with a ton who are successful and a bunch who aren’t, that’s not sustainable and that’s not just. Our commitment is to help everybody develop their abilities and succeed by making a contribution. So what is it that [we need to do for] people who, unlike me, didn’t have parents who made them work and made them study and gave them opportunities…We need a criminal justice reform that doesn’t take people who make one mistake, and in large part it’s not their fault because they were never exposed to other ways…

That’s the starting point is not having unjust sentences. And the next is, when they get out, not condemning them to a life without any opportunity. What does that do? It pushes them back into other crimes. That’s their only avenue. So we need to open that, and that’s why we have eliminated “check the box” at our own firm [for whether you’ve served time]…We’re not looking to hire bad apples who are going to rob and hurt people, but people who have learned their lesson and are dedicated…

Help these people who have made a mistake, had a tough life, learn these lessons…If they’ll develop their abilities and use them to contribute and we can help them do that, then it transforms not only their lives but society.

rowe-koch-interview-skills-work-criminal-justice11For more on Koch’s perspective, see Stephen Schmalhofer’s recent review of Koch’s book for Religion & Liberty.

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, Intellectual Takeout, The City, The Christian Post, The Stream, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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