Koch Brothers

by Berck

I just finished listening to Freakonomics’ two-part interview with Charles Koch. (I found part II much more interesting than part I.)

I was somewhat dreading listening to these, figuring I had a pretty good idea of what Charles Koch would have to say, given the sort of candidates he’s donated to. I was mostly wrong. I was very surprised to find out that he and I actually have very similar political views on most issues. He identifies as a classical liberal, as do I.

He believes that freedom is very important. He’s generally pro-immigration, pro free trade, anti politician, and possibly above all, anti special interest. He’s anti war on drugs, and, in general, espouses fairly liberal views on social freedoms, though it’s clear these issues are not at all important to him.

I’d generally believed the idea that Koch brothers spend most of their money in support of their own interests. Suurprisingly, they loudly advocate for causes and positions that would, in fact, cost them lots of money.

So I’m left a bit dumbfounded at the list of politicians the Koch brothers have backed. Take, for instance Scott Walker. Scott walker is anti-abortion, pro foreign military involvement, anti immigration, anti same-sex marriage. These positions are in direct contradiction with the stated positions of both Koch brothers.

The closest I can come to reconciling their statements and the candidates they’ve backed is simply that social issues aren’t at all important to the Kochs. David Koch, in an interview with Barbara Walters, said in response to a similar question, “What… I want these candidates to support a balanced budget. I’m very worried that if the budget is not balanced, inflation could occur and the economy of our country could suffer terribly.”

So it’s not that we disagree on most of the issues, but I do think we seriously disagree about the priorities. I don’t think that liberal economic policies are anywhere near as terrible as he does, and he doesn’t think that socially conservative policies are anywhere near as terrible.

Fundamentally, while we both rate freedom as the most important thing, I think we actually disagree about why it’s important. I view freedom as a necessary first principle, without which we cannot possibly get anything right. Koch believes that freedom is not just a good in its own right, but in fact, a *sufficient* good.

Take, for instance, his position on global warming. He believes that it might be a problem in the future, and he thinks innovation is our best way to solve the problem. He believes that all the regulation enacted to date to address the problem is merely symbolic and will do nothing to actually solve it. I agree with him up to this point. But then we diverge. He believes that we can achieve the necessary innovation by simply “removing regulatory obstacles to innovation”, and solutions will, somehow, magically flow forth.

I disagree entirely. I don’t believe that there is regulation hindering innovation. Furthermore, I believe the exact opposite: regulation is one of the best ways to achieve innovation! How did we get awesome LED lights that work better than incandescent bulbs and are now affordable? Regulation that outlawed incandescent bulbs. Sure, there was a terrible period where all we could get were awful CFL bulbs. But now we have awesome LEDs that provide higher quality light at lower power for cheaper long-term prices than incandescent bulbs. This never would have happened so fast without the regulatory pressure.

Furthermore, I think it’s just absurd to think that freedom will solve all our problems. We need freedom in order to solve them, but freedom alone isn’t going to do it.

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