Charles Koch Explains It All

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 28 2014 2:56 PM

Charles Koch Explains It All

Democrats have come to refer to "the Koch brothers" as a unit, a sort of beast from forgotten mythos—two-headed, wealthy, malicious. But David Koch, the chairman of Americans for Prosperity, is a relatively quiet figure who (for reasons that still confuse me) jumped into the spotlight by becoming a 2012 Republican National Committee delegate. Charles Koch, who doesn't talk as much about electoral politics as his brother, has written much more about idelogy, and is generally more confident talking about how he has brought the beliefs of Friedrich Hayek into countless lives.

No surprise, then, that Charles Koch is the brother talking for 40 minutes to the Wichita Business Journal. Daniel McCoy talks to Koch about his business dreams (which isn't too interesting to us hacks) and about his politics, letting him expound pretty freely about what he thinks of his role.* This part seems to be key.

It’s like Lee Trevino used to say, somebody asked him how are you winning all these golf tournaments, and he said, “Well somebody has got to win them and it might as well be me.” That’s the way I am on this. There doesn’t seem to be any other large company trying to do this so it might as well be us. Somebody has got to work to save the country and preserve a system of opportunity. 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.
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This isn't new thinking, exactly. Two years ago, Koch used a Wall Street Journal op-ed to say basically the same thing: "By putting resources to less-efficient use, cronyism actually kills jobs rather than creating them. Put simply, cronyism is remaking American business to be more like government." It's coherent, and it's what he always says. Disappointingly, McCoy doesn't get a chance to push Koch on the politicking that his money actually pays for. In 2012 AFP was bombing the airwaves with Solyndra ads. That didn't un-elect any Democrats. So in 2013 and 2014, AFP has pivoted to nonstop anti-Obamacare ads. How does that further the War on Cronyism? Koch never says.

But he does say this:

I don’t know if you ever saw Michael Rowe’s show “Dirty Jobs.” We’re working with him and my foundation. His position is that pushing all these kids into four-year liberal arts (programs), they have all this debt, they don’t have the aptitude for it, so they end up driving cabs if they can get a medallion, or tending bar, or unemployed and living with their parents.

Rowe has started to become a conservative celebrity, largely because he thinks the left and media are forcing him into that role. The pigeonholing actually began with Rowe's campaign for Walmart, but before Rowe took that job he was starring at Charles Koch Institute events about vocational education.

*Correction, Feb. 28, 2014: This post originally misspelled Daniel McCoy's last name.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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