Tuesday 24 August 2010

Objections to philanthropy

Isn't it terrible that not all billionaire philanthropists hate themselves for their wealth and wish to atone for the evils of money-making by giving money to pro-government causes or, at worst, medical research?  Just terrible.  Horribly terrible.  Just read the latest New Yorker:
The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

In a statement, Koch Industries said that the Greenpeace report “distorts the environmental record of our companies.” And David Koch, in a recent, admiring article about him in New York, protested that the “radical press” had turned his family into “whipping boys,” and had exaggerated its influence on American politics. But Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”
Full disclosure: there's a high chance that at least some of my grad student funding came via Koch. Students on stipend could never quite tell where the money came from. But I was at George Mason.

I do have to wonder about the New Yorker's fact checking. It was called the Kochtipus well before Obama. I'd heard of it even back in 1999. It got the name not because it was some big shadowy anti-Obama network of front groups but rather because of the effect that a billionaire couldn't avoid having on a bunch of small and very poorly funded libertarian groups. Go read Brian Doherty's Radicals for Capitalism for context. Doherty attributes "Kochtopus" to Sam Konkin in the 1970s.

I expect much better of the New Yorker. This is a smeary hit piece.

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