By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by: Allen O’Reilly
Three of the four Koch brothers are business men, driven by the arithmetic of life. The Koch brothers are tough-minded, intelligent, well-educated engineers (the eldest son, Frederick, is an art collector with a BA in Humanities from Harvard).Daniel Schulman recounts details of the Koch brothers’ lives that make one admire the Koch brother’s strengths and fear their weaknesses.
As a listener is titillated by Schulman’s stories of each of the brothers, one is reminded of Joseph Kennedy Senior’s biography (“The Patriarch”) and Kennedy’s determination that no circumstance justifies America’s entry into WWII. Kennedy’s underlying belief was that German atrocity is a matter of arithmetic not politics.
Kennedy believed Hitler’s Germany could be contained like any unfair business conglomerate that fails to follow the rules of corporate competition. Schulman’s characterization suggests Charles Koch would have agreed with Kennedy’s assessment of Hitler and that America made a mistake in entering the war. To both Kennedy and Koch, American entry to the war makes no economic sense when calculating profit and loss; i.e. the only arithmetic intelligent and driven businessmen depend upon. Charles Koch, like Joseph Kennedy, is the patriarch of the Koch family. Charles is the family business’s leader, the CEO of Koch Industries.
Schulman explains that Charles is a devotee of Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek. Rand was an author and founder of a philosophical system called Objectivism while Hayek was an academic economist-author, and founder of a philosophical system that reduced economics to an arithmetic of free markets.
Charles, and his brothers David and William, grew a multimillion dollar company into a multibillion dollar conglomerate based on Rand’s and Hayek’s philosophies. This is unquestionably a great accomplishment, born of hard work, dedication, tenacity, and the good fortune of being raised in a safe, wealthy, and competitive family environment.
Schulman explains actions of Charles, David, and William that show how intelligent, driven human beings can adopt Rand and Hayek’s philosophy and become enormously successful job creators, philanthropists, and benefactors to American society. Accomplishing those objectives hugely discounts genetic inheritance, environment, and luck. Schulman infers that Charles’ arithmetic would suggest it was just hard work. Meaning, Charles believes market driven, free-choice of employees is what makes companies, America, and the world grow richer.
Charles argument is compelling except it is based on theories of two academics that have no idea of what it is to grow into productive citizens when you cannot get a decent education, are on a treadmill of malnutrition and genetic disadvantage, live in an unsafe environment, and are destined to become part of underclass society.
David Koch’ s arithmetic works only within a corporate culture that gives no value to governments’ or societies’ responsibility for health, education, and welfare. Even Hayek, as an academic, suggests that the disadvantaged of society should be protected from extremes of disablement, poverty, and starvation. To compound the Koch brother’s delusion, Rand’s belief is that people are poor because they are lazy, unproductive, and dependent on the charity of others; i.e. being poor, to Rand, is a personal fault; not a societal concern. To Charles Koch, free markets and the arithmetic of life will correct disadvantages of the poor and succor the disabled because he believes in Ayn Rand’s flawed perception of the nature of human beings.
Unquestionably, Charles, David, and William Koch offer great opportunities for workers of the world through the arithmetic of profit, growth, and self-interest. But, if a worker is not smart enough, or driven enough, or competitive enough to join that group of workers, they have no value. Charles, David, and William Koch see the poor, disabled, and hungry as flawed human beings; i.e. if they see them at all, they are only arithmetic.
Schulman’s biography infers that Charles, David, and William Koch believe less government interference will correct maladies of society. To Rand, public health, education, and welfare are, at best, private sector responsibilities, or more likely personal responsibilities. This view ignores the reality of human nature. There is good and evil in all human beings. Power, money, and self-interest are swords with two edges that build and destroy societies. Without government, there is no protection from the evil side of human nature. Great industrial wealth is no safety net for the disadvantaged, disabled, and poor if it relies on the good will of the rich.
Schulman explains a rift that occurs between William and Charles and the future management of the Koch conglomerate. William
Koch’s legal battles with Charles and David (William is the twin brother of David) reflect the frailty of unfettered human nature. Human nature is both good and evil in all human beings; including the Koch brothers. Government, as noted by Thomas Hobbes, is to protect people from the evil that is a consequence of greed, inordinate power, and hubris.
This is not to argue that every time government legislates or acts, it is not reducing freedom of choice; even sometimes unfairly and unethically. However, murder, rape, and theft are unfettered human choices without government. Murder comes in many forms, including gas leaks, environmental contamination, and scientifically proven causes for global warming; all incidents that come with unfettered industrialization.
Great industrialists, like the Koch brothers, are a boon to America and to millions of American citizens but to believe their success is based on limited government is self-delusion. American government created a safe environment for “free” enterprise with relative freedom of choice; not absolute freedom of choice.
Schulman infers Charles Koch believes a plutocracy of industrialists, managed by the principles of market driven self-interest, will cure the maladies of American society. The arithmetic of business fails to address the nature of human beings. Creating jobs and wealth does not raise all boats; i.e. jobs and wealth are quantifiable variables in a sea of unquantifiable human’ needs. Human nature may change over time but only when, or if, humans reach a level of belief, and action “to do for others as you would have them do to you”. Until human nature is rid of lying, greed, lust etc., etc. , something more than market driven self-interest is required to advance society.
In the end, one concludes from Schulman’s fascinating book, the Koch brothers are neither devils nor angels; just humans with extraordinary abilities, tenacity, and luck. One’s fear comes from their delusion in believing the arithmetic of free enterprise is a panacea for society.