Defending the Kochs

[Author’s note: Although I wrote it before the election, I embargoed this essay until today, lest anyone think I was advocating for a political party or for an electoral victory. The sentiments expressed below are unrelated to any partisan agenda.]

Billionaire businessmen and philanthropists Charles and David Koch have come in for a lot of criticism lately, and in all the best places: among others, in The New York Times (both Paul Krugman and Frank Rich), in New York Magazine, and in an improbably long piece in the The New Yorker. The charges in all the accounts are the same. The Kochs are “covert” bankrollers of the Tea Party, shadowy “tycoons” funding a relentless campaign to discredit President Obama and his policies, and, more generally, financial supporters of numerous initiatives whose real goals are to help them line their pockets—all either in secret or behind a false mask of charity and patriotic rhetoric. According to critics, when the Kochs talk about “individual liberty” and “free markets,” what they really mean is “get the government off our backs so we can make even more money.” And people supported by the Kochs who espouse similar notions are just puppets pulled by the strings of the Kochs’ billions.

As someone whose work has sometimes been supported by the Koch Foundation, the criticisms directed at the Kochs are thus also directed at me, as they are at the other professors, students, academic institutions, charitable organizations, and others that have benefitted from the Kochs’ giving over the years. If the Kochs really are this bad, however, am I required, in good conscience, to abjure any and all connection to them?

Luckily I don’t have to answer that question: The charges are in almost all cases either false or grossly misleading. They may fit a narrative typical of a Hollywood movie, where evil rich businessmen connive to manipulate others for their own benefit, but conspiracy theories like those rarely match reality. The Kochs themselves have responded to the various allegations, but there are at least two clear reasons why the allegations must be either false or misleading.

The first relates to the Tea Party movement. Attending a Tea Party rally or listening to people sympathetic to the movement, one cannot help but be struck not just by how articulate they are, but how genuine. They mean what they say, and conviction like that simply cannot be bought. By contrast, paying people to claim they believe things that they really don’t is a rather dicey affair: It is almost always transparent, and mercenary offers like that appeal to only a small number of people in any case. But the Tea Party phenomenon is astonishing precisely because it is not orchestrated from the top. Indeed, its decentralized, bottom-up character is one of the keys to its success. The hundreds of thousands of people who have attended rallies nationwide have done so because they have sincere beliefs on which they decided to act.

The second reason that charges against the Kochs are false or misleading relates to their alleged influence in higher education. The Kochs have given millions of dollars over several decades supporting students, professors, academic institutions, and nonprofits that are either sympathetic to their worldview or at least willing to give it a fair hearing. Yet what proportion of professors today subscribe to the Kochs’ view? Less than one-tenth; probably more like one in twenty. How could this be, if the clandestine reach of the “Kochtopus” is so far and wide?

Consider what they are up against. According to the New Yorker article, Charles and David Koch “have given over one hundred million dollars to right-wing causes” since 1980. That sounds like a lot, but it averages only about $3.5 million per year. Generously adjusting for inflation, assume it is the equivalent today of even $10 million per year. That is enough to pay the full salary and benefits of perhaps seventy professors in the country per year. That would be seventy out of some 1.7 million, or a vanishingly small .004%.

Considering, moreover, the substantial predominance of left-leaning political and economic worldviews on today’s campuses, one begins to see why the money the Kochs are donating hardly warrants the hyperventilating rhetoric it is receiving. For better or worse, theirs is a small minority view on college and university campuses, and the money they give is dwarfed by the resources that left-leaning faculty, centers, programs, and institutions regularly devote to discrediting positions like theirs and to advocating contrary views.

But putting aside money and numbers, what of the Kochs’ ideas themselves? The Kochs support limited government, free markets, protections of private property, individual liberty, and peace. This is approximately the political-economic vision of America’s founders. Perhaps that is a “radical” view in the minds of an average New York Times columnist, but it still resonates with many Americans who understand that that vision has enabled more freedom and prosperity for the average person than any other system of political economy ever tried. It is moreover an inspiring moral vision: human beings as unique and possessing a dignity that requires both individual freedom and personal responsibility, and a system of social institutions that leads to prosperity and peace.

These are the ideas that are so ominous and threatening?

Charles and David Koch are those rare specimens who take their convictions seriously enough to put their own money where their mouths are. One might in the end disagree with their vision, but for standing up for what they believe, and for being willing to shoulder their part of the burden of maintaining a free society, I say they should be not vilified but applauded.

34 thoughts on “Defending the Kochs

  1. Amen! I’m a graduate student in sociology who gets a bit of funding from Koch and I’m a total enigma to some of the people in my department. I make jokes about secret handshakes and backroom meetings, but there is a serious misconception among some that these things really take place. I try to talk to them about as much as possible to try to wash away any of these steretypes (and I made sure to wear my “Koch Summer Fellowship” t-shirt after the New Yorker article came out), but who knows how much of an effect it has. My hunch is that it doesnt rid them of their views on libertarians in general, but only leads them to make small exceptions to what they see as a general rule.

  2. Thanks for this, Jim. It’s funny how welfare liberals value free speech all and only when somebody else pays for it. When you put your money where your mouth is, you somehow become shady. The Kochs are a gift to the marketplace of ideas.

    1. Indeed I’m not a conservative, but I also fail to see how the one is related to the other. Neither the Kochs nor Soros are to be criticized merely for being wealthy. They might be criticized for their ideas (as I would criticize Soros), or for what they do with their money, but so far as I can see those questions are independent.

      1. Your original comment said “liberals value free speech. . .” What I am pointing out is that attacks on the funders of your opponents are not exclusive to liberals. If you had said “liberals and conservatives value free speech. . .” then you would have been more accurate.

      2. Bill, maybe there are conservatives who want to silence Soros; if so, you are quite right. What I was referring to are the numerous voices on the left who are interested in silencing political speech. Could be my ignorance, but I don’t hear that a lot from the right.

  3. “According to critics, when the Kochs talk about “individual liberty” and “free markets,” what they really mean is “get the government off our backs so we can make even more money.””

    One of the things that freaks liberals out is the sheer concentration of wealth and income the Kochs represent. Right now, 24% of personal income goes goes to just 1% of the population. This is equal to the annual tax revenue of the federal government. It is only getting worse, and the Kochs are seen to be a part of it. The share of the top 1% in the 70’s was only 8 or 9%. The difference, about 15% is income lost to the rest of society, to each member of the rest of society. On average, for someone earning $50,000 say, it is $7500 of annual income they would have, if this shift in income had not occurred.

    Further, the Kochs are seen to be associated with and instrumental in the Bush tax cuts, which along with other favorable government tax policies, have contributed to this skyrocketing inequality of income. You must forgive those of us who see those who have enjoyed the benefits of these tax cuts, at the expense of our government, and further have pit their money against the discontinuance of these tax cuts, as, under the present financial conditions of the government, self serving. Granted, the rest of the population was thrown a bone.

    Click to access is_our_tax_system_helping_us_create_wealth.pdf

    Liberals, or at least I, see economic liberty, as essential to political liberty, and I see most people slowly losing theirs. Even where this is merey defined as equality of opportunity, I see it effectively disappearing for by far the large majority of the population. If 1, or 5 or 10, or even 20% have 90% of the nation’s personal income, the rest will have neither economic nor political liberty. And this seems to be the trend. That this will result in the eventual destruction of our society and our government, I do not doubt. The reason is simple: Modern government cannot survive without a broad tax base, and this is what is being destroyed. The wealthy simply will not, and indeed cannot, tax themselves enough to support it. This suggests to me that the top 1% are either dangerously ignorant, or that they are disingenuous in their motives, or they believe they have effectively lost control of the situation, and no longer know how to stop its progression.

    What ever their motives, I for one believe that they no longer have control over the situation. Because of the social dynamics of the wealthy, they can by themselves no longer stop the accumulation and increasing concentration of wealth and income. They simply cannot, or are unwilling, to coordinate the necessary effort. Prove me wrong.

    That the Tea Partiers have not caught on to these facts is a testament to the effectiveness of right wing, and the ineptness of the left. It also suggests that sincerity is no strong evidence of correctness, or even of a person’s knowing where his own best interests lie.

    1. Is there any evidence that the Kochs supported the Bush tax cuts? As libertarians, I would expect them to be more interested in spending cuts than tax cuts.

      I would question the standard income inequality figures, for these reasons:
      Even if inequality has risen somewhat, it has not happened because the middle classes have lost real income, but because the wealthy have gained it. So how does that hurt economic opportunity for anybody? If Bill Gates makes another $10 billion, that neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket.

    2. I’m baffled by the claim that income realized by the Kochs is “lost” to the rest of society. I can’t see that I for one would have made a penny more last year if they had made less. Of course, you might be thinking that money they earned by creating goods and services people want and selling them might instead have been taken from the and given to us, and in at respect we had less one coming in. But then that seems to assume that people’s productive activities are inelastic as to whether or not they get to keep the proceeds. I don’t see any reason to think we live in that world.

      For my part, I think income inequality statistics are Among the most useless bits of information for thinking about policy or justice. They ignore the sources of income, in particular the ways people produce income by contributing cooperatively to others’ lives. They have very little to do with any
      plausible conception of human-well-being. They are mostly devices for manipulation of envy, as best I can tell. (Wealth concentration isn’t much better. What matters is why the wealth is concentrating.)

      That’s not to say poverty isn’t a problem, but concern for income inequality precisely isn’t a concern for poverty. It is just a distraction from things that really matter.

      And for my part the sooner a “modern government” quits doing things it shouldn’t be doing anyway because it is starved of funds to do it the better.

  4. When I look at how much Koch money has gone to Republicans and groups like the American Enterprise Institute, I really have to question their libertarian credentials – especially the claim that they are for peace. These organizations are very limited in advocacy for liberty and freedom, to say the least.

    Their influence on libertarian organizations is open for debate, but I believe libertarianism has paid a certain ideological price for their support. Of course, if we go by the standard that people like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Dick Armey are “libertarians”, then I suppose the Koch brothers would be hardcore libertarians.

    1. They also give to Democrats. From the little I’ve observed, they don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. They try to make an influence in their preferred direction on the margins. In theory, this strategy is canny – giving to a 90% statist in order to defeat a favored 100% statist can make sense if the strategy is pursued forcefully and long enough. But I can’t say I’m an expert on whom the Kochs have & haven’t funded, so I can’t say for sure whether their giving has been smart.

      1. From what I’ve read, the Koch brothers don’t make the really bad the enemy of the truly awful, either.

        Perhaps their “investments” in politics has paid off for them in other ways besides the achievement of liberty in America. Considering they have been at it for over 30 years, they may as well have thrown their millions down the toilet if they were seeking more liberty – unless you’re willing to make the case that we’d all be living in government work camps if it hadn’t been for the Koch brothers.

      2. But if this is so, the same failure (if it is a failure) afflicts list of others who have tried to make the world a freer place in the last 30 years or more. If the idea is that, if you don’t succeed, your efforts at the margin are a waste, then just about everybody except those preserving the status quo are failures. Mayb so, but I’m not sure why one would accept that standard of success.

      3. It’s very hard to calculate the effect of any given political effort on the overall state of things, because the counterfactual can never be observed.

        I do think libertarian activists, including the Kochs, would achieve many more successes if they set their sights lower than D.C., where we are hopelessly outgunned.

  5. I agree that the Koch brothers’ motives and business practices are admirable. Why would they expose themselves to derision, publicity, and criticism by supporting CA’s prop 23, a big error that I assume some lower level Koch officials advocated. The Koch’s business is business.

    I know that Koch Industries goes to extremes to comply with all government regulations. They are not interested in non-compliance, even when regulations may be absurd, thanks to the bureaucrats that issue regulations pursuant to enabling legislation. Congress does not issue regulations. Congress, probably with some amount of benign intent, passes laws and turns the issue over to the enforcing bureaucracy. Then, Congress moves on. Given the motives of bureaucrats, what happens from there may be detrimental to us all, even contrary to the intent of Congress.

    My advice to the Kochs: keep a low profile, maintain your integrity, continue to implement your successful business philosophy, fund education that will benefit America long-term, and avoid politics and the spotlight.

  6. I have no evidence that the Kochs supported the Bush tax cuts. Neither do I have any evidence that they vote Republican, or even that they vote at all. And neither do I have any evidence that they, or any of the very wealthy, for that matter, actively opposed the Bush tax cut. I think this would be so remarkable, that I would have heard, if any of them had.

    The Kochs are strong libertarians, supporters of minimal government. As libertarians, I believe they are just as interested in tax cuts as spending cuts. As wealthy owners of a private corporation that has received over $100 Million in government contracts, they may be more interested in tax cuts than spending cuts. And they give many millions of dollars to politicians, yes, on both sides of the aisle. Does this leave them without influence? But if, indeed, because of their greater concern for a fiscally responsible government, and contrary to their desire for minimal government, and contrary to the many millions of dollars the Koch brothers benefited, the Kochs were indeed opposed, or even merely indifferent, to the Bush tax cuts, I apologize.

    My opinion on the matter of income inequality parallels that of M.S., at the Economist:

    The base percentages of income inequality are not affected by the relative change in buying power. 24% of all personal income is still commanded by the top 1% of earners, whereas 35 years age or so it was only 9%. That inflation has driven up the price of Rolls Royces, while deflation has driven down the prices of inferior goods, is only an expected consequence of this redistribution, and merely a distraction from the greater issue. If the wealthy find this added 15% of income to be of no advantage, why don’t they give it back? Further, saying that the poor, because they increasingly have to scrimp, because they have less money, with the result of lower prices for what they buy, are somehow better off for having to scrimp, is… insensitive.

    Finally, suppose your boss, already many times wealthier than you, promises you a raise. The company does well. The boss gives himself a handsome raise. But then he breaks his promise, and takes your raise, too. How would you feel? Angry? At whom? Your pocket has not been picked, nor your leg broken. Perhaps you are merely non-essential to your boss’ wealth. Perhaps all those gains in your productivity were empty. All those longer hours you put in, at your bosses direction, needless to the company. Perhaps your boss was entirely responsible for that increment in the company’s wealth. Yes. That’s it. You didn’t deserve any of it. He deserved it all.

    But he knows you’re angry. So then he spends money telling you to be angry at somebody else, not him. Eventually, maybe, you’ll figure it out.

    This suggests an implied contract between the members of society, that all should share in any increase in the nation’s prosperity. Certainly all should share who contribute to that prosperity. But perhaps there was, and is, no such implied contract. Perhaps the wealthy feel they are entitled to all they can take, even at society’s expense. Or perhaps the wealthy merely think that, what ever benefits they give society, they deserve more than what they give, even more, in return, that they, not society, should take the profit. Perhaps the wealthy should rethink this.

    1. Mr. St. Pierre:
      Your argument seems to suppose that my disdain for income inequality statistics is due to empirical challenges such as the one criticized in the Economist. It’s not, though actually the argument of the criticism partly supports my reason for disdain. What nobody supposes, I take it, is that the poorest 10%, or quartile, or whatever, is worse off in real terms than they were 30 years ago (or whenever). It may well be the case that they are not as much better off as the top 10% are, but it’s hard for me to see why that matters. What matters is the real improvement in the lives of those at the bottom. Your argument either has to be that there is a problem with their being worse off in relative terms, which can only be an argument based on envy, or that there is some counterfactual world we could have made in which more of the advances went to the bottom. That counterfactual world is extremely difficult to identify, and it requires supposing that we are simply entitled to take from people what they have produced and give it to others, because we think things will turn out better that way. Not only may we be wrong, but we have pretty good reason that supposing we are in position to do that to other people is morally problematic.

      Your boss example makes this point pretty nicely. I would indeed have a problem with this scenario, but the problem would be that I was lied to. If I make a deal, I expect it to be kept. If it is not, there is no story on which the other party “deserved” not to keep it. That is simply unjust. Period. That is precisely why the example is so offensive.

      Tellingly, you want to apply that story by concocting a “tacit contract” in which, not just the gains through cooperation, but the improvement in gains in cooperation have this sort of status. I believe that real agreements matter and ones we suppose people must have or would have actually accepted matter very little. I think the contract, if any is: what you produce is yours, and what I produce is mine. What we agree to trade changes what is ours. What some party decides is fair for each of us to keep is no part of anybody’s actual agreements. Locke offered a story of tacit consent 300 years ago; it didn’t work, and this one is even less plausible. The point isn’t what somebody thinks they “deserve,” on a tacit agreement or otherwise. It’s fidelity to basic principles of interpersonal justice, as your own example brings out so well.

      1. Mr LeBar:

        I think the difference between no better off and slightly better off is slight.
        My ‘counterfactual’ cases are much of Europe.
        My position is that the wealthy and very wealthy have used their power to manipulate the system, in particular the government, to their advantage and at the expense of the rest of us. That the system is already redistributionist, but it mainly redistributes resources in the upward direction. Thus that the wealthy, by manipulating the system, take what is justly earned by the middle class and labor. That they have kept most all of the improvement in gains to themselves. I think this is a betrayal of what I consider an implicit social contract, that a person is entitled to what he earns.

        That the Kocks, and others in their position, have benefited immensely from this redistribution. Whether they in particular have actively manipulated the system, which I suppose from their many contributions to politicians, they have not actively opposed its manipulation.

      2. I think if your case is that the actual improvements in the lives of the poorest over the past thirty years mean nothing, that our model should be European countries who are already choking on their own entitlements, and a fictitious redistribution of “resources” without provenance that society somehow comes to have at its disposal to redistribute (oops, forgot the “zero-sum” deforestation that has been a non-starter for some decades now, partly due to Koch companies), we can probably both agree that we have before us about as compelling a case as you are likely to get.

  7. But if this is so, the same failure (if it is a failure) afflicts list of others who have tried to make the world a freer place in the last 30 years or more.

    Ah, but the difference between the Koch brothers and that list of others is that they have spent millions and millions of dollars – most people have not.

    They have given many millions to causes identified with libertarianism and much more to Republicans. While they have also given to some Democrats, they are among the largest donors of all time to the GOP.

    I’m sure libertarians who receive money from Koch sources appreciate that, of course. But from where I sit, anyone who supports Republicans and Democrats to the extent that the Koch brothers have makes me wonder what they are up to.

    Putting the old apologist bromide of making perfection the enemy of the good, are the Koch brothers conservatives seeking to influence liberals and libertarians, or are they libertarians seeking to influence conservatives and liberals? I just can’t imagine a libertarian funding Republicans to the extent they have for so many years.

    In fact, it seems the most libertarian leaning Republicans don’t get much support from the Koch brothers. For example, CATO seems to dislike Ron Paul.

    Of course, the Koch brothers are free to do what they want to with their money and attempt to influence politicians. But, others are also free to question their motives and criticize them. I think Americans in general are a bit fed up with fabulously wealthy people using cash to influence politics – at least those of us who aren’t being funded by political sugar daddies.

    1. “Cato” as such doesn’t have any opinion about Ron Paul. The people at Cato are a reasonably diverse bunch, with lots of different opinions about lots of different things. Also, my understanding is that Cato doesn’t get all that much money from the Kochs anymore. The Mercatus Center @ GMU is the more Koch-affiliated DC think-tank.

      Have you read Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism? The Kochs have been around the libertarian movement for a long time. It’s hard for me to believe that they’ve been insidiously supporting (and creating from nothing!) libertarian organizations for 35 years or so just to launch some nefarious palace coups at a date-to-be-determined.

      As for money in politics… don’t be so worried! Money can’t buy elections. Just ask the DCCC, SEIU, AFSCME, Meg Whitman, and Linda McMahon.

    2. Tom, for my part I can’t say I don’t find that kind of giving curious, at least, and problematic, at worst. I too have a problem with advancing halfway (or less) measures, with the rationale that we not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Too often that ends up with less-than-perfection being the friend of the absolutely bad. So I’m sympathetic. But I know libertarians whose commitments I do not doubt who do not see those commitments as paying off in the world in that way. It puzzles me, and I disagree with them, but it doesn’t (usually) make me doubt their commitments.

      Moveover, the Kochs face something I do not, which is that their wealth is a political issue, whether it should be or not, and whether they like it or not. Without knowing the details (at all) of their giving, if they give in part to try to defend themselves from political predation, I can’t really knock them for it.

      Then again, if they give to the RNC because they want to see a Republican majority seated in Congress, then I’d have my doubts about what the heck they were doing.

      Against all that, their support of research and education in classical liberals and libertarian ideals is, so far as I know, unparalleled. Much of that they get nothing but whatever satisfaction they get from the propagation of libertarian ideas. Those motives seem kind of hard to misread.

  8. The collectivist views of Mr.Charles St.Pierre is typical of the world view of most leftists. That is, that all wealth exists in common,that everything belongs to everybody and that if you posses more wealth than someone else,than somehow you are guilty of some crime and therefore have to be penalized in the name of “social justice”and”economic democracy”to”give back to the community””your”fair share”of unequal income. In other words the zero-sum philosophy. This kind of economic gibberish is what starts us down the road to the gulags. As long as the Kochs obtained their wealth in a hands off free market transaction,every penny they earned belongs to them and is not up for redistribution. Political payoffs are only protection money paid to crooks who use the law for extortion purposes.

  9. Libertarian Jerry

    I have no objections to wealth. I have objections to excess concentration of wealth. In particular, I object to those wealthy who use their power for their own narrow self-interest, without consideration for the well being of the society that supports them. Those who sell the foundation stones of their wealth, so that they may gild their plumbing.

    As for them keeping every penny, the nice linear days when two people could transact without affecting everyone and everything around them, when the world was large and flat, people few and far between, are gone. For every transaction, there are externalities, costs, and sometimes benefits, that accrue to all the other members of society. When the world was flat, these could be ignored. No longer. The day when a man could cut down a hundred trees, without concern for his distant neighbors, is already gone. The day will come, when every tree will be counted, for the day will come when the forests must be managed zero-sum. The day will come, when the fisheries are zero-sum. When the harvest is zero-sum. When everything must be accounted, to maintain a sustainable future. And unless you favor society crash and burn, or rot and decay, that is the best that can be hoped for. Or unless you favor stringent birth control.

    But I do not doubt that some will have more than others. I only hope those that do, are wise.

  10. Charles St. Pierre, What you are doing in reply to my blog, is practicing what is called Cultural Marxism.That is, instead of discussing the Koch’s right to retain the wealth they have earned,you change the subject and talk about “limited resources and environmental degradation. If the Kochs followed the law and didn’t pollute or cheat people or sell shoddy and dangerous products,the wealth that they created belongs to them,not to some vague term like “the society.”Incidentally,if you want to see real zero sum degradation,go to formally socialist countries in Europe and see the ruined landscapes and pollution for yourself. This is what happens when “society”owns everything in common. Socialism is a failed,gutter philosophy based on envy and coveting what other people have. It appeals to megalomaniacs,mediocrity,and fairytale dreamers who think they can rule the world and run other peoples lives. Socialism is based on violence or threat of violence and eventually leads to the gulags. Socialism,as a political,economic and cultural system is a failure and belongs in the trash bin of history.

  11. Libertarian Jerry:

    I never said that they were not entitled to all they had rightly earned.

    But let me ask you a question: Suppose the ever increasing concentration of wealth and power in the US is natural, the just result of just process. Who, then, when all, or even enough, wealth and power become concentrated in one hand, would you have be King, owner of virtually everything?

    Or should you oppose this? Or, suppose this ever increasing concentration of wealth and power is an unnatural process, a result of the law, but not of justice. Should you oppose this?

    Is the extreme of a King too unlikely? Is there then a natural limit to an unnatural process of concentration of wealth? Then to what degree should wealth and power be allowed to concentrate? Any? That ‘natural’ limit? Or should lower limits be set?

    1. I think the paper promises to be a pretty interesting argument to work through. Widerquist has done a good job picking his focus, I think. It is careful enough and complex enough that it will require time and care to think through, and I’m not in position to do that now. (There are things I think he doesn’t get quite right straight out of the chute, but I don’t think they really affect the force of his argument.) But this I think is the most interesting kind of challenge to libertarian commitments — it’s a lot more interesting and I think there is a lot more to be learned by thinking it through than income statistics!

      One caveat about the style of argument involved: I think it’s not enough to show that there is a logically possible embarrassment for libertarian commitments (I’m not saying he puts it that way — I haven’t read carefully enough — but he’s not explicit about the modal force of his argument.) I don’t know that libertarian principles hold for all possible worlds; certainly I wouldn’t defend them as such. But for our world, where (for instance) there are significant limitations on knowledge that impose a limit in turn on returns to scale, some hypotheticals are not really on, though it is at best a contingent truth that they are not, if true at all.

      As to your questions (worth taking up, I think), I’m not thrilled about what is going to count as a “natural” process. Lawmaking seems to be something people “naturally” do, including making bad law. “Nature” doesn’t impose any limits at all on concentration of wealth, though we might think that a “spontaneous” product of people interacting freely is to impose some such limits. The real issue is whether interactions between people are governed by principles of justice. The suggestion that we know what limits on aggregation make sense — in the sense of advancing social welfare — is I think pretty hubristic. On the other hand, we know what is required to stop it, and so far as I can see that requires that some of us assume unilateral authority over others, in order to impose their conception of what is needed on them, whether they agree or not. That’s pretty morally problematic. I’m much more certain about that than I am any empirical claims about aggregation or its effects.

      Anyway, thanks for the paper. If you want to email me about it to follow up, you can get my email address from my web page. I don’t want to hijack the comments board any more than I already have.

  12. Mr.St.pierre:Suppose doesn’t count. Wealth concentration can only be achieved with the aiding and abetting of government coercion. In a truly free market,wealth is always distributed. This is why Socialism is nothing but feudalism with another vocabulary. In the old Soviet Union all wealth was owned by the state. Or,to be more precise.the people who controlled the state. All your other arguments are gibberish.

  13. Lots of libertarians would agree with you that this is a problem. (Agricultural subsidies are a perfect example, as is high-speed rail and lots of other forms of rent-seeking.) The question is what to do about it. One idea is to expand the reach of government to try to solve the problem, but history indicates there is little chance of that doing anything but expanding the opportunities for rent-seeking. The other solution is to deprive government of the power to create incentives to seek rents rather than engaging in productive exchange. That of course is the point of libertarian policy prescriptions. Tax codes are not the problem. And to the extent the Kochs (or anybody else) get their wealth by rent-seeking, libertarians will join you in criticizing them. But I have no evidence that that is so.

    (hopefully a comment on the article when my travels are over…)

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