by Gary Schoichet
“Money doesn’t buy happiness,” said Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries, in a recent interview with the Blinding Light News Flash Service, “but the power it gives you does. My brother David and I have lots of money — $40 billion each — but so what? We can buy anything we want. We are buying Oklahoma next week and then North and South Carolina the following week. They come as a package.”
Koch also comes as a package with his brother David. Politically, they call themselves libertarians. Loosely translated, that means that they are free to pollute rivers, lakes, the ground, and the air, and any government that tries to regulate how Koch Industries does business is their enemy. Their business is oil — transporting it via numerous spills — and manufacturing anything that can be made from it, as well as paper products famous for turning pristine river waters a frothing yellow. “We are very proud that in 2012 and 2013 we were the recipients of the Polluter of the Year Award for companies with over $100 billion in annual revenue,” boasted Charles.
“But David and I are about more than pollution,” he continued. “We’re about Americans enjoying the benefits of economic freedom without government getting in the way. We want people to feel free to start their own businesses, to invest in their futures, not to be dependent on the minimum wage, which limits their mobility in the labor market. Since 1990,” he added proudly, “we’ve given more than $23 million to think tanks to attack the minimum wage. That’s nearly $8 per minimum-wage worker that we’ve given, to prevent them from hurtfully closing out their employment options.”
Charles has said that an American earning $34,000 per year is in the worldwide 1 percent and should consider himself lucky. Koch’s worth is more than one million times that figure. “This income inequality thing is overrated,” he said. “What’s important is whether you are happy. Even if our businesses took twice the amount we now take from the federal government in subsidies and tax breaks, I wouldn’t be any happier.”
Other billionaires such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have pledged to give away the bulk of their wealth to make the world a better place. Buffett has told Fortune magazine, “Were we to use more than 1 percent of my claim checks [Berkshire Hathaway stock certificates] on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99 percent can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others.”
Asked if he’d like to join the other billionaires who signed The Giving Pledge, David Koch told the Blinding Light News Flash, “We inherited our money fair and square, and what we didn’t inherit we earned by doing really bad things. I personally give money to cultural institutions like the Metropolitan Museum and Lincoln Center so I can see my name chiseled in stone, but give it to help people? Puh-lease. It just makes them more dependent. It’s different from our business, which takes every penny it can from the federal government in subsidies and tax breaks. That’s different,” he said. “We may have principles, but we’re not stupid.”
When running for vice-president on the Libertarian ticket in 1980, David characterized even Social Security as “the most serious threat to the future stability of our society next to the threat of nuclear war.” His own Social Security checks are direct-deposited into his bank account so he needn’t encounter their radioactivity.
“If I had known that Bat Masterson was a commie I never would have watched the television show,” said David.
* The entire quote, part of Masterson’s last column for the New York Morning Telegraph (he died of a heart attack at his typewriter) reads, “There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose these ginks who argue that way hold that because the rich man gets ice in the summer and the poor man gets it in the winter things are breaking even for both. Maybe so, but I’ll swear I can’t see it that way.”
Gary Schoichet is a prize-winning labor journalist, editor, and photographer. He writes and photographs what he sees. He nevertheless still has a sense of humor.