Monday, August 11, 2014

Should You Be Afraid of the Koch Brothers?

Are these Billionaires to be feared or admired?

A lot of ink has been spilled lately about the Koch brothers.  Some dude recently wrote a book about them.   Fear-mongers among the Democratic party like to tout them as Satan's Own Spawn.

Who are these dudes and should you be afraid of them?

Well, for the first part, you can start by reading online here or you can read "Sons of Wichita" on your pad device.   Rather than barf up their biographies, I'll just summarize it briefly.

Their Dad, Fred, came up with a new method of cracking oil to make gasoline. If you studied petroleum engineering and know how a cracking tower works, you appreciate how important this invention is.  Like Howard Hughes' Dad (who invented the modern oil well drill) it turns out that you can make more money in selling the accessories for the oil business, than in the business itself. Ask Halliburton about this.  So the Koch brothers started out life very, very wealthy.

As I noted in another posting, inherited wealth tends to dissipate within a few generations.   If you are a rich kid, set to inherit more money than you can spend in one lifetime, you have three options.  You can (1) live carefully off the money and never work again for the rest of your life - which is the safest option.   You can (2) blow it all on drugs, fast cars, and women, and end up broke by age 25 - that is the stupid option, of course (but quite a popular one).   Option (3) is the riskiest - you can take your inherited money and "double down" your bet by risking it all on a new business venture.   You might end up 10 or 100 times as wealthy as before, or dead broke like your deadbeat playboy brother who chose option #2.

For most of us, option #1 seems like the best choice, and two of the Koch brothers apparently chose this option, choosing to be artists and philanthropists, rather than get into the game.   Two of the other brothers - the ones we are supposed to hate with a passion - decided to double-down their bet.

Charles and David Koch are no dummies.  They both have Bachelors and Masters degrees in Chemical Engineering.  Right off the bat, you can see that these guys were not satisfied to just collect the inheritance and hang out.   Engineering isn't easy (it took me 10 years to get my degree!) and not for Country Club dilettantes or Wall Street protesters.

They then fought their brothers for control of their Father's company, which earned them the ire of many.   And once they controlled that company, they expanded it considerably, taking what was a considerable inheritance and turning it into something far, far bigger.   Along the way, they acquired spandex/lycra from Dupont.   Some folks call for boycotting these products.   I guess Jane Fonda will have to wear some baggy cotton pants for her next workout video.

But what really sticks in people's craw is that the two brothers contribute a lot of money to political causes, mostly GOP candidates and causes, which they argue is unfair (the Democrats only have George Soros). 

But the Koch's are not born-again right-to-lifer's who want to see immigration outlawed and Gay Marriage banned.  Rather, they are funding conservative economic causes, such as lower taxes, less government spending, and the like (and in terms of payback for their dollar, they are getting as shitty deal from the GOP, as while they cut taxes slightly under Bush, they compensated by spending money like drunken sailors).   That a Billionaire would fund causes to cut spending and reduce taxes seems kind of, well, obvious.  They are more Libertarian than Republican.   And that tells you a lot right there about how the GOP uses "social issues" as window dressing (as do the Democrats).

Are these two a threat to Democracy-as-we-know-it?  No more then Scientology is a threat to your mental health or whatever.  But people like to have a boogey-man to be afraid of, and certain business interests (and political and religious) like to sell fear to the masses.   So they trot out Tom Cruise or the Koch Brothers as scarecrows, on a regular basis.

I am on some sort of Democractic mailing list, and every day I get alarming e-mails (which I keep trying to filter into my trash bin and mark as SPAM) telling me alarming things about what the GOP is up do (as if I don't read the news) and how I need to send them more money.  The Democrats need to read the Aesop fable about the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" as their pleas are starting to sound all alike and are as over-the-top as a pitch from Motley Fool.   But I guess that is the level of discourse you have to stoop to, in order to get the attention of the smart phone generation.

The reality is (and again, perceiving reality is the key) that Barack Obama was elected not once, but twice, despite the Koch Brothers best efforts.  Yes, they may help influence some Senate and House races here and there.   But it ain't hard to get a GOP candidate elected in a Red State.   Throwing money at candidates doesn't necessarily turn the tide, except perhaps in a few close elections.  They threw a lot of money at the tea party, but it didn't manage to do much good.   The tea party seems to have been squashed by the US Chamber of Commerce and people in the GOP tired of grandstanding tactics that do little good and cost a lot of goodwill.

The bottom line is, weak thinkers will always be influenced by television ads.  Not much you can do about it.  Some dumb redneck who is heavily in debt (but has a new jet ski and a gun collection) is going to vote Republican, convinced that all the black-people-on-welfare "took his money away".

And similarly, the hippy-dippy who is similarly in debt (but for his Prius and pot habit) will vote Democratic, convinced that the "Wall Street 1%'ers" are the ones who "took all his money away".

Myself, I am not so worried about the Koch Brothers or George Soros, or whatever.   Despite all the big money in politics (or maybe because of it) people still vote the way they want to vote.   You can blame these big-name donors for your political defeat, but the reality is, it is the voters who hand you victory or defeat, in any election.

It is like the housing deal.  People want to blame the banks, the government, the Democrats, the Republicans, the "Wall Street Fat Cats" or whatever.  No one wants to blame themselves - the 330 million people in this country who collectively lost their minds and thought that it was rational that a pedestrian house could appreciate in value by 20% a year or more, indefinitely.

It is easy thinking and weak thinking to blame an individual or group of people for all of your woes.   But it really doesn't do much for your own bottom line, other than make you feel better about yourself for a few minutes.  However, the more you engage in such thinking, the further you are removed from reality.

And the further you are removed from reality, the poorer you will be, in life.

Act rationally in an irrational world.