Sunday, April 13, 2014

Linda Stamato Smears (and Fears?) the Koch Brothers

Linda Stamato, a Rutgers University faculty member, penned an op-ed in the New Jersey Star-Ledger titled Koch brothers and their money make America more dangerous

Keep in mind, as you read her article, that the author's target is two private citizens engaging in public advocacy with their own money. The Koch brothers are two industrial billionaires who fight for right wing causes, though perhaps not always causes of the Right, properly defined. They are a favorite target of the political Left in the same way as George Soros is of conservatives. They are the quintessential product of a society that protects free speech and dissent.

But you would think they were "enemies of the state" as understood by totalitarian regimes.

Part 1 of Stamato's article is a listing of what she terms "The extent of the Koch reach." This includes their business enterprises and funding of conservative/libertarian activist groups and think tanks. The Koch brothers breathtaking crime; their "focus on remaking America into a land of unfettered, unregulated capitalism." I suppose Stamato expects to elicit a breathless GASP from her readers, but all I could summon up was a "so what?"

"The extent of the Koch reach" turns out to be their ability to effectively advocate their views to a wide audience—the power of the pen. That so many Americans subscribe to Koch ideas has Stamato in a tizzy. "The Koch brothers," she writes, "are . . . affecting elections and thwarting governance. . ." GASP! I left these comments:

So? Isn't "affecting elections" what representative self-government is all about? And when have the Koch brothers ever advocated "thwarting governance?" Thwarting those who would use government power to thwart liberty, for sure. Would you also accuse activists who SUPPORT the regulatory welfare state of "affecting elections and thwarting governance?" Or, do statists not want to have to answer only to citizen[s] that don't acquiesce to their governance ambitions? 

The extent of the regulatory state's reach, which by its very nature is unconstrained by any principles of individual rights, is its ability to initiate force against private citizens—the power of the gun. What is that next to the pen? Who is the real threat? To the citizens, it is the state. To the state and their apologists, it is apparently the Koch brothers. After all, the Koch brothers. . .

are hurting human beings by seeking to deprive them of unemployment benefits, a fair wage, collective bargaining rights, food stamps and insurance coverage — not to mention by compromising the safety and health of their environment.

I don't know enough about the Koch brothers to know if they are genuine advocates of laissez-faire capitalism. I doubt it, given that such advocates outside of Objectivists are virtually non-existent. More than likely, they favor some kind of "safety net." In any event, Stamato doesn't provide any evidence of her claim. In regard to those programs, the only people being deprived are employers of their rights to decide how much to pay their employees, to choose whether or not to collectively bargain with a union, or not to provide health insurance; workers forced into unions against their will; and taxpayers forced to fund food stamps and insurance subsidies.

Moving on to the next section, DISASTERS WAITING TO HAPPEN, Stamato describes 3 industrial accidents, which she blames on the Koch brothers alleged success at "limiting regulation"—this, in an era of rampaging regulations. OSHA, you see, failed to "adequately regulate" a Texas fertilizer plant that blew up, killing several workers, because it wasn't adequately funded—this, in a era of rampaging budget deficits. 

You get the picture. We're dealing with a smear piece. You can read the rest of Koch brothers and their money make America more dangerous, if you like.

I left these comments

The big lie perpetrated here is that these industrial accidents happened because of "unfettered, unregulated capitalism." Where does one see anything close to "unfettered, unregulated capitalism?" In fact, these disasters happened in a heavily fettered, highly regulated mixed economy. Where is the blame on the regulators that already permeate the economy? All Stamato can do is insinuate that these accidents "may" have been prevented if only there were yet more regulations.

"Special interests, money and politicians for sale?" They are products of a mixed economy. The more power government gains over the lives and business of its citizens, the more the citizens are incentivized to influence the policies of the government that regulates and taxes them. Under unregulated capitalism, because government has no power to regulate commerce and dispense economic favors, there is no incentive to influence government policy-making, and thus no special interests. Yet, Stamato's solution to the mixed economy, special interest free-for-all is to shred the First Amendment by "regulating" (i.e., stifling) the citizens' ability to participate in and influence their own government.

Human beings, including regulators, are not infallible or omniscient. Sometimes they are even criminally negligent. Accidents and disasters will happen. There is no magic regulatory bullet. Today, the regulatory state is bigger than ever. Where's the nirvana? Government's job is to punish wrongdoing and force the responsible company to pay restitution and other appropriate penalties. Isolated accidents should not be an excuse to punish the innocent with more regulations.

Stamato condemns "a misplaced faith in unfettered free enterprise." Then what about the blind faith in state supremacist ideology; the omnipotent state? If the freedom of capitalism is so bad, how about the un-freedom of statist regimes? If the author insists on blaming isolated industrial disasters on "unfettered" capitalism, then she must also recognize the horrors of unfettered government—the tens of millions slaughtered, hundreds of millions enslaved and impoverished, the concentration camps, the censorship, and all-pervasive fear perpetrated by Nazi, communist, fascist, Islamist, and sundry other authoritarian regimes. In the end, the choice will come down to the liberty of unfettered capitalism or the horrors of unfettered government.

We need a government strong enough to protect our individual rights, but not so strong as to violate them with impunity, as we have now. Thanks, Koch brothers, for exercising your First Amendment rights, with your own money, to help get the case for liberty out there. We need it, as the statists' drive for ever-wider government powers is insatiable. Here's hoping you'll never be targeted and shackled by government censors.

The author responded:

It's not the size of "the state" as much as the scope and effectiveness. And, my point is not to limit free speech, not by a long shot, but to make that speech--and its efforts to influence, in this case, regulation to ensure health and safety--transparent.

Scope and effectiveness, at what, to what end, with what limits? Apparently, none.  "Regulation to ensure health and safety" is so broad as to encompass any area of our lives that regulators desire. In your article, you mention, as proper functions of the state, "environmental regulation, . . . the threat of climate change; . . . taxes, trade unions and President Obama’s health care reforms. . . unemployment benefits, a fair wage, collective bargaining rights, food stamps and insurance coverage, . . . the safety and health of their environment. . . . public education, social programs, worker salaries"—all of which involve, in one way or another, rights-violating government action. There's a lot more there than objective anti-pollution or industrial liability laws. The scope of government's coercive reach over our lives and wealth is indeed broad, and getting broader.

Stamato concludes with a classic Leftist straw man—that the Koch brothers are anti-government—and a call for more government controls. 

I am sympathetic to the Koch brothers' cause, although I'm sure there are areas of disagreement. But that is beside the point.

What I detected in this article is a whiff of panic in Stamato's over-heated rhetoric. Why must statists smear the Koch brothers? In the end, the Koch brothers are simply exercising their First Amendment rights with their own money. They are merely advocating their pro-freedom, anti-statist (not anti-government) ideals. Their "crime" is that they are effective in their ability to convince people of the rightness of their ideas. Perhaps this—an effective counter-force to Leftist statism—is what Stamato fears.

Related Reading:

Obama's Pre-Emptive Strike

The Virtue of Extremism

I'm Fighting to Restore a Free Society—Charles Koch

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