A Free-Market Energy Blog

Who Is Charles Koch? (Senator Reid vs. Mother Jones’s Daniel Schulman)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- July 29, 2014

“[Sen. Harry] Reid’s attacks have drawn cries of McCarthyism from around the political world, including MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and Mother Jones editor Daniel Schulman. And they’ve even created discomfort among liberal big-money donors and operatives, who worry the argument might expose them to charges of hypocrisy, while they also question the effectiveness of running against donors who won’t appear on any ballots.”

– Kenneth Vogel, “Behind Harry Reid’s War Against the Koch Brothers,”  POLITICO, July 7, 2014.

It was an all-too-familiar reframe: guilt by association (and in this case guilt from false/good association). At Climate Progress, Joe Romm breathlessly reported last month that “Bjorn Lomborg Is Part of the Koch Network—and Cashing In.” In Romm’s vitriolic words:

You know the T-shirt-wearing climate inactivist Lomborg (aka the Danish Delayer) from such recent gems as “Subsidizing renewables won’t stop global warming” and “What an increasingly wonderful world” and “The Poor Need Cheap Fossil Fuels” (seriously — or not). If those sound suspiciously similar to the exact same positions being pushed by the Koch brothers, then it should come as no surprise that Lomborg’s backers are part of the sprawling Kochtopus enterprise, as DeSmogBlog documents.

And this conclusion:

So Bjorn Lomborg is funded by foundations that are part of the Kochtopus empire of influence. And Lomborg is a big-time pundit who argues for inaction on climate change, who pens pieces like “The Poor Need Cheap Fossil Fuels,” and who asserts “global warming has mostly been a net benefit so far” and will be for decades. Coincidence? You be the judge — preferably not a Kochtopus-educated one.

Previous posts at MasterResource have documented the worldview and positions of a rare corporate chieftain who is opposed to cronyism.

But now a new book-length treatment of Charles Koch (and brothers) is provided by Daniel Schulman in Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty (Grand Central Publishing: 2014).

Schulman is a senior editor and investigative journalist in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones, a publication in favor of universal (socialistic) schooling and health care and a lot of other big government/big brother programs (“we’re not insulted by being called left, liberal, progressive, whatever,” says their website).

This book, despite some errors and selective use of documentation, is interesting reading. Koch’s intellectually based libertarianism, which traverses Left and Right, comes through. That helps people understand the real man versus Harry Reid’s bogeyman. Charles Koch is principled, benevolent, consistent, and, for the uninitiated, interesting.

Any and all Koch foes who are open-minded should investigate Koch’s views to better under the social and economic world–and thus human betterment. Here are some Schulman takes (subtitles in bold added) on Charles Koch on the human side and in the area of social and political philosophy:

“In contrast to his brother David, who is respected by the company’s rank and file but not seen as the driving force behind the company’s success, Charles is viewed as a near-mythic figure, a man of preternatural intellect and economic prowess…. He is unquestionably powerful, but unfailingly humble; elusive, but uncomplicated; cosmopolitan, yet thoroughly Kansan….”

“Charles has been described as a businessman so shrewd that ‘in a fifty-fifty deal, he keeps the hyphen,’ but he projects the image of a brainy professor, not a cutthroat mogul. ‘I am Charles Koch,’ he once introduced himself to a classroom of junior executives who had gathered for training in Market-Based Management. ‘I’m in the philosophy department’.”

“He’s known by friends and colleagues alike as a voracious consumer of knowledge. Even on the short commute between his home and office, a drive of no more than fifteen minutes, he [listens to] Thomas Sowell’s Ethnic America or Eric Foner’s Reconstruction. Every conversation is an opportunity to profit intellectually, and when Charles hits upon a subject that fascinates him, he drills for details. ‘If he’s even in the elevator with you … he’s trying to learn from you. He doesn’t waste a minute’.”

Crony Not

“Charles is a true believer, whose free-market beliefs are unquestionable self-interested—but also undeniably sincere. His value system is apparent in all aspects of his company, including Koch’s lobbying operation. Until the early 1990s, the company didn’t have a Washington presence; this, one former Koch lobbyist said, reflected Charles’s inherent distrust of politicians and his antigovernment bent. Once he did open a Washington office, prompted by the wave of government investigations and the bad PR stirred up by Bill Koch, the company’s lobbyists operated differently than the K Street-hired guns that stalk the halls of Congress for their corporate clients.”

Principled, not Expedient

“Koch’s lobbyists don’t shift their positions based on the political headwinds. According to one Senate Republican leadership aide, they won’t be found pressing for subsidies in one bill and opposing them in another. ‘They’re not rent-seekers,’ he said. The overriding factor guiding the company’s lobbying agenda is not whether a legislative proposal will be good or bad for Koch Industries, but whether it is consistent with Charles’s libertarian beliefs.”


“The CEO has much to be proud of…. His company produces some of the most elemental ingredients of our modern society–energy, food, building, and agricultural materials–and its products intersect every day with the lives of every American.”

“He has arguably done more than anyone else to promote free-market economics and the broader ideology surrounding it. By mainstreaming libertarianism, he helped to change the way people think.”

Daniel Schulman’s Sons of Wichita did not turn out to be a hit book, which says much about its major subject. Expect future biographies to be more complete, scholarly, and appreciative of the man who is dedicated to putting into motion the forces to get America off the road to serfdom.

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