In the new Bloomberg billionaire index, released this week, the Koch brothers are each worth $33.5 billion. If they choose to act together, as they often seem to, including in the case of Cato, they are the richest pair in the world.
Professor Acemoglu is concerned about the Kochs’ well-organized attempts to exert sway over American politics (e.g., through Americans for Prosperity and its affiliated organizations). But he feels that American democracy is sufficiently strong and will prevail. If he is right, the Koch brothers are unlikely to end up calling the shots as corporate titans did in the Gilded Age at the end of the 19th century.Murray Rothbard used to teach that you don't have to be very bright to become rich. (On one tape, I recall he used an example of a bumbling monk, who was kicked out of the monastery and set up some shop and became wealthy.)
Monks the Kochs may not be, but bumbling in their control of the Cato Institute, for sure. I mean, if I am a billionaire (just one billion, never mind thirty-three), I would set up an organization where it is clear I am in control. I have been around enough very wealthy people to know that they are asked for handouts on a daily basis. Others plot other ways to go after superwealth.
The super-rich are always on guard. Thus, it is simply bizarre that the Kochs used a part of their fortune to set up an institute where they have to battle for control. Dumb. Mega-dumb. Maybe they needed outside shareholders for tax purposes, but in that case you make your lawyer or your bumbling aide who holds doors open for you, shareholders. You don't put the principled Murray Rothbard on the board or the Machiavellian Ed Crane on the board. For completely different reasons, these guys are not going to roll over and play fetch with a couple of billionaires. You make them officers and throw them some bucks that don't mean anything to you, but why the hell would you make them shareholders? Did I mention mega-dumb?
For a couple of guys that have billions to play with, their influence on domestic affairs has been a joke. What have they done? Aside from hiring some lobbyists to protect parts of their businesses, they have done nothing.
Lew Rockwell, who probably has less than $33 billion in assets, with a web site that probably cost him less than $100 to register, was instrumental in launching the Ron Paul campaign into orbit, where now some 10% of the electorate will not even consider voting for anyone else. That's power.
There are a lot of DC types, who chide me for attacking Cato. They think Cato is important, but what I think is that they really smell Koch money and that they think that some of it, somehow, will fall into their pockets. Well, I tell you when it comes to betting between money and brains, always go with the brains.
No matter how much money someone has, weak thinking can lead to incredible spectacles of disaster.
While discussion around Ron Paul centers on how many delegates he will win and what leverage they may hold and while many youth squeeze every free minute they have to read Ron Paul books on liberty, at Cato we have the executive vice-president writing about the damage that has already occurred because of the Crane-Koch power opera. Writes David Boaz:
This misguided attempt at corporate control of an independent, nonpartisan think tank is bad for the Cato Institute and bad for the libertarian movement. We hope that everyone will come to see that, soon, before any more damage is done.Self-absorbed as ever, Boaz writes above, that the Cato disaster is a disaster for the libertarian movement. Not quite. It is true that damage has been done to Cato, perhaps irreparable damage, but this has nothing to do with libertarianism. In New York City subways, in airport lounges, I regularly hear conversation about Ron Paul and see others reading Ayn Rand, I have seen Rothbard and Mises t-shirts, but I have never heard a conversation about Cato or seen anyone ever reading a Cato publication.
The Kochs will never takeover the world. The nutty structure they set up for control of Cato teaches you they aren't close to being tier one strategic thinkers. A sharp mind would have spotted the nutty structure immediately and would have rejected it. A billionaire should always be thinking about control so that blow-ups and fights for control, like that going on for Cato, never occur. I see weak thinking by the brothers. George Soros must be sneering at the incompetence. You don't see Soros having control problems with the organizations he launches.
But at the same time Cato implodes (Who knows the Cato building may eventually have to be sold), the understanding of liberty advances. It is advancing perhaps by someone who is spreading the word, who can not afford to travel by limousine and travels by subway, but has a way of promoting liberty that catches peoples ear. Perhaps by a creative short film creator and by clever web writers. Cato isn't even on the radar of impact compared to these creative lovers of freedom.
The Kochs won't takeover the world, and that's a good thing, but someday liberty may be a concept that will spread across the planet, and that is a very good thing. And, the promoters of liberty that achieve such an end will not be those who spend time genuflecting before a couple of characters with billions. A couple of billionaires, who bumble out of the gate with a nutty organizational structure, makes them only potential material for a sitcom starring Charlie Sheen as, well, Charlie Coke.