Posts Tagged ‘Charles Koch’

American Historian Nancy Maclean on James McGill Buchanan and the Libertarian Attack on Democracy

July 27, 2017

This is another very interesting clip from Sam Seder’s Majority Report. He talks by phone to Nancy Maclean, the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University, who explains the origins of Libertarianism in the thought of James McGill Buchanan and the threat this now poses to American democracy through the Koch brothers. Buchanan was one of the founders of Public Choice Economics. This exists in both left- and right-wing versions, and in Buchanan’s case, it’s extremely right-wing. Buchanan took an attitude towards the American constitution similar to Calhoun, one of the figures in early American political history, who was strongly opposed by Madison. Calhoun divided society into ‘makers’ and ‘takers’. The ‘makers’ were the rich, while the ‘takers’ were the poor. Buchanan expanded on this distinction to found the Virginia School of Political Economy. This considered that no constitution in the world, including the American, adequately protected property rights. As Maclean herself points out, this is a ridiculous statement when applied to America, whose constitution protects private property to a higher degree than those of other nations. Buchanan then became political active trying to change this.

Central to the Virginia’s school’s thinking was the doctrine that it was immoral to tax the rich to benefit the poor. Buchanan, and the other Libertarians around him, were firmly opposed to progressive taxation and the embryonic American welfare state. It is this opposition to progressive economic and social policies that has strongly influenced the Republican party’s current attempts to destroy Obamacare.

This led to the foundation of the Montpellerin Group, a think tank which was one of the founding organizations of Libertarianism in the 1970s. Its members included von Hayek, von Mises, and the founder of Monetarism, Milton Friedman, as well as Charles Koch. They also realized that they would be a minority, and so looked for ways to assist non-democratic regimes so seize power, like General Pinochet in Chile.

The Kochs are oil billionaires, who have been major figures in the Libertarian party, and have given lavishly to a number of extreme right-wing organisations in America working to destroy the American welfare state and undermine the Constitution. Two of these are the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, but Maclean states that there 15 of these in all. Maclean states that the Libertarians present themselves as Madisonians, determined to return the Constitution to its original form and protect it against the progressives and liberals they feel have hijacked and corrupted it. She points out instead that their views are those of Calhoun, rather than Madison. Madison and the other Founding Fathers were extremely Conservative themselves, and determined to protect private property as much as possible. She acknowledges that the Constitution as it is, with its four veto clauses, is a Conservative document. But Madison was a determined opponent of Calhoun, and stated that if Calhoun was successful, it would be the end of freedom in America.

I’ve put up several pieces from Reichwing Watch over the past few days, showing that Libertarianism, far from being a form of Anarchism, as its supporters claim, is actually a form of extreme right-wing politics similar to, and increasingly declaring itself to be, at least according to spokesmen like That Guy T a form of Fascism. This adds a little information to show that it has always been Fascistic. Buddy Hell over at Guy Debord’s Cat has pointed out that Pinochet and his regime was Monetarist, strongly influenced by von Mises, and that Milton Friedman frequently visited the country to see how the thug was implementing his economic policies. This shows that the connections between Pinochet and the Chicago school weren’t coincidental. Friedman and his cohorts didn’t visit Chile, because Pinochet just happened to be a Monetarist and wanted their assistance. They visited Chile because they had rejected democratic government and were actively assisting Pinochet to achieve power in order to help the rich exploit and brutalise the poor.

And this isn’t an issue that’s just confined to America. Libertarianism has also been a very strong influence on the Tory party since the days of Maggie Thatcher. She was deeply impressed by von Hayek, and turned up at a political meeting in the ’70s with his book, The Road to Serfdom. A young man had been speaking before her, recommending a more middle of the road policy in line with the post-War consensus. Instead Thatcher slapped von Hayek’s wretched screed on the table and announced, ‘This is what we all believe now.’ There was always a section of the Tory party that despised the welfare state, and they have become the dominant section of the party since Thatcher. It was Thatcher, who talked explicitly of dismantling the welfare state, including the NHS, which she wished to privatize. It is these policies, that are still being carried through nearly forty years later.

And these ideological links and the threat they pose to the NHS are likely to become fixed through the free trade agreements that the Tories are desperate to conclude with Donald Trump. The break up of the welfare state and the gradual privatization of the NHS is being done partly for the benefit of American private healthcare and state outsourcing companies. Private Eye revealed that the work capability tests were introduced by Peter Lilley and the Tories through the influence of the American insurance fraudster, Unum, an influence that continued when Tony Blair and New Labour came into power in 1997. The magazine also revealed that Blair was being lobbied by a number of American firms, including Wackenhut, which, amongst other things, runs private prisons. Any deal the Tories make with Trump’s administration is likely to cement the privatization of the remains of the NHS and the wider state sector into international law.

If we wish to defend the NHS and what’s left of the welfare state, and create a better, fairer society, we need to make sure such privatization does not become enshrined in any trade treaties, either with America or the European Union, and combat Libertarianism and its attack on the poor and weak as the underlying ideological cause.

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Reichwing Watch: How the Billionaires Brainwashed America

November 16, 2016

This is another excellent video from Reichwing Watch. Entitled Peasants for Plutocracy: How the Billionaires Brainwashed America, it’s about how wealthy industrialists, like the multi-billionaire Koch brothers, created modern Libertarianism and a stream of fake grassroots ‘astroturf’ organisations, in order to attack and roll back Roosevelt’s New Deal and the limited welfare state it introduced. And one of the many fake populist organisations the Koch brothers have set up is the Tea Party movement, despite the Kochs publicly distancing themselves from it.

The documentary begins with footage from an old black and white American Cold War propaganda movie, showing earnest young people from the middle decades of the last century discussing the nature of capitalism. It then moves on to Noam Chomsky’s own, very different perspective on an economy founded on private enterprise. Chomsky states that there has never been a purely capitalist economy. Were one to be established, it would very soon collapse, and so what we have now is state capitalism, with the state playing a very large role in keeping capitalism viable. He states that the alternative to this system is the one believed in by 19th century workers, in that the people, who worked in the mills should own the mills. He also states that they also believed that wage labour was little different from slavery, except in that it was temporary. This belief was so widespread that it was even accepted by the Republican party. The alternative to capitalism is genuinely democratic self-management. This conflicts with the existing power structure, which therefore does everything it can to make it seem unthinkable.

Libertarianism was founded in America in 1946/7 by an executive from the Chamber of Commerce in the form of the Foundation for Economic Education. This was basically a gigantic business lobby, financed by the heads of Fortune 500 companies, who also sat on its board. It’s goal was to destroy Roosevelt’s New Deal. Vice-President Wallace in an op-ed column in the New York Times stated that while its members posed as super-patriots, they wanted to roll back freedom and capture both state and economic power. The video also quotes Milton Friedman, the great advocate of Monetarism and free market economics, on capitalism as the system which offers the worst service at the highest possible profit. To be a good businessman, you have to be as mean and rotten as you can. And this view of capitalism goes back to Adam Smith. There is a clip of Mark Ames, the author of Going Postal, answering a question on why the media is so incurious about the true origins of Libertarianism. He states that they aren’t curious for the same reason the American media didn’t inquire into the true nature of the non-existent WMDs. It shows just how much propaganda and corruption there is in the American media.

The documentary then moves on to the Tea Party, the radical anti-tax movement, whose members deliberately hark back to the Boston Tea Party to the point of dressing up in 18th century costume. This section begins with clips of Fox News praising the Tea Party. This is then followed by Noam Chomsky on how people dread filling out their annual tax returns because they’ve been taught to see taxation as the state stealing their money. This is true in dictatorships. But in true democracy, it should be viewed differently, as the people at last being able to put into practice the plan in which everyone was involved in formulating. However, this frightens big business more than social security as it involves a functioning democracy. As a result, there is a concerted, and very successful campaign, to get people to fear big government.

The idea of the Tea Party was first aired by the CNBC reporter Rick Santilli in an on-air rant. Most of the Party’s members are normal, middle class Americans with little personal involvement in political campaigning. It is also officially a bi-partisan movement against government waste. But the real nature of the Tea Party was shown in the 2010 Tea Party Declaration of Independence, which stated that the Party’s aims were small government and a free market economy. In fact, the movement was effectively founded by the Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch. Back in the 1980s, David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s vice-president. The Libertarian Party’s 1980 platform stated that they intended to abolish just about every regulatory body and the welfare system. They intended to abolish the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Authority, Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, National Labor Relations Board, the FBI, CIA, Federal Reserve, Social Security, Welfare, the public (state) schools, and taxation. They abandoned this tactic, however, after pouring $2 million of their money into it, only to get one per cent of the vote. So in 1984 they founded the first of their wretched astroturf organisation, Citizens for a Sound Economy. The name was meant to make it appear to be a grassroots movement. However, their 1998 financial statement shows that it was funded entirely by wealthy businessmen like the Kochs. In 2004 the CSE split into two – Freedom Works, and Americans for Prosperity. The AFP holds an annual convention in Arlington, Virginia, attended by some of its 800,000 members. It was the AFP and the Kochs who were the real organising force behind the Tea Party. Within hours of Santilli’s rant, he had been given a list of 1/2 million names by the Kochs. Although the Koch’s have publicly distanced themselves from the Tea Party, the clip for this section of the documentary shows numerous delegates at the convention standing up to declare how they had organised Tea Parties in their states. But it isn’t only the AFP that does this. Freedom Works, which has nothing to do with the Kochs, also funds and organises the Tea Parties.

Mark Crispin Miller, an expert on propaganda, analysing these astroturf organisations makes the point that for propaganda to be effective, it must not seem like propaganda. It must seem to come either from a respected, neutral source, or from the people themselves. Hence the creation of these fake astroturf organisations.

After its foundation in the late 1940s, modern Libertarianism was forged in the late 1960s and ’70s by Charles Koch and Murray Rothbard. Libertarianism had previously been the ideology of the John Birch Society, a group harking back to the 19th century. Koch and Rothbard married this economic extreme liberalism, with the political liberalism of the hippy counterculture. They realised that the hippies hated the state, objecting to the police, drug laws, CIA and the Vietnam war. Ayn Rand, who is now credited as one of the great founders of Libertarianism for her extreme capitalist beliefs, despised them. The film has a photo of her, next to a long quote in which she describes Libertarianism as a mixture of capitalism and anarchism ‘worse than anything the New Left has proposed. It’s a mockery of philosophy and ideology. They sling slogans and try to ride on two different bandwagons… I could deal with a Marxist with a greater chance of reaching some kind of understanding, and with much greater respect.’

The documentary also goes on to show the very selective attitude towards drugs and democracy held by the two best-known American Libertarian politicos, Ron and Rand Paul. Despite the Libertarians’ supposedly pro-marijuana stance, the Pauls aren’t actually in favour of legalising it or any other drugs. They’re just in favour of devolving the authority to ban it to the individual states. If the federal government sends you to prison for weed, that, to them, is despotism. If its the individual state, it’s liberty.

And there’s a very telling place piece of footage where Ron Paul talks calmly about what a threat democracy is. He states clearly that democracy is dangerous, because it means mob rule, and privileges the majority over the minority. At this point the video breaks the conversation to show a caption pointing out that the Constitution was framed by a small group of wealthy plutocrats, not ‘we the people’. This is then followed by an American government film showing a sliding scale for societies showing their positions between the poles of democracy to despotism, which is equated with minority rule. The video shows another political scientist explaining that government and elites have always feared democracy, because when the people make their voices heard, they make the wrong decisions. Hence they are keen to create what Walter Lipmann in the 1920s called ‘manufacturing consent’. Real decisions are made by the elites. The people themselves are only allowed to participate as consumers. They are granted methods, which allow them to ratify the decisions of their masters, but denied the ability to inform themselves, organise and act for themselves.

While Libertarianism is far more popular in America than it is over here, this is another video that’s very relevant to British politics. There are Libertarians over here, who’ve adopted the extreme free-market views of von Hayek and his fellows. One of the Torygraph columnists was particularly vocal in his support for their doctrines. Modern Tory ideology has also taken over much from them. Margaret Thatcher was chiefly backed by the Libertarians in the Tory party, such as the National Association For Freedom, which understandably changed its name to the Freedom Foundation. The illegal rave culture of the late 1980s and 1990s, for example, operated out of part of Tory Central Office, just as Maggie Thatcher and John Major were trying to ban it and criminalise ‘music with a repetitive beat’. Virginian Bottomley appeared in the Mail on Sunday back in the early 1990s raving about how wonderful it would be to replace the police force with private security firms, hired by neighbourhoods themselves. That’s another Libertarian policy. It comes straight from Murray Rothbard. Rothbard also wanted to privatise the courts, arguing that justice would still operate, as communities would voluntarily submit to the fairest court as an impartial and non-coercive way of maintain the peace and keeping down crime. The speaker in this part of the video describes Koch and Rothbard as ‘cretins’. Of course, it’s a colossally stupid idea, which not even the Tory party wanted to back. Mind you, that’s probably because they’re all in favour of authoritarianism and state power when its wielded by the elite.

I’ve no doubt most of the Libertarians in this country also believe that they’re participating in some kind of grassroots, countercultural movement, unaware that this is all about the corporate elite trying to seize more power for themselves, undermine genuine democracy, and keep the masses poor, denied welfare support, state education, and, in Britain, destroying the NHS, the system of state healthcare that has kept this country healthy for nearly 70 years.

Libertarians do see themselves as anarchists, though anarcho-individualists, rather than collectivists like the anarcho-syndicalists or Communists. They aren’t. This is purely about expanding corporate power at the expense of the state and the ordinary citizens it protects and who it is supposed to represent and legislate for. And it in practice it is just as brutal as the authoritarianism it claims to oppose. In the 1980s the Freedom Association became notorious on the left because of its support for the death squads in Central America, also supported by that other Libertarian hero, Ronald Reagan.

Libertarianism is a brutal lie. It represents freedom only for the rich. For the rest of us, it means precisely the opposite.