Aug 25, 2019
“One of the world’s richest people,” “a socially prominent patron of the arts,” and “the man who reshaped American politics” – these were just some of the terms used to describe David Koch, who died last week.
In fact, he is the very measure of what American capitalism is today.
Like most of his class, he and his three brothers inherited wealth. Their father, Fred Koch, made his first money in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. He ran oil refineries in Nazi Germany and the Middle East during the Great Depression and World War II. He passed a company worth the equivalent of six billion dollars on to his sons.
David Koch, along with his brother Charles, used the enormous profits rolling in from oil refining to move in to other industries: chemicals, pipelines, fertilizers, cattle, lumber, consumer goods, paper products, textiles, auto parts. The total income of the Koch Industries conglomerate is larger than the combined incomes of Facebook, Goldman Sachs and U.S. Steel. It has production facilities in 60 countries, and 100,000 workers around the world – most, extremely low paid.
Exploitation of labor around the world – this is what made David Koch one of the “world’s richest people.”
“Patron of the arts”? Yes, his name is engraved on the facade of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and at the Metropolitan Museum. He paid to have it put there.
His wealth also carved his name into the stones of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, as well as the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
That his name is on these two institutions dedicated to science is the biggest irony of all.
David Koch and his brother Charles used their enormous wealth to carry out a concerted attack on one of the most important findings of modern science: the fact that the earth is measurably warming, and that this climate change, which endangers all of humanity, is tied to human activity, specifically to the release of carbon into the atmosphere.
The very center of the Koch brothers economic empire, the oil industry, is among those most responsible for spewing out carbon.
For four decades, while the earth continued to heat up, while carbon emissions continued to pollute the atmosphere, while polar ice caps retreated and glaciers disappeared, and while weather became more violent, the Koch brothers used their wealth coming from oil profits to obscure the findings of science on climate change.
The Koch brothers may have been more brazen in using wealth to further their own narrow interests. But they could do it with impunity because their whole class acts the same way. Every capitalist pushes his specific interests at the expense of all of humanity. The Rockefellers did it, so did the Morgans, so did the duPonts, so did the Fords . . . and so did all the others.
To put the needs of this earth and of humanity first, we have to have clear goals. It’s not enough to expose one venal capitalist, not enough to dump one self-serving politician. They’ll only be replaced by others like themselves – or even worse.
The goal of working people has to be to take over the whole economy: to reorganize production together. Working people can organize a society that meets everyone’s needs and protects our planet by getting rid of the waste endemic to capitalism.
Working people, because we sit in the very heart of the economy, doing the work necessary to make it run, have the possibility to build a collective society – one where special interests will be considered a relic of a past barbaric age, one where our decisions can be based on the most advanced findings of a truly dispassionate science.