This weekend, David and Charles Koch, the co-owners of the $100 billion Koch Industries pollution conglomerate, hosted their annual meeting in Palm Springs to coordinate strategy and raise funds for the conservative movement. For decades, the Kochs have quietly led a political agenda to concentrate America’s wealth and power among the richest few in the name of “liberty,” at the expense of the health and opportunity of the middle class.
At an event organized by Common Cause to “Uncloak the Kochs,” Center for American Progress senior fellow Van Jones described the threat that concentration of economic power poses to American liberty, democracy, and justice:
I hear a lot of talk now about liberty. There is a movement in our country that has grown up, the Tea Party movement, that has raised the question of liberty, and I say, “Thank goodness.” I’m glad that someone’s raised the question of liberty. There’s nothing more precious to an African American than liberty and justice for all. I’m glad to hear that somebody’s concerned about liberty.
But I think that what we have to be clear about is liberty always has two threats, there’s always two threats to liberty. One is the excessive concentration of political power — excessive concentration of political authority — the totalitarian threat to liberty. And that is a threat to watch out for. But there is another threat. And it is in our country a graver threat. And it is the threat that comes from excessive concentrations of economic power. Excessive concentrations of economic power in our country pose as big a threat, and frankly a greater threat than any concentration of political power. What we have to remember is that our republic is founded not just on the question of liberty, but also on democracy and justice.
And it is when the predatory, monopolistic dimension of the economic system starts to gain momentum, then the question of justice and democracy has to come forward too. Not just liberty and property rights, but justice and human rights, and democracy, and the people’s rights to be free from economic tyranny and economic domination. We will not live on a national plantation run by the Koch brothers. We’re not going to do that. We refuse to do that.
Sharing Jones’ concern, former Sen. Russ Feingold said recently that “this entire society is being dominated by corporate power in a way that may exceed what happened in the late nineteenth century, early twentieth century. The incredible power these institutions now have over the average person is just overwhelming.”
According to UC Santa Cruz professor G. William Domhoff, “the average income of the top 400” richest Americans — many of whom are attending the Koch’s secret event — “tripled during the Clinton Administration and doubled during the first seven years of the Bush Administration.” The richest 0.01 percent of the United States — now receive 6 percent of all U.S. income.
Top on the Koch agenda is the elimination of the estate tax for billionaires, the end to an open Internet, and the prevention of limits on their toxic pollution. Spending millions of dollars a year — a tiny percent of their pollution-based wealth — the Koch brothers and their ideological allies intend to manipulate American democracy to protect their private economic interests. Their selfish pursuit puts everyone else’s liberties at terrible risk, threatening the “four essential human freedoms” articulated by President Frank Delano Roosevelt: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, from want, and freedom from fear.