The Corner

An Interesting Interview

Over at Frum Forum, Tim Mak reports on his interview with Dr. Richard Fink, both a vice president for Koch Industries and the president of the Charles G. Koch Foundation (it’s a rare enough interview that it’s worth mentioning). The central point of the interview seems to be to discover the Koch Foundation’s involvement in the tea-party movement. 

Most incredibly striking is Koch’s efforts to distance itself from the Tea Party movement. “We’ve been labeled tea party founders or funders – in fact, masterminds – but that’s not consistent with the facts,” said Fink. “To my knowledge, we have not been approached for support by any of the newer ‘tea party’ or other grassroots groups that have sprung up around the country in the past year or so.”

One organization that Fink help create and Koch has helped fund, Americans for Prosperity, regularly interfaces with tea party groups. Those who connect the Koch brand with the tea party movement view this as the link that allows liberal groups like the Center for American Progress to label the Koch brothers as the ‘billionaires behind the hate’.

I have to say, I am stunned by the hatred that the tea-party movement induces. What’s wrong with nonviolent citizens, individually or as part of a non-coerced group, getting together to defend themselves against threats from a government seeking to expand its power and wealth — at their expense — in ways that will ultimately change their lives? Certainly other groups of people freely associate and get together to express their preferences, too.

Obviously, how the tea-party movement will evolve is an interesting question, and I can understand not wanting to be associated too closely with it, considering this uncertainty. But no matter how it ends, I for one am glad so many people got involved in the movement.

More interestingly, the interview goes over the difficulties of achieving results in the policy world, especially small-government results.

Koch’s efforts have been focused on developing conservative ideas, and Fink seems to indicate that Koch may be changing to focus more on how conservatives should govern, rather than just theorize: “I think one of our big failings is that those of us coming from universities and think tanks are usually much better at theory than practice… Proposing solutions that aren’t realistic or implementable or haven’t been thought through fully can cause those proposals to do more harm than good.”

The process is still in the works, it seems – in trying to explain the shortfalls of the Koch vision, Fink seemed to contradict himself, disavowing dogmatism while at the same time asserting the necessity of absolute adherence to conservative principles: “A dogmatic approach is very unproductive. But I’ve also seen, over the last thirty years, a lot of people taking compromise positions and incremental steps that actually take us down slippery slopes and end up creating results antithetical to what they were trying to achieve. We need a principled approach. We should not violate our principles. But we also have to be practical in our application.”

If there is a problem with the Koch vision, it’s not the contradiction to which Mak alludes; it’s that it insists on promoting small government and free markets. Its mission and vision would be easier to put in place if it were trying to fight for more government intervention in our lives. Instead, it has chosen — alongside many organizations, including the Cato Institute, the Reason Foundation, and others — to fight for freedom and individual flourishing, and against the reality of politics and the bad incentives that result in politicians’ giving other people’s money to special-interest groups in order to be reelected.

The vision that will result in a world of “free minds and free markets” (as Reason likes to say), individual responsibility, self-reliance, and autonomy is a complex and multidimensional one. I am grateful that so many individuals continue to fight this fight daily.

(Full disclosure: I work for the Mercatus Center and Charles Koch is the chairman of our board and one of our main donors. Also, I am a big fan of Richard Fink – I find him incredibly smart with an aggressive edge, very much to my taste.)

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