I've learned a few lessons in my life. One of the most important ones is that you're only as good as your word. Credibility is everything. If you talk a big game but can't back it up, people notice, and no matter how much money you're willing to spend to convince them, it won't make a difference.
That's why I was so surprised to see billionaire Charles Koch write an op-ed in the Aug. 6 edition of USA Today that laid out his plan for turning the economy around. He left out some much-needed context, though -- namely that he and his brother, David, are two of the richest people in America and have no idea what it's like to be on the wrong end of our country's worsening income inequality. Between the two of them, they control $100 billion and the second-largest private company in the country (and their personal piggy bank), Koch Industries. And this year they and their dark-money friends are spending nearly $500 million to flip the Senate.
Why? Because they want the candidates they're backing to cut taxes for the wealthy, roll back regulations for corporations, and kill any raise in the minimum wage and forms of government assistance for people who get laid off and need to put food on the table while they find new jobs. Their agenda is as radical as it is hypocritical.
And that's what's so surprising about this op-ed: Charles thinks he's the right person to tell us how to fix our economy, but he and his brother have exactly zero credibility to say we should be happy living the Koch brothers' version of the American dream (for people not named "Koch"): working in low-wage jobs with no benefits while wearing a smile. And here's why.
Charles writes that businesses need to stop seeking government subsidies, yet Koch Industries receives plenty of corporate welfare, and the Kochs have pressured members of Congress to keep billions of dollars in oil subsidies flowing to companies like Koch Industries.
He says we need to "eliminate the artificial cost of hiring," like healthcare coverage and the minimum wage. If he had his way, you'd be on your own and have to work for whatever pay you can get. And once you no longer get a minimum wage, he wants to see you lose the ability to get unemployment insurance and nutrition assistance too, because programs like food stamps, which gives recipients about $5 a day in benefits, are, in Charles' mind, "addictive disincentives" that are "undermining people's will to work."
Just as they've led the fight to keep oil subsidies and cut taxes for the wealthy, the Kochs and their political arm, Americans for Prosperity, have been leading the fight to kill unemployment insurance in Congress because Charles thinks we've developed a "culture of dependency" in our country. He thinks some tough love is exactly the kick in the seat that people out of work need to find a new job.
Speaking of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, Charles calls on young people to work in "unpleasant jobs" like he did to learn the value of hard work so they can climb up the ladder. That's not bad advice, but it feels pretty hollow coming from someone who skipped the ladder and took the elevator to the boardroom of the company he inherited.
On top of all this, he had the audacity to quote Martin Luther King Jr. in his argument for making life harder for working people. It flies in the face of everything Dr. King stood for. I will admit, though, that Dr. King wrote a lot of quotable lines. In fact, there's one that I think is appropriate here. It's from a collection of his sermons on racial segregation and civil rights. He wrote, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." With income inequality at its highest point since right before the Great Depression, the answer isn't cutting taxes for the wealthy and cutting benefits for workers; it's paying a livable minimum wage and creating opportunity for people to build better lives for themselves and their families.
I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, Charles, but you and your extreme agenda don't measure up.