THE BLOG
10/07/2013 04:56 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

De-Kochification: The Kochs Are Creating a Generation of 'Socialists'

Millennials were not raised in a bi-polar world, where the United States defined socialism by the dictatorships in the Soviet Union, China and Cuba rather than the democratic socialism of the Scandinavian countries. Hence, although socialism has its drawbacks to this generation as well, it is not the four-lettered word that it was for their parents.

We are products of our eras. Consider what millennials (and X-ers, for that matter) have experienced in their lives. They have been treated to a media that took years to acknowledge the lies that were perpetrated to start a war of choice, so they do not trust the corporate media; a well spewing millions of gallons of black oil into the beautiful blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, by a company ill-equipped to stop it for weeks on-end, so they hardly trust corporate America; and, a financial and economic collapse arising from a culture of deregulation wiping out much of their parents' wealth followed by a prolonged period of joblessness made much worse by right-wing intransigence justified by calls for even more deregulation, lower taxes, austerity, wealth-shifting to the wealthy and the repeated promises of free market capitalism.

They have also been raised by a generation of workaholics and had determined even before the Bush Recession that their lives would not be governed by work. Once the economy tanked, millennials had another question for their workaholic parents: and all of that for this?

So, the wealthy polluting old Kochs can pay for TV ads, the millennials are not listening -- they get their news and attitudes through social networking. The Kochs may extol the virtues of free, unregulated markets, and the American dream, but millennials cannot square that with the reality that they confront daily. Unlike religious beliefs that easily tolerate a reality totally inconsistent with gospel, economic systems are evaluated by peoples' day-to-day experiences.

Take a generation that had already decided there was more to life than workaholism, that sees the fruits of all their parents' labor go up in a flaming cauldron of credit-default swaps, and wealth and power further concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer, and how realistic do they think it is that they will be among the chosen few to accumulate wealth? What is the appeal to them of supporting a system based on a novel (!), and one that devalues as the scum of the earth all their friends on social networks, if not themselves, saving moral rectitude for a small, corrupt, greedy and polluting elite?

This generation will, therefore, make more demands on society as a whole to lessen everyone's burdens and provide a happier, less stressful, more varied and in-touch life. Even before the Bush Recession, for example, law firms were offering new associates a choice of two tracks -- either a guaranteed 9-5 job without overtime and weekends, in which case salary expectations were limited, or the full monty of all day/any day for the possibility of a piece of the pie as partner. Most chose the former. Had their parents had the same choice, they would have all chosen the latter.

Let us cut the crap, at least for a moment, about economic policy. Ayn Rand worshiper Paul Ryan (R/TP-WI) is wealthy because his family business raked in lots of government contracts. Each member of Congress, from dark red to midnight blue, suffers bladder-and-bowel incontinence if it is proposed that a military base that spends government money in his district gets shuttered because of the negative impact of withdrawing those government resources has on the local economy.

So, yes, government spending creates jobs and private wealth, and everyone knows it, even if they are paid to lie about it. And, no, more tax-cuts for the wealthy do not.

The country has a deficit of $2.2 trillion of needed work to rebuild the foundations of our economy -- it can be paid for by a tiny tax (0.5 percent) on financial transactions, the very sector that imploded the economy. That would put a large number of people to work, in well-paying, non-outsourceable jobs.

Lifting the cap on Social Security guarantees its solvency for 75 years. Paying people $10/hour minimum wage raises everyone's standard of living, and makes capitalism seem not quite so bad. Paying for basic R&D through taxes provides the basis for private ingenuity to create goods, services and markets for products we cannot even imagine today. Educating our workforce and eliminating incentives for outsourcing increases the numbers of our citizens that can get well-paying jobs. Stopping pollution improves our health, and preserves our natural treasures for all to enjoy, and to feel related to and inspired by.

Just as Medicare freed seniors from the worry of inaccessible health care and their children from having to pay for it, and thus opened up resources for investment, the Affordable Care Act ensures that, no matter how your station in life changes, you will have health care when you need it. That, Charlie and David, is real freedom.

One only need read histories of the 1930s, when strong socialist movements were growing in the U.S. as a response to what FDR called the "economic royalists," to understand what the frustrations of barely making it, being an illness away from bankruptcy, of joblessness, of poverty do to a generation. FDR "saved capitalism from its excesses". But for the New Deal, it is not at all clear that the US would have remained primarily a capitalist country.

Read, for example, the credo of Johnson & Johnson, written in 1943 by its chairman. Note the date. It is a result of that wealthy capitalist taking the lessons of the '30s and the New Deal to heart that his company prospers only if everyone can be a winner. It describes a vision for this capitalist company that includes values that would make a Bernie Sanders (I-VT) almost seem conservative:

We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services. In meeting their needs everything we do must be of high quality. We must constantly strive to reduce our costs in order to maintain reasonable prices. Customers' orders must be serviced promptly and accurately. Our suppliers and distributors must have an opportunity to make a fair profit.

We are responsible to our employees, the men and women who work with us throughout the world. Everyone must be considered as an individual. We must respect their dignity and recognize their merit. They must have a sense of security in their jobs. Compensation must be fair and adequate, and working conditions clean, orderly and safe. We must be mindful of ways to help our employees fulfill their family obligations. Employees must feel free to make suggestions and complaints. There must be equal opportunity for employment, development and advancement for those qualified. We must provide competent management, and their actions must be just and ethical.

We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work and to the world community as well. We must be good citizens -- support good works and charities and pay our fair share of taxes. We must encourage civic improvements and better health and education. We must maintain in good order the property we are privileged to use, protecting the environment and natural resources.

Our final responsibility is to our stockholders. Business must make a sound profit. We must experiment with new ideas. Research must be carried on, innovative programs developed and mistakes paid for. New equipment must be purchased, new facilities provided and new products launched. Reserves must be created to provide for adverse times. When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return. [Emphasis added].

This would be a capitalism that the millennials could applaud.

By contrast, by grinding more and more people under their greasy thumbs, the Kochs engender more and more distrust of capitalism itself as the cause of misery rather than what it could be if its excesses were reigned in -- a part of a mixed, vibrant economy that included a public sphere, a private sphere and, mostly, a mixed private-public sphere and resulted in shared prosperity.

And, rightly so. Koch capitalism IS the cause of misery and suffering.

History is replete with examples of the powerful imposing their policies and achieving exactly the opposite of what they intend. The Iraq War, for example, did not create a US ally as it was supposed to, it created an ally of Iran. The Vietnam War did not halt the spread of communism--it helped destabilize Cambodia and Laos for communist takeovers and drove Vietnam into the arms of China, its historical enemy.

Similarly, the Kochs, who are trying very hard to indoctrinate and dominate the country with their brand of laissez-faire, unaccountable, predatory capitalism, are actually creating the conditions for an increasing reaction against capitalism as an economic system.

Denmark's democratic socialism does not seem all that bad to millennials. The Danes are often at the top of the world's happiest people. That is a much more achievable goal, and more consistent with the life choices millennials want to make, than to become an Ayn Rand hero. When their children ask them, "and what was it all for?", they will be able to say, "happiness."

If the Kochs stopped their opposition to softening capitalism's excesses, they would be more successful in their own selfish goals. They could still sleep comfortably, slipping between their silk sheets of self-satisfaction.

"Shared" prosperity, after all, does not require "equal."