By Barbara Shelly
Kansas City Star
Billionaire Charles Koch is causing some consternation by launching a $200,000 media campaign in the Wichita, Kan., area calling for the U.S. to embrace greater “economic freedom,” which translates to fewer safety and environmental protections and fewer services for people who haven’t made it to the top of the economic ladder. Koch is worth about $43 billion, so the thinking is he could saturate every media market in the country if he chooses.
Relax, people. I just watched Koch’s TV ad. It is not what I would call persuasive.
It starts out by asking, “Are you in the 1 percent?”
So we’re all thinking, “no.” Not in the 1 percent.
Oh, but we are. “If you earn over $34,000 a year,” the pleasant ad voice intones, “you are one of the wealthiest 1 percent in the world.”
Ah, in the world.
“That’s the power of economic freedom,” the ad exclaims, and goes on to say that countries with high levels of economic freedom have better wages, better civil rights protections, lower unemployment and greater life expectancies than countries that rank lower on the economic freedom index, which of course was devised by think tanks and foundations founded by Charles Koch and his brother, David Koch.
I’m not sure people earning $34,000 a year — not enough to cover basic expenses, much less emergencies — are going to be cheered to learn that, paywise, they’re better off than people in poor and underdeveloped nations. We tend to compare our circumstances with people we know, or see in the media, not with people who are foreign to us in every sense of the word.
The ad goes on to bemoan our slippage in the economic freedom. We are now behind Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, Chile and Canada. The comparison is a little surprising, because, as the web site Think Progress points out, all of those role models have government-run health care. That would certainly bring a degree of economic freedom to low-wage Americans, but it’s not something the Koch brothers rate as an asset.
The ad doesn’t ever explain exactly what it means by economic freedom. A website for Koch Industries defines it as “a system in which private property rights are fully respected under an impartial and beneficial rule of law; where people are free to voluntarily trade for what they need and want; that they have sound money which gives people an effective medium of exchange. Finally, government is kept small and limited to those activities that contribute to societal well-being, rather than undermine it.”
In a recent interview with the Wichita Eagle, Charles Koch opined that one of the things that undermines societal well-being is the minimum wage. It reduces the “mobility of labor,” he said.
Get rid of the minimum wage and take away some of the other things the Koch brothers see as undermining societal well-being, like student loans and food stamps, and Charles Koch will have to recast his ad campaign. There will be many fewer people in the 1 percent.
Barbara Shelly is a columnist for the Kansas City Star. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.