This Is the Koch Brothers Going Too Far

When someone has a lot of money, and I mean a hell of a lot of money, he can basically determine how we talk about policy in American. Billionaire Bill Gates, for instance, has a major influence on health and education, for good or ill, based entirely on which reform ideas are exciting enough for him to throw money at.

By this point everyone knows that billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who own the highly diversified multi-national group of companies collectively known as Koch Industries, essentially run American conservative politics. They determine aspects of presidential elections and are responsible for pushing policies to bring ever larger portions of America’s wealth into the hands of a few rich people. Less well known is their funding of American universities, and the ideas those universities end up promoting.

According to this piece over at Raw Story:

Last year, a group of students [at George Mason University] protested the fact that the Charles Koch Foundation, which is the university’s single largest donor, has given at least $23 million to the school since 2005.

This week, a GMU professor gave a speech on a topic that could’ve come right out of the Kochs’ ideology – why we need “less democracy.”

Dr. Garett Jones, a professor of Economics and the Professor for the Study of Capitalism (really) at Mason, gave a lecture in which he argued that,

less democracy and more epistocracy could lead to better governance. Democracy leaves power to the majority while epistocracy allocates power to the knowledgeable. Jones did not imply that democracy should be eliminated, but lessened by 10% for the sake of long term economic growth.

According to Jones, less democracy would lead to better governance because politicians would be inclined to work on long term growth rather than spending to impress constituents during election season. Politicians try to please the public at the expense of neglecting long- term policies because they are elected through a democratic process.

Yes, this was actually his argument. Epistocracy means “knowledge-based rule,” but it’s not a real form of government; it’s more of a philosophical concept that obscures the fact that “less democracy” is really just going to mean plutocracy, rich people-based rule.

This, of course, is something that civilization has already tried a whole bunch of times, and it usually results in this sort of thing, a situation in which rich people just run countries to make themselves richer, and everyone else struggles for basic survival until they get fed up with the situation and overthrow it, usually violently.

In fact, it’s already happening. A 2013 United Nations report, “Inequality Matters,” concluded that income inequality was already undermining democracy and causing politically instability across the globe. (It also concluded that this growing inequality was responsible for the slowing of worldwide economic growth, but surely that’s not something the Kochs want, right?).

Obviously the Koch brothers don’t actually send emails to random GMU professors, no matter how sympathetic, telling them what to say. Jones came up with this fun idea on his own. But, according to the article:

Jones’s remarks are fairly consistent with Koch political activity, which includes advocating for voter ID laws that are designed to drive down voter participation. On his GMU site, the university notes that Jones is not only an academic researcher, but that he has also served as Economic Policy Adviser to Senator Orrin Hatch and as a staff economist to the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress.“

Let’s see how long it takes this epistocracy idea to enter standard GOP discourse. I’m thinking at least by the 2020 election.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer