Spare Kochs at an Orgy

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As some of you will be aware, especially those of you who’ve been following my whining about it on Twitter, I’ve recently been finishing up something I’ve been writing about the Austrian School of economics (y’know, Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, right-libertarianism, etc).  It’s my side of a collaboration with Phil for his next book.  It’s taken a long time (my fault) but I just finished.  One of the reasons it took so long was because I kept falling down rabbit holes, so to speak.  The good thing about that is that it has left me with excess material I can write up.  And here’s the first bit. 

By the way, people who give me as little as $1 per month on Patreon saw this days ago.

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The Koch Brothers.  Billionaire reactionaries whose dad co-founded the John Birch Society, and who now act as money-pits and eminences grise for huge sectors of the US Right.  Greasers of the wheels of the Tea Party.  Suffice to say, they – along with others of their kind including the DeVos family – have also funded organisations like CPAC, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute (co-founded by Murray Rothbard, by the way).  They’ve helped bankroll – directly or indirectly, via organisations they fund – climate change denier Willie Soon, and speaking engagements by people like Bell Curve author Charles Murray, Ann Coulter, arch-Islamophobe David Horowitz, and erstwhile alt-Right darling and Breitbart star Milo Yiannopoulos.  Relatedly, think tanks they fund and control are responsible for creating a model ‘campus free speech’ bill, complete with draconian punishments for students who protest guest speakers, which several state legislators are eying approvingly.  They have spent incomprehensible amounts of money on direct support for politicians and political candidates.  Though critical of ‘establishment’ candidates in the 2016 US Presidential race, they did not back Trump… but they didn’t exactly back out of politics.  As Salon.com notes, in 2016

the Center for Media and Democracy uncovered 58 Koch-funded candidates for state legislative seats in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. The actual number could be much larger, for the bulk of the network's donations go through "dark money" channels that hide the names of donors and recipients.

Though some people suggest the Kochs feel distaste for Trump, the likelihood is that they’re starting to think, as InsidePhilanthropy.com put it, that

investing in libertarian ideas through think tanks and universities offers more bang for the buck [than political donations]. And they've recently indicated that such philanthropic giving is likely to take priority over political giving in coming years.

To see why they might think that, I want to look at some of this sort of ‘philanthropy’. 

There is much to say about the Kochs.  Google their names.  It’ll keep you busy.  Here I will follow one tiny trail.  It leads to no massive revelations, as far as I can see.  But it’s a trail I haven’t seen followed elsewhere.  It follows Koch money and influence into Austrian-inspired, right-wing, libertarian academia.

According to AlterNet.org,

[t]he Charles Koch Foundation… gave $142 million to hundreds of colleges and universities from 2005 to 2015, largely toward free-market centers, professorships and courses. From these programs, Koch-funded think tanks and political groups recruit their favorite students to join the Kochs’ mass libertarian sociopolitical movement.

The Kochs have also, as SourceWatch.org notes, repeatedly made donations (if relatively small ones) to the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics – the self-proclaimed “largest professional organisation of Austrian economists”.  This is just one of many right-wing institutions they support, or have supported, and a good deal less sinister than some.  It mainly seems to concern itself with having nice lunches, organising ‘panels’, commissioning papers on esoteric scholarly subjects, and encouraging Austrian-leaning students.  But it really is just the beginning.

Members of the Society also get a discount on subscriptions to the Review of Austrian Economics (RAE), an Austrian scholarly journal, founded by Rothbard (who also edited it for the first decade of its existence).  The RAE now competes with the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics (QJAE), published by the Mises Institute… which was, of course, also founded by Rothbard.  The QJAE seems to claim to be the continuation of the RAE, though the RAE was transferred to George Mason University.

Ah yes, George Mason University.

Just the other day I saw a tweet from PragerU (a YouTube propaganda channel set up by right-wing nutjob and former talk radio star Denis Prager), sharing one of their videos claiming that capitalism is the most moral of all economic systems.  The talking head in the video was Walter Williams.

Walter Williams is a libertarian, a devoted free-marketeer.  He opposes minimum wages, affirmative action, welfare, gun control, and the Federal Reserve.  He thinks secession is constitutional, putting him in agreement with neo-confederates.  He is inspired in his writings by the Austrians - MIses, Hayek, etc - and by Friedman and Ayn Rand.  He was in favour of the libertarian Free State Project.  He thinks racism and the legacy of slavery are overemphasized as causes of inequality for African Americans (he thinks it’s all the state’s fault, for being so nice to them).  He endorsed the paleolibertarian and Austrian-fan Ron Paul for President.  He is on the board of the Bruin Alumni Association, which was behind UCLAProfs.com, the initiative to publicly ‘Expose UCLA’s Radical Professors’. 

Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University (GMU).  GMU, home of the RAE, started out as a college within the University of Virginia - in Charlottesville, as it happens.  Co-editor of the RAE, Austrian economist Peter Boettke, is Professor of Economics and Philosophy at GMU.

Ah yes, Peter Boettke.

Boettke was described as “emerging as the intellectual standard-bearer for the Austrian School of economics” in an admiring profile in the Wall Street Journal in 2010 entitled ‘Spreading Hayek, Spurning Keynes’.  Boettke has theorised the political economy of Rothbardian libertarian anarchism (i.e. anarcho-capitalism) as ‘analytical anarchism’ (if you please).  His Ph.D was achieved with a thesis entitled ‘The Political Economy of Soviet Socialism, 1918-1928’, in which he came to the conclusion (a somewhat non-iconoclastic one in his milieu) that

the first three years of the Bolshevik regime (1918-1921) constitute an attempt to carry out the Marxian ideal of comprehensive central planning, and that the disastrous results, which all commentators agree occurred, were the inevitable outcome of this Marxian ideal coming into conflict with the economic reality of the coordination problem that all economic systems face…

The ‘coordination problem’ is another name for the calculation problem elaborated by Mises and Hayek, supposedly proving economic planning impossible.  Note that, as usual, it is taken as read that “comprehensive central planning” is “the Marxian ideal”, despite this being absent from Marx.

Boettke, who so resolutely points out the irrationalities of Marxism, says – in his submission to a 2005 symposium called ‘The Economies of Religion’ - that one of the most important intellectual lessons he has learned was “the philosophical and epistemological importance of Christian presuppositionalism”.  (But after all, why not?  Isn’t that just good, old-fashioned a priori reasoning, just like praxeology?)

Boettke is clear about the resonance he finds between his religious and economic beliefs:

At Grove City College my professors tended to keep religion and economics separate, except for those occasions when my main economics teacher Hans Sennholz would blend Christian morality into his economic sermons and when one of the Christian existentialist philosophers would question the virtue of the capitalist society in my religion and philosophy courses. But despite the tensions that sometimes surfaced, there was something of an affinity between the two subjects I studied that I noticed from the beginning. The critique of scientism that I learned when I read F. A. Hayek and Michael Polanyi seemed to be similar to the defense of Christian presuppositionalism that I was taught in my religion and philosophy courses. The defense of individual liberty that I heard in my economics courses seemed to resonate in the teachings I received about covenant theology and the teachings in Paulʼs letters. Grove City emphasized classic readings in both religion and philosophy and economics—as a freshman in a mandatory course in Religion and Philosophy I read Augustineʼs City of God, Calvinʼs Institutes of Christian Religion, as well as Plato and Locke, and in economics during my sophomore year I read Adam Smith, David Ricardo, J. B. Say, J. S. Mill, and eventually in a senior seminar would read the complete works of Menger, Bohm-Bawerk and Mises.  In my mind, classical political economy, classical liberal political philosophy, and classical covenant theology were aligned and this alignment was responsible for the great wealth and freedom we took for granted in the United States and the countries of Western Europe. Unfortunately, this fact was disregarded by the intellectual elite; thus I feared that the way of life we had enjoyed would be increasingly under threat as public policies were adopted that moved against this alignment.

(My emphasis.)  

And all this just before he blithely declares Marxism “a secular religion”.

Boettke was a Hayek Fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE), and a Faculty Fellow at the American Institute for Political and Economic Studies at Georgetown.  He’s now the Director of the Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at GMU’s Mercatus Center (MC).

Ah yes, the Mercatus Center.

The intended import of the pompous name ‘Mercatus’ isn’t hard to parse.  Merc.  Mercantile.  Merchants.  Markets. 

The MC is devoted to “outreach”, i.e. to influencing academics and politicians, and thus government policy.  It is yet another free-market think tank in America’s veritable jungle of such entities.  But it is one of the most powerful and well-funded.  Not so coincidentally, the MC was founded by the Koch brothers, and is still funded and controlled by them.  The Kochs fund George Mason University to the tune of more than $30M, most of which has gone to the non-profit Mercatus Center.  Thanks to Koch cash funnelled to the MC, the GMU is now the biggest public research university in Virginia.  GMU renamed its School of Law the ‘Antonin Scalia Law School’ in 2016 after a $10M donation from the Koch Foundation, as well as more money from the right-wing Federalist Society.

Also at GMU, by the way, was Thomas J. DiLorenzo, until he moved to become yet another Senior Fellow at the Mises Institute. 

Ah yes, Thomas J. DiLorenzo.

DiLorenzo took money from the tobacco industry to co-author books attacking anti-smoking charities as diverting public money to leftist causes, and was connected to the ‘Cash for Comments’ network.  This was a long-running scam cooked up by (amongst others) Robert D. Tollison of GMU’s libertarian think tank the ‘Center for the Study of Public Choice’. (‘Public Choice’ theory just means more of the same rhetoric about low-taxes, low-regulations, small-government, free-markets.)   To be brief, economics professors across America were invited to write opinion pieces for newspapers including sentiments congenial to the tobacco industry, in return they received sneakily routed payments.  The recruitment was co-ordinated via the Public Choice think tanks at GMU.

DiLorenzo is listed as a neo-confederate by the Southern Policy Law Center (SPLC) and has attacked the reputation of Abraham Lincoln, claiming he is responsible for an “unnecessary war”.  (Such rhetoric has, at the time of writing, recently been issuing from the Trump White House.)  DiLorenzo lectures at the League of the South Institute for the Study of Southern Culture and History, described by the SPLC as “a South Carolina school established by the League of the South to teach its unusual [i.e. neo-confederate] views of history”. 

The SPLC notes that

[i]n 2003, LewRockwell.com, a Web site run by Von Mises Institute President Llewellyn Rockwell that includes a "King Lincoln" section, hosted a "Lincoln Reconsidered" conference in Richmond, Va., starring DiLorenzo. The conference has since become a bit of a road show, reappearing around the South and headlined by DiLorenzo.

Continuing the association, the SPLC also notes that

[b]oth Rockwell and [Mises] institute research director Jeffrey Tucker are listed on the racist League of the South's Web page as founding members — and both men deny their membership. Tucker has written for League publications, and many League members have taught at the institute's seminars and given presentations at its conferences.

At the recent Austrian Scholars Conference, the F.A. Hayek Memorial Lecture was delivered by Donald Livingston, director of the League's Summer Institute. In 1994, Thomas Fleming, a founding League member and the editor of Chronicles magazine, spoke on neo-Confederate ideas to an institute conference.

Rockwell, who is also vice president of the Center for Libertarian Studies, runs his own daily news Web site that often features articles by League members.

DiLorenzo’s neo-confederate sympathies are not, then, likely to cause him any difficulties at the Mises Institute.  The SPLC helpfully quotes Rockwell as to at least part of his rationale on this:

Rockwell recently argued that the Civil War "transformed the American regime from a federalist system based on freedom to a centralized state that circumscribed liberty in the name of public order."

Desegregation in the civil rights era, he says, resulted in the "involuntary servitude" of (presumably white) business owners.

All very interesting, in a time when the confederacy and its continuing presence in the fabric of American life is very much a flashpoint.

Back at GMU, alongside DiLorenzo, there is the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS), a sister organisation to the Mercatus Center, and another Koch-founded, Koch-funded, Koch-controlled libertarian organisation.  The IHS’s mission is to recruit talent for the cause.  It grooms selected upcoming intellectuals, academics, etc, providing generous scholarships to those who believe – and will promote – the right things.  It also receives funding from other right-wing and libertarian foundations, such as those controlled by the mega-wealthy Walton and Scaife families.  As well as being funded by these and other right-wing groups, the MC also, as SourceWatch.org says, “has ties to several prominent right-wing groups, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)”.

The MC board includes Richard Fink, Executive Vice President of Koch Industries; Charles Koch himself; and Brian Hooks, President of the… um… Charles Koch Foundation.  The original impetus for the founding of the MC came from Fink.  He, “then an economist at Rutgers… sought funding to found a center for advancing Austrian school economics, and secured the funds from Charles Koch” (SourceWatch.org).  The group was always conceived of as a way to bridge the gap between the academic and intellectual work of defending and propagating Austrian-influenced free-market theory and wielding practical political influence on nearby Washington.

In the words of SourceWatch.org:

The Mercatus Center has engaged in campaigns involving deregulation, especially environmental deregulation. According to The Guardian in 2010, it "now fills the role once played by the economics department at Chicago University as the originator of extreme neoliberal ideas."  During the George W. Bush administration's campaign to reduce government regulation, the Wall Street Journal reported, "14 of the 23 rules the White House chose for its "hit list" to eliminate or modify were Mercatus entries -- a record that flabbergasted Washington lobbying heavyweights."

The Wall Street Journal has called the Mercatus Center “the most important think tank you’ve never heard of."

The Mercatus Center is an "associate" member of the State Policy Network, a web of right-wing “think tanks” in every state across the country.

It runs various outreach programs under the usual innocuous and bland names, such as the “Regulatory Studies Program”, and frequently lobbies the US government, splashing out to set up seminars and trips and ‘retreats’ for congressional staff in order to wield influence. 

The MC produced papers arguing against Obamacare (surprise, surprise).  It has extensive links to anti-environmental regulation lobbyists, and has been linked to the propagation of climate change denial.

SourceWatch quotes Jane Meyer’s book Dark Money thus:

Clayton Coppin, who taught history at George Mason and compiled the confidential study of Charles's political activities for Bill Koch, describes Mercatus outright in his report as "a lobbying group disguised as a disinterested academic program." The arrangement, he points out, had financial advantages for the Kochs, because it enabled Charles "to have a tax deduction for financing a group, which for all practical purposes is a lobbying group for his corporate interest.”

For the Kochs, ideology and personal self-interest are consciously unified.  It helps, of course, that a cornerstone of their ideology is self-interest. 

Charles Koch was educated partly at the ‘Freedom School’ (later Rampart College), a whites-only school-cum-ideological-boot-camp set up and run by libertarian guru Robert LeFevre, where Hayek and Mises both taught at one time or another.  Mises.org now describes LeFevre as having had a “legendary impact on a whole generation of libertarians”, and offers some of his lectures for your listening pleasure.  They are heavily influenced by Rothbard.  Charles Koch, meanwhile, was heavily influenced by Lefevre. 

According to Rolling Stone,

LeFevre's stark influence on Koch's thinking is crystallized in a manifesto Charles wrote for the Libertarian Review in the 1970s… titled "The Business Community: Resisting Regulation."

Alongside Koch and his Kohorts on the board of the Mercatus Center one also finds Donald J. Boudreaux, who is also on the board of the Institute of Humane Studies, and a Senior Fellow with the Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the MC. 

The Director of the MC is, as I say, Peter Boettke.  Peter Boettke, by the way, is also the current President of the Mont Pelerin Society, the society originally set up in 1947 by Hayek, Mises, Friedman, etc, to press for a return to free-market economics.  The society played a key role in the birth of neoliberalism.

Small world, isn’t it?  And a very insular, echoey one.  And a very wealthy and well-funded one.  And a very reactionary one.  A cynic might even think it was part of the means of ideological production of a ruling class.  At the very least, a reasonable person might wonder why the free-market – a worldview that is so hegemonic – needs so many advocates and defenders.

Seriously, to even peep into this world is to encounter a bafflingly vast and intricate web of reactionary organisations, teeming all over academia, business, media, and politics; all funded by the wealthy; all promoting variations on the same reactionary social ideas and extreme free-market ideology; all interlinked by money and aims and rotating personnel; all barely-heard of by the public and barely talked-about by the media; all largely unaccountable yet wielding terrifying levels of individual and cumulative influence.  There is a teeming ecology of reactionary groups operating out of sight in the undergrowth of right-wing academia and quasi-academia, an alphabet soup of institutes and foundations and journals; all engaged in opinion-forming and ideological reinforcement and aggressive lobbying; all guzzling the money of the rich. 

And the connections get nastier than what we’ve looked at so far.

For instance, one of the major funders of the Mises Institute is the wealthy Las Vegas resident James McCrink’s Do Right Foundation.  McCrink keeps a lower profile than the Kochs – he and his foundation don’t even have Wikipedia pages – but funnels large amounts of cash to a welter of far-Right groups including, according to the SPLC, the

New Christian Crusade Church, whose pastor, James K. Warner, helped found the American Nazi Party and had close ties with KKK leader David Duke; white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens, a St. Louis-based group that says in its Statement of Principles that it "oppose[s] all efforts to mix the races of mankind," has described blacks as a "retrograde species of humanity," and once ran a photographic comparison of pop singer Michael Jackson and a chimpanzee

And so on. 

McCrink’s Do Right Foundation has also funded the white nationalist New Century Foundation led by Jared Taylor, the neo-confederate and quasi-Nazi Southern Legal Resource Center, the Right-wing Christian anti-gay American Family Association, and the Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review (IHR).  The IHR was founded in the late 70s by arch anti-semite Willis Carto, whose far-Right rag Right used to earn the quiet approval of libertarian icon and Koch-teacher Robert Lefevre.

Guilt by association?  Yeah, pretty much.  As the MRAs know, you can be judged by who you’re prepared to jump into bed with.

This whole thing is also a shadow economy all of its own, a reactionary abconomy, devoted to funding the production of certain ideas, the same ideas over and over again, so they never lose their hegemony over the hearts and minds and pockets of the political and media and academic establishments.  If it funds iterations of those ideas which range across the spectrum from apparently mild to beyond-the-pale extremism, that itself tells us something about the real nature of the ‘apparently mild’. 

Also, as we know, the extremism functions as a gravitational well which sucks the general climate rightwards.  Beyond the indulgence and expression of sincere bigotry, this is its purpose.  The respectable reactionaries in the academy can coast in the r/Right direction secure in the knowledge that their disavowed cousins (who nevertheless often share financial backers) will always make them look good by comparison.  Alternatively, in other quarters, the existence of the same extremism will always afford them an ever rightward-shifting frontier into which they can expand.

It comes a little hard, in light of all this, to be informed by Mises.org that “the American university [was] transformed from a center of higher learning to an outpost for socialist-inspired culture and politics”. 

Peter G. Klein, who wrote that, is an Austrian economist.  He is the Carl Menger Research Fellow of the Mises Institute, “W. W. Caruth Chair and Professor of Entrepreneurship at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business[,]… Senior Research Fellow at Baylor's Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise and Adjunct Professor of Strategy and Management at the Norwegian School of Economics” (Mises.org).  Klein has had articles published in both the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics and the Boettke-edited Review of Austrian Studies.  In the early 2000s, Klein was a senior economist on the Council of Economic Advisors, an agency within the Executive Office of the President which prepares the President’s annual Economic Report.  Clearly a very marginalised person.

Klein bolsters his argument by regurgitating Hayek’s view that academia tends to be stuffed with left-wingers because people with market aptitudes tend to get naturally selected into business.  This bears Hayek’s customary evolutionary thinking but is basically just a circular way of claiming that if you don’t like markets it can only be because you don’t understand them.  He accidentally has a sort of point, of course, in that educated and advantaged people with right-wing views tend to be more attracted to the private sector because the material rewards are so much greater than those offered by the dreaded government cheque.  Klein goes on to complain about how much government welfare is guzzled by legions of left-wing academics.  Complaints about Koch money (for instance) being guzzled by legions of free-market academics are strangely absent.  Klein has also written about how even supposedly private universities are funded by “federal dollars”, apparently failing to notice that he’s essentially talking about government subsidies to wealthy and increasingly-marketised private interests. 

This article is cited by Mises.org’s Social Media and Marketing Director, Tho Bishop, before he complains that “[u]ntil we are able to fully separate education from the state, we’ll continue to see the left’s indoctrination of students on the public dime.”  Tho also cites “a recent Mises Circle on Political Correctness” during which “the infantilitzation of college students” in even private universities is lamented by the neo-confederate and tobacco industry shill Thomas DiLorenzo.  ‘Political Correctness’ here clearly means ‘thinking slavery and making money from cancer are bad’. 

Such moral people.

LewRockwell.com is also in on the game, decrying “left-wing academics, armed with their generous government and (left-wing) foundation grants” in the course of a sneering review of Nancy MacLean’s book Democracy in Chains, about the US “radical Right” and their “plan for America”, in which – by the way – Koch shenanigans feature prominently.

It is undoubtedly true that most academics and professors tend to be left-of centre to one degree or another.  This is, to be crude, because they know more… the factor that Hayek’s theory is designed to do an endrun around.  Even so, those academics and professors who will identify as ‘left’ or ‘far left’ are in a tiny minority, whatever Mises.org and LewRockwell.com (et al) might claim.  Most are ‘liberal’ or ‘moderate’ which, in a neoliberal capitalist democracy, doesn’t exactly make them communists. 

Moreover, most economics departments are soaked in mainstream neoclassical economics, which is an explicitly bourgeois doctrine which defends capitalist social relations.  The fact that they are considered too left-wing by some is precisely why people like the Kochs and their ideological allies (Austrian, libertarian, paleolibertarian, conservative, paleoconservative, etc) pour money and influence into creating enclaves like the economics department at George Mason University. 

It’s not as simple as simply paying people what to think.  The money flows to those who believe in the cause.  The aim is to aid that cause, to create a far-Right economic orthodoxy, and to push this across academia – at least in the economics departments.  The greater aim is to use the influence and pull (and money) of such a system of reactionary academia to influence government policy, pushing it ever further to the right, and ever further towards the free-market extremism which directly benefits the wealthy capitalist class.  As we’ve seen, Mercatus wields influence in Washington.  Most of these institutions and foundations are ‘non-profit’, but that’s just in the short term.  In the long term, they produce an orthodoxy which increases capital accumulation for those who fund them.

Is there any doubt that the reactionary powerhouses of dogma and influence thus created have far more pull on policy than what goes on in the Humanities departments where Feminist literature professors ask students to consider the post-colonial ramifications of Wuthering Heights?  But, of course, that is where the Right wants to fight the cultural battle - at least in public.  The very fact that this cultural battle is the one we know about, whereas the one funded by people like the Kochs and staffed by the Austrian, libertarian, and conservative ideological extremists is largely unseen and unknown, goes to show who really has the power in this set-up.

Here I have only begun to scratch the surface of the surface of this vast reactionary racket.  The alliances that still hold among and between these people are clear, even from an overview.  United by common goals and shared root-ideologies, they pool their intellectual resources.  Paleolibertarian and Austrian School enthusiast Ron Paul, for instance, now he’s retired from office, has his own Foundation for Rational Economics and Education (FREE). 

Despite the differences between their respective flavours of conservatism and/or libertarianism, they are clearly conscious of the common class instincts and interests which unite them.  It surely helps to have the huge and apparently infinitely capacious melting pot of Koch money in which to mix their ingredients… and the Kochs are, as we’ve seen, only some of the filthy-rich donors willing to grease the wheels of reactionary influence and ideological hegemony. 

It would be too much to call all this a shadow government, but bits of it come scarily close.  Moreover, given the interpenetration of the two worlds of reactionary academia and politics – through teachers and lobbyists and common material interests – it’s impossible to see them as anything but aspects of a single system.  Which is ironic, given how thoroughly the entire ideological edifice is based on professions of loathing for statism.  Clearly, their own network – already resembling, in some ways, a state in miniature – is permitted to wield unaccountable power over the many in order to preserve the liberty of the ruling class. 

Also, one notices is how well it functions, despite clearly being very carefully planned.  No co-ordination problems?

Clearly, the actual state is okay if it can be latched-onto, influenced, and utilised as a way to aid unfettered capital accumulation.  Clearly, as a mechanism for generating profit – directly or indirectly – the state is hunky-dory.  That won’t stop them denouncing it, of course – because the endless denunciations are, in a historical irony of our current age, how the marriage is ideologically consummated.  The state, already cannibalised (at least in terms of its capacities to inhibit private capital) thanks to the success of Hayek’s neoliberal project, is now being entirely consumed by his legatees - in alliance with the big interests that the Austrians were always committed to championing.

In Against Austerity, Richard Seymour writes that

Hayek, following Schmitt, had argued that social democracy compromised the state’s autonomy, by enmeshing it in a web of interests and client relationships. Later neoliberals further theorised this conception, arguing that public sector bureaucrats, far from being driven by a ‘public service’ ethic, are just self-maximising entrepreneurs’, like any actor in the market.

So why not ‘compete’ on the marketplace of ideas and influence and power?  You are, after all, merely engaging in proper – and natural and salutary and healthy and constructive – competition against other market actors, in this case the staff of the public sector.  Don’t worry that this market view of the public sector contradicts the idea that the state is a fundamentally different and intrusive and unnatural actor.

For Hayek, no general interest existed – or at least, it was impossible to calculate such a general interest. All that welfare institutions accomplished was the distortion of the universality of the ‘rule of law’ by making it serve particular interests. By entangling the sovereign state in a mesh of claims and counter-claims, demands for intervention, demands for help, mass democracy had weakened the state.

Clearly, however, the claims and counter-claims of the libertarian think tanks and their capitalist funders are okay, presumably because they are reactive against the distortion already practiced by the claims of the public.  The state being thus weakened by democracy, it is good market logic to attack it.  And to use all the capital at your disposal – monetary, intellectual, ideological, personal, institutional.

The ironies of history come at you thick and fast.  For one thing, the whole paleolibertarian strategy was originally devised by Rothbard and Rockwell partly in response to what the saw as the left-wing distortions of… the Koch brothers!

Writing at BleedingHeartLibertarians.com, Austrian economist and professor at St. Lawrence University Steve Horwitz says that, within right-libertarianism,

the internal strife of the movement pitted Murray Rothbard against the Koch Brothers, with the accusation by Rothbard that the liberal libertarians were undermining the movement’s ability to appeal to a broader audience thanks to their supposed libertinism.  Murray wanted the hippies out.  The irony here was that it was the Koch controlled parts that were (largely) the source of the left-deviation that pissed Rothbard off. 

Goes to prove that paleolibertarianism is reactionary in the literal sense.  It is literally a reaction… to the left-wing of right-libertarianism! 

Horwitz is, amongst other things, an alumnus of George Mason University, an Affiliated Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center, affiliated with the Institute for Humane Studies, and a member of the Mont Pelerin Society.  He identifies as a ‘left- libertarian’, though being on the ‘left’ of modern American libertarianism clearly doesn’t preclude one from involvement with a far-Right lobbying machine soaked in Koch money.  But then, as the above example shows, the internal ructions are never enough to make these people forget their basic ideological kinship in the long-term, because that kinship is based on shared class interest.

Though they are far from unique or central in the set up, look how fundamental Austrian dogma, allegiance, and inspiration has been to at least this one little corner of the reactionary network.  The desire to preach Austrian ideas, and to use them as a springboard from which to directly push the US government into ever more fundamentalist free-market and pro-business directions, was central to the creation of what has become one of the best funded, most powerful, most influential right-wing think tanks in America.  Bloated with the money of two of the richest and most reactionary capitalists in America, this ideologically Austrian organisation is run by a thoroughgoing ideological Austrian.  Religious in his commitment, grounded in a Hayekian counter-revolutionary anti-Marxism, he now presides over not only the Mercatus Center but the Mont Pelerin Society, the very Hayek-founded organisation which founded the neoliberal project itself!  Nestling in a university imbricated with Koch money, riddled with reactionary and libertarian activism, this Austrian-influenced core guzzles the money of reactionary capitalists and shells it out to influence policy-makers in the Beltway. 

If this is undemocratic, well that’s fine - because Austrian ideas are inherently anti-democratic.  Austrian theory sits perfectly with this kind of activism, because it says that the choices of capitalists are what keeps society running, and the little people shouldn’t interfere.  It is an expression of the interests of the ruling class.  It promotes their idea of liberty. 

That this tessellates so well with racism, and other forms of bigotry, only goes to show that it is capitalism that generates the inequalities of race, just as surely as it generates the inequalities of class.  Indeed, the two are inextricable.  The capitalists are well aware, even if lots of us aren’t, that they have a vested interest in the racism their system creates.  Their bigotry is a function of their interests.  And capitalists are never reluctant to pursue their interests.

We shouldn’t be either.

 

Comments

Jarl 8 months ago

Why can't these people just build cites at the bottom of the ocean like in the good old days?

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Austin G Loomis 8 months ago

Dwight Lee, in the Koch-sponsored course on "Common Sense Economics", makes the economics-as-religion point at least as directly:

The charge that sways juries and offends public sensitivities, and helps explain the large awards, is that greedy corporations sacrifice human lives to increase their profits. Is this charge true? Of course it is. But this isn't a criticism of corporations; rather it is a reflection of the proper functioning of a market economy. Corporations routinely sacrifice the lives of some of their customers to increase profits, and we are all better off because they do. That's right, we are lucky to live in an economy that allows corporations to increase profits by intentionally selling products less safe than could be produced. The desirability of sacrificing lives for profits may not be as comforting as milk, cookies and a bedtime story, but it follows directly from a reality we cannot wish away.

This is not a common-sense economist explain common-sense economics; this is an Aztec priest explaining that the sun would go out if Tezcatlipoca didn't get his regular snack of human hearts. We should be glad to be ground under the Jagganath wheels of the great god Market. Praise God. Give thanks. Think "rationally". Be "free".

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Froborr 8 months ago

"WE are all better off because THEY are sacrificed."

The cry of every bigot. "They" may be POC, LGBT people, women, the poor, or (very often) all of the above, but it's all the same.

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Gavin Burrows 8 months ago

You may be right that it was Dwight Lee who said that. But I'm still picturing a speech ballon round that quote with a tail leading to Lex Luthor's mouth.

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Froborr 8 months ago

Is there any doubt that the reactionary powerhouses of dogma and influence thus created have far more pull on policy than what goes on in the Humanities departments where Feminist literature professors ask students to consider the post-colonial ramifications of Wuthering Heights?

Case in point: I studied English at (scare chord) George Mason University, class of '04. Course topics included learning close reading from a Toni Morrison expert who also taught me the importance of recognizing my own privilege; the revolutionary potential of the fantastic, and especially children's literature; and how the people who wanted to make the Internet a marketplace destroyed its vast potential as a medium for communication and community-building. As far as I know, two of those professors are still there; the other was quite elderly and has since retired.

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Jack Graham 8 months ago

I hope I didn't seem to be either dismissing what goes on in English departments or implying that the reactionary penetration of of GMU's economics department means that the entire university is worthless.

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