Why one guy will “stand with the Koch brothers”: A view from a far distant somewhere

I want you to read this opinion piece written by a guy named Fritz Corrigan.  He tells us why he stands with the Koch brothers, two men whom he feels are misunderstand and abused by the media and politicians.  They’re really solid Americans with nothing more than opportunity for all in mind.

IQT_03-08-2011_NEWS_01_KING03B_fct501x308x62_t460I disagree.  And I think even Fritz Corrigan would disagree if he understood a larger reality and a more complete history of where we have been as a nation, where we are today, and the direction toward which we are heading.

Corrigan’s support for the Koch’s mostly aligns with his view that there are too many regulations and other obstacles to business and industry in the United States.  People should be free to “grow a small business into an economic powerhouse” and do so “without politicians and bureaucrats blocking the bath.  Pretty family stuff, right?  We hear these arguments constantly.  They are arguments without cause or solutions.  They’re simply red herrings, meant to distract people from the good that we do together through government and focus instead on so-called lost freedoms.

Corrigan’s primary targets in his essay are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  He gives examples — some undefined, really — of how these agencies inhibit freedom and growth “with excessive and burdensome regulations.”  In the end he argues that “individual innovative genius trumps any rule or regulation.”

Fritz Corrigan, a successful climber in the corporate world, presents himself with impressive credentials.  He succeeded in the supposed “free market.”  He should know what he is talking about.  Right?

Let’s start at the end.  Corrigan sa15131factoryys — and it is a quote and it is indeed worth repeating — that he and the Koch brothers and others like them believe that “innovative genius trumps any rule or regulation.”  Think about that.  Can we really say that “innovative genius” — whatever that is — trumps ANY rule or regulation?  It is preposterous and it doesn’t take much thought to draw that conclusion.

You can look at the world today, complete with what Corrigan sees as excessive regulations, and find examples of people pursuing “innovations”, i.e., choices and actions, where those innovations cause harm.  I mean it isn’t too early to forget the financial crisis, right?  But let’s stick to Corrigan’s targets, the EPA and OSHA.

Do we really think if we reduced environment or safety regulations we would see more opportunity across society as a whole?  Would we all be better off…or even have the opportunity to be better off?

There are places in the world right now where one could go to see what this world would be like.  The undeveloped world is too easy.  What about a country like China or India or even Brazil or Mexico?

A week doesn't go by without news of environmental catastrophe or worker abuse and even worker death.  Even here in the United States, where regulations have been relaxed in some ways, we see environmental damage, worker safety issues, and all the other problems you find in the third world.  Consider, for example, just the mining industry.  Do we really think that industry would be safer and cleaner without the OSHA and the EPA?
Killing opportunity, one safety helmet at a time.

Killing opportunity, one safety helmet at a time.

Or take a look at history.  In the era of the robber barons, the early Industrial Age, were workers safer and the environment cleaner?  What about opportunity?  Did the child laborer working in textile factory have a better shot at opportunity than today’s child attending school?

Ok, you get the point.  If standing with the Koch brothers and their ilk relies on removing regulations…well, you haven’t convinced me that you should be standing with the Kochs.

But let’s look at more general and more subtle ways that Corrigan is profoundly out of touch.

First off, he proudly tells us — without irony, I’m sure — that he got his start in 1966 and built his career in a period of more than 40 years.  He got his start — his opportunity — during an era of regulation.  In fact government both OSHA and the EPA were founded in 1970.  And now these things stand in the way of progress?  How so?  Let’s look back a little further…

If Corrigan was getting into his career in 1964 after graduating from Dartmouth he was likely born in the early 1940s.  He lived through the heart of an era of government expansion and it seems it would have suited his family and eventually himself quite nicely.

It is useful to remind people like Fritz Corrigan that the lack of opportunity coincides with the reduction of regulation and government that started in the 1980s.  It isn’t the government that is hobbling business, but it might be business that is hobbling business, especially the interests of big business.  Let me explain.


Once upon a more enlightened time, this is where opportunity began…

In recent decades speculation and consolidation have become a huge enterprise.  We not only don’t have local business on the scale of the past anymore, we don’t even have regional or national enterprise on par with the years that fostered Corrigan.  The rules have changed.  Some of that is organic.  As the world progresses economically, the markets will change.  We have a global market now.

However much of the change is political.  The reduction in regulation includes the opening of free trade treaties, more fluid international markets, and … yes … the reduction of regulation, especially in areas of finance which enable the process of consolidation.

But I’m afraid that this is something that people like the Koch brothers and Fritz Corrigan won’t understand — willingly won’t understand.  It doesn’t fit their worldview.  The impact of their freedom on the lives of people excluded from their privilege is lost to them, whether deliberately or not.   This is a class case of a successful business veteran absolutely being the wrong person to give advice about such manners.

Amazingly, Corrigan isn’t even addressing these very real and not-so-subtle realities.  He makes the completely outrageous claim that genius and innovation should always trump rules!  That is his argument!  Never mind the facts and the reality that exist here and now to prove otherwise.  A view like Corrigan’s is truly is a view from a far distant place.  It is so inane and naive it is hard to believe it resonates with anyone.  But it does.  And that is the problem.

[This is a draft.]



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