Billionaire businessman Charles Koch is funding a “common sense” youth economics education program marketed to children as young as 5 that teaches that “we are all better off” when corporations “sacrifice the lives of some of their customers to increase profits.”
It is well known that Charles, the 80-year-old CEO of Koch Industries, and his brother David have, mostly through their political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, spent hundreds of millions of dollars—and plan to spend nearly a billion more this election cycle—influencing the outcome of national, state and local elections by boosting Republican and Tea Party candidates. But the Kochs want to influence more than just elections. The brothers have long supported economic education centers and programs at American colleges and universities that aim to instill corporatist values in young Americans. Since 2005, the Charles Koch Foundation has donated more than $100 million to promote so-called “free market,” anti-tax and libertarian principles to American youth and young adults.
Alternet reports one of the beneficiaries of Koch’s laissez-faire largesse is the Gus A. Stavros Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Economic Education at Florida State University, which promotes Common Sense Economics, a teaching program based on a book by the same name by Stavros Center director James Gwartney. Common Sense Economics is marketed to teachers from the kindergarten to college level and aims to make learning conservative economic principles “fun.” The program’s website even has a category titled “Really Cool Stuff,” and under a subcategory called “Fun Readings” there is an eyebrow-raising entry by Dwight Lee titled “Sacrificing Lives for Profits” that argues society benefits when corporations sacrifice their customers’ lives upon the altar of the maximum profit, as General Motors recently did when it installed faulty ignition switches in millions of cars, resulting in at least 124 deaths from a problem that would have cost less than a dollar per vehicle to fix.
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.
Lee, who is a senior fellow at the O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom at Southern Methodist University, has previously sparked outrage by hosting an event featuring sweatshop proponent Benjamin Powell. By providing a legitimate forum for their largely discredited economic ideas, participating schools are helping the Koch brothers and others like them instill conservative values in malleable young minds. According to “Dark Money” author and New Yorker contributor Jane Mayer, Koch colleague Leonard Liggio suggested Nazi Germany’s system of campus indoctrination as a model worthy of emulation, and as far back as 1976, Koch recognized the need to target the very young. “Attracting youth,” he reportedly said at the time, is imperative because “this is the only group that is open to a radically different social philosophy.”
To date, the Charles Koch Foundation has given grants to almost 300 colleges and universities, as well as provided funding for education programs targeting the youngest American school children. Donations have included a $230,000 grant to Dr. Willie Soon, a prominent climate change denier who believes global warming is driven by the sun and not by human activity. Koch Industries is heavily invested in many of the activities most responsible for the climate crisis—fossil fuels, animal agriculture, chemicals and paper chief among them. Koch also opposes the regulation of both financial derivatives, which are largely to blame for the most recent global financial meltdown, and limits on greenhouse gas emissions, which an overwhelming majority of scientists believe are responsible for the existential climate threat.
By funding programs that teach the placement of profits over people, Koch and his ilk aim to ensure that future generations of Americans remain supportive of policies and practices that threaten the very survival of humanity on Earth.