Field of Science

Boycott Koch Industries

A recent article by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker is making some splash. It describes the political influence of the Koch brothers, owners of Koch Industries. When you buy their products you are supporting a right-wing political agenda. Unfortunately, it's pretty difficult to boycott them, when they make their money on fertilizers, petroleum, pipelines, engineering, investments, pulp and paper, chemicals, real estate, and minerals, to mention just a few. Personally, I'm not in the market for either.

The article proceeds to detail the influence that Charles and David Koch have on American politics. It's substantial. You are hereby urged to read the whole thing. For example, the Koch's are the founder of both the Cato Institute and the Mercatus Center - both conservative/libertarian think tanks that have been and are hugely influential, I am sad to say. The tanks that tell people what to think are completely indifferent to real world, but live to bend the facts the way that suits the purpose of corporations, such as those owned by the two Koch brothers. For example:
Ed Crane, the Cato Institute’s founder and president, told me that “global-warming theories give the government more control of the economy.”
He is implying that global warming is a lie perpetrated with the intent of giving the government more control, and in that he's got it backwards. It's pretty standard libertarian fare (and I guess that's due to these think tanks in the first place).

The hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is not a means to give more power to the government, but a real issue that needs to be dealt with, and the best way to do that is through governmental regulations. The libertarian approach to politics is a puerile dream of times that used to be, but cannot exist anymore in our modern society, which is far to complex and have far too great an impact to be left to laissez-faire capitalism. It is imperative that the common goods (air, water, land, forests, etc.) are protected from rampant exploitation. I don't claim that it is the goal of the libertarian ideology to exploit the commons to extinction, of course, but the libertarian ideology reserves the right to do so, and the result will exactly be that, namely the destruction of the resources that sustain us all.

The fact that the Kochs, and all others of a libertarian mindset, can literally fool themselves into believing that freedom to trade and utilize natural resources at will and without restriction will lead to increased benefit for all, is enormously puzzling. That's not to say that they all think that it will benefit all, and David Koch is of the opinion that he doesn't care about all people, but really only about his own ability to do business any way he wants, and without having to share with the less affluent through taxes.

Honestly, anyone with a decent amount of power of observation should be able to fathom that no governmental control over human affairs will lead to chaos and anarchy, rather than some silly utopian ideal where everything sorts out for the best in the end, as long as people are free to optimize their own wealth. It may be true that some stable state would be reached after a while, but not until lots of people will have suffered and died, and not before and even greater amount of species and ecosystems will have been destroyed.

I like freedom to do whatever I want as much as the next guy, but that doesn't mean that I can't realize what a supremely hellish place this would be if the libertarian ideology reigned. We just so happen to be this many people, and that is the constraint that is imposed upon us. The needs of 6+ billion people and a world of limited resources are simply what we have to deal with, and it can only be done through top-down regulation. A bottom-up approach leads to the tragedy of the commons (a hugely important concept that cannot be emphasized enough), and that means the destruction of the commons.

Needless to say, when filthy-rich libertarians make up their views of the world, they do so such that the world fits with their own vested interested (i.e., freedom and money for themselves):
David Koch told New York that he was unconvinced that global warming has been caused by human activity. Even if it has been, he said, the heating of the planet will be beneficial, resulting in longer growing seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. “The Earth will be able to support enormously more people because far greater land area will be available to produce food,” he said.
The Koch brothers, being among the ten richest Americans, puts their money where their mouthes are: Against global-warming measures.
The fight over a November ballot initiative to suspend California's global warming law has escalated sharply with the Koch brothers, oil billionaires and "tea party" backers, making a million-dollar entry into the fray.


California's global warming law, known as AB 32, is designed to cut the state's emission of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by the end of this decade. A significant chunk of the reductions would come through regulations aimed at fostering alternative fuels and generating electricity from solar, wind and other alternative energy sources.
David Koch is also no surprise when it comes to religion. He clearly lives in the same mental fog as the majority of right-wing conservative Americans:
In 1991, David Koch was badly injured in a plane crash in Los Angeles. He was the sole passenger in first class to survive. As he was recovering, a routine physical exam led to the discovery of prostate cancer. Koch received treatment, settled down, started a family, and reconsidered his life. As he told Portfolio, “When you’re the only one who survived in the front of the plane and everyone else died—yeah, you think, ‘My God, the good Lord spared me for some greater purpose.’ My joke is that I’ve been busy ever since, doing all the good work I can think of, so He can have confidence in me.”
That God had seen fit to kill lots of people but David Koch, and that Jesus was a laissez-faire libertarian seems a bit of a stretch, but, quite frankly, I don't see the choosing and picking passages from the Bible to suit your liking here any different than what mainline protestants do - both are done totally ad hoc, and since the Bible itself doesn't tell you which parts to take seriously, and which to base public policy on, who am I to favor one approach over another (the answer so clearly is to spurn it all, imo). So, here's a whack to all of those who select, and another to those who think it is possible at all to get away with taking it all literally, too (but anyway, this was a digression).

After being diagnosed with cancer, David Koch has given millions to research and institutions, and that's a good thing, but then...
Koch’s corporate and political roles, however, may pose conflicts of interest. For example, at the same time that David Koch has been casting himself as a champion in the fight against cancer, Koch Industries has been lobbying to prevent the E.P.A. from classifying formaldehyde, which the company produces in great quantities, as a “known carcinogen” in humans.
What up with the double standard? Nothing, probably. It's just that good business is more important to these guys than human health, after all. Besides, Koch himself was cured, right? He had the money for the best treatment, and my bet is that while this libertarian principle of freedom in all matters is important for Koch, it's really more important that he is free and able to do whatever he wants, and less important that the same opportunities and freedoms apply to everyone else. Or prove me wrong.

Update 10/14/10: As a commenter says below, Koch Industries do make boycottable products. Like Quilted Northern, Angel Soft, and Soft 'n Gentle toilet papers:


  1. Koch Industries also produces many consumer products. Here's a list in picture form.

  2. Its unfortunate, but in today's capitalistic society money is really the only thing that companies (or sadly politicians) listen to. I would highly suggest you check out our new open-source product search engine, filtericious. It's intended as a product search engine that lets people attach tags (for example Koch brothers), and then filter products when making everyday buying decisions. Our hope is to make the process of "voting your money" MUCH easier. We are trying to get this project launched with a kickstarter page:
    and our blog:


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