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Government interventionism ensnares us all

Are those who call for an end to government subsidy programs hypocrites for accepting those same subsidies? This is a common criticism, said to undermine the argument for ending government subsidy programs.

Rather, the existence of this debate is evidence of the growing pervasiveness of government involvement not only in business, but in our personal lives as well.

Recently the Wichita Eagle printed an op-ed critical of Charles G. Koch, chairman of the board and CEO of Wichita-based Koch Industries. The target of the criticism was Koch’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Corporate Cronyism Harms America” with the subtitle “When businesses feed at the federal trough, they threaten public support for business and free markets.”

Koch stated one of the problems as this: “Instead of protecting our liberty and property, government officials are determining where to send resources based on the political influence of their cronies. In the process, government gains even more power and the ranks of bureaucrats continue to swell.”

Even those who are opposed to government interventions in markets find themselves forced to participate in government subsidy programs. Referring to a recent Wichita incentive program for commercial real estate, Wichita developer Steve Clark said: “Once you condition the market to accept these incentives, there’s nothing someone else can do to remain competitive but accept them yourself. Like the things we’re working on with the city, now we have to accept incentives or we’re out of business.”

Koch Industries, as a refiner of oil, blends ethanol with the gasoline it produces in order to meet federal mandates that require ethanol usage. Even though Koch opposes subsidies for ethanol — as it opposes all subsidies — Koch accepted the subsidies. A company newsletter explained “Once a law is enacted, we are not going to place our company and our employees at a competitive disadvantage by not participating in programs that are available to our competitors.” (The tax credit subsidy program for ethanol has ended, but there is still the mandate for its use.)

Walter Williams, as he often does, recognizes the core of the problem: “Once legalized theft begins, it pays for everybody to participate.” The swelling ranks of bureaucrats preside over this.

So should people who have built businesses — large or small — sit idle as government props up a competitor that could put them out of business?

While Williams says not only does it pay to participate, the reality is that it is often necessary to participate in order to stay in business. This is part of the insidious nature of government interventionism: A business can be humming along, earning a profit by meeting the needs of its customers, when a government-backed competitor enters the market. What is the existing business to do? Consent to be driven out of business, just to prove a point?

So existing firms are often compelled to participate in the government program, accepting not only subsidy but the strings that accompany. This creates an environment where government intervention spirals, feeding on itself. It’s what we have today.

Not only does this happen in business, it also happens in personal life. I am opposed to the existence of the Social Security Administration and being forced to participate in a government retirement plan. Will I, then, forgo my social security payments when I become eligible to receive them?

If the government hadn’t been taking a large share of my earnings for many years, I’d be in a better position to provide for my own retirement. So as a practical matter, many people need their benefits, and rightly are entitled to them as a way to get back at least some of what they paid. The harmful effect is that government, by taking away some of our capacity — and reducing the initiative — to save for ourselves, creates more dependents.

(It might be a little different if our FICA contributions were in individual “lock boxes,” invested on our behalf. But that isn’t the case.)

Often those who advocate for reduced government spending are criticized when they may be awarded government contracts. But if the contracts are awarded competitively and not based on cronyism, the winning company is saving taxpayer money by providing products or services inexpensively. This is true even when the government spending is ill-advised or wasteful: If government is going to waste money, it should waste it efficiently, I suppose.

Contrast this behavior with that of some Wichita businesses and politicians. They make generous campaign contributions to city council members, and then receive millions in subsidy and overpriced no-bid contracts that bleed taxpayers. In Wichita this is called “economic development.”

As Koch Industries’ Melissa Cohlmia notes in a letter to the Wichita Eagle, Charles Koch, along with David Koch, are examples of an unfortunately small group of businessmen and women who are willing to stand up and fight for capitalism and economic freedom. It’s an important fight. As Charles Koch wrote in his recent article: “This growing partnership between business and government is a destructive force, undermining not just our economy and our political system, but the very foundations of our culture.” The danger, he writes, is “Put simply, cronyism is remaking American business to be more like government. It is taking our most productive sectors and making them some of our least.”

Koch favors ending all subsidies

By Melissa Cohlmia, Corporate communication director, Koch Companies Public Sector

Kevin Horrigan’s commentary was misleading and a disservice to readers (“GOP acts as bellhop for corporations, Kochs,” Sept. 21 Opinion).

Yes, Koch Industries benefits from subsidies — a fact Charles Koch stated in his Wall Street Journal commentary. This is not hypocrisy, as Horrigan claimed. Rather, where subsidies exist, any company that opts out will be at a disadvantage and often driven out of business by competitors with the artificial advantage. This perverse incentive drives out companies that are in favor of sound fiscal policy and opposed to subsidies, and favors inefficient companies that are dependent on subsidies.

Koch’s long-standing position is to end to all subsidies, which distort the market and ultimately cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Horrigan faulted Koch for not mentioning the company’s lawful contributions to “conservative politicians and causes.” Charles Koch has publicly advocated for and supported free-market causes for decades. This is a First Amendment right that people and groups across the political spectrum also exercise.

The columnist falsely claimed that Koch has funded anti-labor organizations. About 15,000 of our 50,000 U.S employees are represented by labor unions. We have long-standing, mutually beneficial relationships with these unions.

In this time when far too few speak up for economic freedom, Charles Koch challenges out-of-control government spending and rampant cronyism that undermines our economy, political system and culture. For this, he should be lauded, not vilified.

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