Den idealistiske kapitalist

Vores med-Punditokrat Foss havde forleden en for givetvis 99,9 pct. af læserne kryptisk reference til "The Kochtopus".  Dette begreb, som i sin tid blev lanceret af økonomen Murray Rothbard, er da også for længst faldet ud af daglig brug i de dele af det amerikanske højrefløjsmiljø, hvor det ellers var meget brugt i 1980erne–som en reference til det netværk af liberalistiske organisationer, der var sat i værk og delvist finansieret af de to idealistiske og velbelæste multi-milliardærer, Charles G. Koch og David H. Koch fra Koch Industries.  Blandt disse er først og fremmest f.eks. Cato Institute, Mercatus Center, og Institute for Humane Studies, samt i sin tid Libertarian Party (som i 1980 opstillede David Koch som vicepræsidentkandidat).

Egentlig havde jeg gladeligt ladet Foss' reference passere, men da Wall Street Journal forleden havde en portræt artikel om netop Charles Koch (skrevet af Stephen Moore, der selv tidligere har været ansat hos Cato Institute og har ledet Club for Growth), var der måske en lejlighed til at præsentere en type virksomhedsejere, som der ikke findes mange af i Danmark.

På venstrefløjen og Rådhuspladsen tror man ganske vist, at dansk erhvervsliv er mere end villigt til at finansiere pro-kapitalistiske ideologiske projekter med store checks, men de af os, der har været tættere eller lettere involveret i projekter som f.eks. CEPOS, ved, at det forholder sig ganske anderledes–at det faktisk er ekstremt svært at få penge fra den kreds af mennesker, der ellers burde synes som den gruppe med den mest åbenlyse forståelse for nødvendigheden af at sprede ideer og indsigter om privat ejendomsret, fri markedsøkonomi, retssikkerhed, o.s.v.  Mens venstrefløjen–udover million-store tilskud på fast basis til f.eks. AER–fra tid til anden fra fagbevægelsen har kunnet få f.eks. 180 mio. kr. til at vælte en borgerlig regering med, er det mildt sagt svært at få penge ud af det private erhvervsliv.

En del af årsagen er givetvis berøringsangst og frygt for politiske repressalier–det er ihvertfald et argument, der undertiden høres.  En anden årsag er sikkert, at den første årsag spiller en særligt tungtvejende rolle i et land, der er så lille og intellektuelt underudviklet som Danmark, og hvor Janteloven omvendt stortrives: Her er kapitalister nød til at gå stille med dørene og evt. lide af en god gang selvbebrejdelse.  En tredje væsentlig årsag er givetvis, at mange af de "managers", der er hyret til at lede erhvervsvirksomheder slet ikke er det mindste borgerlige.  (Jeg er f.eks. konstant forbløffet over, at det igen og igen lykkes medierne af præsentere SF'eren Lars Goldschmidt som en typisk repræsentant for det borgerlige erhvervsliv, når han hverken er det ene eller det andet af disse.)

Som vi tidligere har refereret til, er det selv i USA overraskende svært at rejse penge fra erhvervslivet til pro-frimarkedsøkonomiske projekter, om end det kan lade sig gøre.  Blandt dem, som har været villige til at gå længst med at kaste egne penge efter politiske projekter (andet end lobbyisme) er altså netop Koch-brødrene.  Og de har penge: De arvede en del, men har ovenpå formået at opbygge en virksomhed, som er USA's 5. største virksomhed, og som er landets største rent privatejede virksomhed (d.v.s. ikke er børsnoteret).  Her er uddrag af WSJ's portræt af Charles Koch:

"Meet Charles Koch. Philosopher, engineer, self-trained economist, libertarian activist, philanthropist — and the CEO of Koch Industries, a $60 billion, 80,000-employee empire, which just recently became the largest and most profitable privately held company in America.

But you've probably never heard of it.

Neither Charles Koch nor his firm are household names. Mr. Koch (pronounced "coke") has managed to live in relative obscurity despite being one of the richest men on the planet, with a net worth estimated at $14 billion. He is a man of modesty who craves none of the fame or public adulation that seems to preoccupy other members of the billionaires' club. …

Back in 1967, when Mr. Koch was in his early 30s, he became the reluctant president of the family business, then a $177 million, medium-sized oil firm. He recalls: "My father threatened that he was going to sell the company if I wouldn't come back home to Kansas from the East Coast and run it."

Nearly four decades later, that family company is a global conglomerate with net annual sales that exceed the GDP of many small nations, and it includes a diverse range of businesses supplying everything from jet fuel to plastic, asphalt to beef, toilet paper to lumber. It owns many familiar brand names such as Dixie cups, Stainmaster carpet and Brawny paper towels. The firm's financial performance numbers have been positively gaudy, with a rate of return on investment that has outpaced the Standard & Poor's 500 at least tenfold under Mr. Koch's stewardship. …

[Charles Koch] is immersed in the ideas of liberty and free markets. Whereas the bookshelves of most of America's leading CEOs are stocked with pop corporate management and "how to succeed" books, Mr. Koch's office is a wall-to-wall shrine to writings in classical economics, or, as he calls it, "the science of liberty." The authors who have had the most profound influence on his own political philosophy include F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Joseph Schumpeter, Julian Simon, Paul Johnson and Charles Murray. Mr. Koch says that he experienced an intellectual epiphany in the early 1960s, when he attended a conference on free-market capitalism hosted by the late, great Leonard Reed.

Mr. Koch is by training a scientist, with master's degrees from MIT in nuclear and chemical engineering. Despite his business success, he has no MBA or formal management training. Mr. Koch sees that as an advantage. "Being an engineer, I realized there's an objective reality that helps one understand the rules and conditions that improve the human condition," he says. "Laws and principles that facilitate the advancement of peace, prosperity and social progress are as immutable as the laws that work in science. … Politicians often come up with misguided policy solutions," he continues, "because they suffer from Hayek's 'fatal conceit' and believe they can violate basic laws of economics. They are just as misguided as the man who jumps out the 14th floor of a building convinced that he can repeal the law of gravity."

As we continue, Mr. Koch becomes increasingly animated. He discusses another seminal work in his collection, F.A. Harper's 1957 "Why Wages Rise." The book demonstrates "that wages rise not because of unions or government action, but because of marginal productivity gains — people get more money when they produce more value for other people." Then he confides, "I was so thrilled by this revelation that I had what Maslow called a 'peak experience.'" …

"Long-term success entails con
stantly discovering new wa
ys to create value for customers and building new capabilities to capture new opportunities," he instructs. "In this sense, maintaining a business is, in reality, liquidating a business." Mr. Koch likens the cycle to Schumpeter's "creative destruction" — where the old and inefficient are ruthlessly swept away by the new.

What we have here are the theories of supply-side economics operating on the micro-level of the firm. Incentives matter; competition fosters innovation; property rights must be firmly established. Koch Industries gives big financial bonuses for entrepreneurial behavior by employees, whether it's a project head or a janitor. The idea is to reward all activities that add to the bottom-line profitability of the firm. "We want our employees to act like owners," Mr. Koch explains. Similarly, employees earn "decision rights" for past successes. "Just as central planning is a failure in running government, so it is at the level of the firm," he says, repeating one of his favorite operating tenets. …

Charles Koch — no surprise — disdains government and the political class. He has invested tens of millions of dollars into free-market think-tanks and political activist groups (including several founded by this author). He's disgusted with the runaway federal budget under the Republicans, and he proposes that "every new law should be subject to the question: Will it strengthen the culture of prosperity?" Won't about 90% of the laws fail that test? "Yes, that's exactly what I mean," he replies. "But the problem isn't the people in government, it's the system — the incentives are perverse."

Mr. Koch's latest crusade to spread the ideas of liberty has been his sponsorship of a twice-yearly conference that gathers together many of the most successful American entrepreneurs, from T. Boone Pickens to former Circuit City CEO Rick Sharp. The objective is to encourage these captains of industry to help fund free-market groups devoted to protecting the fragile infrastructure of liberty. That task seems especially critical given that so many of the global superrich, like George Soros and Warren Buffett, finance institutions that undermine the very system of capitalism that made their success possible. Isn't this just the usual rich liberal guilt, I ask. "No," he says, "I think they simply haven't been sufficiently exposed to the ideas of liberty."

Sounds as though Messrs. Soros and Buffett would benefit more from sitting down with Charles Koch than I would. For my part, after listening to this natural-born teacher exalt the superiority of free markets and the boundless wealth that they can create, I feel as though I'm about to experience one of Maslow's "peak experiences" myself. But our time is up, and if Mr. Koch has learned nothing else from his spiritual mentors, it's the concept of opportunity cost. Time is money, and it's time to get back to his greatest passion of all: building the profitability of his world-class company."

Kunne vi ikke godt bruge bare tre eller ti af den type i Danmark?  Problemet er såmænd blot, at dét nok netop er årsagen til, at vi næppe får dem.

2 thoughts on “Den idealistiske kapitalist

  1. Nikolaj Hawaleschka Stenberg

    @PK-K: “Problemet er såmænd blot, at dét nok netop er årsagen til, at vi næppe får dem.”Jeg mindes engang at have set “The Road to Serfdom” som tegneserie. Selvom jeg ikke selv er meget for lige dét medium, vil netop en sådan tegneserie med fordel kunne substitueres med diverse Pixi- og billedbøger for småbørn. Så kunne vi jo se, hvor hurtigt den blå revolution ville bredde sig over riget.

    Svar

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