Cheap Seats 2019
David Koch RIP - 08/28
By Rich Trzupek
The Koch brothers are often demonized by celebrities and activists who are either willfully ignorant of all the good that family has done or simply don’t care to know. David Koch’s death last week brought out some of the worst vitriol from the usual suspects, intended to be shocking, but leaving the civilized listener with mixed feelings of disgust over what was said and embarrassment for the people who said them.
I am extremely proud of having been involved with American industry for over 35 years. It has been an honor to serve the hard working men and women who are key cogs in the mightiest wealth generation machine the world has ever known. Koch Industries, the second largest privately held business in the United States, is a shining example of American ingenuity, productivity and generosity in action. David Koch was a big part of both growing the company and spreading the riches it generated. His memory should be honored, as I trust it will be among fair-minded men and women capable of dispassionate observation.
The Koch family’s greatest sin, paradoxically, is that it has been too successful thus earning the mistrust of that segment of American society that finds the accumulation of wealth, no matter how fairly earned, suspicious at best, if not downright wicked. This is particularly the case when success involves industry and industrialists.
American tradition holds that the only riches worth having are those earned through toil, ingenuity, and the Grace of God. This formula applies to David and his brother Charles, as it did to their father Fred whose creativity changed oil refining for the good, while planting the first seeds that would blossom into a great American company. Attempts to smear the Koch name with half-truths and outright lies has much the same causes as the vilification of the so-called “robber barons” who presided over the industrial explosion that occurred at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.
I addressed this peculiar American trait in my narrative history of the United States America’s Journey: Underdog to Overlord, Regrets to Rebirth, when discussing the legacy of the greatest and most successful of that generation of industrialists: John D. Rockefeller:
John D. Rockefeller, by any reasonable means of judgment, fulfilled the three great conditions that make accumulation of wealth acceptable in America. The son of a philandering father and poor but devout mother, he started with virtually nothing and worked throughout his life for everything he had (Toil). He virtually created the oil refining and petrochemical distribution models that are followed to this day (Ingenuity). And he was about as devout and God-fearing a man as has ever walked the earth (Grace of God).
But, for all of that, when Rockefeller is casually remembered today (if he is remembered at all) he is remembered as a robber baron whom Teddy Roosevelt eventually put in his place. There is undeniable truth that the monopolistic structure Rockefeller devised ultimately undermines the free market when broadly applied, but Rockefeller’s bigger sin—at least as far as the American psyche goes—was accumulating far too much personal wealth. In terms of normalized dollars, Rockefeller remains the richest American ever to walk the earth. That made him an aristocrat, whether he liked it or not, and thus to be despised by the common man then, now and forever.
The same sort of thought process is used to damn the Kochs among those people prone to damning the rich. No matter all the non-partisan philanthropic work the Koch Family foundations are engaged in. No matter that Charles and David were best described as moderate libertarians, not far-right villains. As many have observed a lie told often enough becomes a lie no longer, and plenty of lies have been repeated about the Kochs over the decades.
I’ve worked at a few Koch subsidiaries over the years and found out something about their facilities that is almost unique among American industrial facilities: They are not allowed to operate if doing so would put them in knowing non-compliance with any environmental permit or applicable rule. To be sure, most companies say that, but few actually enforce it internally. Most would rather risk a fine than suffer the lost revenue that accompanies shutting down. Not so at Koch. They walk the walk.
David Koch led a long and successful life. His children, his other relatives and everyone he worked with should consider his legacy with pride and admiration. He made a difference. May he rest in peace.