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Despite the constant drumbeat of antagonism between the political Right, or conservatives, and the political Left, or liberals, the U.S. political scene muddies the distinction, often intentionally. Generally speaking the political right allies itself with capital, or property, and the political left allies itself with labor, or consumers, but that distinction is not ironclad. For example, “lefties” like George Soros supposedly balance the right-wing Kochs’ money, or at least so say conservatives, but no one is more of a capitalist than Soros. 

How to Tell Left from Right

What did Kochs spend? - $889 million in 2016, while Soros spent $25 million. With contributors like Soros, Hillary Clinton spent more than Trump in running for president. Trump was reportedly 64% self-financed, but spent less than Clinton only if you ignore the immense subsidy of all the free media Trump got.

Worse than that 35-to-1 imbalance between Koch and Soros, though, is the idea that Soros is a friend of labor. He’s a currency speculator, and really one of the most capitalist of politically interested plutocrats. He is not funding any lobbying for improved labor policies, or single-payer healthcare. So if that is the “balance” of the Kochs right-wing spending, it’s very much to the right of someone like Bernie Sanders.

Soros was a big donor to Hillary, so how far left is she, really? She voted for the Iraq war, and for the tightening of bankruptcy law Wall Street wanted. That law favored capital, excluding student loans from even the possibility bankruptcy. Right now, Social Security checks are being garnished to pay off student debt.

"I don't care who people vote for as long as I can pick the candidates" - Boss Tweed (a Democrat)

On the Right, the Koch brothers fund an enormous political campaign apparatus that guarantees party discipline. If a legislator does not follow Koch-approved policy in the next election s/he will face a well-funded resource-draining opponent that does obey the Kochs.

Bernie Sanders’ game-changing breakthrough was his ability to mobilize the small campaign contributors enough to mount a credible presidential campaign. Unlike that pseudo-lefty Obama, Sanders has kept his populist campaign organization intact; Obama dismantled his populist outreach once he was in office. Sanders’ “Our Revolution” continues to lobby to move policy actual balance to the Koch’s rightward bias..

How far right are the Kochs? They were raised by Fred Koch, a clever chemist whose method for refining crude oil into useful products led him to found Koch Industries, a company that built oil refineries all over the world—including refineries for Stalin and Hitler. Fred Koch hated the Russians but loved the Germans. In fact, he hired a German nanny to raise his boys. She was literally a Nazi. So...Kochs imbibed right-wing politics from an early age. Heck, a Nazi raised them! Fred Koch also founded some of the extreme right-wing think tanks and organizations, including the John Birch Society—an organization that condemned Dwight D. Eisenhower as a communist, or communist dupe, so he hardly contradicted that nanny.

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Another signature distinction between Right and Left is the refusal by the Right to acknowledge how effective collective action can be. For the political right, all productive actions, all responsibilities, originate with the individual.

At least part of Fred Koch’s animus toward government came from his experience in the courts. The Rockefeller oil empire (Standard Oil) started using Koch’s processes to refine its products, but refused to pay the patent royalties they owed. Koch sued...and lost! Later, Kochs found out that Rockefellers bribed the judge in that trial, and Koch re-sued and won, but retained a lasting distrust for government. (Can you blame him?)

Another signature distinction between Right and Left is the refusal by the Right to acknowledge how effective collective action can be. For the political right, all productive actions, all responsibilities, originate with the individual. Conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously said that society does not exist, only individuals and families—a statement roughly equivalent to saying your body does not exist, only cells and organs. Thatcher’s policies reflected her “anti-collectivist” understanding of society, though, and poverty roughly doubled in the U.K. under her supervision. The fight against “collectivism” is explicitly what Kochs say they fund.

What the extreme right misses, however, is that some problems are systemic, not individual. Here’s an example Modern Money Theorist Warren Mosler cites: Imagine throwing 95 bones out in your backyard, then releasing 100 dogs to retrieve a bone apiece. Five dogs will come back “empty-handed” no matter how well trained they are. Teaching the dogs a sense of personal responsibility, training them in bone retrieval techniques will never change that picture, even though it may change which dogs return with a bone. The solution is systemic, not amenable to individual solution.

Solutions to some current social problems are systemic-only, too. Preaching about individual responsibility, telling people to lift themselves up by their bootstraps does not lower the unemployment rate or make more paying jobs appear automatically if the economy’s pessimism tells employers not to expect profit from expanding their hiring. The idea that collective action or government can effectively address some of these problems is fairly new, too, so resistance is understandable. For example, Keynesian economics says government can literally spend the economy out of a depression.

The opponents of “collectivism” decry such government “intrusion” because they fear a government that popular and effective could impair their property rights. The Kochs may say they are “libertarian,” and eschew social conservatism (outlawing gay marriage, or certain drugs), but they are extremely careful to protect property. It does not matter whether property was obtained honestly or not. Dumping toxic waste on your own property is perfectly OK, just as Roman slave owners could legally murder their slaves. Property rights are paramount, no matter how “libertarian” are Kochs. The record high fines levied by the EPA on Koch Industries demonstrates just how absolute they believe are their property rights, too.

A quick scorecard (from Pew polling):


I take a back seat to no one in criticizing the wasteful stupidity of government, but unfortunately, because systemic problems exist, collective action is really the only way to solve such problems, as awful as that sausage making is sometimes.

defunding the police is a start

Mark Dempsey
It's Simpler Than It Looks