It looks like the Koch ideological machine is very serious about using Koch money to control the intellectual life of college campuses wherever possible. “Lakey,” a graduate student at Florida State University just wrote an expose for the Tallahassee Democrat. FSU is one of the universities where this attempt at control is being waged, and she has exposed the entire scam. And it is ugly.
The Foundation provides large financial gifts to cash strapped economics departments. This is normal but unlike the usual case they have control over who is hired. Funding lasts long enough for the professor to get tenure. Taxpayers must then pay the salary because Charles Koch Foundation funding then ends “and the 2013 agreement mandates that FSU agree ‘to assume full responsibility for the continued maintenance and funding of the Professorship Positions’.” As Lakey points out, “Charles Koch Foundation puts their people in and then the taxpayers are required to keep them until their tenure expires. Five years of CKF funding to guarantee a lifetime taxpayer position.”
And that of course frees up CKF money to do it again elsewhere – all the while Koch is funding politicians seeking to cut funding for higher education, increasing universities’ vulnerability to this take over tactic.
Modern ‘libertarianism’ at your service.
One of the ironies is that Koch money both revived and then largely destroyed the intellectual vitality of Austrian economics, a school of thought that did more than any other to demonstrate the impossibility of central economic planning and the importance of markets to a free society. Initially he and other wealthy donors helped provide support for Austrian scholars at a time when university economics departments were primarily interested in what government planning could do. When I was a undergraduate student at the University of Kansas rather than addressing Ludwig von Mises’ criticisms of central planning, I was simply informed he was an “old man.” End of issue. No Austrian need apply there! The free market “Chicago School” was intolerant of anyone who did not follow their own deeply flawed methodological dogmas. In such an environment Koch’s efforts were initially all to the good in my opinion.
But, and it is a fatal but, he and his allies treated economics not as a science but as a weapon in the “war of ideas.” Research into new areas was drastically subordinated to intellectual predictability and orthodoxy. Superficially conferences seemed to bring Austrian School and interested academics together to explore issues from within Austrian viewpoints. But the reality was different. Papers and presenters were always selected beforehand. Control over content was all pervasive, smoothed over by good food and prestigious locations.
One of the many ironies here is that science is as much a spontaneous order as the market. Arguments for intellectual freedom in science are of the same nature as arguments for a freely functioning market order. And yet the advocates of turning everything over to “the market” are seeking to control intellectual life in economics, the key science studying the market.
Whenever anyone wonders how the relatively free wheeling libertarian intellectual environment of the late 60s turned into so much lockstep and usually right wing predictability today, Charles Koch and the intellectual conformity he fostered appear to be major causes. With friends like him one wonders whether freedom needs enemies to be imperiled.
5 thoughts on “Charles Koch, intellectual freedom and the death of libertarian scholarship”
Long time no talk. I much appreciate your sentiments here and would only add that contemporary thinkers like Kevin Carson or Roderick Long are doing things to revive the more “freewheeling” environment you speak of. You’re already aware of this, but some of your readers might find it useful to know they are out there as a contrast to the boilerplate right-wing Koch funded stuff.
BTW on the note of “freewheeling” libertarian scholarship; welcome to the editorial board of the Molinari Review! I am associate editor and welcome your presence there. I hope you decide to publish your constructive criticisms of libertarianism in it.
Thanks Natasha. Yes there are some libertarians who cannot be reduced to Koch operatives, and to the degree a future exists where libertarian insights will help human well-being, that is where it is. I hope the Molinari Review turns out well- and has genuine exchanges on these issues.I know that if I had to reduce my differences with libertarians to one sentence it would be “I see freedom and well being maximized in civil society, libertarians see those values maximized in the market.”
A secind sentence: “Some try to argue these are the same, and they are wrong.”
We do hope to help the cause of human well-being.
BTW I thought of two tidbits that show Koch funding isn’t of necessity a death knell for independent scholarship. I know a left-libertarian academic who somehow did work on a Koch funded project. He says they exerted no real control. And Nathan Goodman has informed me Students for Liberty at least received Koch money in the past. Another left-lib has said that 1/5th of the campus coordinators for SFL are left-libs. Not to mention that there are a number of anarchists on the North American executive board. I don’t mean to deny that Koch funding can’t come with restrictive strings attached, but I just wanted to let you know about these two counter-examples.
On a more personal note, because I don’t have any other forum to contact you with your permission about this.
I still have you as a friend on Facebook, but I changed back to my legal name on there. My legal name is Nick Manley. I’ve been respecting your request not to leave messages on there though.
But an open minded and kind libertarian friend of mine recently started a Facebook discussion group where non-libertarians and libertarians can interact in a civil fashion without libertarians being jerks to their opponents. I wanted to get your permission to add you to the group, because it would enrich the group. And of course; I will not interact with you any further on FB beyond that.as long as your original request to leave you alone on there still stands.
The test of a vital intellectual tradition is its openness to discussion by those who think a little outside the box and to those who are not a part of it but willing to engage in honest dialogue with its ideas. For years I would be asked by some Koch funded organizations to recommend students to them for summer programs. For a while I did so. Then it became evident that they were interested in training apparatchiks, and uninterested in really discussing the deeper levels of work by even some of their favorite people. For decades the ONLY intellectual conferences discussing Austrian ideas that ever invited papers were the ones I was instrumental in organizing, and happily now some growing out of those efforts. ALL others to my knowledge invite people to conferences where the papers have been decided, invited, and approved privately by those in charge.
I might soften my argument a little bit if any of these left libertarians you refer to were asked to engage in serious dialogue with the other sort over issues where they differed. I doubt that happened. As to the Kochs not intervening- they don’t have to. Most people do work where the various factions in libertarian thought overlap, or in completely noncontroversial areas. I know that I have been awarded major prizes because of my work in Hayekian theory, and since Dick Cornuelle’s passing (a genuine friend of both liberty and free inquiry) have never ever been asked to participate in conferences on him. And that is on a subject I had a Ph.D. in Berkeley and years of subsequent work and publishing in genuine scholarly journals. Give me a break.
To be sure left libertarians are far better than the apologists for capitalism on the right, but I will likely die an old man before any seriously grapple with the critique of libertarianism in general that was published a few years ago, let alone with my work on spontaneous orders. But I will continue to throw it in their faces..
I must decline your FB group request. I don’t have the time. I have repeatedly offered venues here for those discussions and none have really been taken up. FB is a terrible place for serious discussions because of formatting problems in the replies. I will soon be publishing a Hayekian theory of why capitalism is harmful to freedom and to civil society. I will invite discussions here but will not hold my breath.
And my sincere apologizes for not delivering as I promised on responses to your various critiques. I am actually in the process of deciding whether to publish my response to your Deconstructing Libertarianism article at the Center for a Stateless Society or in the new journal Roderick has started. And your distinction between civil society and the market has inspired me to think about how libertarians might deal with market failures in non-state ways by relying on an anarchist conception of civil society.
As for whether left-libs have been invited to discuss their differences with right-libs; I’ve had private discussions with them, but the only formal stuff I can think of is Roderick Long giving talks at Students for Liberty conferences to mixed audiences or participating in CATO Unbound discussions where he shared his ideas..
You’ve no reason to believe I will deliver as promised on my response, but I will post a link to it here or alert you to it in general on here.
I also plan to leave you more feedback on your private prison critique on here. Roderick Long and I discussed it over the phone. He came up with a response or two worth sharing.