Friday, September 30, 2011

The ultimate in right-wing hypocrisy?

Wondering how hypocritical right-wingers really are? Check out this article in The Nation. Some excerpts:
There’s right-wing hypocrisy, and then there’s this: Charles Koch, billionaire patron of free-market libertarianism, privately championed the benefits of Social Security to Friedrich Hayek, the leading laissez-faire economist of the twentieth century. Koch even sent Hayek a government pamphlet to help him take advantage of America’s federal retirement insurance and healthcare programs.

This extraordinary correspondence regarding Social Security began in early June 1973, weeks after Koch was appointed president of the Institute for Humane Studies. Along with his brothers, Koch inherited his father’s privately held oil company in 1967, becoming one of the richest men in America. He used this fortune to help turn the IHS, then based in Menlo Park, California, into one of the world’s foremost libertarian think tanks. Soon after taking over as president, Koch invited Hayek to serve as the institute’s “distinguished senior scholar” in preparation for its first conference on Austrian economics, to be held in June 1974.

Hayek initially declined Koch’s offer. In a letter to IHS secretary Kenneth Templeton Jr., dated June 16, 1973, Hayek explains that he underwent gall bladder surgery in Austria earlier that year, which only heightened his fear of “the problems (and costs) of falling ill away from home.” (Thanks to waves of progressive reforms, postwar Austria had near universal healthcare and robust social insurance plans that Hayek would have been eligible for.)

IHS vice president George Pearson (who later became a top Koch Industries executive) responded three weeks later, conceding that it was all but impossible to arrange affordable private medical insurance for Hayek in the United States. However, thanks to research by Yale Brozen, a libertarian economist at the University of Chicago, Pearson happily reported that “social security was passed at the University of Chicago while you [Hayek] were there in 1951..."

I won't post the details. You can read the original article for that. But if you don't know much about Charles Koch and Friedrich Hayek, this part might help:
Charles Koch and his brother, David, have waged a three-decade campaign to dismantle the American social safety net. At the center of their most recent push is the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, which has co-sponsored Tea Party events, spearheaded the war against healthcare reform and supported Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attack on public sector unions. FreedomWorks, another conservative group central to the rise of the Tea Party and the right-wing attempt to dismantle Social Security and Medicare, emerged from an advocacy outfit founded by the Koch brothers called Citizens for a Sound Economy. FreedomWorks now exists as a separate entity that champions the “Austrian school” of economics.

Hayek, a founder of that school of thought, is primarily known for two major works. The first, The Road to Serfdom (1944), grudgingly accepts the possibility that some “free” countries might find it necessary to set up a bare-minimum catastrophic social insurance program limited to the very neediest, so long as the benefits do not incentivize productive members of society to abandon free-market retirement savings or medical insurance.

Hayek’s comparatively liberal attitude toward social insurance hardened considerably by the time he published his 1960 opus, The Constitution of Liberty. Despite privately spending the intervening years paying into Social Security, Hayek devoted an entire chapter—titled “Social Security”—to denouncing the modern welfare state as a gateway to tyranny and moral decay.

The hypocrisy is breath-taking, sure. But what strikes me is how blind true-believers can be. Hayek's own experience with ill-health, his own worries about getting care in the United States, after enjoying Austria's progressive policies, did nothing to change his mind about any of this stuff.

Hayek simply believed what he believed. And this sort of thing is common in the right-wing, because a true believer doesn't let evidence affect him in any way. Indeed, Hayek just got more and more extreme.

The Koch brothers are billionaires who inherited their wealth and who've done everything they could since then to establish a hereditary aristocracy in America. They've always had money, so unlike the rest of us, they don't need a social safety net.

And providing such a net for other people would naturally lead to "moral decay." Of course, with their family's wealth, neither of them really had to work a day in his life. But who would ever think that inherited wealth would lead to moral decay? No, not a chance. I guess the rich are just better people than the rest of us, huh?

PS. My thanks to Penigma for the link.

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