Commentary: Economic freedom key to improving society

My brother David and I have long supported the principles that help societies prosper. I have actively done so for nearly 50 years, as has my brother for more than 40.

In recent years, we have stepped up our efforts to deal with the enormous threats to the future well-being of the people of this country. This has prompted some extreme criticism. From the White House to fringe bloggers, we are now being vilified, mischaracterized and threatened.

In a perverse way, these attacks indicate that we are having a positive effect on public awareness and policymaking. That is why we are working even harder to advance economic freedom and prosperity.

We do so because we believe economic freedom is essential for improving the well-being of society as a whole, especially those who work hard to provide for their families, as well as our most vulnerable. History and sound theory are clear on this point. If we allow our government to waste scarce resources and become the ultimate decision maker, almost everyone will suffer a lower standard of living.

For evidence, look at what ethanol policies have done to fuel and food prices. And who is hurt most by higher prices? Working men and women, and the less fortunate.

Our government made a point of reforming its welfare policies for individuals but not for corporations. Cap-and-trade proposals, the health-care bill, federal bailouts and "green" subsidies all favor a few businesses (usually large ones) at the expense of consumers, taxpayers and most other companies.

Unfair programs that favor certain companies - such as the current well-intentioned but misguided suggestion that the natural-gas industry should receive enormous new subsidies - don't just happen. They are promoted, in large part, by those seeking to profit politically, rather than by competing in a market where consumers vote with their wallets.

By contrast, we lobby against regulations or policies that would increase our profits at the expense of consumers. We believe in satisfying customers by competing on equal terms, rather than the government picking winners and losers.

For example, because ethanol use is mandated, we were compelled to be in that business, so we chose to be in it in the most competitive way we could. We still oppose ethanol subsidies and mandates, even though some of our businesses would benefit from them.

Koch companies employ nearly 50,000 Americans, including about 2,500 in Kansas, in supplying goods and services that make people's lives better. Since 2003 we have invested more than $42 billion to grow and make our facilities safer, more environmentally friendly, more efficient and more productive.

A major labor union official recently noted that many of our manufacturing jobs are among the best-paying and most productive in the United States. These are real jobs creating real value for real people - the same people who must bear the burden of excessive spending, uncontrolled debt and onerous regulations.

We need voters, leaders and businesspeople to support economic freedom. If we all depend on the government for everything, who will provide all the goods and services our government promises?

A recent cartoon strip illustrated this well. The king announces that from now on there will be free health care, housing, clothing, food and jobs for everybody. To which a peasant responds: "If we're given all that, why do we need jobs?"


Charles G. Koch is chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kan. He wrote this for the Wichita Eagle.

McClatchy Newspapers did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy Newspapers or its editors.