Norquist knee-capped by Koch-backed “Shift Disturbers”

<hat tip to Jack C for the titular prhase!>

Well, it looks like Grover Norquist’s support for a carbon tax shift last Monday (Nov 12) lasted as long as a mayfly.  By the time Tuesday (Nov 13) rolled around, he was back to opposing it, and likening government to a tapeworm.

I suppose it’s a brave thing to say, considering that the highly-trained, armed professional soldiers of the US military (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the US government) probably don’t like being likened to intestinal parasites.

Norquist has infamously said he’s wanted to shrink government small enough that it could be drowned in a bathtub, like a kitten.  So I suppose his move to tapeworms represents progress of some sort.

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The Koch Brothers’ industrial-libertarianism complex (through its American Energy Alliance tentacle) was behind the switch — the very latest of many, many examples of how  industrial titans created 20th century libertarianism through intellectual toadies, to further their ends.

There’s nothing wrong with the wealthy accumulating personal Smitherses and Snowballs — it’s kind of inevitable — but it’s misleading to think that this strand of libertarianism has anything to do with Enlightenment ideals about minimizing coercion and so forth.  The classic view holds that citizens’ freedom should not be impaired by being coerced into doing things not to their liking, and spawned ideologies across the political spectrum.  By comparison, what is commonly referred to as “libertarianism” nowadays, is limited to the far-right of the American political spectrum, which is itself already at a rightward pitch compared to most other Western countries.

Back in the day, the only organization that had the ability to enforce coercion, was the state.  (Among other things, our societies are built around the premise that the state has a monopoly on violence: it’s illegitimate for any person or group to use violence, for which the state claims the right to punish them.)  But in today’s world, multinational corporate colossuses can enforce coercion too — by capturing regulators and politicians.

What I’m tentatively calling “industrial libertarianism” has a blind spot to this phenomenon, having been founded by the benefactors of said corporate colossuses…!  Its squid-like habit of squirting ink at governments, is matched by its remora-like loyalty to big business.  Funny how that works.  :)

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The Kochs got some coverage earlier this year for trying to taking over the way-right-wing Cato Institute in the states, which they co-founded.  The short story is that there were four founders, and thus four shares: two for the Koch brothers, and two for the other guys.  Then one of the other guys died, so instead of it passing on to his next-of-kin (his wife) the Kochs tried to have the share nullified!  There’s no question the reality-distortion field is strong in them…  ;)

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The Kochs were also being investigated in 1994 for illegally funding Republican candidates (back then, there actually were campaign finance laws, and corporations weren’t allowed limitless contributions) during the surprising 1994 “Republican revolution” which brought Newt “three wives” Gingrich to power.  Though to be fair, by that point he’d only divorced his first wife.  While she was recovering from cancer.

Sadly, the Kochs escaped prosecution in the 1990’s thanks to a deal Clinton cut with the Republicans: they wouldn’t go after him for having an inordinate number of meetings with Chinese businessmen, and he wouldn’t go after the Kochs.  (Link here; the video gets into it.)

Incidentally, you younger folks might not know that Clinton also purportedly made a deal with Bush Sr. in the 1992 election.  Figuring that Bush’s guys were going to make Clinton out to be a chronic womanizer during the campaign (which he of course, was) Clinton’s team dug up evidence of Bush Sr’s own philandering, and put mutually-assured-destruction on the table: “you show them mine, and I’ll show them yours”. Bush supposedly told his team to lay off, and Clinton cruised to the White House.  (Thanks to the meddling Texan, Ross Perot, who ran as a third-party candidate, Clinton won the Presidency with well below 50% of the popular vote.)

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Unfortunately for proponents of industrial libertarianism, its philosophical dependence on the super-rich goes all the way back to Milton Friedman of the Chicago School of Economics, who started off as a lobbyist on the corporate-titan teat.

That his ideas on economic liberty (epitomized by his 1970 NY Times editorial “the social responsibility of corporations is to increase profits”) are presented as an academic’s abstractions, gives them a wonderful cachet of open-minded intellectual exploration.  But knowing that he started off as a lobbyist for a miserly subset of the uberclass changes the dynamic.

Many people, perhaps most, would approach the ideas with severe caution and skepticism, given that they were formulated by and for wealthy misanthropes.  Most of us are more than a bit cautious when reading union missives, for the same reason.

(While they’re surely outnumbered by the world’s many decent, socially-conscientious wealthy folk, I like to imagine the misanthropes invest more on lobbying to get their way … leading the rest to donate their money cleaning up the mess.  :)  )

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All in all, given that the American “industrial-libertarian” movement is as fully the creation of (fossil fuel and other) business titans, as boy band “One Direction” is the creation of Simon Cowell, it’s unsurprising that Grover Norquist was made to walk back the plank of his carbon tax shift.

Since the Obama administration has disappointingly come out and said they wouldn’t create a carbon tax this pushes the earliest likely date for an American carbon tax to early 2017.  There’ll have been a Canadian election by then (possibly more than one, actually) so it remains possible for us to beat our southern cousins into implementing one.  Happily for our perennially-overshadowed country and culture, it wouldn’t be the first time we’d moved first on a moral issue, either:

- in 1793, while our American friends were still enjoying the honeymoon phase of their Independence, Upper Canada became the first British colony to ban slavery — albeit with some asterisks.  That’s about seventy years before the events shown in the movie “Lincoln”!  While one hopes we can still beat them to a carbon tax on point of principle and pride, one also hopes our southern cousins don’t need seven decades to come around on this particular issue.  :)

[edits on Nov 20: credit for the "shift disturber" phrase, and a couple grammatical tweaks.]

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