According to Claude Shannon, the inventor of information theory, “the more surprising a message, the more information it contains.” Recent events in Wisconsin carry a sizable message.
The public is being presented with a sharp divide and a stark choice between two sets of views. On one side are the views of a self-described artist/sorceress who has emerged, surprisingly, as a leader of the protests in Wisconsin. On the other side are the views of billionaires Charles and David Koch, the principal owners of Koch Industries, Inc. Over the past four decades the Koch brothers have built their family’s company into “one of the world’s most admired companies,” as attorney and prominent blogger John Hindraker summarized in a lengthy post last night. The Koch brothers are prominent supporters of Gov. Scott Walker, other conservative politicians, and various conservative and other philanthropic causes.
The artist/sorceress, Kelty Carew, is well known to readers of this blog (biographical music video here). This Lech Walsea figure of the Wisconsin progressive activists (as close as they come, at any rate) — one of the final 100 protesters most committed to the occupation of the Capitol Building — has become nationally known partly through hard work and commitment and partly though the technology of modern videography and blogging. She organized the “Kick the Koch Habit” demonstration held in Madison on February 24 at one of the offices of the Koch brothers, efforts covered by journalists (e.g., here and here). On February 25 Ms. Carew achieved notoriety when she appeared on video on the widely read Althouse blog fielding complaints about her group’s trashing of the Veterans Memorial in the Capitol Building, and deflecting requests that the material stuck on and piled against the memorial be removed.
Ms. Carew appeared untroubled about this disrespect for the war dead even though she works for a Madison company that creates public memorials and even though on the website discussing her “longstanding interest in the occult” and her sorcery talents (she is able to transport her “mind and body throughout the world”) Ms. Carew discusses the “compelling insight” she draws from “world religions and spiritual practices” (among which is the practice of respect for memorials to the dead) (here).
So the “Battle of Wisconsin” has been joined. What do the Koch brothers have to offer in this public debate? Why are they active in public affairs? Charles Koch answered that question yesterday in an essay in the Wall Street Journal (at A15; online version here).
“Years of tremendous overspending” at all levels of government, Koch observed, “have brought us face-to-face with an economic crisis.” “For many years” his family and company have “contributed to a variety of intellectual and political causes working to solve” the problems posed by bloated government, and particularly unrestrained spending. Koch does not approach these problems as a partisan: “Both Democrats and Republicans have done a poor job of managing our finances,” he says. “They’ve raised debt ceilings, floated bond issues, and delayed tough decisions.” Despite being “vilified” for their efforts “by various groups” (among them, Ms. Carew and her group), Koch and his family and company are “determined to keep contributing and standing up for those politicians, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who are taking these challenges seriously.”
Is the Koch family pursuing this agenda out of some desire to elect public officials who will grant the family’s company special favors? Exactly the opposite, Koch explains. He opposes such “crony capitalism” as hostile to the general interest of the nation. “[It] erodes our overall standard of living and stifles entrepreneurs by rewarding the politically favored rather than those who provide what consumers want.” “Too many businesses,” he observes, “have successfully lobbied for special favors and treatment by seeking mandates for their products, subsidies . . ., and regulations or tariffs to keep more efficient competitors at bay.” In contrast to such businesses, the Koch family and business actually lobby against government policies which artificially boost profits from the sale of ethanol even though they finanancially benefit from these policies. Koch writes: “We believe that ethanol — and every other product in the marketplace — should be required to compete on its own merits, without mandates, subsidies or protective tariffs.” Even where doing so hurts its business, “as a matter of principle our company has been outspoken in defense of economic freedom,” he adds. “This country would be much better off if every company would do the same. Instead, we see far too many businesses that paint their tails white and run with the antelope.”
Is the Koch family pursuing this agenda out of animus toward the poor? To the contrary, Koch insists. The approach of the Koch family and company to reforming government to serve the general interest will benefit all sectors of society, particularly the poor. “[T]he most prosperous countries are those that allow consumers — not governments — to direct the use of resources. Allowing the government to pick winners and losers hurts almost everyone, especially our poorest citizens.” “[S]ociety as a whole benefits from greater economic freedom,” as illustrated by studies showing that the poorest people “living in countries with the greatest economic freedom have 10 times the per capita income” of the poorest living in countries with the least economic freedom. These principles are guiding the Koch family and their company as they help to lay “the groundwork for smaller, smarter government” that “is essential for getting us back on the path to long-term prosperity.”
What do Kelty Carew and the other leaders of the Wisconsin progressives who are supporting the fugitive Wisconsin “Badger 14” senators in their battle against Gov. Walker have to add to this debate? What agenda do they offer to secure the long-term prosperity and well-being of the citizens of Wisconsin and of the nation? None. No constructive agenda along the lines of past statements issued in support of poltical movements, such as the “Port Huron Statement” and “Sharon Statement” of the 1960s. Just an agenda of obstruction articulated with hyperbole and empty rhetoric and fueled by anger. Here is the crux of the “Wisconsin Workers Statement” embraced by Carew and her fellow protesters on their Facebook page:
We exist to maintain occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol until our collective voices resonate forever in these halls. We are here to express our outrage at the usurpation of Our Rights, to expose the exploitation of Our People, to bring to justice the powers who connive to divide for their own profit. . . . [W]e have been and shall continue to occupy the Capitol for as long as it takes to prevail. The Capitol is OUR HOUSE, and we will not go quietly. Governor Scott Walker has declared a war against the people of Wisconsin. We will not take this lying down. We will stand up and fight.
Elsewhere on Facebook, the protesters do their best to fuel a campaign to “Boycott and Defeat Koch Industries,” and one of Carew’s fellow protesters (as previously summarized) celebrates “hatred,” encourages others to pursue Governor Walker on his private time (“Scott Walker has dinner reservations at The Harbor House by discovery world downtown at 7:45 tonight — pass it on!”), mentions that he’s “at the point where I want random bad things to happen to Scott Walker,” and directs readers to a performance of what is apparently the official protest song of the Wisconsin progressives: “F*** You (Scott Walker),” whose lyrics include:
I guess the voice of democracy isn’t enough
So f*** you
And f*** Fitzgerald too
* * *
I pity the fool who votes again for you
Oh s**t, he’s a union buster
Don’t be such a big c***sucker
Following two weeks of the “Battle of Wisconsin” carried out along these lines, it appears that on the field of public opinion the Koch brothers are doing better than the artist/sorceress who organized the demonstration against their company. Wisconsinites, and average Americans in general, are a practical sort and do not look favorably on government officials who refuse to show up for work and protesters who embrace mindless obstruction and inarticulate anger. Indeed, it appears that the obstructionist approach to the Wisconsin budget debate set out in the “Wisconsin Workers Statement” has backfired on Ms. Carew and her fellow protesters, as the Wall Street Journal observed in its lead editorial yesterday, “A Union Education” (at A14; available online here):
Current AFL-CIO chief Rich Trumka has tried to portray Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s reforms as an attack on all unions, but they clearly are not. If anything, by reining in public union power, Mr. Walker is trying to protect private workers of all stripes from the tax increases that will eventually have to finance larger government. Regarding public finances, the interests of public union workers and those of private union taxpayers are in direct conflict. Mr. Walker is the better friend of the union manufacturing worker in Oshkosh than is Mr. Trumka.
* * *
[T]he public in Wisconsin and around the U.S. seems to be listening and absorbing [Mr. Walker’s] message. The cause has been helped by the sit-ins and shouting of union members, the threats toward politicians who disagree with them, and by the flight of Democratic state senators to undisclosed locations in Illinois. It’s hard to claim you’re protecting democracy when you won’t show up to vote. Taxpayers need to win the battle of Wisconsin for the sake of self-government.