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Dear Charles Koch (a letter to the Koch Brothers)

Activists protest against the unregulated campaign contributions by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
Activists protest against the unregulated campaign contributions by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Dear Mr. Charles Koch,

I read your recent USA Today op-ed with some interest, since you and your brother have been built up into mythical monsters in the political landscape. Instead of reading about you, I was ready hear who you really are from the horse’s mouth.

What I learned is, your reputation is well-earned. You have been painted in the media as a self-centered elitist plutocrat. And that’s apparently exactly what you are.

It's pretty obvious that the purpose of your op-ed was to undermine the substantial job growth and corresponding drop in the unemployment rate that we have seen in recent months. Now that your side can't whine, "Where are the jobs?' you must find a new attack: that the new jobs being created in the current recovery aren't full-time jobs and, hence, don’t count.

First, you set out to frame your argument with government employment data. But as Michael Hiltzik noted in his brilliant Los Angeles Times piece deconstructing yours, you cherry pick the data to manipulate the inferences, creating false realities.

In one example, you quote the surge in part-time jobs in June as proof that the economy is no longer creating good jobs. But as Hlitzik points out, the choice of June as a representative month is disingenuous at best. "Interestingly, neither Zuckerman nor Koch paused to ask why part-time workers might have surged in June--or why the part-time workforce aged 16 and older surges almost every June,” Hiltzik wrote. “Could it be that the workforce is swelled by high school and college students starting their summer vacations?"

Hiltzik goes on to show that many of the other statistics you site are rigged to appear to show one thing while in reality they prove just the opposite. So right there it’s obvious that your op-ed was more of a hatchet piece than a fair study of the current economy.

But for me, Mr. Koch, the most onerous lines in your piece were these:

When I was growing up, my father had me spend my free time working at unpleasant jobs. Most Americans understand that taking a job and sticking with it, no matter how unpleasant or low-paying, is a vital step toward the American dream.... There are no dead-end jobs.... It's time to let people seek opportunities that best suit their talents....

Then quoting Martin Luther King Jr., you added,

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’

Maybe in the Koch Brothers' world, anyone who’s been laid off from a $90,000 a year office job and can’t immediately land a similar position is best suited to be a minimum wage laborer.

Maybe in Charles Koch's world, there's no difference between a high school student's first job and an adult parent's next job.

Maybe in your world, a skilled professional in his 30s or 40s or 50s should take a job as a "street sweeper" or a McDonald's counterman instead of holding out for a job more befitting his age, professional status and skill level.

But in the world of real people who are struggling to reinvent themselves and salvage a career that has gone south, talk about street sweeper jobs is not a metaphor; that may be the only type of job that's available. But that doesn't mean they should take it. Because taking a low-paying menial job redefines you in the workforce, and that can be a blow to one's long-term career (and one's pride) that's worse than unemployment.

After all, who's going to want to hire an architectural engineer who spent the last three years as a grocery store produce clerk?

Yes, we'd all like to get people off unemployment benefits and food stamps as quickly as possible. But destroying someone's career prospects just to lower the deficit isn't a trade-off we have to make.

Mr. Koch, I'm sure there are millions of people who read your op-ed and agreed with your views. They’re either ensconced in comfortable middle-class and upper-class jobs, comfortably retired, or they are happily toiling as the people who sweep your streets and serve your meals, and resentful of anyone who won’t happily do the same.

But there are also millions who don’t agree, and they aren’t lazy parasites simply because they don’t fit into either of those groups.

There are millions of people who’ve been laid off from a job that did suit their talents, but was robbed from them by a financial crash and shifting economy that were no fault of their own. The answer for them isn’t to take a menial job that would drop them two social classes and sap their dignity just to fulfill your own ideals of work ethic and social responsibility. That may solve many of your problems, but it won’t solve theirs.

One thing we do agree on, Mr. Koch, is that any job worth doing is worth doing well. There are probably millions of good, high-paying jobs that need doing in this country. Jobs in manufacturing, construction, education, health care, clean energy, science, and technology.

All you and your fellow corporate CEOs have to do is take the trillions of dollars you have on the sidelines and use it to create those jobs.

That's a job worth doing well.

In fact, I think that's a pretty good idea for your next op-ed. I look forward to reading it.


Kevin Kelton

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