Van Jones: “We Will Not Live on an Economic Plantation Run by the Koch Brothers”

posted at 3:35 pm on February 3, 2011 by John Sexton

Ed has already posted one video from the Koch brothers protest, but Van Jones never disappoints. This speech was recorded Sunday in Rancho Mirage, CA. Listen to as much as you care to. I’ve transcribed the highlights below:

The opponents of democracy, the opponents of justice and really the opponents of liberty, which I’m going to get to. The opponents of those three values–justice, democracy and liberty–when you hit them…they get mad. When they hit us, we get sad. Cause we’re decent people. We’re kind people. We’re compassionate people. And we sometimes can find ourselves shocked again and again by how hard the other side fights…

We are in the middle of the biggest economic catastrophe in the history of our country since the great depression and the American people deserve to have a partner in America’s government during a crisis like this. America’s government should not be missing in action. We shouldn’t be struggling to figure out if we’re going to re-up the unemployment benefits for people who’ve been out of work. It’s time for us to go from talking about an unemployment program to an employment program in America. People need jobs. People need to be able to work. People need to be able to put food on the table.

Why is the government missing in action? Why are they having food fight politics in Washington DC as opposed to helping the American people put food on the table?  Because our political process has been hijacked. Our political process has been hijacked by people who are only interested in their own game. Who are only interested in their own profit. And who are willing to tell any lie and spend any amount of money to prevent America’s government from coming to the rescue of the American people. And we are here to put a stop to that kind of treachery against our country.

I hear a lot of talk now about liberty. There is a movement in our country that has grown up and it has raised the question of liberty. And I say thank goodness…I’m glad to hear that someone is concerned about liberty. But I think that what we have to be clear about is that liberty always has two threats…one is the threat of excessive concentration of political power…the totalitarian threat to liberty. And that is a threat to watch out for. But there is another threat and it is in our country the greater threat and that is the threat of excessive concentrations of economic power…

What we have to remember is that our Republic is founded not just on the question of liberty but also democracy and justice. It is when the predatory, monopolistic dimension of the economic system starts to gain momentum then the question of justice and democracy has to come forward too. Not just liberty and property rights but justice and human rights and democracy and the people’s rights to be free from economic tyranny and economic domination. We will not live on a national plantation run by the Koch brothers. We’re not going to do that. We refuse to do that.

[...]

If you want to know which side to bet on, big money mean people or little people with the truth on their side, look over there in Egypt.

Voice: We need Egypt here!

Look back at your own struggles for democracy…See the difference between what’s going on in Egypt and what’s going on here is that’s a dictatorship.

Voice: This is a dictatorship.

You get to speak on the next panel brother…

Obviously the comparison of conservatives in general and the Koch brothers in particular to slave owners is offensive, but let’s put that aside and look at what he’s trying to say here. If I had to boil it down, here’s where I think Van Jones completely misses the boat: On the federal scale of things, the Koch brothers fortune is insignificant. The debts being racked up to support the “little guys” Van Jones wants the government to partner with far outstrip the coffers of the mega-rich. In fact, it’s not even close. In 2009, the federal payment to California for unemployment was about 12 billion dollars. Extend that amount through 2010 and the two-year total would come close to the combined fortunes of the Koch brothers. And that’s just unemployment and just for California.

Let’s take another example. Exxon Mobil is the largest public energy company in the world. It’s either #1 or #2 on the Fortune 500 (depending on the year). In 2008 Exxon made $45 billion in profit on nearly half a trillion in revenue. Wow, that’s a lot of money. At least it sounds like it until you compare it to our Social Security program. There are 36 million Americans receiving checks from Social Security nationwide. We’re spending $700 billion a year on this one program. That’s far more than Exxon’s total revenue. And guess what, we spend slightly more on Medicare than we do on Social Security.

I don’t think Van Jones gets that the scale of federal spending is titanic even when compared to the largest industries in the world. Yes, $45 billion in profit is incredible, but if you assume Exxon could maintain that level of profit in perpetuity and you devoted all of it to paying down the US debt, it would take more than 300 years to pay off what we owe today. With that in mind, how can anyone counsel further government “partnership” i.e. more spending?

This is the message of the Tea Party that Van Jones doesn’t seem to understand. We can’t keep spending the way we are and remain economically free. Eventually, and the day is drawing nigh as we speak, the bill for all the spending will come due. When it does, we can all end up facing excessive taxation which will drive our economy further off a cliff or, most worrisome of all, we could wind up enslaved (to use Jones’ metaphor) to the nations who own our debt. These are real possibilities that don’t seem to concern, or even occur to,Van Jones.

Mr. Jones needs to stop worrying about the threat posed by a couple of libertarian septuagenarians (who’ve fruitfully employed a lot of people in this country over the years) and start worrying about the threat posed by the debt collectors who may start calling at odd hours of the night if we don’t keep up with the bills.

*Note: Ellipsis above represent minor, omitted language. In each case it is repetitious or incidental to the point.


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