David Koch got his training in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before eventually joining the family business, Koch Industries, in 1970. Over the next half-century or so, he played an integral role in building what had been a moderately successful regional oil company into the second largest privately-held firm in the United States. Forbes reported in 2005 that, since the late 1960s, Koch Industries had grown a hundred times in value, during a period when the S&P 500 only increased thirteenfold. Today the company makes everything from cutting-edge polymers and agricultural fertilizers to car components, forest products, biofuels, and pollution control systems, serving millions of customers every day.
His political opponents often attempted to portray him as a kind of reactionary, but nothing could be further from the truth. When he ran for vice president of the United States as a Libertarian in 1980, the party platform called for drug legalization, an end to all business subsidies, eliminating the doctrine of sovereign immunity, “the cessation of state oppression and harassment of homosexual men and women,” and executive pardons for anyone previously convicted of a victimless crime. This kind of socially progressive agenda would be considered, by conventional political analysis, to the left of many elected Democrats today. Forty years ago, it was revolutionary.
As is the case with most third-party presidential campaigns, David’s 1980 run didn’t change the world. The rest of his life, however, most certainly did. Working closely with his older brother Charles, David Koch helped create the modern free-market movement of think tanks, advocacy groups, and activist campaigns of which the Competitive Enterprise Institute is a part. Known for generous giving himself, David also played a large role in encouraging other liberty-minded individuals of means to invest in reforming policy and the political process. If David Koch had simply stuck to his university training in chemical engineering and eschewed public life, the federal government today would almost certainly be far bigger, most costly, more burdensome, and overwhelmingly less conducive to human flourishing.
David Koch was a good man and a great American. He believed it was a duty to engage in civic life and we are all better for it. The Competitive Enterprise Institute family will miss him.
Photo credit: David Koch speaking at the Defending the American Dream Summit in Columbus, Ohio (August 21, 2015). Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons.