Koch Brothers’ Mouthpiece At It Again

Steve Buckstein

Steve Buckstein, Koch Brothers Mouthpiece

If you’re looking for the billionaire Koch Brothers’ own mouthpiece in Oregon, look no further than the Cascade Policy Institute, which has received at least $1 million from the Kochs’ State Policy Network.

Cascade Policy Institute, in turn, has spent years trumpeting a lot of really bad ideas that would hurt workers, hurt consumers, and greatly benefit corporate shareholders and the very wealthy. They’re relentless in their attacks on worker protections.

Over the weekend, the Oregonian published a guest opinion from CPI’s Steve Buckstein, trumpeting the results from a poll that are so bogus and dishonest they’re not even worth debunking. Suffice it to say that you can ask people something that isn’t true, and the results won’t reveal anything except that you’re lying to them.

So what is the agenda of Buckstein, Cascade Policy Institute, and the Koch Brothers? To convince the public that it would be good for the country if workers had even fewer protections and even less of a voice on the job. Why? Because they know that if workers no longer have the ability to stand together for decent wages, benefits, and working conditions, corporations won’t be able to get away with the ugly race to the bottom that has benefited their CEOs so greatly.

Here are the basic facts: Corporate profits are at an all-time high. This is a great boon to wealthy shareholders, who are seeing their incomes skyrocket through dividend payouts. The 1% is getting richer and richer every day.

But profits are up and shareholders are getting richer because corporations are squeezing more and more out of workers (and our communities) while paying less and less. Wages and incomes are stagnant or falling, although productivity is up. Corporations are cutting hours and shipping jobs overseas—while also taking advantage of massive tax breaks. The gap between the obscenely wealthy and everyone else is growing by the minute.

You might think that this would be enough for the billionaires and their PR henchmen. But, no. They’re engaged in a nation-wide campaign to destroy the ability of workers to organize and advocate for themselves.

And that brings us to Buckstein and his column, meant to highlight something with the Orwellian title “National Employee Freedom Week.” He uses the example of Michigan to argue that if we just did away with unions, things would be better for workers.

We’re always up for some fact checking, so here goes:

Buckstein points out that per capita personal income has gone up in Michigan. As it turns out, income in Michigan has been going up, but it’s only mirroring national trends. The adoption of Michigan’s anti-worker law in 2012 has had no discernible impact on income trends.*

Per capita income mirrors U.S. growth, but these figures mask the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else.

Per capita income mirrors U.S. growth, but these figures mask the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else.

More importantly, however, per capita income is a poor measure to use for evaluating policy impacts, because it hides the real story about who’s winning and who’s losing. The top income households claim many times more income than everyone else, and most of the income gains are going to the wealthy, not to average families.

Nationally, in the three years after the 2008 economic meltdown 95% of the income gains went to the top 1%.** In Oregon, full-year filers reported gains of $6 billion in new personal income between 2011 and 2012, but more than half of it went just to the top 1%. Michigan is no different. There, half the income gains between 2011 and 2012 went to millionaires. Though the trends are especially striking in the aftermath of the economic meltdown, this is a long-term trend. The share of income going to the top 1% has been rising since the 1980s, while the share going to the bottom 90% has fallen.**

Things are getting worse for 9 out of 10 people, but are great for the top 1%.

Things are getting worse for 9 out of 10 people, but are great for the top 1%.

The top income earners get most of their money from capital gains and stock dividends. In other words, they’re making millions because they are already rich. As corporate profits hit record highs, more and more money is flowing to the top 1%.

But that’s not enough for Buckstein’s backers, the Koch Brothers. They want to make even more money by paying their workers even less. In states that have the anti-worker laws Buckstein is pushing for, business owners keep a larger share of personal income and working families get less, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

In 1980, business owners’ income amounted to 6.8% of the total amount of wages, salaries and benefits paid to workers. By 2013 that number had more than doubled to 14.8%.*** That’s more going to business owners, less going to working families.

The Koch brothers spend millions of dollars to make their extreme agenda sound good, but don’t be fooled. These anti-worker attacks won’t benefit working families, and won’t improve Oregon’s economy.

* Bureau of Economic Analysis, SA04 State income and employment summary
** Emmanuel Saez (2013), Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States
*** Bureau of Economic Analysis, SA04 State income and employment summary

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