The Walton family heirs, Alice Walton in particular, have received several mentions during the past year for their philanthropy. Specifically, there was a lot of press about the Crystal Bridges art museum, which cost over $1 billion and is free to the public. Northwest Arkansas is certainly better for this donation.
Just recently however, the business pages have made mention of the fabulous fortune accumulated by this family, somewhat north of $100 billion with about $13.5 billion more added to their net worth in 2012 alone. In other words, this museum cost roughly one tenth of last year's net gain or a whopping one percent of their net worth.
With the Waltons raking it in at about $250 million per week, I can suggest a few other ways that they might spread a tiny fraction of their money. They could start by paying some of their lowest paid employees a bit more, say a dollar per hour raise. Since many of them work less than 40 hours per week, what with tax withholding, they would only be raking in around $25-30 more per week or less than $1,500 per year. I realize that this move might mean that their combined fortune would only increase $12 billion this year, but hey, you can't take it with you. Besides, like as not, many of their employees will spend some of it at Walmart. It's a win-win.
There is an interesting irony in the Koch-funded exhibit in our nation's capital. The premise of the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, a permanent exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, is to show how great leaps forward in human evolution have come during times of great climate change.
David and his brother Charles are major financiers of the Fox-Republican-Tea Party. They spent millions of their billions to elect right-wing extremists on state and national levels of government. They also held "secret" conferences with other plutocrats to raise money to defeat President Obama. FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, and the-rich-are-Taxed-Enough-Already (TEA) Party are all Koch brothers operations.
Where's the irony? Their party may mostly represent themselves and their fellow plutocrats, but it also represents creationists, who make up much more of the party's voting bloc. Marco Rubio — a rising star among conservatives — fell all over himself trying not to answer a question about how old the earth is. You have to expect that most right-wing legislators actually do know something about evolution even though they can't admit it to their constituents.
What matters is how these TEA Party favorites legislate. Prospects aren't good. The state government of Kentucky has allocated taxpayer dollars to support what amounts to a fantasy museum that promotes creationism — it has dinosaurs walking among Adam and Eve. Fox-Republican-TEA Partiers control the U. S. House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. All the majority members are anti-science, creationists and climate-change deniers. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked U.S. students 25th in math and 17th in science out of 34 countries studied. Is there hope?
With all the creationists in their party, how do the Koch brothers get away with David's Hall of Human Origins? The Kochs are essentially anonymous. There have been many efforts in the past four years to publicize their efforts to make the GOP into an exclusively radical-reactionary party, but it seems that many voters still know nothing about them. In October before the election, I spoke with a late-middle-aged woman from Kansas, who was proud that she always studied each presidential candidate very carefully before making a decision. She also admitted she had never heard of the Koch brothers, and their empire is based in Wichita, Kan.!
I often refer to the Koch brothers and their ilk as the Wizards of Was. They include such people as Rupert Murdoch of Fox "News" and the man who is the GOP's de facto "President of the United States," Grover Norquist. Norquist is the anti-government/anti-tax fanatic to whom most of the GOP in Congress has sworn an oath of loyalty. These wizards work in anonymity, behind the curtain as in Oz, to return the nation to the way it was before the 20th century. That Gilded Age was a time in which their forerunners — the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Carnegies — paid no income tax.
Social Darwinism is the other ironic factor in this story. Anonymous evolutionists like Mr. Koch and creationists co-exist in the Fox-Republican-TEA Party also because they all accept the same variation of social Darwinism. Charles Darwin was not the first to use the term "survival of the fittest." It was coined by sociologist Herbert Spencer in England in 1864. Social Darwinism was later introduced in America in 1883 during the Gilded Age by William Graham Sumner. Essentially what he said was that the different social classes owed each other nothing. If you helped those in need, you encouraged others to be in need. And if you removed taxes and regulations from businessmen, you allowed the fittest to survive. We heard the same philosophy from Mitt Romney in the last presidential campaign.
With the notorious Citizens United ruling in 2010, the plutocrats got their defenders on the U.S. Supreme Court (Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas) to give unlimited spending power to corporations and wealthy individuals in our election system. The primary beneficiary was the plutocrats' plutocrat — millionaire Mitt Romney, who promised them — and himself — everything they wanted. George W. Bush had a 30-33 percent approval rating when he left office. Romney promised to return to the policies that gave us the Great Recession and still got a whopping 47 percent of the vote! That's 4 percent less than they paid for but 14 percent more than they should have expected. So don't count out the social Darwinists yet. Next time, if they can get a less obnoxious presidential candidate and spend even more money, the plutocrats may yet be able to return us to those golden years of the late 19th century.