There I was just finishing an essay on the super-rich. My basic argument is that we are in a second Gilded Age, a period of concentrated wealth and increased influence of the very rich. I explore their discursive reach and impact on political debates. It was quite literally an academic exercise meant for publication in a book on the very rich edited by the Australian geographer Iain Hay. And then I got notification of my own university’s Social Science Forum Spring 2012 Lecture Series (http://www.umbc.edu/socsforum/).
One lecture in the series is a talk by an academic associated with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Under the title there is a little note that reads, “Co-sponsored by the Charles Koch Foundation”.
For those unfamiliar with Charles Koch and his brother David, I suggest reading an article in the New Yorker by Jane Mayer
The two brothers are among the top five richest people in the USA with individual fortunes of around $25 billion each. They own the largest private company in the USA. They have political opinions just like you and me. They believe fervently in low taxation, minimal environmental regulation, limited spending on social services and almost no role for federal government beyond guaranteeing personal liberty. Unlike you and me, however, they get to wield considerable influence on political debates. Over the years they have funded many right-leaning organizations and institutions. They bankroll a number of centers that promote deregulation and the abolition of environmental controls such as the Citizens for the Environment and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. They have also used their considerable fortune to support the Americans for Prosperity Foundation that works assiduously to promote and fashion the Tea Party into a viable political movement. Their far right views on small, minimal government are now an important part of political discourse in the USA.
At first I was appalled that my university, an institution ostensibly concerned with free and wide-ranging thought, should be taking money from an organization committed to only promoting one ideological position. But then I realized the benefits of linking up a cash-starved institution with well-funded corporate interests. Taking Koch money is just the start. In the reality of tight fiscal times for the university and extremely rich corporate interests, let me modestly propose some future lecture topics with possible co-sponsors:
The Hoax of Global Warming (Sponsored by Chevron Oil).
Financial Markets: Why We Do Not Need Government Regulation, Except When We Need a Bailout (Sponsored by Goldman Sachs).
Health Insurance For Workers is Over-rated (Sponsored by Wal-Mart).
Geopolitical Realities: Why We Need To Build More Missiles (Sponsored by General Dynamics).
The US Empire is Evil (Sponsored by Citgo Oil).
This is just a small sampling; given time I feel sure that I can come up with many more topics and potential sponsors. The sky is the limit. We get money and the organizations get to promote their ideas. Tough times demand new ways of thinking. With some imaginative thinking we might be able to solve our money woes very quickly. We could even have a whole Koch series. Clever idea to start with one lecture, but too limited. Let us move into the big time of becoming a platform for whatever big money is willing to pay for. What about a new logo for the university:
UMBC: Your Corporate Name Here
This is an idea whose time has come.