“Who’s funding this?!”

Art Carden of Mises Economics Blog offers a full disclosure - and some context.

ALEXIS C. GLENN / UPI / Newscom / File
Billionaire New York philanthropist David Koch of the Koch Foundation attends the Americans for Prosperity Foundation's 4th annual "Defending the American Dream" summit in Washington on Aug. 27. The Koch Foundation gives to many organizations, including a speaker series at Rhodes administered by financial blogger Art Carden of Mises Economics Blog.

Academics interested in liberty regularly have to deal with accusations of intellectual corruption. Because of my research and popular writing, I’ve been accused of being in the pocket of Wal-Mart, oil companies, and the World Bank, to name those who come immediately to mind. At Rhodes, I administer a speaker series that is funded by a grant from the Koch Foundation, which was recently discussed in The New Yorker by Jane Mayer (Koch Industries responds here). I’ve also been actively involved with other organizations (like the Institute for Humane Studies and the Mercatus Center) that receive funding from the Koch Foundation, and some of my students have participated in Koch Foundation internship and fellowship programs.

I’ll have more to say about this in a future article, but as Arnold Kling points out, a dose of perspective is in order (HT: Robert Lawson). Google and Wikipedia turned up the following annual budget numbers:

Cato Institute: $29,000,000
National Endowment for the Arts: $155,000,000
National Endowment for the Humanities: $167,500,000
National Science Foundation: $6,870,000,000
Environmental Protection Agency: $10,020,000,000
National Institutes of Health: $31,200,000,000

By comparison, lifetime giving by the Koch brothers is about $196,000,000 (update: this Forbes piece puts it at $250 million between 1998 and 2008). This would be a little more than enough to run the NEA or the NEH for a year. In the ocean of funding sources, enthusiasts for liberty are small fish, and governments are whales. Kling is right: when you include government funding sources, statism enjoys a vast resource advantage.

How big is the difference? The always-excellent XKCD offers a brilliant illustration.

Update, 9/17/2010:

Here’s David Bernstein with more on perspective (HT: the web of links that led me to Bernstein’s entry). The Google shows that according to Greenpeace, $150,000 over more than a decade is enough to make the American Enterprise Institute a “Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group.”

For grad students looking for projects on the economics of science and public policy, I think there are a couple of great papers and at least one great book to be written on this. Take a comparative look at funding sources for different sides of policy debates (minimum wage, global warming, etc). Review the methods on a sample of studies from scholarly outfits that take government funding, corporate funding, etc., and try to determine whether any of the work is tainted (this will be very hard, and it goes without saying that “this work does not support my worldview” is not the same as “this work is tainted”). I expect that such a study would find that we worry way too much about intellectual corruption from private money and way too little about intellectual corruption from government money, but I could very well be wrong. Write a follow-up paper on the public rhetoric of science, independence, and funding. If you’re stuck and wondering what to do, I think this could really elevate the discussion.

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