Hypothetical conundrums can provide some valuable learning experiences for students of corporate management and ethics, so let's study one.
Suppose you're a corporate chieftain who's an adamant acolyte of Ayn Randian, free-enterprise fundamentalism, despising government regulation, compulsory taxation and government intervention in the purity of the holy marketplace. But — whoopsie daisy — suddenly a new competitor to your old-line product pops up, and more and more of your customers are switching to the new alternative.
Conundrum! You're being out-competed, so do you try to compete better, just fall on the sword of your free enterprise principles ... or what? If you're the reigning multibillionaire princes of anti-government extremism, you jettison your silly principles and go straight to "what."
This is not just a hypothetical conundrum, you see, but a real one faced by the notorious Koch brothers, the dirty fossil fuel duo who feel threatened by the steady increase in the number of middle-class families who're putting solar panels on their roofs. Not only is this free, non-polluting sun energy slashing families' utility bills, but these families can also make a little money from it. Today's efficient solar cells can produce more electricity than a home needs, and 43 states allow these rooftop energy producers to sell their excess production back to the grid. It's free enterprise at its most free and enterprising best! So, naturally, the Koch brothers and the utility monopolies HATE it.
Thus we see these old-power behemoths are tossing their Ayn Rand books and Libertarian purity overboard, and — here comes the "what" — they want states to tax homeowners as punishment for becoming innovative energy producers.
Lest you think that state legislators couldn't possibly sink so low as to punish their citizens for doing the right thing by participating in these sell-back programs that the states themselves are promoting, think again. In April, the good folks of Oklahoma were socked with a surprise from their supposedly conservative state officials.
It seems that thousands of Sooners have been putting solar panels on their homes and taking part in sell-back programs. To reward such common sense and socially beneficial energy innovation, the state's Republican-controlled government slapped a new "fee" — actually, a tax — on the bills of those who convert from grid takers to grid producers in the future.
This crude slap in the face came with no advance notice, no public hearings and no legislative debate. "It just appeared out of nowhere," one local solar business owner said.
But this was not from "nowhere." It came from the inside pocket of a secretive corporate front group called ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. In exchange for getting millions of dollars from the Koch brothers, utilities and other dirty-energy interests, ALEC is peddling a cookie-cutter bill from state-to-state that stops responsible homeowners from switching to solar by taxing the energy they produce. ALEC even adds insult to the injury its Koch-headed backers are doing by calling such homeowners "freeriders on the system."
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who was in on this despicable sneak attack from the start, had her ego stroked by the Koch-financed front group last year. ALEC presented its "Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award" to Fallin for her "record of advancing ... free markets ... and individual liberty."
Now we know what the Koch-ALEC complex means by "free markets" and "liberty." They mean that corporate energy interests should be free to stifle our individual liberty. That's not the American way, but it is the corporate way. Thomas Jefferson would be ashamed to have his name attached to anything that this cabal of corporate and governmental Kleptocrats come up with.
As Lily Tomlin tells us, "No Matter how cynical you get, it's almost impossible to keep up."
— Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @JimHightower, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.