David Koch, RIP
David Koch, who died today at age 79, was a generous human being. His generosity ranged from contributions to libertarian projects relatively early in his life to contributions to art and medical research late in his life.
People who knew him better than I will, I’m sure, talk about many of his contributions. I want to talk about my first big awareness of him and about the event at which I took the picture above.
In May 1979, I ran for, and was voted in as, a delegate to the 1979 Libertarian Party convention in Los Angeles. At the time I was an assistant professor at the University of Rochester’s Graduate School of Management (now the Simon School) and was about to leave to become a senior policy analyst at the Cato Institute in San Francisco. Being a cautious type when it came to staying on the right side of the law, I contacted an immigration lawyer in D.C. who had represented me in 1973 to see if I, a green card holder and not a U.S. citizen, could legally be a delegate. In my immigration file I still have her letter telling me that I could do so legally.
Sometime that summer, before the convention, I (and, I’m sure, all the delegates) received a letter from David Koch’s home address in Manhattan. In it, he announced that if we delegates would elect him as the vice-presidential candidate to run with the presidential candidate (I believed, as did many, it turns out correctly, that that would be Ed Clark), he would commit to spending at least $500,000 of his own money on the campaign. He explained that the crazy campaign finance laws made it illegal for him to donate more than $1,000 to another candidate’s campaign but legal to spend as much of his own money as he wanted on his own campaign. That pledge made sense to me and so I voted for him. It must have made sense to a lot of other delegates also because, if I recall correctly, he won the Veep nomination by a wide margin.
And he was better than his word. He got so into it and had such a good time doing it that David spent, if I recall correctly, about $2 million of his own money. That’s over $6 million in today’s dollars. (I’m assuming, incorrectly I know, that the CPI correctly measures inflation. But it’s probably over $4 million in today’s dollars.)
In October 1979, Ed Clark and David Koch came to town for an all-day Saturday meeting at the apartment of Cato president Ed Crane, who was about to go on leave as president and run the Clark campaign. Besides Ed, David, and Ed, the other two people present were Roy A. Childs, Jr. and me. (The picture above is one I took on my cheap camera of Ed Clark and David Koch.)
We talked about a lot of the issues and I was there, obviously, for the economic issues. Two things stand out about David. First, I found myself wondering whether it was David Koch or British actor Michael Caine. The resemblance was uncanny. Second, he was enormously curious. I mean the square root of Robin Hanson-level curious. I would be laying out an economic issue and he would ask many factual questions, few of which I was able to answer. (Many hours in the UC Berkeley library got me at least to where I could answer the majority of them.)
He didn’t seem full of himself. He seemed like a young excited kid setting out on a new adventure.
May David Koch rest in peace.