One by one, American states are being used as right-wing laboratories. Scott Walker’s union-busting Wisconsin, Sam Brownback’s budget-slashing Kansas, and Mitch Daniels’s Right-to-Work Indiana are a few that come to mind.
Now we have Arizona, the state that slashed its higher education budget more than any other from 2008 to 2015—but which has now decided to shell out at least $5 million per year to free-market academic centers established with funding from billionaire industrialist and Republican political donor Charles Koch at two of its public universities.
Arizona’s new education budget gives $2 million to the University of Arizona’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, to which the Charles Koch Foundation (CKF) gave $1 million when it was founded in 2011 and at least $1.3 million total. Arizona State University will get $3 million to establish a new school by combining the existing Center for Political Thought and Leadership, to which the Charles Koch Foundation gave $1 million to help found, and Center for the Study of Economic Liberty, which the Charles Koch Foundation helped launch in 2014 with $3.5 million in donations.
I’ve written before about the Koch brothers’ involvement in higher education, which generally combines direct funding from Koch foundations and financial commitments from colleges and universities. But Arizona is different: in this case, state budget items have been earmarked for the direct funding of Koch-backed centers.
“This is a clear-cut case of crony capitalism,” wrote [Connor] Gibson [who helps run the student activist group UnKoch My Campus], “which is a bitter irony since Charles Koch has spent big to paint himself as a reformer of corporate welfare. Instead, we’re watching the Koch network fleece Arizona taxpayers to subsidize their private operations, even as the rest of the state’s universities lose tens of millions of dollars in public funding.”
At a more general level, the Koch brothers’ activities in Arizona challenge the presumption that neoliberalism means attacking or decreasing the size of the state. That’s not all what’s happening in Arizona. First, the Koch brothers donated money to set up free-market centers at the University of Arizona. Then, they helped elect Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. Now, with Ducey’s help, they’ve managed to direct state funding toward those same free-market centers.
The Koch brothers’ approach—as neoliberalism more generally—means strengthening the state to promote and expand free-market capitalism.