Excerpt from Kochland by Christopher Leonard, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America

by Christopher Leonard

Kochland by Christopher Leonard X
Kochland by Christopher Leonard
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2019, 704 pages

    Oct 2020, 704 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

As the argument between these visions drags on in a stalemate, the modern American economy is one that favors giant companies over the small, and the politically connected over the independent. More than anything, it favors companies that can master complexity—the complexity of interconnected and global marketplaces, and the complexity of wide-reaching, intrusive regulatory regimes.

Charles Koch frequently derides the current political era as one of "crony capitalism," but the company he built is perfectly suited to thrive in this environment. Koch Industries employs an army of legal experts to navigate the extensive legal intrusion of the state. A similarly large group of market analysts and traders navigate the fractured and byzantine markets of energy products. It is revealing that Koch Industries expands, almost exclusively, into businesses that are uncompetitive, dominated by monopolistic firms, and deeply intertwined with government subsidies and regulation.

To take just one example: Koch derives much of its profits from oil refineries. The entire economy depends on refined oil, but no one has built a new oil refinery in the United States since 1977. The industry is dominated by entrenched players who run aged facilities at near-full capacity, reaping profits that are among the highest in the world. A single refinery shutdown causes gasoline prices to spike across entire regions of the United States. The underlying cause of this dysfunction is a set of loopholes in the Clean Air Act, a massive set of regulations passed in 1963 (and significantly expanded in 1970) that imposed pollution controls on new refineries. The legacy oil refiners, including Koch, exploited arcane sections of the law that allowed them to expand their old facilities while avoiding clean-air standards that would apply to new facilities. This gave them an insurmountable advantage over any potential new competitor. The absence of new refineries to stoke competition and drive down prices meant that Americans paid higher prices for gasoline.

Koch Industries has applied its profits to maximum advantage. In 2018, the company's headquarters campus in Wichita resembled a fortified kingdom. The facility was expanded in 2014, with the addition of several thousand square feet of office space in buildings arrayed at the base of the iconic Koch Tower—a large building with black windows and gleaming dark granite. The renovation also included the installation of a tall, earthen wall surrounding the north side of the campus. A local city street was diverted around the wall, at Koch's expense, to keep passersby at a safe distance. Seldom has a company gained such deep reach into so many Americans' lives while simultaneously walling itself away into an insular community.

Koch Industries' employees arrive to work early, creating small traffic jams at entrances to the campus, under the watch of security guards. Many of them enter Koch Tower through an underground pedestrian tunnel, passing a series of photo collages that memorialize Koch's history. They reach an underground lobby and an elevator bank, where the portrait of Charles Koch hangs on the wall. It is one of those composite portraits, made of countless tiny images that combine to form a larger picture. The tiny images are of Koch's employees; the larger picture is Charles Koch. Across the lobby, employees shop at the company store, called Hot Commodities, where they can buy coffee or an audio CD relating the history of founder Fred Koch. There is a magazine rack stocked with glossy copies of the company newsletter, called Discovery, which regularly features columns by Charles Koch.

When each employee is hired, he or she undergoes a multiday training session to learn the tenets of Charles Koch's philosophy, Market-Based Management, or MBM as they call it. Charles Koch says the philosophy is a blueprint for achieving prosperity and freedom. It is equally applicable to business ventures, personal habits, and national government. Adherence to the creed is nonnegotiable for anyone who remains at Koch Industries. Charles Koch, in one of his books, writes that an "act of conversion" is necessary for MBM to be effective. It cannot be adopted in bits and pieces. The Ten Guiding Principles of MBM are printed and hung above cubicles throughout company headquarters. When employees get free coffee in the break room, the Guiding Principles are printed on their disposable cups. The employees learn MBM's vocabulary and speak a language among themselves that only they truly understand. They drop phrases like "mental models," "experimental discovery," and "decision rights," that instantly convey deep meaning to insiders. The employees become more than employees; they become citizens of an institution with its own vocabulary, its own incentives, and its own goals in the world. The financial success of Koch Industries only reinforces the idea that what they are doing is right and that the tenets of MBM are indeed the key to proper living.

From KOCHLAND: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America by Christopher Leonard. Copyright © by Christopher Leonard. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On
    The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On
    by Franny Choi
    Calamity can cohabit with joy, and you and I have, on some plane, accepted that absurd reality. We ...
  • Book Jacket: Bloodbath Nation
    Bloodbath Nation
    by Paul Auster
    In recent years, Booker Prize­–nominated novelist Paul Auster has increasingly turned to ...
  • Book Jacket: The Nazi Conspiracy
    The Nazi Conspiracy
    by Brad Meltzer, Josh Mensch
    The Nazi Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch was a big hit with our First Impressions readers...
  • Book Jacket
    by Jabari Asim
    The captivating historical novel Yonder turns an intimate lens towards the tragedy and survivorship ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Love of My Life
by Rosie Walsh
An up-all-night love story wrapped in a mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of Ghosted.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    River Sing Me Home
    by Eleanor Shearer

    A remarkable debut about a mother's gripping journey across the Caribbean to find her stolen children in the aftermath of slavery.

  • Book Jacket

    Moonrise Over New Jessup
    by Jamila Minnicks

    "Jamila Minnicks pulled me into pages of history I'd never turned before."—Barbara Kingsolver

  • Book Jacket

    by Wendell Steavenson

    A young woman struggles to break free of her upper-class upbringing amid the whirlwind years of the sexual revolution.


Solve this clue:

It's A G T Me

and be entered to win..

Who Said...

Beliefs are what divide people. Doubt unites them

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.