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Balloon Juice Actually Makes Sense…


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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77 Responses

  1. Avatar mistermix says:

    As I’ve told ED in private emails, I don’t know enough about libertarian blogs and current thinkers to make blanket statements. The genesis of the whole discussion was that Reason doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge the issue of rocket dockets, when courts are ruling that there are serious issues with the foreclosure crisis. In general, Reason seems weak on corporatism, though, as your link shows, Cato is willing to tackle the issue.

    Do you have a take on why Reason doesn’t ever address the issue? The Balloon-Juice answer is that they’re beholden to corporate donors, but Cato gets those, too.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to mistermix says:

      I lurk on Hit&Run and my take on Reason is that they are “Cosmotarian” in inclination… that is to say that their focus is on:
      1) Personal Freedom (think “drugs” but also other sins)
      2) Government encroachment and expansion when it comes to Personal Freedom
      3) Culture

      Those are the three things that Reason, as far as I can tell, cares about the most.

      To argue that “real” libertarians would care about Y rather than X invites all kinds of gameplay.Report

      • Avatar mistermix in reply to Jaybird says:

        Yeah, I regretted that title after I posted, too reminiscent of “No True Scotsman”. Perhaps “Why Libertarians Should Care About Corporatism” would have been better.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to mistermix says:

          What I find more objectionable than not writing about it is some of the writing I did come across by libertarians about foreclosures basically ignoring the issue of fraud altogether (though this was at Cato). I think this is a very poor position to take and does undermine the issue of property rights. This is not to level blanket-judgment on Cato either, since much of their work is quite good on other subjects. We all have our priorities.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to mistermix says:

      In recent years, Reason has focused on civil liberties, cultural issues, the drug war, and related topics. Because I tend to share their views on these matters, I find it hard to criticize them.

      I would like it if they spent more time on the corporate-government nexus, but to say that they are merely in the pocket of corporate donors seems a gross distortion to me. They have been quite open about criticizing farm subsidies and the military-industrial complex, even if their commentary on economics has been far too thin for my taste. Hiring someone to write full-time on banking and finance from a critical perspective would help them a lot, I think.Report

      • Avatar Anonymous At Work in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Don’t be so quick to let them off the hook. I find that Matt Yglesias has some good reactions and objections to modern Reason-based libertarianism in that, on these economic issues, higher level scrutiny and publicity from Reason could yield actual results, whereas much of the current focus on the drug war, et alia, yields far fewer victories.Report

      • But they’ve also taken a very strident tone that’s almost indistinguishable from Republican partisanship on issues like healthcare reform, and it leaks into their other stuff. I don’t get that from Cato.

        Now, granted, I take a strident tone on lots of things at B-J, and in itself that’s the writer’s choice. But libertarians who want some of their issues acted on need to make allies with liberals. But it seems like Reason, at least, has zero interest in making common cause on issues that liberals care about.Report

    • @Mistermix – I just wanted to thank you for making a concerted effort to provide a real critique of libertarianism rather than a critique of a libertarian caricature. This is not by any means the first time I think you’ve tried to do so, and I think they can be more effective than you realize.Report

  2. Avatar DougJ says:

    That’s great.

    You’re still funded by the Koch brothers, though. Why not address that from time to time? If I was funded by George Soros, I would address it.

    But I’m not.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to DougJ says:

      I think too much is made out of who funds who – all think tanks as far as I know have wealthy donors. Many of the liberals you link to are funded by wealthy liberal donors. I’m just not sure why that’s so relevant.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        It’s a convenient excuse to ignore what an opponent is saying. So convenient, in fact, that there’s no escaping it.Report

        • Pretty quickly anyone who is actually getting paid by anybody to write about anything is suspect.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            Because, you know, writing is SO profitable otherwise.Report

            • Avatar DougJ in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              So that’s your reasoning, that it’s okay to be in the tank for the Koch brothers because you need to get paid?Report

              • Cato is consistently anti-corporate across the board, so this Koch Brothers thing just has no traction I’m afraid.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Christopher Carr says:

                I agree the Koch brothers thing is overblown, but Cato is regularly objectively on the side of the corporatists. They have good, well-thought out libertarian reasons for taking their positive positions. Its their lack of reasons for not taking the corresponding positions they logically should take but don’t that’s the problem. The Cato unbound issue Jason links actually explains the problem pretty well, and of course this is enormously to Cato’s credit that they do that.Report

              • You just said that Cato is corporatist while referencing a very anti-corporate body of Cato scholarship. Does your contention that Cato is corporatist rest on anything more than baseless accusations of malicious intent against the Brothers Koch? People forget that there was a time where Cato was the only institution that would publish Noam Chomsky.

                This isn’t to say that Cato is a bastion of orthodox left-libertarianism, only that there has been some disagreement within Cato on the role of corporations in libertarian ideology. Cato (and Reason as well) opposed the bailouts on the grounds that they reinforced established corporate interests in a time where both major political parties were frothing at the mouth to deal out taxpayer dollars to Lloyd Blankfein st al.

                If anything, Cato has been a shining beacon of anti-corporatism in a sea of regulatory capture.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Christopher Carr says:

                Its to Cato’s credit that the publish people critical of their own positions, which that Unbound article is, if you go read it. The Koch brothers are an irrelevance, The comment to which you replied already said both of these things.

                But Cato as a think-tank supports many positions that are not “libertarian”, left or otherwise, in any but the most tenuous, Republicans-who-smoke-pot sense. I mean, Social security privatisation? Global warming denialism? Campaigning against mass transit (but not highways)? These are not anti-corporatist positions. Ironically they can stick to their principles most vocally in cases where there’s absolutely no chance no-one will ever listen to them. eg. TARP.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Christopher Carr says:

                Which is not, I should add, to say that Cato is not a force for good. It is, and it has stood up for many things that needed someone to stand up for them. Its just a mixture. There are genuine, consistent libertarians in Cato, and near-liberals (yes, still), but also people who are basically just anti-tax conservatives.Report

              • How is social security privatization a “right” issue? Can’t we all agree that social security has been grossly mismanaged by the federal government. What if the basis for supporting social security privatization were just pragmatic?

                As for “global warming denial” Cato to my knowledge has never denied global warming is happening. It has published research suggesting that projections of damage attributable to global warming are overblown and we should not conceive hasty legislation to try to mitigate some uncertainty. Cato has focused on the policy area and not on the science, which frankly belongs outside the political sphere anyways.

                There are right and left libertarians at Cato. To cast the organization as right with some token lefties seems pretty arbitrary to me.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Christopher Carr says:

                Social security privatization is absolutely a “right” issue. In fact its objectionable on libertarian grounds for precisely the same reasons the healthcare individual mandate is objectionable – its forcing individuals to buy a private product, a thereby a giant kickback to the industry that supplies that product. Its … remarkable …. that when Cato takes inconsistent positions like this its always echoing conservative inconsistencies and not liberal ones. Sure, we need to do something about social security. Switch to mandatory private retirement accounts in the hands of the finance boys? No.

                On global warming – Sorry but what you say is not correct. You only need to look at Cato’s main global warming page to see many, many articles critical of the science – they accuse people of scientific misconduct, using incorrect of fake data, etc. You can draw your own conclusions about why they do this. If they stuck solely to policy, I’d have no objection and in fact would generally agree with them.

                I don’t think Cato’s writers and researches are mostly right-wing. For the most part they a mixture of sincere libertarian types of one kind or another, although of course there are always exceptions. The problem isn’t the people, its that Cato’s most influential role by far is as a source of ideas for Republican politicians and as such there’s far more demand for Cato scholarship that supports right-wing positions that left-wing ones. Its not that Cato’s own scholars don’t support various left-libertarian causes. Its that no-one particularly listens to them about these things. I wish it were otherwise, but thats the way it is.Report

              • That there is a demand for Cato scholarship supporting right-wing causes is a pretty interesting contention. I’ll have to check out that global warming page. But I do think that your “Republicans who smoke pot” caricature could just as easily be “Democrats who wear suits to work”.

                Will Wilkinson left, but while he was at Cato he was one of the more visible members, and he looks favorably upon Rawls. I can’t really imagine anything more “liberal” in the modern, fundamental sense. Again, anchoring everything to the Penn Jillette wing of Cato just seems arbitrary.Report

        • Now I know why Media Matters isn’t backing Sarah Palin.Report

      • Here’s the thing I absolutely do not get with regards to attacks on think tanks and non-profits on the grounds that they are funded by Soros or the Kochs in particular. These are individuals in charge of huge business operations which are of course the source of the very wealth that they use to fund various causes. What basis is there to think that they have any time or interest in having tight oversight of the organizations they fund? Isn’t it far more likely that they simply fund organizations that they are predisposed to agree with? Even if the claim is that they aren’t so much interested in advancing a political agenda they personally believe in as they are interested in advancing a political agenda that will advance their business interests, then aren’t they going to fund organizations that are predisposed to that agenda rather than organizations that they will have to micromanage in order to advance that agenda; like, even in the rare event where one of their organizations is successful in pushing a favorable policy through, are the benefits of that going to justify the opportunity cost to the donor of micromanaging that organization?

        That’s not to say that individual large donors can’t have effects on an ideological think tank’s agenda (as opposed to think tanks and organizations that exist for an explicitly pro-industry/business purpose) at all, just that those effects are never going to be so large as to justify making the majority of the think tank’s agenda suspect.Report

        • From the outside, it looks like *something* stopped Cato from pursuing the liberaltarian point of view that Will Wilkinson and Brink Lindsey were supporting, since both left Cato for other gigs.Report

          • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to mistermix says:

            Good point. But I still think pulling the “Koch brothers” card is a bit of a lazy excuse for an argument. Like I said, wealthy donors are operating everywhere. Without them, basically no think tank would exist on the left, right, or libertarian side.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer in reply to mistermix says:

            Does anyone know why Wilkinson and Lindsey left Cato? I never heard an explanation.

            This might not be pertinent, but what I’ve noticed is a division between libertarians who focus almost solely on civil liberties and libertarians who fight for civil liberties along with economic liberty — but no honest libertarian can fight for economic liberty without full-throatedly denouncing government favoritism toward, or crony-enmeshment with, selected corps or industries. To me the libertarian position when it come to the economy is not the support of particular businesses, corps, making profits, rich people, etc, but the support of free market principles which tie into the ideas re: non-coercion and economic liberty in general — I would support a communist community’s rights just as much as a large corp, if coercion and government intervention/favoristism are not involved — as long as the economic interactions are free and no one’s basic rights are being violated.

            The valid criterion to judge Reason, Cato or any others is the content of what they publish, not who funds them.Report

            • Avatar Dan in reply to MFarmer says:

              Brink explains why he left in this video


              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Dan says:

                Thanks, I listened. Hmmm – I think I heard the problem, and it doesn’t sound like Cato was the problem. I’ll let it go, though, and take him at his word — he had a different outlook than most there and decided to go where there was a better fit.

                One thing I found interesting was his repeated use of “radical” to describe libertarian views which differ from his more statist approach, and his cherry-picking assertion that Hayek and Friedman are the two intellectual representatives of libertarianism. I have a feeling Mr. Lindsey doesn’t take oppostion to his views very well.Report

            • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to MFarmer says:

              Mike, I have to think about it for a bit, but this is a really interesting articulation of libertarianism. Thanks.Report

            • Avatar DougJ in reply to MFarmer says:

              Actually, the point is that the content on Reason is all corporatism (I don’t know enough about Cato to say anything that categorical about it but most of what I see is corporatism). The question is why is it all corporatist? And the answer is: because of where it gets its money.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to DougJ says:

                All? Personally, I would like to see Reason write about it more often, and I liked the magazine a lot more a few years ago, which is why I let my subscription lapse awhile ago. But do a search on their website for the word “corporatism.”. You will get literally hundreds of results. That was the basis for their vehement opposition to the bank bailouts, the auto bailouts, the CPSIA (hooray for protectionism of Hasbro and Mattel under the guise of toy safety!), farm subsidies, and a host of other stuff I can’t recall off the top of my head.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to DougJ says:

                I never have never liked Reason. Some articles are good, but I mostly read the wild comments. From my perspective, Reason isn’t representative of libertarian thought — one article by, I think, Matt Welch (I like some of his posts), wrote recently that they don’t represent blue, red or libertarian, but rather stand to the side and make comments on what’s going on. I mean, Weigel wrote for them, after all.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DougJ says:

                Actually, the point is that the content on Reason is all corporatism (I don’t know enough about Cato to say anything that categorical about it but most of what I see is corporatism). The question is why is it all corporatist? And the answer is: because of where it gets its money.

                Let’s check out Hit & Run.

                Martin Luther King Jr…
                The Green Hornet reviewed…
                The Four Loko ban…
                Licensing requirements for hair braiders eased…
                More massacrebation…
                Reason soiree…
                Drug raid…
                US Supreme Court speculation about a case involving pot…
                Cookie Gilchrist…

                Now I’d say that the MLK jr post ain’t corporatist at all.
                The movie review, I suppose, is a blatant attempt to get you to BUY a MOVIE TICKET!!!! Except Kurt Loder sort of pans the movie… He’s obviously trying to get you to RENT KICK-ASS!!!! FROM BLOCKBUSTER!!! OR NETFLIX!!!!! A CORPORATION!!!!!
                Four Loko is obviously something that they want to BUY!!!!! FROM A CORPORATION!!!!!
                The hair braiders thing is not corporatism per se but obviously an attempt to harm the African-American community by making sure that their hair braiders haven’t been trained enough.
                Massacrebation is massacrebation. They’re probably shilling for Palin or saying “blood libel” or something. I didn’t read the post. I DIDN’T HAVE TO.
                Weed? The Koch brothers probably want to start a weed store franchise or something.
                The soiree will probably suck. At least they say “hors d’oeuvres” rather than “freedom appetizers”.
                The drug raid is probably corporatist too.
                The US Supreme Court speculation is speculating about the same US Supreme Court that laid down PEOPLE UNITED!!!!
                Pot. Again. Jesus, guys.
                Medicaid is something that helps people and they’re complaining about budget shortfalls. Instead of talking about the people being helped and raising taxes, they’re talking about budgets! WHILE CHILDREN ARE DYING!
                And Cookie Gilchrist. Who played PROFESSIONAL football.

                Okay, fair enough. Maybe you weren’t talking about the blog but the Magazine itself. Let’s look at that…

                Green Hornet… Massacrebation… Reason TV… Stossell complaining about the Republicans (probably aren’t corporatist enough for him)… Pot (now seriously)… Gun control…

                Dude, I’m beginning to think that you didn’t look before you posted that but instead posted complaining about some imaginary Libertarian magazine that you associate with Reason.Report

      • Avatar DougJ in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        You can’t be serious, can you? We are supposed to ignore who pays the bills?

        You can’t be this naive, can you?Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DougJ says:

          I think it’s possible to vastly overestimate the importance of who pays the bills.

          Look, in the years I’ve been at Cato, I’ve never once been told “You need to change your views because the Kochs don’t approve.” I have only the vaguest idea of what their beliefs even are, and I just try to do the best I can at expressing what I think is right. (This is true of all our other donors too, by the way.)

          Now, obviously you’re free to second-guess me. But that would be a pretty easy out, wouldn’t it?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DougJ says:

          Remember the ANSWER anti-war rallies?

          Good times.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to DougJ says:

          The work either stands on it’s own or it doesn’t.

          You’re not supposed do anything. But the notion that anything a think tank puts out is suspect because of one of its donors is silly, as is the notion that simply saying “Koch” or “Soros” is an argument unto itself.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DougJ says:

      While it certainly may be true that police use SWAT methods to enforce laws that make “crimes” out of victimless entertainments, you get money from the Koch brothers.Report

  3. Avatar Dan says:

    I’m curious how all the people who keep repeating “libertarians don’t care about corporate power” completely missed the libertarian opposition to TARP.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I suppose that those who ask “why don’t Libertarians care about Corporatism?” might be interested in reading the quote (and subsequent links) from Samizdata.


    Those who merely say “why don’t Libertarians care about Corporatism” can probably just ignore it.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

      I just have to say, I don;t get this whole discussion at all. I like James Joyner a lot – listen to his podcasts etc. – and everyone here knows I have pretty stubbornly skeptical view of libertarianism, but I just don’t know how someone gets the idea that libertarians as a whole don’t critique corporatism. Sometimes it seems like all they do. I haven’t read Joyner’s post in full – maybe he is simply calling out those libertarians who give little voice to that facet of the libertarian economic argument, while conceding that it exists and that many libertarians do emphasize it. If that’s the case, then I would think that those libertarians would be cheering him on, not criticizing him, so I can only assume that the professor has gotten the wrong idea about libertarians and corporatism overall. Hopefully he isn’t being misrepresented – I suppose I should go look.Report

  5. There is a distinction to be made between free enterprise, capitalism, and corporatism.

    However, the only cure for their excesses—and every human endeavor is prone to excess—is intervention by the state.

    Freedom, liberty, tyranny, and the state. Snake eats its tail.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    E.D., I think I’m quickly coming to the conclusion that DougJ has a responsibility to stick up for you against any accusations that you do not engage in the comments section at Balloon Juice.Report

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