Koch v. Cato – Some Further Thoughts


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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283 Responses

  1. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    Obviously this vindicates your arguments that Cato is not CURRENTLY bought and paid for by the Koch brothers (they wouldn’t need to sue if they control it already). But it also vindicates the people like Jane Meyer who have been writing about the Koch brothers and their disturbing ways, no? It doesn’t sound so much like hysterical conspiracy theories against prominent libertarians anymore, does it?Report

  2. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    Jane Mayer, sorry.Report

  3. Avatar David Ryan says:

    I don’t fear being fired anymore.

    Now that you’ve got it, hold on to it. Never retreat.Report

  4. Avatar Jon Rowe says:

    Addison’s Cato committed suicide rather than submit to the tyranny of Caesar.  One word:  Indefatigable.Report

  5. And the freedom to buy and sell is a sick joke without robust civil liberties for all.


  6. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    That must have felt good. And good for you.

    David’s right about the whole not fearing being fired. One never needs an employer more than one’s employer needs them, and life is way too short to work in a crappy environment or compromise who you are or who you should be.Report

  7. @Jon Rowe

    Good comment, allow me to add that the historical Cato (the Younger) also committed suicide rather than submit to Caesar, or even accept an on offer of reconciliation on favourable terms.

    @Jason Kuznicki

    First of all, many congratulations on your firm stand to defend Cato as it is, and all the very excellent work it does.

    But also

    1.  Are you willing to deny the Murray Rothbard account of how he was pushed out of Cato by the Kochs in conjunction with Ed Crane?  If so, can you provide an alternative account to how Rothbard left Cato to that circulated by Rothbard, repeated by David Gordon, etc? The purge of the paleos as it looks to me.

    2.  When Brink Lindsey left Cato he referred to institutional unhappiness with his views as well as unhappiness from his more minarchist/polyarchist colleagues.  Are you willing to deny that one or both of the Koch brothers were part of this institutional unhappiness mentioned?  It looks to me like Crane, partly because of his own opinions,  partly because of the views of others with influence like the Koch brothers,  pushed out the two prominent Liberaltarians/Rawslekians, Lindsey and Will Wilkinson, because they didn’t want those views to have much presence at Cato.  Do you an alternative account of how they came to leave?  I am aware that people associated with Cato have denied that there was a purge of the ‘liberaltarians’, but it is clearly Lindsey’s claim that he was ‘purged’ in the most polite and charming way possible.  Wilkinson has said less but has signalled he was unhappy about leaving.

    Thanks and good luck.



    • Avatar William in reply to Barry Stocker says:

      I think both are true. The Koch brothers have had an influence over the Cato Institute for years, and Cato was a worse place without Lindsey and Wilkinson, but was still properly libertarian. But their influence will be greater, and it really will not be the same place if this goes ahead. It will remain a free-market based institute, but not a libertarian ideas-based one.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Barry Stocker says:

      Rothbard and Cato parted ways when I was five years old.

      When I joined Cato, Rothbard was already ten years in his grave.

      I love so much of what he wrote.  I love his erudition.  I love his sense of fun and prankishness, even while leading what he saw as a world-changing revolution.  I love that he somehow managed to stay relatively modest about it, unlike (say) Ayn Rand.

      But the dispute with Cato?  To me it’s ancient history.  I thought it was irrelevant when I took the job, and I continue to think so now.  (Unless, of course, the Rothbard shares somehow become an issue in the fight for control.  It seems unlikely to me that they could.)

      As to Brink and Will, it wasn’t my choice, and I don’t want to comment publicly on my employer’s personnel decisions.  No one with half a brain would.

      I stand by what I wrote in the post, however, and in this context it means very simply that I have no evidence that the Kochs were involved.Report

    • We are not Pew, MacArthur, or other organizations endowed with millions by conservatives or libertarian founders which then turned Left.

      O’Sullivan’s First Law: All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.

      Cato is not Pew or MacArthur—not yet.  It was indeed the Koches who pushed out the more left-leaning Lindsey and Wilkinson and indeed, since getting the boot from Cato, Wilkinson has come out with a version of libertarianism that’s far more friendly to liberal statism than could be reasonably expected from a libertarian think tank.


      The Koches just aren’t going to fiinance this, and I don’t see how they can be blamed.

      Their objection that Cato as a whole seems relatively disinterested in opposing Obamaism—a self-described “transformative” movement—is rather obvious to me: although you’ll find a Pat Michaels vs. Global Warmism and a Tanner vs. Obamacare, Cato has become enough of a herding cats situation that its mishmosh of positions leaves it more a curiosity rather than a coherent philosophical authority.

      If left to its current leftward drift—leftward drifts being inevitable—Cato certainly will go the way of Pew, MacArthur, et al., simply because it’s the nature of such organizations—and the individuals who come to control them, re the herding cats syndrome—to become just another part of the chattering class establishment.

      O’Sullivan’s First Law: All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.

      “I cite as supporting evidence the ACLU, the Ford Foundation, and the Episcopal Church. The reason is, of course, that people who staff such bodies tend to be the sort who don’t like private profit, business, making money, the current organization of society, and, by extension, the Western world. At which point Michels’s Iron Law of Oligarchy* takes over — and the rest follows.”

      *Robert Michels — as any reader of James Burnham’s finest book, The Machiavellians, knows was the author of the Iron Law of Oligarchy. This states that in any organization the permanent officials will gradually obtain such influence that its day-to-day program will increasingly reflect their interests rather than its own stated philosophy.


      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        So let me see if I understand this correctly.

        There are two more or less fixed, natural ideological states — liberal and conservative.  And anything that’s not one of these two eventually becomes liberal.

        That sounds to my ears not like an observation so much as a confession.  Liberals, you’re telling me, are able to convince people. Conservatives can’t convince anyone.  (Is this really what you believe?)

        You’re very lucky in that I don’t believe it for a moment. Starting, I’d add, with the idea that liberalism and conservatism are either fixed or natural.  Ideas are always entering and exiting both of these camps for various reasons.  Even the camps themselves are the creatures of history, and I have no faith whatsoever that they will continue exist indefinitely.

        In fact, I’ll even make a prediction:  One hundred years from now, there will be nothing that anyone might still call “liberal” or “conservative” in the current-day American political senses of those words.

        There will, however, still be the question of liberty and power.  Has Cato answered it once and for all?  I’d be immodest to think so.  But I can say we’re trying.Report

        • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          One hundred years from now, there will be nothing that anyone might still call “liberal” or “conservative” in the current-day American political senses of those words.

          I kind of disagree.   I think that “liberal” and “conservative” map (imperfectly) to human temperaments that will always exist.   So we will always have the shouting from the balconies from the “empathy” perspective, or the “tradition” perspective, or the “reformism” perspective.

          Granted that these points of view often find different things to argue about:   a conservative from the 1910s was isolationist, anti-market, and pro-trarriff, and the modern version of a conservative inverts all these views.   But the conservative “type” will always exist, as will the “liberal.”   And so will the conversations between them.

          Now, I think the current self-definition of “conservative” has become so narrow that they consider 90% of the mainstream “view spectrum” to be “liberal.”   I’m pretty sure that moment will pass.   But the political fights correspond to clefts in human nature.Report

        • I’m saying 0% of that, JasonK.  I’m analyzing the organizational dynamics:  O’Sullivan’s 1st Law says the Koches will end up paying for left-wingers to do their thing on Koch money unless they do something about it.

          I knew you’d find my analysis unflattering, but that’s not a refutation.  The Koches are obviously proprietary about Cato: they feel they paid for it and damned if they’ll let the employees [fellows!]  swing it to the left if they can help it.

          Neither have they used illegitimate means to stake their claim: their stacking the board with Kochites is according to the “shareholder bylawes, indeed bylaws that the employees have been trying to get them to scrap for years.  Now we know why.

          This stuff has happened throughout history.  To the previous examples given of right-leaning orgs turned thoroughly left, I think of the orthodox Congregational churches of New England taken over by internal political means by the [non-Trinitarian] unitarians in the early 1800s.  It’s a fascinating story.

          To this day, the Congregationalists say that they kept the faith, the unitarians got the furniture.

          At this point, the fight is over the furniture @ Cato.  In fact, if there’s a schism and a Cato-in-exile forms that is palpably left-leaning, say of the Will Wilkinson stripe—and I believe it would be—then the Koches will have been quite vindicated.

          I realize your position is likely too delicate to fully engage here, Jason, but I’ll have my say if you don’t mind.  I had actually poked around on this several months ago before the spit hit the shan; David Gordon is an acquaintance of mine and I’m an aficionado of Rothbard.

          Rothbard’s vision for Cato was indeed as an “open” colloquium, and that Cato would be much more theoretical than policy-oriented, certainly not partisan.  But O’Sullivan is right about leftward drifts: you yrself can barely raise your head around here without it becoming a turkey shoot, and you’re a libertarian, fer crissakes.  Just an analysis, I do believe that unless the Koches make this overt stand to prevent Cato from becoming leftist, impotent, or both, it will.

          Are the Koches being heavy-handed?  Duh.  It’s war.  Are they defying Rothbard’s vision of a libertarian academy?  That Cato battle happened long ago, and the diaspora fled to the von Mises Institute, yes?  Rothbard himself aligned with lewrockwell.com, which is problematic for gentlepersons of the left and right alike.

          Do the Koches want Cato more active against Obamaism?  Damn right, and only the latter’s apologists pretend it’s some sort of “centrism,” that it doesn’t aspire to advance as a “transformative” force the left-liberal-communitarian agenda.  And that agenda has a ratcheting effect: Europe is not going to unwind its social-communitarian system[s].  The Koches definitely see a major turn of The Ratchet at hand.

          I’ve said too much; I haven’t said enough.  Thank you for your time.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            It’s not that I found your analysis unflattering.  I figured I would.  I found it unconvincing, because this so-called law of yours is nonsense.  It posits that liberal and conservative are essentialist, trans-historical categories — and worse, it posits that conservatives aren’t able to convince anyone to join them.  Both premises are manifestly false.

            As to the merits of the case, I don’t claim to know them.  But let’s grant for the sake of argument that the Kochs are legally entitled.  The next question we should ask is whether this is a good thing they are contemplating, or a bad one.

            You’re entitled to think it’s a good one, but I’m also entitled to disagree.  The resulting think tank may be more conservative, but it will also be less credible.  And I happen to like having a place that is equally willing to criticize Republicans and Democrats, insofar as either party acts against our principles.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              What I find so strange about this is that Tom’s version of “left” and “right” appears to be completely ad hoc, boiling down to something like “What Tom likes” and “What Tom doesn’t like.” That these are “trans-historical” categories is odd, to say the least.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              Also, I think Tom is suggesting not that conservatives aren’t convincing, or liberals are, but that the left is a bunch of cuckoos laying its eggs in the right’s nests and then, when the eggs hatch, tossing the right’s offspring out and making itself at home.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              And yet, there’s an interesting point in Tom’s paranoia. That is, that it is paranoia at all! It is a strain of closemindedness that exists on the right in pretty much all forms. Because most people aren’t suited for the authoritarian trend that the right fancies. (never say that the left cannot be authoritarian, for it can…). But the right tends towards it much more strongly nowadays.Report

            • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/01/koch-brothers-lawsuit-cato-institute_n_1313852.html

              Not “my” law, Jason, but John O’Sullivan citing

              Robert Michels’ Iron Law of Oligarchy. “This states that in any organization the permanent officials will gradually obtain such influence that its day-to-day program will increasingly reflect their interests rather than its own stated philosophy.”

              Right or wrong [you find it “unconvincing”], this is Charles Koch’s argument.  What he means by this, as Mr. Raimondo notes, we do not yet know.

              “We want to ensure that Cato stays true to its fundamental principles of individual liberty, free markets, and peace into the future, and that it not be subject to the personal preferences of individual officers or directors,” Charles Koch said.


      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        It was indeed the Koches who pushed out the more left-leaning Lindsey and Wilkinson

        Wow, that was a stunningly persuasive argument you made in support of that claim.  The vast amount of evidence you provided in support of it, the impressive number of links to reliable sources…really impressive.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer in reply to James Hanley says:

          Yes, I’m blown away and speechless.Report

        • If you disagree, please clarify, Dr. Hanley.  I stipulated this only to unclog the discussion.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            I will be more specific than I was above.

            I happen to know that Cato senior management was independently skeptical of the liberaltarian project as it was being pursued by Wilkinson and Lindsey.  It had nothing to do with the Kochs, and everything to do with Wilkinson and Lindsey failing to convince them.

            I don’t know why this was, but then, I was never allowed to read anything of the book that they were working on at the time.   (Yes, I asked to.)  It’s possible that it was a real turkey, which would also explain why it still hasn’t appeared in public.  I have no idea.

            Beyond this, I really don’t think I should say anything.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              I’ve been very, very sceptical of the liberaltarian movement, if you can call it a movement, so I understand the concern. I can’t distinguish it from modern liberalism.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to MFarmer says:

                Speaking as a Modern Liberal, moving slowly into Classical Liberalism, there are huge differences.   The Modern Liberal, if he’s a liberal at all, has lost his way.   He’s just another Statist.   Doesn’t matter what the problem is, from measles to menstrual cramps to monetary theory, Moah Gummint is the solution.

                The Liberaltarian, as I understand the creature, believes society is an entirely appropriate venue for solving a certain class of problems.   But not most and not all such problems can be subsumed into the Gummint Model.   The Liberaltarian says government ought to work as the servant of the people, solving problems using market-based solutions where they are appropriate and stoutly refuses to believe we can legislate morality.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Yep. That sounds about right. Unfortunately the concept has some rocky soil to deal with if it wants to take root:

                -Establishment liberals of course dislike the idea.

                -Nonestablishment liberals disagree generally with the idea.

                -Establishment libertarians in America by and large don’t know how to speak anything but rightwingeese and so what inclination they have to try and push the concept is hampered by communication barriers.

                -All conservatives, of course, loathe the idea. They consider libertarians their own pet sub-constituency.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to North says:


                Here’s my proposition for the Libertarians:  you guys understand the need to prevent Force and Fraud, that’s gospel.  We Liberals understand the need for equitable government, which ought to enforce laws equally for both Rich and Poor.   Neither of us, Liberals or Libertarians, hew to our positions exactly for theory never gets off the page intact.   If the Liberals have taken to favoring the Poor over the Rich, viz. all this 1% horseshit bandied about, the Libertarians have a blind spot for the poor and defenseless.

                Let us not cast aspersions on each others’ blind spots.   Let’s just stipulate to them.   The Conservatives have behaved abominably to both of us, telling all manner of lies about what we truly believe and what our goals might be.    Simple, vicious lies in support of a horrible status quo nobody really wants, a status quo operating to the exclusive benefit of the connected few and not to the benefit of the people.

                How might we go about reconciling our positions?    The first step is to quit repeating the shibboleths engineered by our mutual enemies.   If there is a specific role for government, it ought to have a model to support it, one with rules and variables.   Even better would be multiple models, ones where all interested parties could inject and tune up those rules and variables.

                The Liberals and the Libertarians have a common problem:  we fight within our own camps and we fight with each other.   The Liberal has been told the government can solve problems — well, yes it can under certain circumstances.   But neither of us want to see government-run grocery stores or private police forces.    The key, it seems to me, is to treat these problems scientifically, evict the dogma and cant from the arguments, knowing theory never makes it off the page intact.

                The Conservatives would never know what hit them.   We all know for the poor to rise in the world, the rich will rise as well.   We all know government is forever inventing excuses for its own perpetuation.   We all know the money in politics distorts and transmogrifies the democratic process beyond recognition.   The government ought to be run for the benefit of the people, all the people.   Its role should be limited to a provably effective role, one the market cannot occupy.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

                The issue is that any Libertarian who actually merits the name will never truly agree to let the government have the power to legislate morality, and no Liberal will ever truly agree to anything less.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Legislate morality? My dear, there’s no need. Legislating equality — patching up after the poor fools who are too obstreperous… And eliminating illicit force. Keep the government busy enough.

                The simplest metric for government is “put it in the chinks” — by which I mean, do as much as you can yourself, and when you fail, there’s big brother for you.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Not so, Duck.   Jim Crow was based on the old-style morality which thought Race Mixin’ was ‘gainst the law.    How little you know of Liberals.   As I said, just for once quit repeating the old shibboleths and fire a few of your own neurons.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Liberals these days are a sorry bunch.   Not much good thinking going on in their camps.   As the Conservatives have gone batshit crazy,  look at the disastrous administration of Bush43, here come the Liberals like they always do after a so-called “Conservative” administration, the humble janitors with their wet vacs to clean the vomit out of the carpets and pick up the champagne bottles and beer cans and sand down the cigarette burns in the coffee tables after another one of the colossal toots.   Meanwhile, the Conservatives stand around, hung over and trembly, shouting at the Obama outfit to hurry the fuck up and get the economy back on track so they can have another goddamn party.

                We Liberals are propping up structures we should have allowed to fall down.   Half the stuff we’re doing now is in reaction to Conservative idiocy.   We never get to make any real improvements because we’re reduced to janitors, not builders.   It’s high time we hired on some Libertarian muscle to haul those Conservatives off to rehab.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

                “Jim Crow was based on the old-style morality which thought Race Mixin’ was ‘gainst the law.”

                Which is why the Libertarian would say that legislating morality is a really bad idea

                Your tone implies that you disagree with me and yet you wrote something that agrees with me…?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Duck:  you’re preaching to the choir.   Heaven forbid a common sense argument about the stupidity of legislating morality might win the day.    Good laws apply equally to all and every attempt to benefit some Oppressed Minority always backfires.   Liberals have to quit condescending to the Poor and Oppressed and start thinking Big Picture about the role of Good Law and Good Government in our lives.   It’s a distinct weakness in the Modern Liberal stance and it simply must be corrected.   Our Libertarian brethren preach a mighty sermon on this subject and I am convicted by it.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’d take sorry ass country music over sad irons any day, BP. Sometimes governmental projects do work. Not always,b ut it does happen.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                @Kimmi:  yes, sometimes government programs do work.   A great many don’t and I believe there’s enough common ground with the Libertarians on this front to work out some models showing why and under what circumstances government programs succeed or fail.   They are quite willing to give us Force and Fraud as a working premise for the role of good government.   We Liberals could work within those boundaries, attempting to demonstrate what might actually be done on those bases.Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark in reply to North says:

                Could you explain?    Liberals legislating morality?     I thought that was mostly a conservative thing…Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                We Liberals are accused of condescending to the Poor and Needy and waging class warfare.   It’s a misconception of actual Liberal positions but there’s enough OWS Redistributive Rhetoric of a wretchedly simplistic variety in the air to give our accusers a toehold.   See above @35.Report

              • Eh, you can see Liberal morality legislation out there.

                Smoking bans, sin taxes, sugar taxes, fat taxes, arguments against certain forms of, ahem, adult entertainment, point in this direction.

                We can discuss whether there are particular strings attached to certain parts of the social safety net are “conservative” or “liberal” as well.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                Most of the taxes are merely corporations interfering. not true grassroots anything.

                I might give you the whole prostitution angle, if it hadn’t been a “don’t dirty the neighborhood, they’re Filthy!” angle most times I heard it (that’s conservative).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                @Jaybird:  So stipulated.   But I also see sugar subsidies and other agricultural subsidies in the mix.    When we get those porkulous GOP morons to put these sacred cattle on the truck, market distorting as they are, we’ll be on the road to righteousness.


              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                Taxation is another area where the Liberals and Libertarians share much common ground.   The Congress has been reduced to a gaggle of street whores:  there’s a price to be paid for all that campaign money.   Get that out of politics and we’ll see less of this quid-pro-quo trading of campaign dollars for tax breaks.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:


                how to get the blackmail out of politics? I find that a far more pernicious problem than mere campaign contributions.Report

              • Jay’s right, legislating personal morality is something both of our political parties do. It’s certainly the case that legislating personal morality is a bigger part of the Republican message, because the Republican base is more moved by legislating what people do in their bedrooms than the Democratic coalition (does that party even have a base?) doesn’t seem to be all that moved by keeping smokers out of public parks.Report

              • I’ve no problem with legislation of morality.

                It’s the mistaking of matters of taste for matters of morality that then get legislated that pisses me off.


              • Tim Carney: “More often than not…these days, it’s the secular Left imposing its morality on the religious Right. Don’t want to photograph a gay wedding? You’re fined. Don’t want to sell the morning-after pill at your pharmacy? You’re driven out of your job. Don’t want to pay for your employees’ sterilization? You’re a criminal. Don’t want to subsidize Planned Parenthood with your tax dollars? Tough, pay up. An alliance between libertarians and conservatives is natural and right today. …

                The proper conservative response is to fight for the liberty of all Americans, including religious conservatives, to manage their own affairs according to what they believe is correct. Increasing the size of government, even in the name of a more moral society, simply gives the Left more weapons to turn on the Right in the culture war — Obamacare is the perfect example.”

                Excellent essay, more here:


              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                Exceedingly well-put, Mr. Jaybird, sir.   Matters of taste.   While these Taliban Types wastes the government’s time with all these wedge issues, the rats are running around in the granary.   It’s high time we gave the Congress, especially the Senate, a well-deserved motivational kick in the ass and obliged these puffed-up politicians to do the business of the nation.


              • Tom, what is it with conservatives that they are unable to accept that some things aren’t a question of freedom vs. tyranny but looking at the balance of the freedom of person X to interfere with person Y, and vice versa?  You can take anyone of those examples you just gave and do this with it:

                You want to get married to the woman you love?  Tough, you’re a woman too, you’re not allowed.  Want to purchase a prescription your doctor prescribed?  Too bad, you live in a town where the pharmacist thinks he knows better than your doctor what’s better for you.  Don’t want your tax dollars to pay for water-boarding?  Tough, pay up.

                (I left out the claim that people who don’t sterilize their employees go to jail, because that’s just too FEMA-camp to bother with.  Is that really a belief you guys have?  You’ll have to send me a link about that for me to address; I googled employee sterilization issues and came up bupkis.)Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                @Kimmi:  that’s an interesting problem.   Please expand on this notion of blackmail.   The Politician and the PAC are little more than a bad man courting a bad woman in some seedy bar, a disgusting little pimp attempting to put a nasty old ho on the stroll for his benefit.   Neither is deceived thereby.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                On the one hand, Libertarians won’t make racist thoughts a felony.

                On the other hand, they don’t think drug use should be a felony either.

                It makes sense that each side hates them, because most of the way we define ourselves these days is by what we don’t like.  So if you don’t not like the things that I don’t like, then you must not be on my team.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                Another wise utterance from the Duck.   Had we any sense as political junkies, we’d fish around in each others’ arguments to find points of agreement.   We shall never legislate away stupidity but we might create some No-Stupid Zones where it impacts other people’s freedom.Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarkSnark in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                Jaybird:   Not seeing it.   The examples you gave (Smoking bans, sin taxes, sugar taxes, fat taxes) are either not liberal in origin (sin taxes), are actually taxes on the imposition of harm on non-involved third parties (smoking bans), don’t exist (fat taxes), or are designed to counter an already-existing subsidy that has distorted the market (sugar taxes). Conservative legislation of morality, on the other hand, is considerably more onerous.   They would like to limit the ability of others to marry, or view pornography, or learn science in schools.    These, to my mind, constitute intrinsically more freedom-limiting restrictions than taxes that are designed to bend incentives.Report

              • I would add to Duck’s comment that it’s not just about what (the things) people don’t like, but who (the people who tend to do the things) people don’t like.Report

              • I’d think Duck was onto something if I knew who the hell wanted to make racist utterances a felony in this country.Report

              • Pardon me. I should have avoided “Liberal”. I should have said “Progressive”.Report

              • Avatar Jeff in reply to Snarky McSnarkSnark says:

                Smoking bans, sin taxes, sugar taxes, fat taxes, arguments against certain forms of, ahem, adult entertainment, point in this direction.

                I’m in favor of indoor smoking bans, since second-hand smoke violates the Jefferson Rule. I’m not in favor of bans where there is adequate cross-flow. (A tax on smokers at public parks might not be bad, since more work is needed to clean up the butts).

                Liberals tend to be in favor of adult entertainment.  Dworkin ran into a lot of Liberal opposition when she teamed up with the Moral Majority.

                (A reason that organizations tend to become Liberal is the “long arc of freedom”.)Report

              • Rtod, that was Dan Mitchell [of Cato], a right-libertarian we don’t see much of here @ LoOG.  Basically his point limns how that many libertarians are that exercised by the bedroom and bong issues: in the least they represent the status quo, while leftism-statism-progressivism represents an active and encroaching force of centralization and regulation.

                Bedroom and bong issues are on the wane on their own, while Obamaism and its tens of thousands of pages of regulation are on the wax.

                Tom, what is it with conservatives that they are unable to accept that some things aren’t a question of freedom vs. tyranny but looking at the balance of the freedom of person X to interfere with person Y, and vice versa?

                That was a bit gratuitous, Tod, about “conservatives.”  For example, the exceptions for incest and life of the mother in abortion—which many conservatives can live with—are precisely an acknowledgement of the conflict of rights.  [Since there was no consensual sex, there is no obligation, moral or legal, on the part of the mother; when her life ios threatened, it’s a simple ethical case of self-defense.]

                It’s the conservative-haters that miss these nuances.  As for your other examples, you’d rather violate the right of conscience for pharmicists in favor of the convenience of somebody who wants an abortifacient?

                This shows a rather brutish summary judgment of just whose rights are at stake—and convenience isn’t even a “right”.  This conservative takes these rights of conscience and freedom of religion very very seriously—and not because I agree on the issues.  [I have zero problem with contraceptives; I have a huge problem with the government running roughshod over the right of conscience about them.]

                And so, I’m quite with libertarians Dan Mitchell and Tim Carney here, the sort of “diversity” we could use around here to counter what has now become a steady stream of anti-conservative polemics:

                “For many of today’s liberals, if something is bad — like the traditional light bulb, a very high health-insurance deductible, a gas-guzzling car, or a lack of racial diversity — the government ought to outlaw it. Maybe they can’t comprehend the mind-set of many of today’s conservatives, who revere both individual liberty and traditional morality as the necessary conditions for human happiness and thus say that certain behaviors are immoral but shouldn’t be illegal. Not only are traditional morality and limited government totally compatible, today they are intimately linked, as the Left uses big government to subsidize abortion providers and force all employers to pay for their employees’ contraceptives. …the moral law should guide our personal actions, and individual liberty should guide our political decisions. …When liberals cry that conservatives are trying to legislate morality, that’s typically projection and misdirection from liberal attempts to legislate morality — they say we’re trying to outlaw buying contraception because we oppose their efforts to mandate buying contraception. ”Report

            • Thanks for the clarification, Jason.  Who exactly was behind their booting I suppose we’ll learn in a decade or two.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            Mr. Van Dyke,

            You made an assertion, a bald claim of fact, for which you are presumably not in a position to know the truth (unless you are actually better connected at Cato than you’ve let on) and for which you’ve provided no evidence.

            I thought my initial statement was fairly clear, but apparently either your snark-o-meter is on the fritz or my SnarktasticTM Automated Keyboard is.

            Essentially, my point is, when you make specific claims like that, it takes more than mere assertion; evidence is required in order for them to be accepted as having any validity.Report

      • Avatar b-psycho in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        indeed, since getting the boot from Cato, Wilkinson has come out with a version of libertarianism that’s far more friendly to liberal statism than could be reasonably expected from a libertarian think tank.

        Indeed he has. That the Kochs are now attempting to force a vision on the Cato Institute more friendly to conservative statism though suggests the issue was the liberal part rather than the statism.

        re: O’Sullivan:

        “I cite as supporting evidence the ACLU, the Ford Foundation, and the Episcopal Church. The reason is, of course, that people who staff such bodies tend to be the sort who don’t like private profit, business, making money, the current organization of society, and, by extension, the Western world.

        So the ACLU is anti-West? Anyone who makes structural critiques, or even considers them, is anti-West? Do you really agree with this assessment?

        Well, we got to this point somehow. You don’t have to be a conspiracy nut to consider at least partially the process was intentional.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to b-psycho says:

          That the Kochs are now attempting to force a vision on the Cato Institute more friendly to conservative statism though suggests the issue was the liberal part rather than the statism.

          I’m not disputing this assertion in the least, Mr. Psycho.  I’m @ arm’s length here: Is the Koches’ vision for Cato the best thing for the institute or for libertarianism itself?  I’m not even taking up that question: it’s a question of theology, an internal church matter.  😉Report

  8. Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark says:

    Jason –

    First, let me say that I hope you land on your feet.   That’s a sucky situation that you’re in the middle of, and the kind that can take years to unwind.    So I hope that there’s white knight, or that the core of Cato can re-emerge as a new foundation.   Or whatever–just imagine the best possible outcome, and that’s what I wish for you.

    If some liberal philanthropist were really smart, they would endow whatever emerges in Catos’s stead.   I think there is a lot to be gained on both sides from a liberal-libertarian fusion, per Erik’s OP from last week.   The libertarian beady-eyed focus on the “economic freedom” aspects of libertarianism has happened during a period of increasing centralization and authoritarianism in the social and privacy spheres;  and the American left has been so unable to articulate and stand on abstract principles that I think such an alliance would be of tremendous good for both.

    That’s just me.   This whole thing is fascinating to me.   I just wonder if the current events will have any effects on the ideology and outlook of those caught in the middle of the internecine struggles of the Cato board.    In a sense, this seems like a logical outcome to those that value the market above everything–the think tank will be going to the highest bidder.

    On the other hand, could the current events improve the appreciation of many for strategically limiting “freedom” in pursuit of higher and more stable outcomes?   I’m speaking of arrangements in which Madisonian structures of competing powers and incentives limit the powers of individuals in favor of maintaining a homeostatic, stable organization with a non-market purpose.

    I’m saying this as a non-libertarian, of course.   I think the libertarians get a lot right about freedom, and the marketplace, and the self-defeating nature of much regulation.   But I also think that they don’t quite get human nature.    Most of the libertarians I’ve known are “systems thinkers,” who really connect to libertarianism as a complete world view that is logical, rational and coherent.    But humans only sometimes have those characteristics.    Those at Cato now will be confronting many of the irrational and self-defeating parts of human nature:  what Koch is doing right now seems completely destructive of libertarianism, of the long-term credibility and integrity of Cato, and of maintaining a values-based organization and a team of intelligent, principled, opinionated people.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark says:

      “If some liberal philanthropist were really smart, they would endow whatever emerges in Catos’s stead.”

      Thereby proving Tom’s point about how the Kochs’ action was to prevent a leftward identification of the Cato Institute.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DensityDuck says:

        I don’t think the donors would like it, but I’d be delighted if they were all anonymous, and if none of us ever knew who they were.  The platonic ideal of think-tank independence.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark says:

      “what Koch is doing right now seems completely destructive of libertarianism”

      Really?  Because it looks like a couple of like-minded persons using their financial resources to ensure that an organization they invest in is controlled in a manner amenable to them.  Isn’t that entirely in line with libertarian orthodoxy?Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Insofar as the statutes of incorporation don’t specifically lay out what happens to stock on the death of the stockholder, they’re reduced to so much hypocritical ranting and sea lawyering.   If the Libertarians stand for anything, it’s the rights of the property holder and that includes stock holders.    They might have prohibited the sale of the stock and they’ve stuffed the board with their stooges but they might read a bit more of their Rothbard on Property Theory ere they continue to call themselves Libertarians.Report

  9. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Well said, Jason, and good for you for saying it.Report

  10. Avatar Freddie says:

    The donors and the audience would follow the productive people who actually did the work, not the people who sat on their shares and waited for Bill Niskanen to meet his maker

    I wish I shared your optimism. I am a pessimist about most things, and certainly about politics.

    Here’s my perspective: libertarianism, in anything like its conventionally defined form, represents a tiny minority of the American electorate. That’s not an insult, just a fact. Certainly my kind of socialism is a tiny minority as well. The number of people who self-identify as libertarian is small, and among them are plenty of people who are essentially like the Koch brothers. That is, they use the term “libertarian” in a way that would please almost nobody with genuinely libertarian political positions; think of anti-gay marriage, pro-Drug War Tea Partiers. It’s always seemed perfectly obvious to me that the Koch brothers started Cato and funded Reason as a pretext for a straightforwardly pro-corporate agenda. A break by people like yourself from people like that seems like a welcome development to me (a person who is antagonistic to both, but not equally so).

    The problem is that the funding apparatus is a very big deal in material terms. After all, if libertarianism is such a small minority, why does it have such a huge presence on the political stage? I think the answer is in large part because they are so well funded, by corporatists who like the intellectual cover that libertarianism gives them. One thing that people who talk politics online never seem to grok is that Bush-style conservatism (essentially socially conservative, economically moderate, and extremely hawkish on foreign policy) is very popular with the American people. It just doesn’t have a great deal of representation in the political intelligentsia. Libertarians, it seems to me, have for a long time essentially traded an unpleasant association with pro-corporate opportunists for the kind of economic power that is necessary for a really prominent intellectual edifice, if you are in fact a minority political position.

    I don’t blame people for making that choice. Few of us wouldn’t; if someone showed up with money to fund careers and let people live as political thinkers, raising families on a middle class existence, many from across the political spectrum would leap at the chance. But this situation with Cato, and the way that people like the Koch brothers exercise unfortunate influence across professional libertarianism, represent the consequences. Now, you seem convinced that you guys can let go of the economic, political, and logistical backing without losing prominence or economic security for your members. I find that very unlikely, and I think that you’ll find a lot of doors far less open when people as powerful as the Koch brothers turn their backs on you. But time will tell. The question is, if it really is a choice– if you have to choose between prominence and influence on one hand, or ideological purity and freedom on the other hand, which will you choose? It’s easy to say the latter. It’s harder to actually live with the consequences.Report

    • Avatar David Ryan in reply to Freddie says:

      No it’s not.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to David Ryan says:

        I think it’s harder to make the choice to live with the consequences than it actually is to live with them.  The fear of the pain is frequently greater than the actual pain experienced.Report

      • Avatar Freddie in reply to David Ryan says:

        For the non-affluent, it is. Sorry.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Freddie says:

          Actually, not having a whole lot of options makes ideological purity more likely. I mean, hey. It’s free, after all.Report

        • Avatar David Ryan in reply to Freddie says:

          If by “non-affluent” you mean “cowards”, sure.

          Try growing a pair, Fred.Report

          • Avatar karl in reply to David Ryan says:

            Interesting reply.  You seem to be the type of fellow who can do anything you put your mind to, but not everybody is that sort of fellow.  We would roll our eyes at an Olympic sprinter who said “if I can run this fast then anyone can” just as we know that not everyone can be Stephen Hawking.

            Like many others, I’m a timid fellow who seeks safety and hates change, this has always been my temperament; deliberately jumping into the void would take more than “growing a pair,” it would take growing a new, differently wired, brain.Report

          • Avatar Freddie in reply to David Ryan says:

            You’re a particular kind of pathetic figure, “Dave”: the rich Buddha.

            Most people have the sense not to talk about the value of hard work when they’ve been handed everything in their lives.

            By the way: I am doing the only thing I have ever wanted to do, in my entire life. That doesn’t make me free, anymore than the fact that you can make porn on a boat makes you some sort of Mensch. Grow up, dude, the faux-spirituality is so fucking tired.Report

          • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to David Ryan says:

            Wow, this just seems so uncalled for. People situations are different, not everyone can be so casual and cavalier about money, you know. That doesn’t make them cowards or lacking a pair, or lacking enlightment or whatever. What’s that saying? People who say money doesn’t matter is usually those who have money?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to sonmi451 says:

              …And we can slowly watch Personal Integrity become a luxury good.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jaybird says:

                No sane person prefers to be a martyr.  It’s only when the other options are off the table that martyrdom starts to look attractive.

                To be perfectly clear, I don’t think I’m quite there yet.  I understand Cato took no money from the Kochs in 2011, which bodes well for a possible survival without them.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                You’re not there quite yet.  But you cast your die, really.  I’ve had to do that myself before: it’s sick-making and stressful and made me want to do violence upon those who demanded a capitulation of principle.

                Casting your die while aware of the consequence of doing so, that takes some courage.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Jaybird says:

                Speaking from personal experience (and current situationess), I can’t really eat Personal Integrity any more than it can pay the rent.

                Perhaps that makes me cowardly, but I do know it was much easier to abide by principle when I had the means to shrug off adversity than when I didn’t.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:


                This is an interesting discussion. If anything, what constitutes personal integrity would be defined by the individual person, no? It seems like there a different conception in play here, an idealized conception being true to oneself which is better than, or different from, making a rational decision given the evidence and circumstances a person finds themselves in. It’s an interesting line of reasoning for a libertarian to take.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to Stillwater says:


                You might find it noble and full of integrity to quit your job over ideological differences, even without an alternative.

                I might find it noble and full of integrity to put one’s feelings aside and continue to work hard and provide for his/her family.

                It ultimately depends on what your individual priorities are.  No one can decide those for you.Report

              • Avatar sonmi451 in reply to Jaybird says:

                And just where did I say we should throw away personal integrity for money? It’s the calling other people coward and lacking a pair thing I take issue with. And this may seems overly PC or something, but if “put on your big girl panties” is sexist, I venture that “grow a pair” is also sexist, towards men.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jason is in a fairly unique position. For most people, sticking to one’s principles isn’t going to amount to writing things consistent with one’s own views.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Thus having a family doth make cowards of us all.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Or possibly it just makes us considerate.  I’d try to explain this to my daughter, but she’s two years old and still pretty fuzzy on the concept of cause and effect.  I expect by sometime next year, we’ll have her reading Atlas Shrugged, but until then… well…  I owe it to her not to gratuitously fish up her life.

                All of which is to say that however this shakes out, I won’t be spewing contempt on anyone for any decision they feel they must make in the process.  “Clean living in difficult circumstances,” as the old motto would have it.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I expect by sometime next year, we’ll have her reading Atlas Shrugged, but until then… well…  I owe it to her not to gratuitously fish up her life.

                Apparently at that point, you no longer owe it to her, because you’re going to make her read that book… hay oh! I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.

                Seriously, though, I have a feeling you’ll be just fine however this works out, and so will your daughter. But I definitely hope it doesn’t cause you too much real stress.Report

              • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to Christopher Carr says:

                Beat me to it.  In all seriousness, best of luck, Jason.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                This is one of those wacky things. Before I got married, I had a certain list of priorities.

                After I got married (like, immediately after), my priorities hadn’t changed much at all. Some stuff got shifted.

                Now, 13 1/2 years later? I would say that my priorities have changed *COMPLETELY* and *ENTIRELY* and look *NOTHING* like my priorities then. While I don’t know what I’ll be like in 13 1/2 years, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to guess that my list then won’t be terribly different than it is now. Will this be an indication of integrity? (Interestingly, I also don’t know that it’s too much of a stretch to guess that it’ll be 95% different from now… what is that an indication of?)

                Are these dynamics indicators of selling out? Of wisdom? Of selfishness?

                I guess it depends on whether I work for CATO.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to Jaybird says:

                If you have the same list of priorities after 27 years of marriage that you did before marriage, I would find that more questionable than if they changed a handful of times in that span.  Twenty-seven years is a long time!  That is as almost as long as I’ve been alive!

                I think integrity comes down to doing what you think is right.  That will vary from person to person and, for each individual, will vary at different points in their life or different times of the day.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Freddie says:

      We may get the chance to find out.  I hope we do.


  11. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Michelangelo said art eliminates all the extras.   I have been intently watching the Libertarians for about two years now, believing something significant would arise from their quarrelsome ranks.

    For what it’s worth, I have more respect for you now than ever, Jason.   Hold fast to the strength of your convictions:  the Libertarian viewpoint is critically important.   The Conservatives have lost their way and the Liberals are gone.

    Someone must stand up for Libertarian thought, independent of this parody of Conservative thought embodied in Charles Koch’s vision.   His vision is little more than fascism, by my estimation, real fascism, independent of Godwin’s Law or the spectre of Nazism.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:

      You’re in Wisconsin. You’d know.

      Every fascist has their brownshirts… I hear the tea party’s recruiting.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kimmi says:

        Heh, quite the opposite, I’ve been missionarying to the Tea Party.   Sat down with five of them last year and told them they didn’t have a clue, politically.  I started up a study group on John Stuart Mill at the brew pub, got copies of On Liberty for everyone.   We discussed Marx and Engels, too, showing what they didn’t want and why they didn’t want it.  When they left, those erstwhile Tea Partiers finally understood what they were supposed to be concerned about, with a solid grounding in political philosophy.

        The Tea Party isn’t fascist by any stretch.   These are people without any theory on Liberty or Law to back up their positions.   I sent those folks back into the world of the Tea Party with something worth believing, not the incoherent rantings of their former state.Report

  12. Avatar Freddie says:

    To counter my own pessimism– speaking as someone who is overall very happy, but who also is reminded every day of how professional and economic realities constrain his intellectual projects, this could be a very beautiful moment for all of you.Report

  13. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    So this is ideological?  I got the distinct impression it was just a straight-up power struggle.  Well, good luck.Report

    • Avatar Shannon's Mouse in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Wouldn’t any power struggle at CATO necessarily be ideological?  It’s not like there are profits over which shareholders can fight.  Control of CATO means academic/editorial control.  For whatever reason, the Kochs have suddenly decided to try to assert more formal control over the charity they have been funding these many years.  If they were happy with the ideological composition/direction of CATO, this sort of power grab seems quite counterproductive.

      Frankly, I’m surprised it took them this long.  Maybe they just saw an opportunity with Niskansen’s passing?  Maybe something else?



      • I think it’s more that the Koch brothers don’t want Crane controlling — and widow has to offer the shares for sale according to the shareholder agreement from 1977 — see my response to Jason below.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Shannon's Mouse says:

        I think there are conceivable reasons to want to (re)gain control of a place like Cato beyond making its intellectual product conform to your ideological vision.  Ultimately, that might be that you want to preserve the option to try to shape it that way in the future – that will go along with gaining the control in any case.  I was just saying that I hadn’t gotten the impression that it was about an currently-occurring ideological struggle.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Michael Drew says:

          Yes, I would think the ideologies are all similar. There might be a conflict regarding America’s response to the threat of terrorism, but that conflict is in every political group. And, as jason suggested, maybe with the War on Drugs — but I don’t see Democrats fighting to legalize drugs, so it’s not like a conflict on drug legalization should cause a major ideological battle.Report

  14. Is there any chance of a mass walkout and a Cato-in-exile popping up?


    Best of luck to those who represent Cato at its best.Report

    • Would it be too on the nose to call it the Scipio institute?Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to James Vonder Haar says:

        Not my decision to make, obviously, and it’s a little premature.

        The Kochs could always change their mind, and I hope they do.  Failing that, they could lose in court.  I don’t know the chances of this at all and don’t care to speculate.

        But… if all else fails, we might easily be called Cato the Younger.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Do the Koch brothers have an explanation/defense of their actions or any responses to the accusations? That would be helpful to read.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to MFarmer says:

            They claimed in a statement that they did not intend to change the mission of the Cato Institute.  I haven’t been able to track down the original, which is annoying to me. The AP story about the lawsuit quoted them, but not in full.

            I should add that I wasn’t at all willing to be this harsh with them until I saw Jerry’s comments at Volokh.  I don’t see what kind of statement could paper over the actions he describes.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              I just have a feeling there’s more to this than the anti-Koch reports, but you might be right. I hate to assume and pass judgement based on one-sided reporting, though. As always, time will tell.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to MFarmer says:

                Neither the left nor Ed Crane has been the source of the most disturbing information.  Instead, it’s come from people like me, who have their careers on the line just like I do. That gives some added credibility.

                Still, I’d be relieved if I could retract all of the above as some kind of horrible mistake.  No question about it.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                It’s possible that there is a power play on the part of Crane who might have advised the widow to not offer the shares for sale, but the agreement they signed in 1977 says she has to:

                “The lawsuit centers on the fate of the shares owned by Mr. Niskanen, who died in October. The Koch brothers maintain that under a shareholder agreement, originated in 1977, first the corporation, then the remaining shareholders must be given the option to buy Mr. Niskanen’s shares. The court papers say, however, that Mr. Niskanen’s widow, Kathryn Washburn, has not offered to sell them.”

                From http://philanthropy.com/article/Think-Tank-in-Koch-Brothers/131071/

                Is it possible that the Kochs fear control by Crane as much as Crane fears control by the Koch brothers? Why would the widow violate the agreement, and why wouldn’t Crane urge her to abide by the agreement?Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to MFarmer says:

                Well, that didn’t take long…Report

              • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark says:

                Three days ago, you announced you were leaving for venues that could better appreciate your “objective” sty le of argumentation.Report

              • I said I was taking a hiatus, especially from that thread, but I didn’t say I was leaving permanently. I leave for short periods, concentrate on my blog, then come back when an interesting post is made. Do you have a comment pertinent to the post?Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer says:

                Boudreaux weighs in — http://cafehayek.com/2012/03/cato-and-the-kochs.html

                But his entire post is based on Ed Crane’s proclamation of Koch’s intentions to drastically change CATO’s purpose and mission. I still haven’t seen where Koch has claimed this purpose and mission. This is the problem I have. I don’t know the Koch’s from crap, but I don’t know Crane either and can’t accept his proclamations as gospel when we haven’t had any corroboration.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to MFarmer says:

                Cafe Hayek’s Don Boudreaux seems to support not only my analysis, but the Koches’ view of Cato’s impotence too in

                The identity of political office holders seems to matter.  Those identities are what is seen.  For any policy change to occur requires identifiable politicians to push for it.  So it appears that, say, Barack Obama is stealing our liberties and draining away more of our prosperity with Obamacare.  But Obama is simply the catalyst.  He could not do what he’s doing if the climate of opinion did not at least tolerate his (admittedly destructive) policy actions.

                Sorry, JasonK, et al., but I believe this indicates, admits—proves—that Cato is closer to a wanking society than a genuine influence in political philosophy.  It isn’t just losing in the climate of political opinion, it’s a non-entity.

                I further believe that Charles and his brother David [Koch] are undeserving of the left-liberal scorn poured on them – nearly all of which strikes me as uninformed; as springing from nothing more than juvenile presumptions parading as information.

                And that might be true, too.  And those who wish to pull Cato toward the left—at least far enough to get it out of Barack Obama’s way—are on the front lines vs. the Koches here.

                Which is cool: they’re entitled to their opinions.  Per O’Sullivan’s First law, though, they tend to be the employees, not the contributors, eh?  The ones collecting checks more than writing them?

                This is getting interesting and interestinger.  Per my above, I’ve been following the Cato drama for awhile now.  I think 2012 and the re-election of Barack Obama is exactly the time for libertarians to draw their lines in the sand.

                Bill Clinton was a deficit hawk and even reluctant “the era of Big Government is over” Dem; Dubya’s “compassionate conservatism” was the last gasp of the Rockefeller Republican.  Pretty much they met in the middle, along w/Dubya’s daddy.

                Nothing much for a libertarian to be forced to pick sides about for 2 decades now.  One big soft statist mush.

                That the Koches are making their play in 2012, however, makes perfect sense to me.  If not now, never.  Or, more precisely, 2016 will be a damn bit too late.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to MFarmer says:

                Tom, what you’re saying, then, is that in order to make Cato a more effective libertarian think tank, we have to make it less libertarian? That makes perfect sense to me.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to MFarmer says:

                That’s zero of what I’m saying, “Chris.”

                I don’t give a good heckdamn what Cato becomes.  Mostly I think it’s become a clearinghouse for the Tower of Babel and leaning leftward. If I were a Koch, I’d make my play for reversing its leftward tilt or stop giving a dime to it.

                That’s my horserace call, that Cato is now so irrelevant in the American discourse and polity, that if it folds tomorrow few will even notice that it’s gone. Except the people who draw paychecks from it, of course, sorry about that, JK.

                Neither the left nor right trusts Cato anymore: it’s no longer America’s honest broker, and its internal “controversies” are boring as hell.  Oppose this creeping Obamaism or later Cato.

                If and when and once Obamaism wins in 2012, Cato will become its enemy.  Or its vassal…Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to MFarmer says:

                Tom, whether you realize it or not, that is precisely what you are doing. I will word it differently, so that you might be able to see it. You are suggesting that, in order to be more relevant, a libertarian think tank must become more partisan, which is to say more Republican, which is further to say, less libertarian. This makes as little sense to me as suggesting that, in order to be more relevant, Cato should have become more Democratic during the Bush administration. To do so would have meant to be less libertarian.

                Now, like you, I don’t care what happens to Cato internally (though I hope Jason is able to retain his job). I find libertarianism almost as abhorrent as I find conservatism, and I pay little attention to what’s going on at the think tanks of either group. However, I’m not sure your lack of interest, nor mine, has anything to do with the relevance of Cato. From what I can tell, Cato isn’t particularly interested in getting people elected. And I’m sure you’ll admit that getting people elected is not the only way in which a group can be politically effective in this country. If I’m not mistaken, Cato does a fair amount of work in the courts, and I suspect that they do some lobbying. Plus, whether you believe it or not, the federal level is not the only level at which policy decisions are made. Perhaps they do work at other levels of which you are not aware?

                Your comment comes off as that of a partisan hack who’s more than a little bit delusional about the nature of the current administration (it may look radically leftist to you, but from someone actually on the left, it looks like a milquetoast centrist version of the previous administration to me), and more than a little bit ignorant of what goes on at Cato and how it fulfills its mission. Maybe I’m wrong about your partisanship; maybe you were equally critical of the federal government when it was run by Republicans, though from what I’ve seen of you, I doubt it. I am pretty sure I’m not wrong about your ignorance of Cato, however.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to MFarmer says:

                Posit that your ultimate goal is “liberty through Republican hegemony.”

                Even so, I’d submit to you that you might want an independent Cato Institute, whose only goal is “liberty,” full stop.  If the Republicans ever screw up in the pursuit of your ultimate goal, they’re going to need a conscience.

                (For the record, I don’t know whether that’s really the goal of the Republican Party, and I’ve seen very little evidence that weighs in that direction.)Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to MFarmer says:

                Be a more effective libertarian! Vote for the party that gave us the Patriot Act, indefinite detentions, the second Iraq War, and oh so much more!Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to MFarmer says:

                Yeah, that was the problem I always had with Koz.

                When the Republicans had pretty decent majorities from 2002-2006, they acted the way that they had always complained that Democrats would act… except they lowered taxes instead of raising them. Meddling busybodies increasing the size and scope of the state, creating new entitlements, and there was no problem so small that the Federal Governement ought to have said “this is a case for the States”. At the same time, the Republican pundits (such as Rush) responded to any attack as if it came from the Left and any explicitly Right-wing complaint got the response of “do you know how much worse the Democrats would be?”

                The Republicans deserve to spend a lot more time in the wilderness. They won’t, because the electorate wants to throw bums out… but Koz was perfectly representative of how clueless the Republicans were when it came to why they weren’t trusted when they opened their mouths on topics that weren’t “we should bomb (country)”.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to MFarmer says:

                “But his entire post is based on Ed Crane’s proclamation of Koch’s intentions to drastically change CATO’s purpose and mission. I still haven’t seen where Koch has claimed this purpose and mission.”

                This. Or specifically, I suspect I’m closer ideologically to the Kochs than the independent-of-Kochs. But notwithstanding that, the one thing about this whole controversy I’m most confident about is that I find Ed Crane’s conduct deplorable. Short of Jeffrey Dahmer or something similarly horrendous, a think tank executive is simply _not at liberty_ to trash the donors in public. End of.

                “Charles and David Koch have generously supported Cato and its activities for many years now and we are very grateful for that. We also value Cato’s high reputation and believe in the independence of our scholarship. We hope to find an amicable resolution to this situation in the best interest of our shareholders, the staff, and continued work in the service of peace and liberty.”

                And let Jennifer Rubin and Dave Weigel or somebody try to sort out the backstory.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to MFarmer says:

                “Posit that your ultimate goal is “liberty through Republican hegemony.””

                Well, yeah. But that’s not an ultimate goal, it’s “incidence arose from circumstance.” In other words, that’s the only horse in town, that’s the horse I’m gonna ride.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer says:

                What bothers me most are the wild, unsubstantiated accusations of all sorts flung against the Koch brothers. It’s as if because they are billionaires on the Right, whatever claims are made against their character and behavior require no proof. So far, and I haven’t seen the proof of this either, but I’ll accept it as fact, the only claims that come close to being validated is that Koch recommended two socially conservative people to the board. Socially conservative is only bad, though, if the socially conservative person wants to use government power to enforce a set of morals. Otherwise, if they are simply using persuasion in a free market of ideas, and they lean libertarian economically, then I can see where their input might be welcomed at a Think Tank such as CATO. I’m not sure where the fear of social conservativism, per se, originates. I would likely disagree with a social conservative thinker on many issues, but on other issues we would probably find common ground. Social conservative doesn’t automatically equal fanatic on the religious right who wants to enforce dogma on everyone.Report

      • How about Cicero, friend of Cato the Younger?

        I think he was widely read by the kind of 18th century Whig and Radical thinkers invoked by Cato as in the Trenchard and Gordon Cato Letters.

        As it happens a Scipio the Youngers speak in Cicero’s Republic.  However, I think Scipio would be better for a Neo-Con institute, maybe the AEI should consider a rebranding.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Barry Stocker says:

          Cicero was a mighty orator.   Scipio Africanus is my man for the job, though.   Here is a man, confronted by the gift of a beautiful woman, who returned her to her betrothed.   Now, folks, that’s a romantic man, the very best sort of human being imaginable.

          Boy howdy.   I haven’t had the urge to make a big pile of money in a good long while.   I’ve made plenty of it, when my appetite was whetted, but this might motivate me most egregiously.    Now imagine some benefactor who funded an institute whose entire objective was to resurrect a new Classical Liberal perspective, freed up from the encrustations of Statism and the legacy of FDR.

          Its sole purpose would be to confound me.   I’d expect a daily refutation of all my positions, the best minds of the age on the payroll, furiously engaged in pushing me and my Liberal buds back from our ancient heresies.   Jeebus, makes me want to go back into grain futures, just to fund such an enterprise.Report

  15. Avatar hlm says:

    Charles Koch is really blundering about badly, doing damage and will get little in return. He is now more destructive than productive and engaging his  ego.


    IN regards to Murray Rothbard, I knew Murry fairly well, far too well to trust his account of anything.Report

  16. Avatar Steve Horwitz says:

    First, great work Jason.  Hang in there.  You guys are on the right side here and I think there will be more public support for Cato forthcoming.

    Second, HLM’s line about Rothbard above is the funniest thing I’ve read all day.  And it’s funny because it’s spot on correct.Report

  17. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    Too bad there isn’t a place in the free market for libertarian ideas.Report

    • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Liberty60 says:

      Are you being serious?

      I think that libertarianism, which has really only existed as a mainstream American movement since the Goldwater presidential candidacy in 1964 has been fabulously successful.     In the last 20 years, I think they have been stunningly successful at moving many of their ideas and wold view into the “permissible range” of political thought.

      So if you look at the “hands off” approach to regulating the internet, or the increasing acceptance of pornography and  marijuana, or essential faith in market mechanisms–these are all common points of view that would have been considered beyond the political pale as recently as 20 years ago.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Snarky McSnarksnark says:

        I was being snarky, Snarky.

        But there is a point- the free market has no place for a magazine about libertarian ideas. I will grant that the marketplace is pretty tough for any magazine of any sort but it is at least a tad ironic that without the generous funding of a tiny handful of very deep pockets, there would be no such thing as Cato or Reason.

        Maybe they should apply for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

        More snark.

        And I am not so sure about crediting the libertarians with the acceptance of pornography and dope; According to some well placed sources the liberal world is a hotbed of wild crazy sex and dope smoking. Plus we have drum circles.Report

        • Avatar Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Liberty60 says:

          Sorry… my snark detector must have been turned to “stun.”

          As for the growing acceptance / tolerance of port & dope — liberals were always more easy-going about these, but if you’ve lived through the Nixon and Meese administrations, there was always a dominant strain of conservatism that wanted to ban those those things.    Now, that strain is marginal enough that a different conversation becomes possible.    And I give the libertarian movement some of the credit for that…

          In the future, could you please any snark or dry humor in a lavender font?  That way, I’ll snicker knowingly, instead of cluelessly debating.Report

  18. Avatar losantiville says:

    Stop calling it neoconservatism.  It’s just the foreign policy of the conservative movement.  Too bad about Cato.  But Cato has had libertarian slippage in recent years.  Your advocacy of licensure (of marriage) is completely inconsistent with libertarian principles of no licensure ever.  And your pacifism is inconsistent with the rights of people to travel freely around the world heavily armed and blow away anyone who attacks them.  Sure, it’s wrong for governments to send armed men abroad but private forces  voluntarily paid or financed via the conversion of government “property” into private property, is perfectly permissible under the non-aggression axiom.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to losantiville says:

      Stop calling it neoconservatism.  It’s just the foreign policy of the conservative movement.  Too bad about Cato.

      There’s some merit to this.  But Ron Paul is a conservative and anti-war.  It used to be there were quite a few of them.  I like to use the term “neoconservative” to nettle today’s conservatives and to remind them of how conservatism used to mean a cautious foreign policy, too.

      Possibly it’s a lost cause, but that objection has never counted much for me.

      And your pacifism is inconsistent with the rights of people to travel freely around the world heavily armed and blow away anyone who attacks them.

      It’s not the responsibility of the United States to govern the rest of the world.  If the rest of the world is governed badly (and, yes, it is), I’m sorry about it.  I wish them well and I hope they improve.  We are a rich country, but not rich enough to foot the bill for every bit of security the rest of the world might require.

      If private armies were financed voluntarily and sent abroad of their own volition, that would indeed be permissible under our Constitution, with Congress’s approval.  (It’s a little-used power, but it’s in there.)  We haven’t done this in a long while.  I’m not sure it’s worth the risks, as I fear we could find ourselves drawn in to many, many more wars that way.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        “If private armies were financed voluntarily and sent abroad of their own volition, that would indeed be permissible under our Constitution, with Congress’s approval.”

        I’m not seeing how “it’s only knowledge and approval, not actual United States government forces” is going to much ice with the people who consider American activity in foreign countries sufficient cause to fly planes into buildings.

        “It’s not the responsibility of the United States to govern the rest of the world.”

        I like to use that argument when the police come by to tell me that the neighbors are complaining about the noise and the strong skunky smell in the air.  I tell them that it’s not my neighbors’ responsibility to govern what happens in my house and if they don’t like it they can just deal.  Hasn’t actually kept me from getting cited yet but I keep trying because I consider it my duty to educate the world in the implications of libertarian social theory.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        if, he says….


        oh, not with congressional approval…Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Heh.  Thus spake Thomas Jefferson before he got elected to the presidency and found out national security needs extended just a bit farther than his own borders.   In those days, churches used to take up special collections to ransom American sailors from the Ottoman pirates.

        Somali pirates endanger American trade and Iran’s missiles and gunboats threaten our oil supply.

        Wish them well, eh?   I’ve spent more time outside the States than in them and I find your notions of security a bit simplistic.   But hey, you’re in great company with one of the wisest Americans who ever lived — right up until reality came a-knockin’ on his door.Report

  19. Avatar gtplanet says:

    Jason — and lots of people leaving comments — this is great stuff. Thanks.

    I worked at Cato for two or three years right out of college, back when we were all crammed into a townhouse on Second St. It was a heady experience, even though I was a grunt. The seriousness of intellectual purpose impresses me to this day, and a big part of it was the independence of thought that was everpresent.

    Then, Cato was a scrappy place with a $2M budget, half supplied by Charles Koch. Today, it’s an institution with a large, diverse base of funding. One thing is the same, though: It’s not a mouthpiece for anybody, and it has an admirable, consistent disdain for elected officials.

    How can anyone be partisan when Republicans (in the Bush era) argue for big healthcare subsidies and wiretapping, then in the Obama era watch Democrats argue the same thing? It’s clear that parties have no philosophies, only interests.

    Anyway, if Cato were to break off into some new group, I’m sure I’d cancel my small annual contribution, and I’m equally sure I’d start giving to the new place. I’m confident a lot of other folks would too.



  20. Avatar CB says:

    Agreed, Cato has BECOME an independent organization. It was not alway so however. Its reputation as Koch controlled lingered from the days when it was Koch controlled, and now we are discovering how that was literally the case. I wonder if Crane now has regrets about going along with the Rothbard ouster? Without the Koch money, Cato might have taken longer to achieve influence but at least it would clearly be their own.Report

  21. This “Charles wants to turn Cato over to the neocons” meme has one big problem: why would Charles nominate Judge Andrew Napolitano to the board if that was his goal? Not one of the Crane Machine loyalists mentions this inconvenient fact, but there it is. In his answer to Crane’s accusations, Charles said that he supports the goals of Cato, and he specifically mentions both “peace” and “civil liberties.” He goes on to say, however, that the “personal preferences” of the officers and board members is the problem. What do you suppose these “personal preferences” are all about — and just how personal are they?Report

  22. I meant that you don’t connect the Napolitano appointment to the “neoconservative” charge. Yes, Charles wanted to appointed Hinderaker, but they ALSO wanted Napolitano on the board. The Judge is hardly a neocon: he is vehemently anti-interventionist. So doesn’t this undermine the “it’s a neocon takeover” narrative?

    The truth is we don’t know what the real issues are, we don’t know what precipitated the dispute, and we can’t trust the Crane loyalists to tell the truth about it. But I’m still wondering what Charles was referring to insofar as those “personal preferences” are concerned.



  23. Avatar Bob Clark says:

    Writing as a non-Koch-controlled Cato supporter, I think Jason is right that the money will follow the ideas. If the Kochs make Cato a socially conservative platform, then the non-Koch money will travel, not vaporize. It will go to the Ludwig von Mises Institute, or to whatever DC-based libertarian outfit succeeds Cato (probably started by Crane/Boaz, but without granting control to one donor). The people who give money to these causes are not so stupid as academics and policy experts like to imagine! If I want to fund libertarian causes, it isn’t because I don’t know what I believe! The idea that I, or any libertarian-minded hedge fund manager, would fund some institute out of inertia independent of its performance is laughable.

    Separately, why is everyone at Cato so convinced that the Kochs want to pursue a social conservative or non-libertarian path? It’s been said that David Koch said as much in private, but I find this argument unconvincing. My cursory reading indicated that Charles Koch self-describes as a libertarian and cites his intellectual foundations in Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard. It’s clear at this point that he desires to change strategy and tactics at Cato, but why is everyone so convinced that he isn’t aiming to make it a more pugnacious, results-oriented libertarian outfit? These questions in no way mean that I don’t support Ed Crane or realize that he created and built Cato (with Koch money and help from others). But I’m unconvinced that Charles Koch is some neocon. I have not known billionaires who fund political causes to be coy about telling us exactly what they believe (eg Soros, Trump, Gates, Buffett, Bloomberg), so I’m inclined to take Charles Koch at his word until it is shown otherwise.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Bob Clark says:

      I think we have good reason to be fearful of a results-oriented approach, given the current political lineup.

      How do you measure results?  By having certain candidates win elections?  That’s the only really objective metric I can think of.  But if so, then should we have been cheering for George W. Bush?

      In the coming election, is Obama preferable, or would we rather elect the guy who invented Obamacare — and who wants to attack Iran?

      Our results belong in the world of ideas, at least for now.  We’re gaining traction there, it’s very fair to say.  Now is not the time, however, to attach to one party or another.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        In the coming election, is Obama preferable, or would we rather elect the guy who invented Obamacare — and who wants to attack Iran?

        And as far as the Republican primary goes, that’s the best case scenario.  The other feasible possibility is a man who is effectively maximally hostile to libertarianism.

        I hope this all works out for you Jason, it would be a great shame to see Cato drift conservative.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        “Our results belong in the world of ideas, at least for now. We’re gaining traction there, it’s very fair to say. Now is not the time, however, to attach to one party or another.”

        That’s fine for CATO, and you haven’t said this, but I want to make it clear that neither the Koch brothers nor CATO speak for libertarians. I, as one libertarian, will do everything possible to see that Obama is not elected. Liberals can spin all they like, but any Republican except Santorum would be better than Obama. And, in a real sense, this is not about Obama or Romney, but about the role of government going forward, and although the GOP has a long way to go to get to limited government, they are far ahead of Democratic/progressive statism. The Democratic Party has no one like Rand Paul, Ron Paul, Paul Ryan (not libertarian but is for limits on gov power) and the few real limited government conservatives. I don’t see how any libertarian of any stripe could be okay with Obama serving another 4 years, even if they hate the Republican choices. The only honest think to do would be to vote for Gary Johnson. When a self-described libertarian says that the Republicans regrettably suck, so they’ll have to support Obama, I call bullshit on that libertarian and say the person is no libertarian at all.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to MFarmer says:

          And I sincerely prefer to talk about issues and ideas, not candidates.  Let the chips fall where they may.

          There’s a strong case to be made, incidentally, that re-electing Obama with a Republican-controlled Congress could be a pretty good outcome.  I’m not going to make that case now, but you know politics well enough to know that it exists.Report

          • Avatar Koz in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Well yes there is a case to be made, that doesn’t necessarily make it a strong one. But IIRC, strong or weak it’s not your true rejection anyway.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Jason, yes, if Obama wins, if’s best for republicans to control congress, but I don’t see how that would be better than having a decent Republican president too. All the candidates are flawed, always have been, always will be. I think the public should put pressure on changing the statist system to a limited government, and quit obsessing over Great Presidents. Statism has failed miserably, and we are facing 70-80 trillion in unfunded liabilities. Something has to be done, and the Democratic Party is just not willing to cut anything or give up an power– hell, they want to expand power and spending — it’s insane.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to MFarmer says:

          Now you’re just being a prat.

          My bad. that’s your candidate.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to MFarmer says:


          Let’s assume 6 issues on which two hypothetical libertarians agree.

          1. Opposition to U.S. military belligerence.
          2. Opposition to the expansion of unilateral executive authority.
          3. Opposition to the erosion of civil liberties.
          4. Opposition to new regulations of the financial industry.
          5. Opposition to PPACA.
          6. Opposition to government funding of green energy companies.

          However libertarian A ranks issues 1, 2 & 3 as his greatest concerns, while libertarian B ranks 4, 5 & 6 as his greatest concerns. Each expects to be unhappy with either a Democratic or a Republican president (and for the sake of argument, let’s say neither wants to “waste” their vote on the Libertarian Party candidate), but A expects to be less unhappy with a Democrat, whereas B expects to be less unhappy with a Republican.

          Not only do preferences on the issues matter, but so does intensity of preference on particular issues. So each of us as libertarians can’t expect that each other libertarian will share our candidate preference, because they won’t necessarily share our intensities on particular issues.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

            So, as an outsider, obviously I have to assume I don’t really know what I’m talking about here.  But just looking at it from that vantage point, I have to say this

            When a self-described libertarian says that the Republicans regrettably suck, so they’ll have to support Obama, I call bullshit on that libertarian and say the person is no libertarian at all.

            struck me as a remarkable kind of a gauntlet to throw down given that there really aren’t any great choices for you guys.  Losers, or candidates anathema to one or more of your core values.  For one libertarian to say to another in that situation that he’s basically a poser if he makes a particular choice from among those no-win options is… pretty damn ballsy.Report

            • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Michael Drew says:

              Michael, I’m ballsy like that, because I think the issues are that important. I’m old, and I’ve never seen it this bad. I think about my grand kid and I don’t see a future for her if we keep going in this direction — we know that the wars are killing us, that the military industrial complex spends without oversight, that congress spends without any consideration of the future, that the Fed grows in power, that the public is becoming more dependent on government, that our education system is getting worse and we’re not prepared for the global market, that we need energy — I could on and on. We need serious changes. Obama is absolutely the worst President possible for this time and crisis.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer says:

                What I meant is the Democratic Party and their form of statism are killing us. Obama just represents all that. It’s not about Obama personally, but what he represents.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to MFarmer says:

                I have no reason to believe that Republican statism will be any improvement whatsoever.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jaybird, of course Republican statism is no better, but the point is which party is even talking about opposition to statism — there are a handful in the GOP who are working for change — there’s no one in the Democratic Party — they want to expand the statist over-reach.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to MFarmer says:

                Take the labels off Obama and his policies and he looks like a moderate Republican of yore to me.   Confronted with reality back in those hot summer days of 2008, ol’ Hank Paulson, he of the Free Market and all that bullshit, was obliged to behave like an FDR Liberal.

                Yes, Liberal philosophy has a well-understood bias toward facts.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise, I don’t care if you call Obama a moderate — I’m not putting the socialist label on him, and this facile depiction of his moderate stances is silly. Obama is a statist through and through. In his speeches he talks about governmnet solving all problems. He has no concept of private sector empowerment and a truly free market. Statism is bad enough, no, I don’t have to make him a socialist. I don’t know why liberals can’t get this through their heads — it’s the statism, stupid.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to MFarmer says:

                C’mon, we’re both sick of the Statists.   I mean it:  Obama looks like a moderate Republican.   Obromneycare.   Gitmo.  Closed-door meetings with Big Healthco in violation of his campaign promises.    What makes him one whit different than the Republicans?Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to MFarmer says:

                The Republicans are trying to attrit expenditures from the Federal Treasury.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to MFarmer says:

                Holy cow, Mike. In that whole list I don’t think I see but one issue where Republicans might be better than Dems (dependency), and a shiteload where I think the Republicans would be much worse (wars, military-industrial complex, preparing for global markets, energy).Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to James Hanley says:

                I’m talking about statism, James, and I realize that Republicans have been as bad as Democrats, but in the last 3 to 4 years, Republicans are the only ones even making an attempt to roll back the statist advancements. I’m concerned with which party, right now, is better on liberty, non-intervention, limits and a free marketReport

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to MFarmer says:

                The GOP has done no such thing.    They’ve clung to their subsidies, playing chicken with the budget, clinging to their little perks, gumming up the gears of government, their only objective is to remove Obama, they’re more statist than the Democrats, that much is perfectly obvious.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise, can you do more than double down with force on unfounded accusations? There is a faction of republicans who want to limit government and establish a free market — they are real, they exist — they breathe and fart and dance. Now come back with — “Listen here, Farmer, I know what I’m talking about. I was once a Republican in the House and I heard their secret meetings. Then I was a Senator and sat in on the their secret meetings, right before I was the Chairman of the GOP and a spy for Germany, so don’t tell me about Republicans. I have coffee with a group of Republicans, and I teach them Foucalt and how to milk a goat. Keep a civil tongue in that head or I’ll have to tell you a story about a tribe of Pakistanis I once took over the mountains to escape the wrath of a war lord running drugs for the Russian mafia.”Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Keep a civil tongue in your head, Farmer.   Has the GOP done anything about subsidies?  No.   Has it played chicken with the budget?   Yes.   Has it refused to appoint judges and regulators who might do something about fraud?  Yes.   Did the RNC run a private comm net for Bush43 in violation of the Presidential Records Act?  Yes.   Did they increase the size of government?  Yes.

                Statists all.

                In short, the GOP has pushed the envelope of legality at every turn, viewing elections as a mandate to grab as much power as possible, lying to the people, lying to other government agencies, lying to other nations.   That it should now lie to itself about how it’s going to give us back Small Government, Farmer, I used to vote Republican.   I voted for Reagan.   I voted for Bush the Wiser.   I realized I was being taken for a ride:  they said one thing and did another.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to BlaiseP says:

                There is a faction of republicans who want to limit government and establish a free market…

                Sorry, this commanded my attention.

                Name one. Name one who has done anything more than magically invoke the words “free market, inshallah“.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:


                your mistake is believing that the republicans have factions.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to MFarmer says:


                Obviously, I have no issue with that being your view of things. (Though you have to see that saying things like, “Obama is absolutely the worst President possible for this time and crisis” can be kind of hard for an observer to make track with ” It’s not about Obama personally, but what he represents.”  One has to suspect that your initial, less considered statement represents how you feel to a significant degree, which obviously doesn’t mean you don’t also believe the version given after further reflection.) That’s all your prerogative.

                The issue is whether you should really say that no one can legitimately be a libertarian without agreeing with you.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Michael Drew says:

                It’s a matter of agreeing with certain libertarian principles, not necessarily with me. If I didn’t exist, the problem would be the same.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                …And like I say, I’m on the outside looking in.  I’m not pronouncing on it – just remarking.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer in reply to James Hanley says:

            However, Obama has failed on practically all these issues. I was talking about Obama, not a hypothetical situation — I agree with the hypothetical though — I wish that was the choiceReport

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to MFarmer says:


              Of course Obama’s failed on all these issues, that’s the basic assumption of my argument.  The point is that it still doesn’t require a libertarian to support him over a Republican, depending on how the libertarian weights those particular issues.  E.g., I think the money spent on green companies is stupid, but not a real threat to liberty, so I don’t weight it very heavily. The increase in unechecked presidential power and the increasing use of the military to intervene in other countries (see John McCain–today–arguing for bombing in Syria) are very heavily weighted in my accounting.  I fully expect almost any Republican who could actually win the nomination this time or next to be significantly worse than even Obama has been, with the possible exception of Romney.

              So a libertarian could prefer Obama to any Republican without being  any less a libertarian.  And the only person who could reasonably argue with that would be a person so self-centered that they think only their weighting of policy preferences is legitimately libertarian.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                This is interesting, because it’s in the areas where I think we overlap that I’m least happy with Obama:

                • Guantanamo is still open
                • Extraordinary rendition is, as far as I can tell, as common as ever
                • The Libyan adventure didn’t even have the fig leaf of Congressional approval
                • The drug war, including the Federal attack on medical marijuana, is in full force

                Not that any Republican who could possibly be nominated would be any better, of course.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to James Hanley says:

                ” I fully expect almost any Republican who could actually win the nomination this time or next to be significantly worse than even Obama has been, with the possible exception of Romney.”

                I don’t think this is true. I believe the Republican Party as a whole is weary of war and wants the country back to peace, relative stability and economic growth. I think Obama has more incentive to create these “wars” to divert attention from his policies — especially as Obamacare comes down on us like a brick.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer says:

                Also, Holder was justifying today the President’s ability to decide by himself if an American citizen meets the criteria to be killed as an enemy combatant — the President alone can decide. No, I don’t think it’s just a matter of priorities — it’s a matter of principles.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to MFarmer says:

                Do you think Mitt Romney disagrees?  Aside from Ron Paul, is anyone now running for the Republican nomination opposed to this policy?  (No, it doesn’t count if they only oppose it because they’d prefer to be doing it on U.S. soil too.)

                This right here is a perfect example of why I just say a pox on both their houses.  Things need to change in a bigger way than just picking the one or the other.


              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Yes, I think Mitt Romney disagrees. I would agree that pox on both houses is the best response, but the stakes are too high to not decide on the lesser of two evils. I hate it as badly as you, but I think we’re at a critical point, and we have to pressure one party to roll it back, and I sincerely think the best bet right now is the GOP.Report

              • Avatar Jeff in reply to MFarmer says:

                Also, Holder was justifying today the President’s ability to decide by himself if an American citizen meets the criteria to be killed as an enemy combatant — the President alone can decide. No, I don’t think it’s just a matter of priorities — it’s a matter of principles.

                I heard that speech and it left me floored.  I totally disagree that the President, whoever he or she is, should be able to kill an American citizen without SOME oversight.  (Some have argued that al-Awlaki ceased being a US citizen when he took up arms against it — but I think that a court, even if it’s as opaque as FISA, should decide that.)

                HOWEVER, Obama has miles to go to beat the “statism” of the previous administration.  “The Decider” used “signing statement” to get around the will of Congress.  “The Decider” fed false information to Congress and the UN.  “The Decider” used FISA as a rubber stamp to get what he wanted.

                Moreover, this kind of BS is what’s hurting Obama with his base.  But even a mild rebuke of our previous President was enough to be called “Traitor”.

                In short, you are full of it — grasping at ANY straw to avoid the realization that the Democrats are the good guys (though not saints — we leave it to the Republicans to beatify their heroes) and the Republicans are slime.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to Jeff says:

                “I heard that speech and it left me floored. I totally disagree that the President, whoever he or she is, should be able to kill an American citizen without SOME oversight.”

                What’s worse is that from my understanding there’s no prima facie justification for it. American service people have the ability, depending on ROE, to target Americans if they are acting as hostiles in a legitimate theater of operations (or even unavoidable collateral damage for that matter).

                The idea that we can issue pre-meditated death warrants against Americans who may or may not be hostile is horrible for many reasons.

                Luckily for left-libertarians, SWPL race/class solidarity will keep them from doing anything effective to removing President Obama from office.Report

          • Avatar Jeff in reply to James Hanley says:

            I’m in favor of 1, 2, and 3; and those are the major areas Obama has slipped, in my opinion.

            I see the libertarian point on 4, 5 and 6, but the consequences of 4 and 5 are too much to conceed.Report

          • Avatar Gruntled in reply to James Hanley says:

            1. Opposition to U.S. military belligerence.
            If this is your primary point, what are you doing anywhere near the Republicans?

            2. Opposition to the expansion of unilateral executive authority.
            I’d be interested in hearing someone define what they mean by this.

            3. Opposition to the erosion of civil liberties.
            If that’s your primary point, you REALLY ought to be voting with the Democrats against the nonsense going on in Republican strongholds these days. Maybe even you should be advocating for the changing of districting entirely, to remove it from the hands of legislatures. But I’ve yet to see a paper from libertarians to that effect.

            4. Opposition to new regulations of the financial industry.
            After the damage the removal of regulations of the past 15 years has caused, we call this “going for broke”, literally.

            5. Opposition to PPACA.
            Here’s where Libertarians look downright silly. The way the US is set up right now, you’ve got 3 options for healthcare. You can pray you get into Medicaid/Medicare, you can find an employer who carries health insurance for employees, or you can try to pay for it yourself.

            Now, which one gives you greatest liberty? The coupling of health insurance to employers isn’t it, especially with all the PEC garbage and other restrictions put on anyone who changes jobs. Trying to get self-insured if you have any sort of PEC just isn’t going to happen; trying to get self-insured while starting your own business is likewise just about impossible. I know, because I lived it for 5 years.

            With the way medical costs are structured today, “pay it yourself” is only for the filthy rich.

            So where does that leave us? Ironically, the option that gives the MOST liberty to the MOST people is… single-payer. Which isn’t what PPACA is, but it’s a damn good first step.

            6. Opposition to government funding of green energy companies.
            Now this one’s just dishonest.
            The FedGov subsidizes trucking industry against rail, to the tune of billions in the interstate highway system.
            The FedGov subsidizes the everloving daylights out of the coal, oil, and natgas industries.
            The FedGov subsidizes the everloving daylights out of the corn producers.

            So if you want to say you oppose government funding of “green energy” companies producing energy from solar, wind, geothermal or hydroelectric, and yet you fail to realize how much all their competition is being subsidized and how many tax breaks handed to them, then you’re just plain being naive. Because compared to the money we waste on oil * natgas subsidies, the subsidies to clean energy are a drop in the bucket.


            • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Gruntled says:

              Excellent analysis.

              I just want to emphasize one point you make which is that liberty needs empowerment. Without the power to act, liberty is just hypothetical.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Gruntled says:

              bear in mind you pulled this liberal’s answers…
              2) pretty much giving the NSA anything at all. Or how about prosecuting people without evidence?

              4) If the SEC would actually enforce current regulations, well, I’d be investing right now…Report

            • Avatar Bob Clark in reply to Gruntled says:

              Gruntled – two points where I think you’ve got it wrong.

              One, 15yrs of financial “deregulation” did not cause the financial crisis. Assuming we’d agree that it’s pointless to rant about human greed, the causes of the financial crisis were overwhelmingly due to regulation, not deregulation or unfettered capitalism. The fundamental excesses were the bubble in house prices and the excessive debts, primarily in housing but to a lesser extent in corporate and consumer debt. Why was there a housing bubble? Because housing is subsidized, in particular via subsidized mortgage debt (both the mispricing of default risk via the GSEs and the tax deductibility of interest). Why was credit easy and debt levels high and lending standards low? Because we cartelized the savings of the nation into a central-bank-backed banking system, subsidized short-term interest rates via the central bank policy, and thereby subsidized excess credit creation. Certainly the external savings flow into the US lowered long-term interest rates and played a role, but big picture the deep problems of the financial crisis have as their necessary preconditions the govt intervention in the financial system and tinkering with the borrowing and lending choices of our fellow citizens. The policy error at fault came way before Clinton/Bush enacted the deregulation that you mistakenly see at the cause of the crisis.

              Two, the idea that PPACA is a good step towards single-payer is a false hope. PPACA empowers the private health insurance companies, a Faustian bargain in which they supported the bill in exchange for a policy compromise that served to entrench and grow their profits. Ask Pelosi if Rahm Emanuel killed the public option at the behest of the insurance lobby – it was DOA before the bill was even drafted because Rahm thought the lesson of HillaryCare was that you have to have the insurance lobby on your side to pass big healthcare reform. Now we will have private health insurers competing to deter unprofitable (ie sick) patients from buying policies from their company. I await with sadness the coming stories of how health insurers aim to serve some customers so poorly that they leave for other companies. It will be a tragedy. With PPACA, we have ossified our health system into one where the market is dominated by health insurers buying health services for their customers, so the marginal cost is not borne by the customers, hence chronic overconsumption. And we have a tax preference (and now mandate) for employers to buy health insurance with pretax money, hence no individual market. One could hardly imagine a better way to distort and prevent a market from functioning. Single-payer, the complete surrender of health care to politics, would probably be better than this mixed-capitalism monstrosity. PPACA may pass for “market-based reform” in the minds of some daft progressives, but really it is a “market” only a devout Marxist could love.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Bob Clark says:

                Bob, regarding your first point, your conclusion doesn’t follow from your evidence.

                You are saying that since there was market distortion and regulation even after the repeal of Glass-Stegall, then lack of regulation couldn’t account for the crash.

                This is unjustified. No one is saying that the crash happened because there were no regulations of any kind; only that the lack of effective controls led to runaway speculation.

                Completely undistorted markets are a myth, as they have never existed. So comparing anything to such a unicorn is silly. What you can compare is “less-regulated” versus “more regulated”; or you can compare “this set of distortions” versus “that set of distortions”.Report

              • Avatar Bob Clark in reply to Liberty60 says:

                I tried to respond to this but it ended up way down below.Report

        • Avatar Koz in reply to MFarmer says:

          “I, as one libertarian, will do everything possible to see that Obama is not elected. Liberals can spin all they like, but any Republican except Santorum would be better than Obama.”

          Or including Santorum for that matter.

          But Koch v Cato may only be tangentially about this anyway. There’s probably intra-Cato personality conflicts that are at least as important.

          What I suspect is, the most interesting angle will be the actual value of the liberaltarian impulse in the context of American political culture. I suspect it won’t be much but in any event it’s gotta be time to put up or shut up.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Koz says:

            “the most interesting angle will be the actual value of the liberaltarian impulse in the context of American political culture.”

            It depends on whether modern liberals follow Steve Lerner and the OWS “founders” — I heard a tape of one of their discussions and they intend to destroy capitalism. One was talking about occupying homes and not trying to work out mortgages or any of those capitalist values — they have a new set of values — take the frigging house. Lerner said that at certain times and places, they would have to play the game, but they didn’t have to wait around for capitalism to wither — they can actively destroy it. They said Democracy and Capitalism cannot exist, and they made it clear they are not talking about crony capitalism or state capitalism, that they mean capitalism period — it’s values are no longer the values of the Left.

            If modern liberals don’t do something to distinguish themselves from this form of Leftism, they have problems. Modern liberals have basically supported Lerner and OWS, and some tried to tie it into libertarianism (Wilkinson spoke favorably of the movement) — this will destroy liberalism and libertarianism if it grows in popularity and this is the fusion. Without economic freedom, there are no freedoms. These people on the Left want to use force to destroy capitalism and capitalists — you can’t dismiss them as crazies — they are the heart of the movement.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to MFarmer says:

              That’s sorta wrong.  Modern Liberals are as extinct as the plesiosaurs.   These OWSers are hardly the harbinger of some vast anti-capitalist conspiracy any more than the poor deluded Tea Partiers, yammering about things they know naught of nor have they even stopped to consider the consequences of what they’re demanding.


              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                The discussion in the tape says otherwise. You can deny it, but it’s what they are saying, and their actions are consistent with their words. However, I would rather leave this as it is — I’m not going to argue the point, just report what I’ve heard them say,Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer says:

                Furthermore, the point is basically about direction — are modern liberals going to continue in the direction of statism or will they realize that statism has failed and return to their classical liberal roots?

                The goals are basically the same between someone like myself and the average modern liberal — I would just use different means to accomplish the goals. I want people who suffer in poverty to have a chance, and if they are incapable of helping themselves, I want private assistance to be there for them. I want clean air and water, but I believe that private forces can help assure a healthy enviornment better than politically motivated government officials who oversee government pollution worse than anything coming from the private sector. I think if we go in the direction of limits on gov power and a free market, then the default solution isn’t government and we begin finding innovative solutions.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to MFarmer says:

                Well, sure.   Yesterday’s solutions aren’t going to work.   Gandhi says change starts with us and I’m the only person I can change.   I’m sick of the old Modern Liberal nostrums, they aren’t modern, they’re not scientific, they’ve largely failed.   Something has to give here.  I’m the one doing the changing.

                But I don’t think I’m alone in this.   Private discussions with other self-described Liberals have revealed a fundamental dissatisfaction with the default positions we’ve held to all these years.   Long ago, I predicted the downfall of the USSR based on the failure of their top-down model to cope with change.  Any time I see a black market in anything, it represents a systemic failure.

                So where do I go?   Back to Conservative positions?   Not a chance in hell, Farmer.  They’re even more deluded than the Liberals.   Your OWS tape reveals some plot to destroy capitalism, jeebus chrispus, didn’t 2008 expose these Conservatives for the idiots they are?   They damned near DID destroy capitalism.  They came so close it wasn’t even funny.   The only solutions applied forgave all that Moral Hazard hooey the Conservatives had been gabbling on about for all those years.   Confronted with reality, they caved.    All those supposed Regulatory Mechanisms repealed by the swashbuckling Free Marketeers had been written in blood.   History doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes.

                All this nonsense about private solutions to fundamentally public problems is a non-starter.   I can no longer find the edge separating the regulators from the regulated.   Conservatism has failed.   It’s no longer Conservative, as Liberals are no longer liberal.

                The Libertarians have some interesting statements about the proper role of government.   Their positions are woefully incomplete, but they’re a good start.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I haven’t seen the video.  Destroying capitalism isn’t going to be a very popular position in the United States, and anyway, these certainly aren’t the people that the liberaltarian movement proposed to talk to.

                Is it worth talking to the mainstream left?  I think so, even today.   The mainstream left and mainstream right are for me the persuadable center, the ones who are most likely to view market institutions as a plausible strategy for tackling really difficult problems.

                As a side note, I’m staying out of the which-candidate-is-better debate.  Not that it’s a pointless or useless debate.  Far from it.  But my goal, and I think the Cato Institute’s goal, is not to support one party or the other.  It’s to put ideas forward in the hopes of persuading both candidates and voters.

                If you really, really, really want my opinion, I’m rooting for divided government.  I’ll take it in whatever way it comes.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Capitalism is great.   Market solutions, well, I’ve been performing my Symphony for Cymbals ad nauseam hereabouts, saying regulation must vary with risk, winners must be separated from losers, buys must equal sells, shysters dealing in trillions of dollars in over the counter instruments must be forced into proper exchanges and the like.   I never seem to get much opposition to it but I don’t see much which might agree with these positions from the Libertarians, their doctrines of Force and particularly Fraud notwithstanding.

                That’s what a Liberaltarian wants to hear.   Markets alone are not the solution.   Regulators are absolutely required, else we have no market.   The Conservatives have destroyed sound regulation wherever they can and the Libertarians have said nothing.   Well, that’s a slightly unfair and exceedingly existential statement, in space nobody can hear you scream and I’ve never heard a Libertarian of any sort complain about anything but regulation.

                The Libertarians have made no outreach to the Left.   None I can see.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Jason, I think you underestimate how anti-capitalist even the “mainstream” Left has become. Basically Obama has said that capitalism has failed — that the New Deal had to save America and now he, Obama, has to save America from a second failure of capitalism. The point is that OWS is accepted by many liberals as legitimate, when liberals should reject the movement and embrace capitalism.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Destroying capitalism is very popular among intellectuals, and this is a problem for future generations — you say CATO is about ideas and long term change — well, the Left’s ideas about capitalism need to be answered unequivocably by libertarians who should understand the virtues of capitalism — true capitalism, free market capitalism. Otherwise, the Left’s ideas will continue to inflitrate society until capitalism is despised by everyone and the State has total control of everything.

                 I know, I know, it can never happen in Amurica.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                It’s patently obvious capitalism under the GOP has not worked.   They blew up the markets with their idiotic deregulation.   They remain supremely unrepentant and you seem to feel this is the party which might lead us back to prosperity?   These Free Marketeers don’t understand markets.   They sound like the old Marxists — oh well, if only it had been properly applied, it might have worked.   Nonsense.

                It’s never worked.   As long as there have been markets there have been regulators.   Markets don’t regulate themselves.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Destroying capitalism is the province of the GOP and its gang of false prophets.   They actually did it.   Forget those unwashed, scruffy idealists of OWS,  trillions of market cap simply blew off into space under the GOP’s wise leadership.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Goodbye, Blaise, you’re just being silly now. I can tell when you’ve lost an argument, you start making shit up and insisting it’s true.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                (cruel laughter)  It is the sovereign hallmark of the loser, online, that he resorts to ad hom when he’s run out of facts for his line of rhetoric.   The GOP fished up this economy so badly the banks couldn’t even lend to each other.  IBM and McDonald’s were lined up at the discount window to get cash to make payroll.

                The GOP is the greatest enemy of capitalism since Stalin.Report

            • Avatar Koz in reply to MFarmer says:

              “If modern liberals don’t do something to distinguish themselves from this form of Leftism, they have problems.”

              Actually, I don’t think it has much to do with the liberals at all. It’s about the left-Libertarians and mostly apolitical people with vaguely libertarian impulses. They talk a good game, but when you scratch at the facade there’s no there there, just SWPL race/class solidarity, the worst of reasons imo.Report

  24. Avatar Mario says:

    I’m sorry to say that my first feeling was also vindication for much the same reason as you had. I’m following very closely and this suit makes me very sad.

    Thanks for your honest post.Report

  25. Avatar Gruntled says:

    I find two things interesting.

    The first is how many of your colleagues’ public announcements, and your own, boil down to “what the hell do the Kochs want that they weren’t already getting?” That seems to be the Crane view, the Levy view, and the Harper view.

    The second is how many writers, yourself included, have bent over backwards to describe the Kochs’ organization, “Americans for Prosperity”, as a “grass roots” organization. Such a description stretches the meaning of the term to worthlessness – sort of like describing Wal-Mart as a “family business.”

    AFP is astroturf, which ought rightly be renamed Americans For Corporatocracy. And the main question is, except for personal loathing of the Kochs, why you guys are even resisting. After all, to the Libertarian mindset, isn’t the inevitable devolution to corporatocracy a “feature of liberty” and not a bug?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Gruntled says:

      The first is how many of your colleagues’ public announcements, and your own, boil down to “what the hell do the Kochs want that they weren’t already getting?”

      If so, then I’d just redirect you to the first three paragraphs of my essay.  Or I’ll answer your question right here:  They did not have institutional control of Cato.  But they want it.

      Why am I resisting?  Because there are meaningful ideological differences at stake.  Differences I care intensely about.  I find the nominations of John Hinderaker and Tony Woodlief to the Cato board to signal a worrying trend toward neoconservatism and even anti-libertarianism.

      I don’t like that one bit.

      The characterization of AFP is something I quoted but did not necessarily endorse.  I don’t really care to issue any clarification there.  I’m not interested in them one way or the other.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Gruntled says:

      After all, to the Libertarian mindset, isn’t the inevitable devolution to corporatocracy a “feature of liberty” and not a bug?

      No.  Is inevitable devolution to Stalinism a feature of leftism and not a bug?Report

  26. Jason: Just wanted to make sure you got my e-mail on this.Report

  27. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    So if I take government money then I have to do everything the government says exactly how they say it.

    But if I take a private citizen’s money then I can do whatever the hell I want and they can’t say a damn thing because they knew what they were getting when they paid me.

    And this is the pro-freedom, pro-market viewpoint.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to DensityDuck says:

      It all depends how the contract is written, Mr. Duck.  If the contract says “I will give you $X and will not tell you what to say,” then that’s very much a pro-freedom, pro-market view.  If the donor comes to realize s/he don’t like what’s being written, s/he can choose not to re-up the contract.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to James Hanley says:

        Two relevant facts.

        First, we don’t have an endowment.  We budget year-to-year.

        Second, last year they didn’t give us any money.

        Just sayin’.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


          Perhaps I should have said “implied” contract, or “absence of contractual stipulation of editorial control.”  Clearly free-market friendly, of course.

          But…no endowment?  That seems odd.  Do you happen to know if there’s a rule against it (a rule saying all income must be spent within the FY)? Or whether it’s just something nobody ever pursued?  If that’s all managerial stuff that you never bothered to waste your time paying attention to, that’s cool.  I’m just curious, from an org theory standpoint.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to James Hanley says:

            It is a longstanding policy not to set one up.  Ed Crane himself has often publicly pointed to it as a way of keeping us maximally on our toes.  Though I’m sure it wasn’t intended to work this way, it’s also nice to know that we have that much less to walk away from.  Should the need arise.


            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              And that sounds like entirely reasonable grounds for telling the Kochs to get lost.  Who pays the piper calls the tune–and vice versa.Report

              • Interesting:

                “The lawsuit said a foundation set up and named for Charles Koch in 1974 became the Cato Institute in 1976. On the institute’s website, a 25th anniversary timeline says the institute was established in 1977 with Crane and Charles Koch as co-founders.”



              • Avatar Koz in reply to DensityDuck says:

                Actually, it strikes me as a much better reason to tell Ed Crane to get lost. Unless I’m misunderstanding something, the Kochs have half the controlling interest in Cato even if they lose the lawsuit. And so far it’s not really clear what Mrs. Washburn wants to do with her shares if she is allowed to keep them.

                Cato doesn’t have much actual property outside the control of the staff but it does have some: its brand, its mailing lists, its building, the copier and projector in it. Those things, at least, ought to be under the control of the Kochs if they insist on it. Apparently they do. Name that tune.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Koz says:

                Cato Website War:  Who’s your daddy?
                Interesting that on Cato’s website, the 25th Anniversary timeline reads

                Cato Institute is founded by Edward H. Crane and Charles G. Koch in San Francisco.

                but on Ed Crane’s personal bio page [linked above]

                Ed Crane is the founder and president of the Cato Institute. 

                cutting Charles Koch out completely.  And according to HuffPo

                The lawsuit said a foundation set up and named for Charles Koch in 1974 became the Cato Institute in 1976.

                Which puts in Koch’s claim of paternity.

                As near as I can tell, the original 1974 incorporation papers do indeed read “Charles Koch Foundation,” with an amendment in 1976 changing its name to Cato Institute, but making no other changes that would undermine Charles Koch’s claim to paternity.

                So we already have Charles Koch and Ed Crane at loggerheads over who’s the daddy.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Maybe Crane’s the mommy?  He does seem to have invested more time in nurturing young Cato to adulthood, while Koch has mostly provided child support.  😉


              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to James Hanley says:

                So you’re thinking Crane is Horton, and Koch is Daisy Mae?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                That’s the second cultural reference in a comment responding to me that’s gone over my head in just the last hour.  Did you and Kyle decide to team up on me?

                Daisy Mae…Li’l Abner, right?

                But I don’t know what Tim Horton’s has to do with it.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to James Hanley says:

                Horton Hatches the Egg.

                Though when I went to grab the link I discovered it’s Maizy, not Daisy May. Pat’s right, I am growing senile.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to James Hanley says:

                Hey, you know what?  I just read wikipedia’s plot summary.  I think it actually works perfectly as an allegory for the Koch-Crane-Cato story.  (Provided, of course, that Jason get’s his happy ending.)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Heh, now I get you.  A bit embarrassed to miss a Dr. Seuss reference, though.Report

  28. Avatar Will says:

    John Hinderaker? Dear Lord.

    I can’t speak for everyone involved, but I’ve always thought Cato Unbound was an important inspiration for the League’s model: Get a bunch of smart folks who disagree about an important issue in a room together and watch them go at it (civilly, of course). We’re not exactly a buttoned-up policy journal, but the underlying principles are close enough. Anyway, Cato Unbound’s lively existence is a credit to the mothership, and I’d hate to see you all lose that freewheeling intellectual environment.

    Besides, is DC really starving for another conservative attack dog? As it stands, Cato seems to fill a pretty unique (and valuable) niche.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Will says:

      First: Good to know you’re still around Will!

      Second, I can attest that in the discussions that led to the League’s eventual launch, Cato Unbound was indeed referenced on at least one occasion as a potential model, though it was hardly the only source so consulted.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will says:

      I cringed and Hinderaker’s name, too. I have to confess to enjoying Woodlief’s work. He would definitely signify a shift for Cato, though.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Will Truman says:

        I didn’t know anything about him until this thread — I went to Poweline to read his work. Yes, he’s a little too talking pointish for me, but, heh, maybe it was a lapse in judgement to recommend him — noone’s perfect. But I have seen CATO articles as pointed and critical as his regarding certain subjects, and as conservative — maybe that was Hotair, though, I can’t remember 🙂Report

      • Avatar Koz in reply to Will Truman says:

        They’re big boys, let them figure out a way to work with Hinderaker.Report

  29. Avatar SamR says:

    Meh.  Saying that the Kochs suing CATO proves they currently have no influence over CATO is like saying that the Club for Growth funding primary challenges in GOP races shows that the Club currently has no influence in the GOP.  Its just silly.  The Kochs have significant influence, they want total control.Report

  30. Avatar ktward says:

    A very brave and well written post. Gracias.
    Sigh. Wish I had thought to +1 the many comments that echo my own thoughts before I found myself so deep into the triple digits.

    Super interesting is the news that David Koch has been packing Cato’s board with card-carrying Conservatives and Koch Industry execs. Napolitano is evidently the token Koch-approved libertarian among them. It immediately occurs to me that

    – Napolitano must not be too worried how this association might reflect on his libertarian bona fides. I’d say this perhaps paints him less “a fine libertarian” and more of a … LINO.

    – It’s actually kinda nice to have that remaining shred of needling uncertainty ripped away from the Kochs-as-libertarian charade. They’re just as Conservative as the next Conservative, just as Republican as the next Republican.Report

  31. Avatar Eli Rabett says:

    Look, this is pretty simple.  The agreements, which were part of the papers for the Koch’s suit, are clear that the stock has to be offered back to Cato or if refused, to the other stockholders.  That would mean that control (50% +) would go to the Kochs.  Like it or not, those are the contracts.

    Cato has built a huge donor base which right now is generating about $10M a year more than it can spend (there was a carryover of $52M into 2011 from the 990s, and yes, this is not the endowment which is much smaller).  At this time Ed Crane controls this and it gives him the freedom to take out a pretty good living (over $500K per year in salary and benefits) as well as hire and support a small army.  It is Crane and the Widow Niskanen who started this by not following the contracts.  The Kochs are being good libertarians by pulling the whole dispute into court.

    It is not so clear that without the nest egg that it would be simple to pull up stakes and move into a new building.Report

  32. Avatar Ryan the Sea Lion says:

    What does Cato say that no other think tank says? Militarism is not the foreign policy best suited to the free market. In fact, it’s the worst foreign policy for a free market. The War on Drugs is not only unnecessary in a free market, but ending it would be a straightforward implementation of free market principles.

    Um, have you heard of Reason Foundation?

    Cato is a fine libertarian organization, and their scholars write excellent books. But there are other libertarian thinktanks in the world, Mr. Kuznicki. Perhaps your passions have overtaken you, but you should be mindful of what you are writing. You do Cato no favors by slighting other fine libertarian organizations.Report

  33. Avatar wetcasements says:

    CATO = Koch puke funnel

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of “intellectuals.”Report

  34. Avatar Bob Clark says:

    My understanding of the claim made by people who blame the financial crisis on deregulation is that they see deregulation as a primary proximate cause of the financial crisis. My argument is that they are wrong because limited deregulation preceded but did not cause the financial crisis. Separately, I make the claim that the real causes of the financial crisis were regulatory and fiscal policies, some long-standing.

    I take your point about the unicorn. But it is important whether we agree that the distortions in the credit system were a root cause of the crisis. My understanding of the debate is that some claim that irresponsible speculators made bets with other people’s savings, those bets went badly wrong, and the society was hurt due to the recklessness of individuals and firms who should have been prevented by better regulations from such actions. On this account, it was reckless profit-seeking which led to the financial crisis. While I would agree that the crisis could not have happened without human greed, I argue that it was poorly conceived capital rules written by govts which led to the crisis, not speculators operating outside the watchful eye of regulators.

    You say that the lack of effective controls led to runaway speculation; perhaps you are unaware of how financial firms act. I assure you that even firms like AIGFP that wrote hundreds of billions of credit default swaps did not feel like they were engaged in runaway speculation. Most of the major losses and worst actors in the crisis thought they were more of less doing what they were supposed to be doing in the years leading up to the crisis. You don’t buy AAA rated debt at L+0.25% if you are a speculator! The people who knew they were making a big speculation were the people who shorted such securities, like John Paulson, who acted to hasten the end of the bubble; one can hardly think of a better example of Adam Smith’s invisible hand leading a self-interested actor to serve society at large in pursuing his self-interest. The better way to understand the financial firms who so grossly misallocated capital is that they were each optimizing based on the capital rules that applied to them. JPMorgan could never have taken the risk that AIGFP took. A hedge fund could never have taken the subprime long risk that UBS or Citi took. Only European banks would buy AAA assets at paltry credit spreads, because only they could mark them at cost and hold 1.6% of capital against them. Capital was allocated based on maximizing returns on capital. And while you can call that speculation, it is correct to blame the policymakers who wrote fractured, disparate capital rules for different nations and sectors of the financial economy.

    Last, I do realize that partial deregulation can be an even worse policy than the status quo. I’m not convinced that the 15yrs prior to the GFC were an example of such a situation, but as a matter of public policy I think libertarians should be open to interventionist policies like Glass-Steagal. It is not a first-best option, your so-called unicorn, of a return to free banking. But Glass-Steagal, like the Volcker Rule, may be preferable to the option of increased oversight in the presence of complexity, opacity, overmatched regulators, and extreme greed.


  35. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Will Wilkinson is expansive on the conflict.

    These paragraphs contain an observation that seems really worth pondering from where I sit:

    It’s tempting to think that Cato almost never does anything to help the Democrats largely because it’s just too far to the left of the Democratic Party on foreign policy and civil liberties. Yet Cato is equally far to the “right” of the Republican Party on economic policy, welfare policy, education policy, and lots more. Social Security privatization is a forced savings program. School vouchers and/or education tax credits are taxpayer-funded education. Lower income-tax rates concede the income tax. Again and again Cato finds a way to settle on non-ideal, “second-best” economic, welfare, and education policies, and argue for them in away that provides “ammo” to the right. But it very rarely develops compromising second-best policies on foreign policy or civil liberties that would be of any practical use to dovish or civil-libertarian Democrats. Why not? Why was coming out in favor of gay marriage more controversial at Cato (the state shouldn’t be involved in marriage at all!) than coming out in favor of school vouchers (the state shouldn’t be involved in education at all!)? Why not a bigger institutional push for medical marijuana as a second-best, nose-under-the-tent alternative to outright legalization? The fact is that Cato has so deeply internalized the ethos of the venerable right-fusionist alliance that there is almost no hope of it functioning on the whole in a truly non-partisan way. I think its status-quo reputation reflects that.

    Cato staff tend to use their principled intransigence on certain “left” issues as proof of their partisan neutrality. We’re the furthest thing from conservative! We want to legalize drugs and prostitution! We’re anti-war! I spent years saying this sort of thing. But now it strikes me that it is precisely this hesitancy to seriously commit to non-ideal, second-best policymaking on “left” issues — in the realms of foreign policy and civil and personal liberties — that makes Cato a de facto institution of the right. The issues on which you’re prepared to compromise and politic are the ones about which you’re most anxious to see the world move in your direction. Over the years, some at Cato have argued explicitly for recognizing the distorting effects of right-fusionism and for developing more fully natural alliances with the  left, but in the end those people have not tended to find themselves really at home at Cato.

    I’d really like to see Cato establish a deserved reputation for partisan neutrality, since that’s something I worked hard for in my half-decade there, but nothing in my experience leads me to believe that either Crane or the Kochs are interested in that. If libertarians want an institution that is not right-fusionist, they need to build it. It’s not going to be Cato. Now, I do think Cato’s reputation for partisan independence, such as it is, would suffer under Koch rule, and that this would hurt a number of good friends at Cato, and for this reason I sincerely hope the Crane faction prevails. Yet I don’t think the Kochs are wrong to think Cato would be better off with a more effective and professional manager at the helm, if that is what they in fact think. I also suspect that Cato would be more effective, according to the right-fusionist standards I think both the Koch and Crane factions accept, if the Kochs had their way and integrated Cato more fully into their line-up of policy and politics non-profits. However, because I don’t think greater right-fusionist effectiveness is desirable, my sympathies again fall on the side of the Crane faction.