Cato Koch Fight
People are seeing irony where it doesn't exist.
Reading the comments to Doug Mataconis’ posting “Battle For Control Of Cato Institute Reveals Conservative-Libertarian Divide” I see a lot of comments along the lines of Brad DeLong‘s snark that, “The Kochs’ point of view is simple: since William Niskanen’s death the shareholders’ agreement says that they own a majority of the shares of Cato, and it is their property with which they can do as they wish. It is hard to see how any true libertarian could possibly disagree, and seek to do anything other than to vindicate the Kochs’ liberty interest in what is their property.”
But I’m not seeing anyone argue to the contrary. Not Julian Sanchez. Not any of the dozen-plus commentators that DeLong rounds up and consumes with “delicious irony” on the grounds that they “are not libertarian but rather Burkean, communitarian, and social democratic ones, and thus arguments that no true libertarian could ever possibly make.” Libertarianism, at least in its Cato-style American form, is about the relationship between man and the state. Most libertarians would bitterly oppose government action to prevent the brothers Koch from turning Cato into a Republican hack shop.* None who are bemoaning the possibility of that becoming Cato’s fate would dispute that, if the Kochs indeed have a controlling interest, they have every right to fire every independent thinking employee who fails to hew to the party line. Sanchez, for one, cheerily concedes that point.
One can simultaneously believe in someone’s right to do something without interference from government and yet think it would be an unfortunate outcome. And that’s all that’s being claimed in this debate: that it would be a damned shame if the Cato Institute, which has been a big tent for really bright libertarian minds to conduct research and write within the broad rubric of libertarian thought, were to suddenly become just another outlet for cranking out partisan talking points.
Now, I tend to shy away from citing studies coming out of places like Cato even now. While their scholars are smart, rigorous, and fair, they have an agenda. Saying “a Cato Institute study finds” therefore adds nothing to one’s argument–unless it’s in the form “even the libertarian Cato Institute . . . .” But at least the work has been useful as background reading or in an intra-libertarian dispute. If the Kochs have their way, that will cease to be the case.
I’ve also seen some commentary along the lines of “well, what did you expect”? The problem with that is that the Kochs were among Cato’s founding benefactors. In 1974. If they intended this all along, that’s a long game, indeed.
*Doing so, depending on the implementation, might put in jeopardy Cato’s tax exempt status. But that’s a different matter.