The Think-Tank Mentality
by Skip Oliva
by Skip Oliva: What
Goes Around Comes Around
into my coverage of the Koch vs. Cato litigation last month, I received
an email from a Cato employee. He alleged – "off the record,"
of course – that employees at two other Koch-funded organizations
had been ordered not to publicly support Cato. He said leaders at
one organization specifically directed employees not to "like"
the Save Cato page on Facebook established by supporters of Cato
boss Ed Crane. I humored the self-interested tipster and made inquiries.
Officials at both groups strongly denied the allegations, and I
found nothing else to corroborate the Cato employee’s claims.
for the Cato employee, I wasn’t Jane Mayer. I didn’t have an axe
to grind against Charles and David Koch like
Ed Crane did when he spoke "off the record" to Mayer
for her famous 2010 article in the New Yorker. Cato may wrap itself
in the cloak of anti-establishment libertarianism, but ultimately
it’s a Washington institution that plays by Washington rules. And
the first rule is never do openly what you can do through anonymous
A few days
after the Cato employee’s email, I spoke to another person once
affiliated with Cato. He was concerned by my criticism of Cato employees.
He insisted this was really just about Ed Crane and his stubbornness,
but in the end, it was still essential to keep Cato "independent"
of the Kochs. Pressed for a reason, he said libertarianism needed
a "spokesman" in Washington, and absent Cato, he wasn’t
sure any other group would rise to the occasion.
I don’t doubt
there’s a genuine fear among Cato supporters that the institute’s
demise would leave libertarianism adrift in the nation’s capitol.
I just don’t see why it matters. Libertarians don’t need a spokesman.
Libertarians need solid philosophical grounding and a commitment
to local activism, as Gary
North eloquently explained recently. Washington should be the
furthest thing from their minds.
"A policy-making think tank that works in a dozen or more fields
is a lost cause from day one – except for its employees, for which
it is a career gravy train." To use a retail analogy, Cato
is like a libertarian shopping mall. It’s a centralized space designed
to cater to multiple niche audiences. Cato isn’t just a spokesman.
It’s a physical presence in Washington – Cato’s headquarters building
and underlying land is valued at over $17 million by the DC government.
Crane and company just finished an expansion of the building as
part of a $50 million capital campaign. That alone explains the
ferocity of Cato’s resistance to the Kochs.
But a fancy
building in Washington does nothing to advance liberty. I have files
going back a decade of hundreds of people who lost their entire
livelihoods at the hands of state aggression. They lacked the resources
to even mount a fight in their own defense. Cato was nowhere to
be found. (And I personally spoke with Cato employees about many
of these cases over the years, only to be ignored because, in all
honestly, helping the peasants does little to help Ed Crane’s fundraising.)
To extend my
retail analogy, what libertarianism needs right now is not a $50
million shopping mall, but more farmers’ markets. People need decentralized,
informal organizations where they can obtain information and assistance
in resisting the day-to-day injustices of Washington. They don’t
need a group of wannabe scholars holding briefing luncheons for
Capitol Hill sycophants.
The funny thing
is Charles and David Koch, whatever their faults, are doing the
one thing you never see Washington groups do – stand their ground
on principle. Almost every defense of Cato begins, "Yes, the
Kochs may have the right to do what they’re doing, but that doesn’t
mean they should." It’s the same type of argument a prosecutor
employs when demanding someone accept a plea bargain rather than
assert their innocence at trial. It’s the reason I spent a decade
compiling all those files. People are conditioned to assert their
rights only in the abstract, never in any concrete manner. Call
it the think-tank mentality.
[send him mail] is a freelance
writer and paralegal. His e-book
on the Koch vs. Cato controversy is available at Amazon.com.
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.