Arnold Kling  

Cato and the Kochs, Take 3

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A Wapo Blogger has an email from the Kochs. I hesitate to add another take. If my basic view is that this less important than it seems, it is strange to blog three times on it. More below the fold.

Will Wilkinson has written another very good piece, too nuanced to excerpt. However, I disagree with Will that the fight would be over if Ed Crane resigned the Presidency or were forced out. Will is more likely to be right than I am, because he has more insight into the organization; however, my guess is that unless Crane also conceded to the Kochs on the ownership issue, his resignation would fail to resolve the affair.

[Update: Brink Lindsey differs from Will. Brink frames this as "Cato against the Kochs," rather than as "Ed Crane against the Kochs." If that is the correct framing (and it may be), then you have to go with Brink. I tend to assume that, within organizations, personality conflicts are large and substantive differences are small, even though people try to frame it the other way around. I base that assumption on my own past experience in other organizations, but it does not necessarily have to be true in this case.]

My focus is on the organizational dynamics/politics, or what I call corporate soap opera. I experienced a lot if in my career. I think that is because I was drawn to working for middle managers who were intellectually stimulating but not necessarily "corporate types." The problem is that it is the corporate types and the people who work for them who tend to move up the ladder in an organization, so you don't advance if you avoid working for corporate types. With my approach, particularly when I worked at the Fed, I frequently found myself orphaned, my boss having left or been forced out. In six years, I never got a promotion--some corporate types got promoted two levels in the same time frame. And ever since, I have lived an inferior life. Oh, wait....

In other situations, you can be caught in between two bosses who are feuding. I guess the analogy might be like being a kid whose parents are in the midst of a nasty divorce. Often, you are tempted to take sides. That was usually my inclination. But you're really better off doing your work and trying not to get distracted.

The Cato situation looks to me like the divorcing-parents model. The Kochs and Ed Crane seem to have irreconcilable differences, and there is a nasty custody battle brewing. The kids (staff) are caught in the middle, and some of them are taking Crane's side pretty vociferously. I can't condemn their behavior, because I've done similar things under vaguely similar circumstances. But if I had it to do over again, I would have just let the corporate soap opera play out and stayed more focused on things I could do something about.

There is a Jewish folk tale in which two women claim to be the mother of a baby, and Solomon is asked to settle the matter. He decrees that since it cannot be determined who is the mother, the baby shall be cut in two, with each woman receiving half.

At this, one of the women screams, "No! Let her have the baby." Solomon says, "Give the baby to the woman who screamed. Since she could not bear to have it killed, she must be the mother."

In the case of the Kochs and Ed Crane, neither one is willing to let the other have the baby. Solomon would have to carry out his decree.

Will links to Ezra Klein, who writes,


I'm a technocrat. I believe in the government's ability, and occasionally its responsibility, to help solve problems that the market can't or won't resolve on its own.

My problem with the typical technocrat (I do not mean to make this personal vis-a-vis Ezra Klein) is that he or she has never had to assemble as many as five hand-picked people to implement a tiny little project, much less undertaken to steer something as enormous and entrenched as a government agency into implementing some genius technocratic solution. Technocrats see solutions fail and say, "Well, that was their program. My program is based on sounder principles." In this way, they can be clever relative to particular policy mistakes but at the same time deeply unwise in the grand scheme of things.

The pressure in Washington is to play the game by the technocrats' rules. The political market demands solutions to X, where X is high unemployment, or income inequality, or education, or health care. Those of us who say that these are problems that are often made worse by government fixes are confronted with, "Oh, yeah? Well, what's your fix, wise guy? Oh, right. You just don't care about any of these problems, do you?"

It's hard for Cato to score points in that game, even without a messy divorce to deal with.


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CATEGORIES: Business Economics



COMMENTS (3 to date)
medwards writes:

That's not a folk tale, it's scripture from the Torah and the Old Testament.

Becky Hargrove writes:

I have thought about that scripture many times. It is why I endorse modular pull-apart building components that people can separate in the event of divorce, because so many people are willing to destroy assets when they no longer agree with one another. It is also why I believe societies should encourage married people to hold two separate properties that they use for their own purposes, even when they are able to stay together for a lifetime.

Seth writes:

We've had similar corporate experiences.

I think the 'corporate types' come in two primary forms -- the leaders are politicians, the people they drag along with them are bureaucrats.

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