Arnold Kling  

The Koch Cato Affair

Fisker Update... Fund-Raising and the Independe...

Don Boudreaux shares his thoughts. My take:

1. Usually, corporate soap opera is less important in the grand scheme of things than it is to the people involved. Institutions go on. History goes on.

2. We discussed think tanks with Tevi Troy and he was a bit nostalgic for the model of a think tank as a quasi-academic institution. I suspect that there are structural reasons for their evolution away from that.

3. Troy seemed annoyed with the use by donors of metrics. This is pretty common for professionals. They don't like being subjected to metrics, because it feels that it threatens their autonomy. They don't get any sympathy from me on that score.

4. With non-profits, the metrics are determined by the donors. I have higher regard for the for-profit sector where the metrics are determined by customers. This is one of my more against-the-grain views--thinking that the for-profit sector is morally superior to the non-profit sector.

5. In the discussion with Troy, I cited Jagadeesh Gokhale of Cato as an examplar of the quasi-academic approach.

6. I wrote Crisis of Abundance for Cato, under the guidance of Brink Lindsey, back in 2006. I am very proud of that book. Between that and other miscellaneous writing, I think that between 2006 and 2010 I was paid about $10,000 by Cato.

7. Think tanks, like universities, may be ripe for disintermediation. Although I think my writing for Cato helped my personal brand, I would rather be viewed as an independent scholar. I view scholars as personal brands, and I do not think that affiliation with a think tank adds anything to their personal brands.

8. I think that the large struggle is against what Ken Kesey's fictional character Chief Broom might have meant by what he called The Combine. What I mean by it is government, schools, and the liberal media, all of which are doing PR for statism. I have no idea what the right strategies and tactics are in that struggle. I suspect it depends more on how people approach making a living, raising their children, and joining in the various organizations of civil society.

So, overall, I am not emotionally invested in the control issue involving the Kochs, on either side.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (6 to date)
Pandaemoni writes:

I do not believe being referred to as the "Koch-controlled Cato Institute" (as they inevitably will be if the Kochs' win) will help further the mission of the organization.

In that sense, I do have a favored side in this fight.

Jeff writes:

With regard to #8: I remember Moldbug's term for this is The Cathedral rather than The Combine, but both get the point across. I've been thinking about tactics a little bit, lately, so forgive me if I go a bit off topic here for a second. For the past 30-40 years, libertarians and conservatives have been focused on building parallel or alternatives institutions: Fox News, the Washington Examiner, Liberty University or Bob Jones University, Heritage, AEI, Cato, etc. I'm not sure this is the best strategy, as evidenced by their modest (at best) success in opposing the growth of government. Some of these institutions are simply a punchline to a lot of young, smart, ambitious people, and the association of them with libertarian/conservative ideas is actually detrimental.

I would focus more on undermining The Combine/Cathedral from the inside. I think the money the Koch Brothers have poured into GMU, along with similar (albeit smaller) efforts at other schools like WVU, Clemson, and FSU, has been well-spent. Ilya Somin's post at Volokh about the Cato/Koch kerfuffle talked about the credibility/objectivity problem that arises when wealthy people are running think tanks, directly or indirectly, as the case may be. The fact is that the problem is systemic in any think tank, no matter where the funds are coming from. In a University, this problem is muted by the multitude of sources of funding: private philanthropy, state and federal appropriations or grants, student tuition, etc, as well as by tenure and academic freedom guarantees. Libertarians aren't going to take over Harvard, but having people within the system pointing out its flaws and depredations is likely to prove more effective than simply conceding that all these institutions are and will continue to do "pr for statism."

Anyway, it's been on my mind lately, and I had to get it out there somewhere.

Jeff writes:

As for Cato and its value or purpose: obviously, I agree that think tank affiliation doesn't add credibility to the average person's work, but think tanks still can play a role in giving support, money, time, resources, advice, etc, to younger scholars. What kind of scholars, I guess, becomes a key point of contention. I read the post at The Volokh Conspiracy that Don Boudreaux linked to, and I'm decidedly non-plussed that an unrepentant neo-con like John Hinderaker might be pulling strings on Cato's board in the near future.

Mark Brady writes:

One thing that bugs me, and always has, is people calling public policy institutes "think tanks" - there are legions of public policy institutes and very few think tanks in the world. They can both do good work but they are different.

Fake Name writes:

The problem is structural and inevitable.

Non-profit organizations have no objective means of determining value. Being a veteran of think tanks, I considered a paper on the irony and disincentives associated with non-Capitalist institutions that attempt to promote Capitalism.

Ultimately, I could foresee nothing but additional hostility toward me coming from the effort, so I did not.

Eduardo Montez writes:

My problem with the Koch brothers taking over Cato is that it no longer be libertarian. Perhaps the authentic libertarians would then form a new think tank.

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