David R. Henderson  

Ed Crane: An Appreciation

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In yesterday's mail, I received the last of Ed Crane's bimonthly memos. The Cato Institute, of which he is CEO until Monday, sends it out to people who contribute at least $100 annually to Cato. I'm writing this to express my appreciation for Ed. I know that it's common to wait until someone dies before writing an appreciation, but I've never liked that tradition because the person who potentially would enjoy it most doesn't get to see it. In 1990, when I was 39, Thomas Szasz, of whom I was a fan and whom I had known a little, had a retirement party. Ralph Raico asked me, among many others, if I would show up or, failing that, write a tribute to Tom. I did the latter and Ralph later told me that Tom had appreciated it when it was read out at the event.

That got me thinking. So about a month before my 40th birthday, I wrote a letter to friends around the country telling them of the Szasz experience, saying that I didn't want to wait until my retirement and definitely did not want to wait until my death, pointing out that the odds were that I would not be as famous as Szasz, and asking people to show up at my 40th birthday party and say something nice about me or write a letter doing so. Somewhere in my attic, I have the letters bundled and I've read and enjoyed them a few times since then.

I have waited until Ed Crane's retirement, but I didn't just wait. A number of times, I have expressed directly to him my appreciation of him. I first met him in 1972 at UCLA when I had been in the United States for all of a month and he was accompanying Libertarian Party presidential nominee John Hospers, who was speaking at the bottom of Bruin walk. I saw Ed on and off through the years and was hired by him at Cato in San Francisco in 1979. I left before the year was up, for reasons I don't want to talk about here, but I think had he been at Cato that year rather than taken a year off to work on the Ed Clark for president campaign, I would have lasted a year. Suffice it to say that I'm too free a spirit to show up every day from 8 to 5 wearing a jacket, nice shirts and slacks, tie, and nice shoes.

One of the things I most admire about Ed is how he stayed principled when George Bush I got the U.S. into the first Gulf war. At the time, one major contributor to Cato withdrew his funding and, possibly, persuaded others to do so also, but Ed stayed strong and just worked that much harder to raise funds to fill the gap.

In June 1979, when I wrote one of my mentors, Milton Friedman, to tell him I was leaving the University of Rochester to be a senior policy analyst at Cato, I received a letter back from Milton telling me that I was making a big mistake. Milton thought that by getting involved in the policy world, Cato would become corrupt and that I would become corrupt by being part of Cato. [I still have the correspondence with Milton because most of my "F" files were among the few things that survived my 2007 fire.] I told him that whatever was true about Cato, it was up to me whether I became corrupt. Years later--I don't recall when--MIlton said that he had been wrong about Cato and that Cato, even after it moved to Washington, was much more principled than he had expected. Part of the credit for that goes to Ed Crane.

I'm sure Ed Crane heard the fear directly from Milton because Milton did not hesitate to tell you to your face, always firmly and almost always nicely, what he thought of you. That would explain the following passage from Ed Crane's last memo:

Our dear late friend Milton Friedman commented toward the end of his life on how proud he was that Cato didn't succumb to the siren song of power in Washington, as he had predicted decades earlier.

I'll end with another passage from Ed's memo that is so well-said and so Ed:
This country deserves so much better [than Obama or Romney]. I'm a great believer in American exceptionalism, which needs to be distinguished from nationalism. Too many conservatives conflate the two. American exceptionalism is not based on our superior military capability (as the neocons would have us believe) or our material abundance (as too many conservatives focus on.) Rather, it is based on the idea that we are a nation created to have a government for the purpose of allowing us to live our lives as we damn well please. Look at world history and tell me that isn't exceptional. Now, we are clearly losing all the things that make American exceptionalism exceptional.


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COMMENTS (5 to date)

Thank you David, for this and your other great posts.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Richard O. Hammer,
You're welcome, and thank you.

Koz writes:

This is a small point of your piece, but I'd be interested in hearing particulars (from you directly or you channeling in place of Ed Crane) about why the American people deserve better choices than they have, specifically why the deserve better than Romney. Fwiw, it's my thesis that Romney is in fact better than Americans deserve, which imo is a big part of the reason why he's not doing better than he is.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Koz,
I can't channel Ed Crane but I can give my own answer. I think everyone who hasn't violated others' rights deserves to be free. Neither candidate has come close to offering freedom.

Koz writes:

I get your point but as an economist surely you can appreciate that's dangerous to extrapolate based the nebulous deserts of people in general. As a practical matter the blessings of freedom tend to go to those who take the actions of free people.

By that standard, I think Mitt Romney is doing an excellent job of offering the American people the freedom that is capable of being offered as we stand.

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