Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When greed overcomes morality and common sense

Two (partial) quotations serve to frame recent events at the Cato Institute.

Carl Sandburg - "Money is power"

Lord Acton - "Power corrupts"

Let the Washington Post set the scene.

The billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch filed a lawsuit Wednesday for control of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington.

The lawsuit exposes a power struggle for one of Washington’s premiere policy centers, which has been funded by millions in contributions from the Koch brothers’ foundations since its founding in 1974.

Cato was divided between four shareholders: the two Koch brothers, Cato president Ed Crane, and former Cato chairman William Niskanen, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in a court in Johnson County, Kansas.

At the heart of the dispute is the fate of the shares owned by Niskanen, who died in October at age 78 of complications from a stroke. The Koch brothers believe that they have the option to buy Niskanen’s shares, while Cato officials believe that the shares belong to Niskanen’s widow, Kathryn Washburn, according to the complaint.

Washburn, who is named in the suit along with Cato and Crane, referred questions to Cato.

There's more at the link.

Courtesy of a link provided by Claire Wolfe, we learn the background to the story from a Cato staffer. Here's an excerpt from his article.

The real work that Cato does, above all of its specific issue advocacy, is to show that the ordinary constellations of opinion, both left and right, aren’t necessarily so good. Many of Cato’s ideas are already out there, on the left or the right. What Cato does is fit them together in a way that we find is much more consistent and principled. We might be wrong, but at the very least we’re a reasonable challenge to the status quo.

What does Cato say that no other think tank says? Militarism is not the foreign policy best suited to the free market. In fact, it’s the worst foreign policy for a free market. The War on Drugs is not only unnecessary in a free market, but ending it would be a straightforward implementation of free market principles. And the freedom to buy and sell is a sick joke without robust civil liberties for all. Conversely, most people want their civil liberties partly so that they can earn a living and enjoy economic opportunities.

That is what Cato is about. That is also apparently why the Kochs are trying to destroy it.

I can’t understand how people who are so smart in business can be so boneheaded when it comes to activism. It’s a painfully stupid decision. Even if it were innocent — which it’s not — it still looks horrible. It’s as if the Kochs set out to prove every last thing that progressives have ever said about them.

To sue William Niskanen’s widow is atrocious all by itself, an act worthy of a cartoon plutocrat. They appear to have been biding their time until he died, which is just ghoulish. Everyone from left to right admired Bill’s honesty, courage, and intellectual rigor, even if they disagreed with him. He was a fine scholar and a true gentleman. I worked with him very closely on his last book, I saw his good qualities and learned a lot from him, and I am appalled that the Kochs would burden his widow in their bid for control.

What we are witnessing here is a very important moment in the history of conservative-libertarian fusionism. Possibly its death knell. To the extent that any of my colleagues have spoken, it’s fair to say that this is what they have said as well.

I don’t fear being fired anymore. They’d have to fire all of us if they wanted Cato to do their bidding. If they did, we’d just reorganize somewhere else. The donors and the audience would follow the productive people who actually did the work, not the people who sat on their shares and waited for Bill Niskanen to meet his maker. The productive folks are the ones who really run things.

Again, more at the link.

All those of us of a libertarian persuasion - whether centrist-liberatarian, as I am, or more extreme in their positions - need to understand the real danger posed by the Koch's move. As Classically Liberal points out:

The end result of Koch's action will be to harm libertarianism in a significant way. I don't give a **** about his motivation, I know what the result will be. And anyone willing to inflict that much damage on libertarians, for any reason, is not an ally, but an enemy, and a very dangerous one at that. So, libertarian friends, if you "liked" Koch Industries on Facebook, you might want to unlike them.

Libertarianism is strong, but endangered. There is a concerted effort to take the libertarian revival and turn it into something other than libertarian. We see it from the so-called paleolibertarians, that gaggle of bigoted, anarcho-fundamentalists who distort and twist the idea of Ludwig von Mises to try and bolster their right-wing agenda. We see it from conservatives who have flooded libertarianism pushing neoconservative foreign policies and social conservatism, while pretending they are actually libertarian. Certainly Koch has done a lot to fund these latter fakes. Now Charles Koch has gone on the offensive, and offensive describes his actions in every sense of the word. He is now actively working to destroy the most effective libertarian organization in the world. As I see it, that makes him the most potent enemy to libertarianism around. He is trying to do what many far left, and far right, groups would love to do—take the Cato Institute out of the game.

More at the link.

I intend to write to the Koch brothers, pointing out that they already have many effective outlets for their political views, and asking them to leave the Cato Institute alone. I hope like-minded readers will do the same. Furthermore, if the Koch lawsuit succeeds and they take control of the Cato Institute, I'll support (financially and otherwise, including publicity on this blog) any effort by the existing Cato staff to form a new institute to take its place. Again, I invite like-minded readers to join me, if it comes to that.

I've never believed the attempts by the Left to demonize the Koch brothers for their conservative political views. If one gives credence to such efforts, one must do the same for efforts by the Right to demonize George Soros for his efforts to support progressive and left-leaning perspectives, policies and politicians. However, to sue the widow of a deceased former colleague in this way appears downright mean-spirited, ungentlemanly, grasping and greedy. I believe it demonstrates that the Koch's great wealth - which equates to power - has corrupted their sense of what is right, and moral, and ethical. I submit that their actions demean the Koch brothers and everything they stand for. I hope they come to their senses before the damage becomes irreversible.


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