Monday, March 5, 2012

On the Koch/Cato fight

Most readers know that I am a Cato employee and have been since August 2007. Just prior to that, I was a Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow at reason magazine. As you have probably heard, the Koch brothers are attempting to gain control of the Cato Institute in order to turn the world's leading libertarian think tank into a right wing hack factory. This schism is sort of like a falling out between your dad and a rich uncle that paid for your senior trip.

Thanks for the great summer, Uncle Charlie, but you're way out of line here.

What always bothered me by the 'Koch-as-master-of-puppets' tripe was not just that it impugned my motivations and those of my colleagues, but that it couldn't be further from the truth. If Charles Koch had been calling the shots, none of this would be happening. Ed Crane would be gone, and maybe a few employees go with him, but Cato would look mostly the same. Yet, I don't think anyone believes today's Cato will have anything in common with a Koch-run Cato other than the renovated building that bears the same name.

I was deeply shaken when the story broke about the Kochs' actions. They are not only attempting to destroy the Cato brand by making it partisan and inherently less honest, but they are already sullying the reputations of all of the other policy shops and publications they support that don't carry the Koch name. While the Left and its allies kept harping that the Kochs were somehow calling the shots--boogeymen make great fundraising gimmicks--most DC people knew better, whether or not they would admit it publicly. Now that the Kochs have proven that they don't have the influence the Left assigned to them, they are trying their hardest to get it. Any organization that has a Koch closely associated with it has been tainted going forward, and that is unfortunate.

Despite their business acumen and strongly held beliefs, the Kochs don't know how to run a think tank. A think tank is jealous of its reputation, yet the Kochs' actions here have demonstrated they have no interest in maintaining it. Cato as a name will be irreparably damaged, the board of directors will disintegrate, and they'll have to start poaching Right-wing shops to fill the vacancies left by the resignations of people who refuse to associate themselves with this naked power grab.

Just because we support legalized prostitution doesn't mean we want to live it.

The Kochs would do themselves and everyone else a big favor if they just let this die. Cato was never theirs to control, and if they want to shift their support to Republican activist organizations, that is their prerogative. But attempting to take over Cato only harms the many organizations, causes, and individuals they have long supported, including many quite separate from Cato. But, I fear, they plan to see this through and will fight on even if they lose in court.

There are few places in DC I could work at in good conscience, and none hold the appeal of working for Ed Crane, David Boaz, and the rest of my colleagues at Cato. If the Kochs win, I'll have to figure out a new path for myself. If that should happen, though, I suggest a name change for the pretenders:

I suspect New Koch's appeal will be quite similar.

bellum medicamenti delenda est