Cato Adjunct Scholar Richard Gordon on Keeping Cato Independent
Charles Murray weighed in yesterday at NRO with a statement of support for the Cato Institute: “I want to ask [the Kochs], more in bewilderment more than in anger, how they can justify this lawsuit — not legally, but in terms of principles they cherish?”
Meanwhile, one Cato adjunct scholar and two more Cato policy staffers added their voices to the growing opposition. Here’s Marie Gryphon with “The Koch Brothers vs. Scholarship.” Trevor Burrus offers “Analyzing the Kochs’ PR Statements,” and Michael Cannon, writing at Forbes.com today, has “Why Conservatives Should Help Save the Cato Institute.”
And I’ve just received this testimonial by Cato adjunct scholar Richard L. Gordon:
Keep Cato Unbounded
The current dispute between the officers of the Cato Institute and the Koch brothers is disturbing to believers in limited government. Whatever the Koch intentions, they have displayed precisely the flaw in libertarian advocacy that Cato has so well minimized. As is true with all standard political terms, the interpretation of ‘libertarian’ differs radically. Too many libertarians devote inordinate amounts of energy attacking other libertarian outlooks different from theirs. While the turnover at Cato indicates that internal disputes arise, Cato carefully avoids airing these discontents.
Instead, it maintains the strongest, most comprehensive presentation available of the case for limited government. Those familiar with Cato are aware of the wide range of material from books to blogs that the Institute generates on the philosophy of free markets and how it applies to a wide range of public policies. In other words, Cato’s work ranges from enduring analyses of policy issues to instant comments on the issues of the day. Others may share Cato’s outlook, but none can match the breadth and depth of its output. Whatever the actual intent of the Koch brothers, they and much of the ensuing anti-Cato commentary create fears that this uniquely valuable medium will be compromised.
About 16 years ago, I contacted Cato to see whether involvement would be possible as I moved to emeritus status at Penn State. I was appointed an adjunct scholar and have remained so ever since. [Following other adjuncts who have posted, I will note that this is an unpaid position, Cato does pay all participants for some but not all outside contributions, and I have received such payments.] The involvement has proved very satisfactory to me. My desire for contact was based on recognition of the solid basis of the Cato program and its superiority to other similar efforts. Cato maintained that superiority.
Cato’s credibility is grounded in its consistency of outlook. It is for freedom, not for any politicians. Even so, the critics exaggerate the “balance” in Cato’s views. Big-government Republicans are attacked, but the Democratic agenda gets even harder attacks.
Breaking the dominance of statist policies has defied decades of effort by Cato and many others. Those advocating change at Cato should display more caution. Their models produced no greater results and lack Cato’s credibility. The case against Obama was well served by Cato’s work on health care, education, and energy. There may be a need for an instant-response libertarian research group. However, it would be better placed elsewhere and leave Cato’s model intact.
Richard L. Gordon
Professor Emeritus of Mineral Economics
The Pennsylvania State University