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on the flexibility of ideals
March 6, 2012 9:50 AM   Subscribe

In October 2010, William Niskanen, the 78-year-old economist and minority shareholder in the Cato Institute, died. The Koch Brothers, the liberal boogeymen who also finance most of the Cato Institute's operations, are now seeking control over Niskanen's shares and have sued the remaining shareholder and founder of the institute, Ed Crane III, in order to cement their control over the institute's future.

The ensuing media fracas has turned the staid libertarian think tank into a source of liberal schadenfreude. Others argue that the lawsuit is merely an acknowledgement by the Koch Brothers that their institutional 'soft power' strategy has failed and that a more hands-on approach is needed; others see it as the most powerful sign yet that the libertarian ideology which unites the Koch Brothers, the Tea Party, and the intellectual fellows at the Cato Institute is coming apart by its seams.
posted by anewnadir (71 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's funny how the Koch Brothers can be both liberal boogeymen and conservative boogeymen simultaneously depending on what you mean.
posted by euphorb at 10:02 AM on March 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


If you like your evil pure and unadulterated, the Koch Brothers are for you.
posted by tommasz at 10:04 AM on March 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


This won't change the fact that an argument that cites Cato "research" is self-invalidating.
posted by klanawa at 10:04 AM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


From Cato employee, Jason Kuznicki: "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."

Well, Mr. Kuznicki, maybe some of the things progressives say about them is...how do you say it..."correct?"
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:06 AM on March 6, 2012 [22 favorites]


Liberal schadenfreude? The Cato Institute is about as relevant as the Beatles, but I get that some people are still getting lathered up over that too.
posted by three blind mice at 10:07 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's amusing watching Libertarians recoil at the idea of being bought and sold on the free market.

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

Gee. Perhaps they should've thought of that before they took $$ from the Kochs, Phillip Morris, Exxon/Mobil, Walmart... They've been whores all along. They just hadn't had to do the really nasty stuff yet.

(...unless you call lying to the American people about how cigarettes, burning coal, etc. can kill you. By their standards, that's not nasty at all. That's just their particular flavor of kink. Clearly, the Kochs need to appeal to the deeper Libertarian sentiments of the recalcitrant members of Cato who aren't on board yet... and start writing them big checks.)
posted by markkraft at 10:08 AM on March 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


“We can’t be perceived as a mouthpiece of special interests,” Robert A. Levy, chairman of Cato’s board, said in an interview. “The Cato Institute as we know it would be destroyed.”

Get it? Cato can't be perceived as a Koch mouthpiece. They really need to maintain the fiction that they're a legitmate bastion of independent thought, rather than just another Koch funded generator of pseudo-intellectual propoganda. It took them decades to fund enough econ PhD student through Chicago and George Mason, get them a first academic placement or two then hire them back under the auspicices of the 'free' market. It takes a lot of upfront investment to buy academic credibiltiy, better not screw it up.

People are for some reason less gullible when the curtain falls down and they can see the man with the bags stuffed with cash.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:15 AM on March 6, 2012 [17 favorites]


The Cato Institute is about as relevant as the Beatles

The fuck you say about the Beatles?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:15 AM on March 6, 2012 [27 favorites]


Jonathan Blanks, a researcher at Cato, wrote a critical post of his own about the situation in which he said, "Just because we support legalized prostitution doesn't mean we want to live it..."

Wow. I had to click through just to see if that was satire or what. Does it get any more hypocritical than that?

And if you don't want to live legalized prostitution, then who exactly are you supporting it for? Someone else who is forced into it? Does it get any more transparent than this?
posted by DU at 10:16 AM on March 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Here is Brad DeLong who is greatly enjoing himself
I must say, a week ago I would have said that I would have been willing to pay serious money to hear Ed Crane and his posse at the Cato Institute say something like:

Shorter Ed Crane: Our collective societal well-being is advanced when restrictions are put on the ability of property owners to do what they wish with their property. The Cato Institute itself, for example, is in a legal sense the private property of its shareholders. But its shareholders do not have the moral right to do what they wish with it. For the Cato Institute is not a mere legal instrumentality that three shareholders control and direct. Instead, what the Cato Institute is is a social trust, a Great Compact, a contract that makes a great chain between all libertarians dead, living, and yet unborn, in which all those committed to the collective intellectual project of libertarianism are stakeholders who have moral rights over the Cato Institute that completely trump the property rights that so-called "owners" of The Cato Institute may claim to have.

For such an argument would seem to have the potential for wider applicability...

And now, taking all of the reactions from upholders of those currently seized of Cato against Cato's shareholders, Ed Crane and company have in effect fulfilled my dreams…
posted by shothotbot at 10:23 AM on March 6, 2012 [16 favorites]


They really need to maintain the fiction that they're a legitmate bastion of independent thought, rather than just another Koch funded generator of pseudo-intellectual propoganda.

Nah, I think that what they're really afraid of is that their jobs will be outsourced abroad. I reckon that pseudo-intellectual propaganda can be generated in South Asia at a fraction of the current cost.
posted by Skeptic at 10:25 AM on March 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


“We can’t be perceived as a mouthpiece of special interests"

It's amazing the degree to which people can drink their own kool-aid. There are very few "think tanks" that aren't the mouthpiece of special interests, simply because if it weren't for the fact that you had "special interests" willing to fund the think tanks, they wouldn't exist.

This even conflicts with the Golden Rule of American libertarianism-- namely, "He Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules." It amazes me that the same people who would rail against employees unionizing or demanding better benefits from employers somehow perceived themselves to be anything other than employees whose jobs exist only at the sufferance of the people who sign their checks.
posted by deanc at 10:26 AM on March 6, 2012 [13 favorites]


Is it accurate to call someone a boogeyman if they really are out to get you?
posted by Aquaman at 10:42 AM on March 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


So the football player who used to beat me up got dumped by his girlfriend and kicked off the team. That's too bad. Just a shame.
posted by shothotbot at 10:44 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Unlimited torrents of money in politics is free speech, until it's speech that makes you look bad.
posted by Bromius at 10:50 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


What a disingenuous gaggle of sniveling hypocrites and frauds these people are.
posted by clockzero at 10:50 AM on March 6, 2012


Yeah, "boogeyman" implies "not real." They were real....a real pain in the ass.

As you reap, so shall you sow; lie down with dogs, get up with fleas; etc. etc. etc. amen.
posted by emjaybee at 10:51 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


"So the football player who used to beat me up got dumped by his girlfriend and kicked off the team. That's too bad. Just a shame."

No. The real shame is when that girlfriend then decides to have regular gang bangs with the entire football team, who, at her insistance, decide to join together and beat you up even more.
posted by markkraft at 10:52 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


For my money, Noah Smith has the goods:
Here are a bunch of smart people who truly, honestly believe in their worldview - a worldview that shares some key elements with my own - discovering for the first time that they are in fact merely a proxy army for people who don't take them or their worldview seriously at all.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 11:01 AM on March 6, 2012 [15 favorites]


I feel sort of dirty saying this, but I haven't really found Cato any less wrong than most think tanks, including ones like the Center for American Progress. All of them seem to be just sources for loosely sourced op-eds on whatever pages share their ideology.
posted by smidgen at 11:05 AM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Isn't it "bogeymen"? I thought boogeymen just really liked to dance.
posted by w0mbat at 11:06 AM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Cato Institute is about as relevant as the Beatles

Huh? Maybe you haven't been out much, but The Beatles are still quite relevant and popular. They have their own video game, and it's not aimed at 65 year olds.

Anyway, back on topic...... what we we talking about?
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:13 AM on March 6, 2012


I'm no fan of libertarianism, but I don't actually see hypocrisy here. That is to say, the arguments I'm seeing from libertarians are closer to "these specific actions of the Koch brothers -- which they may well have the right to do -- are bad for the reputation of the Cato Institue". That's not an argument that contradicts libertarian principles as I understand them.

The notional outsourcing to Southeast Asia the production of whatever it is that Cato produces would have a certain ironic justice to it, but that is not what is happening here; neither is it what these libertarians are complaining about.
posted by gauche at 11:13 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Just because we support legalized prostitution doesn't mean we want to live it..."
Does it get any more hypocritical than that? And if you don't want to live legalized prostitution, then who exactly are you supporting it for?


I'm not sure what's hypocritical about saying "We support other people's right to be prostitutes if they so choose, but that's not the choice we want to make for ourselves."
posted by straight at 11:26 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what's hypocritical about saying "We support other people's right to be prostitutes if they so choose, but that's not the choice we want to make for ourselves."

Being paid to be a prostitute but believing that being treated like a prostitute is only for "other people" could be argued to be hypocritical. Or at least lacking in self-awareness.
posted by deanc at 11:27 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what's hypocritical about saying "We support other people's right to be prostitutes if they so choose, but that's not the choice we want to make for ourselves."

It's hypocritical because they already made that choice. A long time ago.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:28 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Being paid to be a prostitute but believing that being treated like a prostitute is only for "other people" could be argued to be hypocritical. Or at least lacking in self-awareness.

You're supplying, I think, the premise that Cato employees are being (intellectual) prostitutes. Now, maybe you think that the difference between working for someone and being a prostitute is one of degree. And maybe that's a fair belief, I don't know.

I'm pretty sure that the libertarian notion of prostitution (or other forms of work) includes the right of a worker to refuse to work for a particular employer, or under circumstances which the worker finds unacceptable. (How realistic this idea turns out to be in the real world is another matter.) If these folks find that they don't want to work under certain circumstances, again, I see that as consistent with libertarian principles as I understand them.
posted by gauche at 11:32 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


To be fair, it's not like the Cato institute is demanding the government step in to prevent a Koch takeover, and thus they're not being hypocrites.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:38 AM on March 6, 2012


Now, I'll be the first to say that libertarians inhabit a frictionless universe populated by spherical cows, and that the world they want to live in would rapidly devolve into something like the state of nature. But that doesn't mean they are hypocrites for wanting to stop their majority shareholders (maybe) from doing something that is not in their own perceived best interests.
posted by gauche at 11:41 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


You should care that the Kochs are seizing Cato
posted by homunculus at 11:44 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're supplying, I think, the premise that Cato employees are being (intellectual) prostitutes.

The Cato employees themselves are drawing the analogy that they are being expected to act as prostitutes. I didn't say that. They said that. I'm arguing that they already have been, and their expectation that they were ever anything but is disingenuous. Not to mention that the nature of their own philosophy is such that they exist to serve the whims of their paymasters. They're simply complaining because the relationship is being made explicit, when such arrangements, they believe are reserved for their "lessors."

The essential belief of Cato employees is that they are something other than replaceable human resources to be exploited for the purposes of those who run the institute-- ie, that they are producers with independent intellectual dignity, not parasitical servants who should be thankful for the opportunity given to them by the Kochs to pay their rent. They're hypocrites because they're doing the very thing that they have railed against employees for doing-- speaking out against their employers rather than falling into line or quitting. The primary duty of an employee is to serve he who signs his checks, not to demand independence, dignity, or respect. The greatest hero of the libertarian mythos is the "producer", and it is the height of hypocrisy for a libertarian employee to see himself (or herself) as any kind of independent hero in this self-created mythology.

They're hypocrites for demanding to be treated with dignity while at the same time criticizing others for doing so. In the libertarian social hierarchy they have created for themselves, they're stepping out of line. I don't see how you can call that anything other than hypocrisy.
posted by deanc at 11:47 AM on March 6, 2012 [17 favorites]


My favourite thing about the Kochs is that they're pretty old. I will almost certainly read their obituaries.
posted by rhymer at 11:50 AM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


anigbrowl: "To be fair, it's not like the Cato institute is demanding the government step in to prevent a Koch takeover, and thus they're not being hypocrites."

So, why are the courts involved?
posted by schmod at 11:51 AM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


From the Salon link:

"A libertarian think tank that does good work could become another well-funded arm of the Republican Party"

Flawed premise.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:52 AM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Courts are involved because there is a good-faith dispute as to the disposition of certain shares of the Cato Institute. Resolving property disputes is a function of government in all but the most minarchist of libertarian schools of thought.
posted by gauche at 11:53 AM on March 6, 2012


It would be if it were a 'good-faith' dispute. The Koch brothers don't do 'good-faith'.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:56 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


See, I've heard a lot of libertarians use variants on the phrase "if you don't like it, you're free to quit" about working conditions. I've never heard a libertarian say that an employee should be obligated to continue working if he or she didn't want to. And what I'm hearing from the people at Cato is that they don't like it, and that they are likely to quit.
posted by gauche at 11:56 AM on March 6, 2012


Now, I'll be the first to say that libertarians inhabit a frictionless universe populated by spherical cows, and that the world they want to live in would rapidly devolve into something like the state of nature. But that doesn't mean they are hypocrites for wanting to stop their majority shareholders (maybe) from doing something that is not in their own perceived best interests.

I think the point is that their championing of radical liberty with little regard for wealth inequality distorting interactions makes it seem patently and simply a matter of self-interest rather than an ideological disagreement that they're resisting a take-over potentiated by massive wealth; or to put it differently, they're seeming to change their tune about what they believe, and only because they think they're about to be on the losing side of a sort of struggle whose aggressors they've traditionally praised.

They had no problem with the wealthy doing whatever they felt like so long as it didn't negatively affect them personally, which is hard to see as anything other than inconsistency if not outright hypocrisy.

To be fair, it's not like the Cato institute is demanding the government step in to prevent a Koch takeover, and thus they're not being hypocrites.

That's true, they're not doing that one thing which would make them hypocrites. That doesn't give them blanket immunity from hypocrisy.
posted by clockzero at 11:57 AM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


They're hypocrites because they're doing the very thing that they have railed against employees for doing-- speaking out against their employers rather than falling into line or quitting.

I know a lot of libertarians, and not one of them has ever suggested that employees of a company should not try to get the best deal for themselves if at odds with their employer over pay/working conditions/whatever. The libertarian position is that government should stay out of such conflicts in order to prevent economic distortions (up to a point; quite a few of the libertarians I know are OK with things like safety regulations and so forth as long as the cost of regulatory compliance doesn't overshadow the value of the economic activity).

anigbrowl: "To be fair, it's not like the Cato institute is demanding the government step in to prevent a Koch takeover, and thus they're not being hypocrites."
So, why are the courts involved?


Because they filed suit. That's not the same thing as a demand for executive intervention. Again, most libertarian types I know favor resolving disputes in court. The reason I'm not a libertarian is that bearing the cost of an externality while you wait for a damages settlement is often an impossible burden, and so pre-emptive regulation or licensure is a necessity to safeguard the public interest in many cases.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:02 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've never heard a libertarian say that an employee should be obligated to continue working if he or she didn't want to

The belief that corporations should serve anything other than the interests of their shareholders, particularly with respect to the interests of the workers or abstract intellectual principles is something you hear from libertarians all the time. That the employees of Cato themselves thought they were anything other than agents engaged in labor in service to their shareholders does come across as pretty hypocritical.

I know a lot of libertarians, and not one of them has ever suggested that employees of a company should not try to get the best deal for themselves if at odds with their employer over pay/working conditions/whatever.

Libertarianism has a fairly strict social hierarchy which makes the role of an employee quite clear. It's hypocritical for the Cato employees to think that they were somehow exempt from this relationship. The Koch brothers told them what they expect them to do and how to behave. That they think there should be some other arrangement speaks to a hypocritical belief that these Cato employees are somehow "special" in a way that most other employees are not.

"Corporations are people, my friends." The libertarian ideal is one in which the Cato Institute has no abstract purpose for its existence other than maximizing the value for its shareholders. Cato's employees are insisting that instead it should, unlike their belief about every other corporate institution, be leveraged to benefit themselves and some abstract ideological service to "libertarianism."
posted by deanc at 12:08 PM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


It would be if it were a 'good-faith' dispute. The Koch brothers don't do 'good-faith'.

The Koch brothers are political monsters. That doesn't mean that it is impossible for them to have an expectation that a shareholder agreement means what they think it means. What the agreement says or means, I don't know. But just because I don't like the Kochs's politics doesn't mean they have no right to be heard in court. In that context, "good faith" means something like "not obviously incorrect and thus worth hearing by a judge".

They had no problem with the wealthy doing whatever they felt like so long as it didn't negatively affect them personally, which is hard to see as anything other than inconsistency if not outright hypocrisy.

That's just not true. The libertarians I've known seem to think that almost everything can be handled by a robust system of property rights and the enforcement of contracts. In practice, this favors the wealthy immensely, but that's not the same thing as "the wealthy can do whatever they want." I'd argue that libertarianism is ultimately more pernicious than an explicit "the wealthy can do whatever they want" because it appears on its face to be a fair system, and the limitations on what the wealthy can do under a libertarian economic system would be de minimis anyway.
posted by gauche at 12:11 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


deanc, I hope one day that you learn the difference between argument and simply repeating your own views as if they were fact.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:17 PM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


The libertarians I've known seem to think that almost everything can be handled by a robust system of property rights and the enforcement of contracts.

The Cato defenders don't seem to be arguing about the merits of the Kochs' case. They're arguing about the merits of the Kochs doing what they're doing, assuming that their case is successful.
posted by deanc at 12:17 PM on March 6, 2012


Libertarianism has a fairly strict social hierarchy which makes the role of an employee quite clear.

I would amend this to say American Libertarianism. You could run your business as a cooperative enterprise and still subscribe to libertarian principles, only in America that would likely be considered something akin to Stalin's Second Five Year Plan.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:17 PM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


If anyone can find out which four board members were ousted to make way for the new Koch crew, I would be much obliged - I've read pretty much everything posted above and then some, and I can't find this information anywhere.
posted by naoko at 12:30 PM on March 6, 2012


The Cato Institute is about as relevant as the Beatles

I can't wait until Cato get their own branded Rock Band game! 20 hours of Ted Nugent...
posted by Theta States at 12:39 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


They had no problem with the wealthy doing whatever they felt like so long as it didn't negatively affect them personally, which is hard to see as anything other than inconsistency if not outright hypocrisy.

That's just not true. The libertarians I've known seem to think that almost everything can be handled by a robust system of property rights and the enforcement of contracts. In practice, this favors the wealthy immensely, but that's not the same thing as "the wealthy can do whatever they want." I'd argue that libertarianism is ultimately more pernicious than an explicit "the wealthy can do whatever they want" because it appears on its face to be a fair system, and the limitations on what the wealthy can do under a libertarian economic system would be de minimis anyway.


Yes, I've heard libertarians say things like that too, and whether they want to acknowledge it or not, that system does, as you say, favor the wealthy immensely. When I referred to the wealthy being able to do whatever they want, I meant that in terms of functional effect, so I think we agree with each other about that. Which is why I'm confused about what you consider untrue in the comment I made.

I mean, it would be odd to say that proponents of the system described above can't be considered advocates of the state of affairs that it would inevitably lead to, wouldn't it?
posted by clockzero at 12:41 PM on March 6, 2012


What other reason for advocating something like that could there be except for desiring the results it would yield?
posted by clockzero at 12:43 PM on March 6, 2012


The libertarians I've known seem to think that almost everything can be handled by a robust system of property rights and the enforcement of contracts.

And how you ultimately enforce property rights and contracts? Just by waving a piece of paper and writing a strongly worded letter? No, what ultimately backs these rights is the might of the state and its implicit threat of violence. Right-wing libertarians (as opposed to left-wing anarchists) like to pretend that it would be possible to abolish the entirety of government except those bits (courts, police and army) that ensure that the haves keep having. Tough shit, that isn't how the social contract works.
posted by Skeptic at 12:46 PM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Koch brothers are political monsters. That doesn't mean that it is impossible for them to have an expectation that a shareholder agreement means what they think it means.

Unlike, y'know, the expectation workers might have, expecting their retirement and healthcare agreement means what they think it means.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:00 PM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


From the Salon link:

"A libertarian think tank that does good work could become another well-funded arm of the Republican Party"

Flawed premise.


Perhaps.

More from the same link:
[Y]ou should wish for an independent Cato Institute even if — maybe especially if — you’re a socialist statist tool (like me). Cato is mostly antiwar, decidedly anti-drug war, and sponsors a lot of good work on civil liberties. That … is basically what the Kochs don’t like about them, because white papers on decriminalization don’t help Republicans get elected.

As Jonah Goldberg complains in a post that otherwise resolutely refuses to come to a conclusion or have a point [SNORT! tee hee - H], Cato has an annoying habit of not always seeing itself as a natural member of the glorious Republican coalition.

Current Cato headline: “It’s Not Obama’s Fault That Crude Oil Prices Have Increased.” Oh, man, don’t tell Americans for Prosperity that!

about as relevant as the Beatles, but I get that some people are still getting lathered up over that too.

A sentiment unworthy of response, other than to point out that it is unworthy of response.
 
posted by Herodios at 1:18 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


For me, this episode reveals the oddity of the American think tank complex. Originally, think tanks were meant to be "universities without students," e.g., the RAND Corporation or Brookings (which has a .edu TLD) -- quasi-academic organizations dedicated to providing neutral research on topics of public import, like defense or economic policy.

Over the years, however, as think tanks have proliferated (and they have proliferated -- "Two-thirds of all the think tanks that exist today were established after 1970 and over half were established since 1980"), they've become more and more focused on advocacy -- Heritage and CAP, to name two, exemplify this trend. Even then, think tanks have striven to attain the legitimacy conferred on universities, in some cases succeeding: many respected scholars have side gigs or full-time jobs at think tanks. Norm Ornstein, for example, is a bona fide expert on Congress, and he works at AEI. But as the recent purges at AEI, and the current Koch/Cato controversy, are showing, legitimacy is hard won, but easily lost. The financiers are no longer content to let a thousand flowers bloom, but now want a return on their investment.

It should be noted that this is mainly a phenomenon among right-leaning think tanks: Many of them, like Heritage, were explicitly meant to counter the perceived left-wing bias of mainstream academia, as well as traditional think tanks like Brookings. Much like the rest of the conservative movement, however, the drive toward ideological uniformity is making it increasingly difficult for these think tanks to even aspire to academic prestige.
posted by Cash4Lead at 1:34 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Many of them, like Heritage, were explicitly meant to counter the perceived left-wing bias of mainstream academia, as well as traditional think tanks like Brookings.

Very much explictly in the Powell memo. You can bet the Kochs were on the original distribution list.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:47 PM on March 6, 2012


The Cato Institute is about as relevant as the Beatles

That puts a lot of pressure on The Cato Institute.

Even though they haven't released a new studio album in about 40 years, the Beatles were still able to notch the best-selling album in the U.S. over the past decade. The Fab Four's compilation disc, 1, was the best seller in America, moving 11.5 million units during the decade.

A best selling album after 40 years of not making a tune. I don't think the Cato Institute will age as well.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:17 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Again, most libertarian types I know favor resolving disputes in court.

Ask 'em why the local Libertarian party can't be bothered to have a court watching program.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:20 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps if I knew what you were talking about I would be able to give you a meaningful response.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:33 PM on March 6, 2012


I just want to chime in to say, anyone who calls the Koch brothers "liberal boogeymen" is certainly speaking foolishly. You don't have to be liberal in your views to see the Koch bros. as a great threat to our democracy.
posted by JHarris at 3:12 PM on March 6, 2012


As a response to the people who are crying foul at my use of the term "liberal boogeymen" to describe the Koch brothers, I have to say that to blame them for the current state of our politics is to take the easy way out. The Koch brothers are simply pursuing their naked political self-interest, and as many other commentators have pointed out, this is fully consonant with the right-wing libertarian ideology they disseminate through the Cato Institute and Americans for Prosperity.

But what is mot troubling about the Koch brothers and what they symbolize has little to do with the Koch brothers themselves. Citizens United was not an irrational or unreasonable decision: if we believe in uninhibited free speech, then it follows that corporations should be able to speak with their dollars. I am far from certain that the solution to this problem is a constitutional amendment abrogating the personal rights of corporate entities; I think it speaks to a deeper and more profound malaise affecting our body politic.
posted by anewnadir at 4:18 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


i don't see how this would change anything at the ci.
posted by onesidys at 6:51 PM on March 6, 2012


I wonder how this will affect Reason. They're significantly funded by Koch and have been strangely silent except for one very careful article four days ago.

I don't know how they're controlled, but I'll bet there's some people looking into it right now to make sure that the same thing can't happen to them.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 7:01 PM on March 6, 2012


So when I was a resident I had a chat with my chief. He was going on a trip to an educational conference sponsored by a pharmaceutical company. I gave him a certain kind of look.

"I know, I know," he said. "But I don't really prescribe enigmatophen anyway, so it's not like I'm being unduly influenced."

"If in the future," I said, "they came out with another drug, would you prescribe that?"

"I don't know. It would depend on the drug. But I think we need to just be conscious about how we prescribe certain drugs and who's benefiting us."

"Well you know," I picked up, "studies have been done which show that doctors don't just change their prescribing habits based on gifts from pharm reps and such, but that they usually don't recognize that they change at all."

"Okay. Yeah, right, the influence can be downright insidious."

"So, you're taking a gift from a company that wants you to prescribe more of their product, knowing full well that it could change your prescribing habits, and that you won't even know if your habits have changed?"

"Oh, well--" And so on. We laughed and changed the subject.
posted by adoarns at 7:08 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Libertarians = Republicans who smoked some weed in college and constantly deny that they're Republicans
posted by bardic at 8:17 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


gauche: "That's just not true. The libertarians I've known seem to think that almost everything can be handled by a robust system of property rights and the enforcement of contracts. In practice, this favors the wealthy immensely, but that's not the same thing as "the wealthy can do whatever they want." I'd argue that libertarianism is ultimately more pernicious than an explicit "the wealthy can do whatever they want" because it appears on its face to be a fair system, and the limitations on what the wealthy can do under a libertarian economic system would be de minimis anyway."

Propose libertarianism, fix its liberty-infringing pitfalls, and you invariably end up with something between European Socialism and American Liberalism. No, really.

Go read John Stuart Mill. He makes this point far more elegantly and succinctly that I can.
posted by schmod at 9:17 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Corey Robin does a nice attack on some libertarian core beliefs using a Cato writer's pre-resignation letter as a base.

Burn paragraph? It never seems to dawn on Sanchez that the very same money power that would lead him—a fairly independent minded writer, who feels free enough from economic constraints that he can quit a well-paying, enjoyable gig merely on suspicion that he might be forced to hold his tongue in the future—to second-guess himself at Cato might have equal if not more effect upon others. When the Kochs wield their money at Cato, that’s hegemony. But when they do it in Wisconsin, that’s democracy.
posted by stratastar at 10:08 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


anewnadir: As a response to the people who are crying foul at my use of the term "liberal boogeymen" to describe the Koch brothers, I have to say that to blame them for the current state of our politics is to take the easy way out.

scoff scoff There will be political problems in the US without the Kochs and their ilk, sure, but they are a very big problem, perhaps the defining problem of our age, a problem that saps and muddies our national debate and makes solving other problems, problems like environmental concerns, energy policy and the wealth gap much more difficult to solve, or even conclusively convince people actually are problems.

Money is a voice multiplier; free speech matters a lot more of you have a fucking loud megaphone through which to broadcast it. I know that I can't afford to found a think tank, or buy a television station, or start a SuperPAC. These sports are reserved for the super rich. And even if you just have money people tend to listen to you; it lends a certain level of respect to an opinion even if not a penny of it is spent.

The Koch brothers are simply pursuing their naked political self-interest, and as many other commentators have pointed out, this is fully consonant with the right-wing libertarian ideology they disseminate through the Cato Institute and Americans for Prosperity.

Right. But your statement says nothing. I fully agree this is happening, I'm saying that it's bad. I make a moral judgement about it, by my authority as someone living in a world they are helping to wreck. You should respond to that, rather than state a basic fact and assume that its truth says something substantive.

But what is mot troubling about the Koch brothers and what they symbolize has little to do with the Koch brothers themselves. Citizens United was not an irrational or unreasonable decision: if we believe in uninhibited free speech, then it follows that corporations should be able to speak with their dollars.

No, a thousand times no. Free speech is not exercised in where you choose to spend! Take that to its logical conclusion and broke people are voiceless. There are a hundred reasons one might make a commercial transaction, and enough of those are involuntary that it makes laughable the idea that a choice of what to buy can be treated as speech.

I am far from certain that the solution to this problem is a constitutional amendment abrogating the personal rights of corporate entities; I think it speaks to a deeper and more profound malaise affecting our body politic.

Who said anything about a constitutional amendment? Let's start with a law clarifying what the legislature sees as its interpretation of the Constitution. If the Supreme Court rules that unconstitutional, then we can take more drastic steps. If you think a deeper problem is at work here, well, then put a name to it. As I see it, a big part of why the nation is divided has to do with there being a plethora of misinformation out there giving people the option to believe comforting untruths, and the resounding strength of monied voices is what has enabled that.
posted by JHarris at 4:56 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Comments like this -

- It amazes me that the same people who would rail against employees unionizing or demanding better benefits from employers somehow perceived themselves to be anything other than employees whose jobs exist only at the sufferance of the people who sign their checks.

- I reckon that pseudo-intellectual propaganda can be generated in South Asia at a fraction of the current cost.

- Unlimited torrents of money in politics is free speech, until it's speech that makes you look bad.

- it would be odd to say that proponents of the system described above can't be considered advocates of the state of affairs that it would inevitably lead to, wouldn't it?

- are not liberal schadenfreude. They are simply wisdom. Sometimes it is right to say "I told you so." Sometimes is necessary to learn better.

The conclusion to be drawn from all this is that contract and property rights are not the only standard of justice. Most mature and reasonable people know that already, but it seems that some have been hiding it from themselves until they need to wriggle out of facing the consequences of their own philosophy.

We all need to be protected from the predations of the rich and the powerful, even those who are members of conservative think tanks - even those of us in conservative think tanks who thought that we were safe, protected, above the possibility of misfortune.

So much of "liberalism" is just insurance: nobody is beyond the reach of fortune. Bad luck can strike at any time. So, to ensure that hard work really does lead more reliably to success, to create an environment in which we can all take the risks and be the entrepreneurs that these Libertarians claim to admire, we need strong laws and strong social structures. We need more than just a minimalist state.

Put another way: so much of libertarianism seems like wilfully ignoring the lessons of history, over-simplifying, saying "no, you can't use that structure, that law, that response" - saying that if you can't do it with one hand tied behind your back, you can't do it at all - forcing people to be more stupid than they need to be, just to ward off some badly reasoned, historically misinformed boogeyman of bad government.

I think that these gentlemen are suffering - in a very small, very minor way - a little bit of what happens when you refuse to protect yourself against misfortune. By failing to support and pursue and enact protective social policies - call them liberal, if you must - they are like people who could have gotten health insurance, but didn't. They did not realise "there but for the grace of God go I" - until it was too late.

I doubt they will learn better - their salaries, their limited skill-sets, depend on them not learning better. But I hope others will look at them and learn. Because in the end, however much you might wish it were otherwise (and I do, often), we are all tied together - and, fortunately, we have intelligent ways of coping with that unavoidable reality, we just need to use them, rather than throw them away because some government somewhere sometime did something bad.
posted by lucien_reeve at 5:45 AM on March 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


And Corey Robin links to these comments from James Grimmelman:
The irony here is that the nation’s preeminent libertarians—who ought to be exquisitely attentive to freedom of contract, institutional design, and observing the letter of the law—couldn’t get their rights right. They built this Streeling of libertarian thought, with its $20+ million annual budget and world-wide reputation, on a shareholding structure that is either actually or nearly under the control of people who do not share many of their values and have not for decades. The entire enterprise may well have been for years only one death away from Koch domination. If so many libertarians are now so worried about a Koch takeover, one has to ask, why have they spent so many years building a brand with an unshielded thermal exhaust port?*

The answers are obvious, and completely understandable. Because few people knew about Cato’s unusual share-based ownership structure. Because those few who knew didn’t think the Kochs’ power play was a serious possibility. Because Cato was there, and so it made sense as a coordination point, whatever its weaknesses. Because each individual project made sense, regardless of the long term. Because they never even thought to ask. All completely human, all quite arguably reasonable, and all things any of us would likely have done in the same position. And yet the end result could well be to deliver one of the world’s most recognizably libertarian institutions into the hands of men who would use it for other purposes.

I could not tell you how many times I’ve encountered libertarian arguments about law that assume that individuals can and ought to use contracts to protect themselves against just this sort of contingency. Don’t worry about users clicking “I agree” to overreaching terms of service; if they truly cared about the terms, they’d negotiate for better ones. Don’t worry about people who refuse to buy health insurance; they’re making a rational choice for themselves. Don’t worry about minority shareholders, don’t worry about franchisees, don’t worry about all the other groups that find themselves on the wrong end of a bargain that always seems to tip against them in the long run—if they wanted better protections, they could and should have negotiated for them up front.

Except they don’t. They never do. And really. If the uber-libertarians of the Cato institute can’t watch out for themselves, what hope is there for the rest of us?
So not so much schadenfreude as an object lesson in being hoist on one's own rhetorical petard.


*Is this some kind of Star Wars reference? If so, that's really annoying.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:22 AM on March 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


"When we first started our relationship, he was so nice. He set me up in an apartment, and gave me the AmEx — Platinum. He of course payed it off each month, and I used to buy the things that I need and the pretty things that I like and are nice. And he liked seeing me happy, and pretty, and he would come by every so often, and we would have a fun time together. It worked really well and made both of us very happy.

"The last time he came over, he left money on the dresser when he left. He hasn't canceled the AmEx, but something's changed ....... I don't think this, this ... state of affairs will continue the way it is for much longer ...."
posted by benito.strauss at 2:15 PM on March 7, 2012


There is a fairly clear and amusing article by P. J. O’Rourke on weeklystandard.com about the Koch's move for control over the organization (via deleted fpp).
posted by jeffburdges at 9:07 AM on March 19, 2012


A bit of unintentional honesty from O'Rourke as he admits that all Conservatives are supposed to be marching together in lockstep... or goosestep.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:08 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


“Billionaire Oil Guys” Lose Bid To Take Over Cato
posted by zombieflanders at 9:07 AM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


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