The Cato Institute and the Kochs

For what it is worth, I completely agree with co-blogger Jonathan Adler’s comments on the Koch brothers’ lawsuit against the Cato Institute. I don’t know whether the Kochs’ legal rights have been violated or not. If they have, I can understand their frustration. But, for the reasons Jonathan explains, this lawsuit – even if meritorious – can only do damage to the Cato Institute and the broader libertarian cause which the Kochs have supported for many years.

Cato is the nation’s most prominent libertarian think tank. For both public relations and substantive reasons, it is unwise for it to be controlled by members of one family, whether the Kochs or any other. The public relations problem is obvious. The substantive problem is that such a setup increases the chance that the organization will develop blindspots that might have been avoided with more diverse leadership.

As I explained here, much of the litany of charges against the Kochs is unfounded, based on a combination of distortions and outright factual errors. In this case, however, they have made a mistake. Most likely, the Kochs genuinely believe they have been wronged and that they could run the Institute better than its current leaders. But not every well-intentioned action is wise, and this one isn’t.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST WATCH: I am a Cato adjunct scholar, which is an unpaid position. Back in the summer of 1992, I was a college student intern at Cato, a job that paid a small salary. I have published several articles and op eds in Cato publications or with Cato’s assistance, sometimes for free, and sometimes for small honoraria. Cato was also my client on a pro bono amicus brief I wrote on their behalf (along with several other organizations). Cato has expressed interest in co-publishing a book I currently have under contract with an academic publisher (I would not be paid by Cato under this arrangement, but we hope that their participation would increase exposure for the book). Finally, I have lectured at several programs organized by the Institute for Humane Studies that are partially funded by the Koch Foundation. In each case, I received a small honorarium.