Charles Koch’s Recent Statement on the Cato v. Koch Conflict

Co-blogger Jonathan Adler has posted Charles Koch’s recent statement on the Cato vs. Koch confrontation. I think there are some positive elements in the statement, especially this part:

Some have speculated that we would micro-manage the enterprise. Others have suggested we would turn Cato into a partisan Republican organization. These rumors are absolutely false.

My objective is for Cato to continually increase its effectiveness in advancing a truly free society over the long term. This was my objective when, in 1976, I came up with the idea of converting the Charles Koch Foundation to a public policy institute and recruited Ed Crane to run it. My observation was that there was an urgent need for an institute that would flesh out the policy implications of the general principles of a free society. I still believe there is a great need for this work and that Cato can fill that need.

To that end, we would seek to elect board members and officers who will ensure that Cato becomes increasingly effective in advancing liberty while remaining dedicated to its core principles. These officers and board members would act independently from me or any other individual – instead, their role, as should be with any non-profit board, would be to ensure greater accountability and effectiveness. As someone who has created and helped build many organizations in both the profit and non-profit sectors, I know from first-hand experience that sustainable growth can be achieved only through leaders who are committed to core principles. Recognizing all that Cato has accomplished in the past, I envision a Cato that can accomplish even more in the future.

In my last post on this subject, I urged the Kochs to announce that, if they win their lawsuit and get control of Cato, they will “appoint board members who are well-known independent libertarian academics, policy experts, and activists and are not Koch employees.” I happy that Charles Koch has expressed an intent to appoint libertarian “officers and board members would act independently from me or any other individual.” But this laudable statement would be more persuasive if it were more specific. It would help if the Kochs gave at least a few examples of the kinds of people whom they intend to name who would qualify as “independent.”

In my post, I urged the Kochs to select “big-name libertarian scholars and commentators such as Tyler Cowen, Richard Epstein, Virginia Postrel, and co-blogger Randy Barnett.” I am not suggesting that they necessarily have to name these specific people. But it would help if they presented a list of individuals similar to the above, even if it does not include any of these particular individuals.

As I see it, the biggest problems we face right now are the atmosphere of distrust that has arisen between the Kochs and much of the libertarian community, and the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over Cato’s future arising from the widespread (even if erroneous) perception that the Kochs will fundamentally alter the Institute’s mission if they get control. Both of these problems would be greatly alleviated if the Kochs gave more specific details about the people they would name to Cato’s board and their plans for the Institute more generally.

Like Jonathan Adler, I am not endorsing all the actions of Cato’s current leaders. It is quite possible that both sides deserve at least some of the blame for the breakdown in negotiations that precipitated the Koch lawsuit. And, obviously, I am in no position to judge who deserves how much blame for what seems to be longstanding bad blood between the Kochs and Cato President Ed Crane. Nor do I believe that Cato’s present policies are perfect. There is surely room for improvement, as in any large organization.

However, Cato has played a very valuable role in the public policy debate over the last 35 years, and it is important that it continue to do so in the future. If the Kochs were to make the sorts of specific commitments I described above and in my last post, it would be a major step towards ensuring that Cato can continue its important work regardless of who prevails in the lawsuit.