The Koch brothers lawsuit to take control of the Cato Institute has continued to receive commentary, and has even inspired a Facebook page. Over the weekend, I posted a statement from Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute. I will present the the Kochs’ perspective if and when I get a statement or am able to speak with a Koch representative on the record. In the meantime, here’s some of what’s out there.
The Washington Post reported on the Cato Institute’s “unusual structure,” as it is not common for non-profits to have shareholders, something Matt Yglesias also discussed here. Relatedly, Frank Pasquale points to this paper on takeovers of non-profit organizations.
GMU’s Don Boudreaux discusses the relationship between ideas and advocacy, noting he believes the Kochs are “most imprudently and unwisely threatening the long-term health of the liberty movement.” Economist Arnold Kling believes less is at stake. Cato’s Jason Kuznicki is quite upset with the Kochs’ actions. Jordan Bloom’s not happy, but notes the irony of these events so close to Murray Rothbard’s birthday.
In the past I’ve defended the Koch brothers from charges that their political activities are motivated by narrow self-interest. Funding scholarships for libertarian college students or sending them to week-long academic seminars are hardly profit-maximizing uses of their money. Though they are famously secretive, the only sensible interpretation of their actions over the past few decades is that they sincerely believe in broadly libertarian ideas and want to see them succeed in the long-run. Their investment in think tanks, journalism, and other non-profits are groping attempts to discover how best to bring that about.
However this takeover attempt seems in no way compatible with the greater good of libertarian ideas. Whatever the legal merits of the Kochs’ claim, the best outcome for the cause of individual liberty is that Cato continues to operate as an independent, non-partisan, respected think tank with a diversity of funders. There is currently no other libertarian organization fulfilling that role in such a high-profile way. In acquiring the asset the Kochs would inevitably decrease its value. This view is, from what I can tell, widely shared among libertarians who have posted about the matter. Perhaps there is something we don’t know, but given how many people involved in institutional libertarianism have benefited at least indirectly from the Kochs’ donations, that dissent should be telling.
I’m left wondering about the internal institutions surrounding the Koch brothers. They are known for their advocacy of Market-Based Management, but do they receive enough criticism within their non-profit work from the bottom-up? Having become accustomed to holding the purse strings, are they open to negative feedback? Do they have advisers who have the security to be able to tell them to back off? If personal animosity is blinding them to the greater good of the causes they’ve spent decades supporting, is there anyone to tell them that?
Skip Oliva rounds up still more stuff here.
ADDED THOUGHT: I’ve seen lots of libertarian-types come out against the Kochs’ efforts, but hardly any in support. Even those who have received Koch money and would hope to again are saying this a bad move. Even more are saying this in private. That should say something.
MORE: A longer story from Weigel.
MORE: Erick Erickson blames Ed Crane.
Brad DeLong collects links, and makes the common error of assuming that a belief in property rights precludes criticism of how such rights are exercised.