Sunday, May 29, 2005

Is Cato controlled by corporations?

I've seen a bunch of stuff online recently that is highly critical of Cato and, more specifically, the Koch's, who are big contributors to Cato and other libertarian/conservative institutions. This criticism of the Cato Institute is not exactly objective (Cato's called a "quasi-academic think-tank which acts as a mouthpiece for the globalism, corporatism, and neoliberalism of its corporate and conservative funders."), but it uncovers some interesting things.

I did not realize, for example, how much Cato was funded by corporations. Obviously, being funded by corporations (or their charitable foundations) doesn't necessarily mean their positions are biased, but then why has Cato come out against wind turbines with an obviously disingenuous concern for birds that might be killed by such turbines:
On the environmental side, wind power is noisy, land- intensive, materials-intensive (concrete and steel, in particular), a visual blight, and a hazard to birds. The first four environmental problems could be ignored, but the indiscriminate killing of thousands of birds--including endangered species protected by federal law--has created controversy and confusion within the mainstream environmental community.
Cato's usual skepticism is absent here, accepting without much question the fact that wind turbines will kill thousands of birds. I would expect Cato to reason one step further and question, as this op/ed does:
One high-profile environmentalist admits that birds do occasionally crash into the twirling blades. But, he says (anonymously and carefully, for fear of unleashing another contagious quote), "Do you know how many birds die every day?" They crash into skyscrapers and plate glass windows; they're crushed by trucks; they're sucked into jet engines and gag on smog. Kids with BB guns knock them off. Windmills are a concern, but they don't appear high on anyone's list of avian threats.
I've come to expect more from libertarians. If someone mentions how many people "die each year" from a particular behavior, I expect libertarians to retort with something like, "Well, how many people die crossing the street every day?" I have to say, I'm disappointed with Cato's performance here.

I guess I can' t expect Cato to be perfectly objective, but their funding sources make them an easy target for charges of unobjectivity and acting on behalf of corporations. What irks me is that in these criticisms of Cato, the word "libertarian" is given a negative if libertarians support big corporations and corporate welfare. I think Tim West is right that libertarians (especially the LP) needs to make their opposition to corporate welfare and corporate corruption more vocal.


At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Tim said...

Cato gets about 10% of its money from corporations. The vast majority comes from individual donors. Obviously, some of those donors are affiliated with corporations, but if you consider that to be tainted money, where do you think a libertarian organization ought to get its money? From the government?

With that said, the idea that corporate money causes us not to criticize corporate America is nonsense. Cato's been a leading critic of corporate welfare, notably the Energy Bill and the Medicare Bill. This study advocates cutting tens of billions of dollars in specific corporate welfare programs. This study advocates allowing drug reimportation, directly contrary to the interests of drug companies who have given us money in the past.

I'm not going to defend the windmill study. It was written long before I got here and I have no idea why the author wrote what he did. But given our long history of vigorously criticizing corporate America, I hardly think one cherry-picked study proves we're "controlled by corporations."

At 10:57 PM, Blogger Christopher Monnier said...

> I hardly think one cherry-picked study proves we're "controlled by corporations.

I agree. I came across a reference to that report and looked into it. Obviously, I haven't read every Cato report (or even most). So I can't make a conclusive statement declaring that Cato is conrolled by corporations.

I just don't want the "left" to be able to dismiss anything labeled "Cato" as a priori pro-corporate. Cato is a great institution, and libertarians are lucky to have such a powerful organization on our side.

Right now (12:43 a.m., CDT, 6/4/05), on Cato's website's front page, there are blurbs about religion being in concert with liberty, what some of the problems with the EU constitution are, and how a new Zogby poll shows "majority support" for personal accounts. The 'Daily Dispatch' headlines are "Syria Tests Scud Missiles," "Dean Accuses GOP of Social Security Dishonesty," and "Jackpot Justice Ruling Awaited."

I can't describe the whole page, but all-in-all it strikes me as more "conservative" than "liberal." Cato is concerned with current issues, and since we currently have a Republican president I guess it makes sense for Cato to be addressing conservative issues. But why not, among the myriad links addressing fiscal conservatism, throw in a link to shake things up? Why not some story about the ineffectiveness of the Drug War. Or something criticizing the Patriot Act? Or even a big headline discussing what's gone wrong with the Iraq war.


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