Friday, August 19, 2011

David Boaz Elevator Talk

I've heard rumors, we all have, that the Cato Institute people hate the Mises Institute people, but when you get confirmation of it first hand by a top Cato official it is, let me tell you, shocking.

I just returned from a speech given by presidential candidate Gary Johnson, delivered at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.  When leaving the Press Club, David Boaz and someone he was talking to stepped on to the same elevator I was on.

They were talking about Johnson's speech and the fact that Johnson said he was in favor of a the Fair Tax. Boaz said to the man he was with that there were probably a lot of libertarian economists who would not be in favor of the Fair Tax.

The person Boaz was talking to said, "Probably a lot of the economists in Auburn." The Mises Institute is located in Auburn, Alabama.

Boaz's response, "Yeah, there are probably some rational economists that are opposed to the Fair Tax, also."

Boaz is the executive vice-president of the Cato Institute.

This conduct by Boaz is shocking and over the top. I have been around more Mises people than Cato people, and I just never hear such talk from Mises people. There is never broad disrespect for an entire free market institution.  What's up with those Cato guys?


  1. Psychological projection.

    It's because they know that the Austrian School is the world's only rationalist economics school.

    Kind of like how someone would insult Stephen Hawking by saying "Hawking? No, I was talking about intelligent cosmologists."

  2. Positive he wasn't talking about Chicago? They are the "rational expectations" guys. "Rational" could have been a short-hand for "rational expectations." Just a thought.

  3. Don't get me wrong, I identify much more with the Mises guys than the Cato guys, but I think that the animosity is generally mutual.

    Haven't you ever seen the contributors to the LRC blog refer to Cato as "Stato"? There's clearly little love loss between the two organizations.

    Personally I prefer the Mises group because I think they're much more sympathetic to Anarcho-Capitalism and because they come at libertarianism from both an economic and moral standpoint, which is why they don't compromise as often. The Cato guys just don't have the same appreciation for the morality of the Austrian system.

    However the Cato guys have, by and large, been solid advocates for the Austrian system.

  4. It's profoundly disappointing, especially given that Cato and Reason get a lot of exposure. They both do a lot of good for the libertarian movement, I won't deny that, but I expect better than this. Shameful.

  5. I think you are right that there is some animosity or at least resentment between Cato and Auburn. It mystifies me, too. I would like it if it were some kind of pro wrestling rivalry, where they really like each other in private.

    On the other hand, I Googled for "stato institute" (@Andrew, above) on the LRC site, and found only 7 hits, most recently in 2008. I think the dislike is mostly from the Cato side.

    On John Stossel yesterday, the topic was Walter Block's "Defending the Undefendable" book, and since Walter is in Argentina, John had David Boaz and Nick Gillespie arguing Walter's thesis in his absence. I think the two of them did a pretty good job. So, they do at least have some grip on reality. I remain puzzled.

  6. The Cato Institute was formed to advance the views of Murray Rothbard, who was also one of Cato's founders. After Rothbard was ousted in an internecine conflict, Cato's mission became muddled by their desire to be "respectable" rather than be morally and economically rigorous.

    The reason that Cato has been called "stato" is because of their penchant for adopting positions that simply cannot be libertarian. For example, various Cato scholars have essentially taken the position that social security is ok, but can be made more efficient. There is nothing libertarian about taking money (by force) from some people who have earned it, and giving it to others who have not. Cato is essentially a group of low-tax liberals. While there is nothing wrong with being a low-tax liberal, it's not libertarian.

    The Mises institute has become what Cato should have become. Too Bad for Cato. For more of this history, see here:

  7. I think it comes down to Cato and Reason's rejection due to the Koch influence of anything Murray Rothbard. The Mises Institute is dedicated to the Misesian system entirely, and that includes Rothbard's advancements and his work in libertarian theory, including Hoppe's advancements of Rothbard's work.

    Cato and Reason are Hayek centered, and rarely mention Mises, and never speak (or if they do, it is to insult) of Murray Rothbard.

    There seem also to be a propensity to want to be "legitimate" or "relevant" in the Beltway. To do that they must cater to the people there. Auburn, being far from statist influence, can remain rock solid in libertarian credentials.

    I respect the LvMI approach, and scratch my head at the Beltway libertarians.

  8. Who here would donate if any more money to Cato than LvMI?

  9. @Anonymous 5:30,

    Not I.

  10. LVMI has taken Mises' ideas to their logical conclusion, which are a anarcho-libertarian, and therefore do not see much if any role of a "state", aka a geographic monopoly of violence, in advancing liberty. Cato and (T)Reason still maintain minarchist views and therefore seek legitimacy within the current system despite their desire to radically re-engineer it.

    That is the most plausible source of friction, and despite Cato's "low blows" w/r/t LVMI they are still an ally- an unreliable ally, but an ally nonetheless.

    Dale Fitz

  11. I visited Cato's site daily when I was a teenager, subscribed to Reason in my early 20s, now I'm almost 30 and I have rejected both. I acknowledge that they do sometimes turn out research and content that's good for the movement, but on the whole, I can't stand by them.

    Especially after that comment dissing RP on Fox by a woman from Reason the other day, I can't see myself spending any money on an issue of Reason here and there.

  12. Cato has Johnson as "their" libertarian and Reason Magazine has trashed Ron Paul. Both these organizations ignore Paul as much as the mainstream media. How can you call yourself a libertarian organization and not support the man who has brought, not only libertarianism to the masses, but also Austrian Economics? I have friends whom know the words "libertarian" and "Austrian economics" now because of Ron Paul. Why wouldn't Ron Paul be supported by these two "libertarian" organizations? There is no greater libertarian on the main stage then Ron Paul, the man who lives and breathes it and leads by example. I'll stick with LvMI, Ron Paul and the truth.

  13. The difference is that the Cato/Reason types are not opposed to the Fed or the warfare state, so they want to have the government with enough money to do all sorts of programs that austrians are against. The whole point to me of 86ing the income tax would be to cut off the funds for the state, not to just shift who has to pay. It is ridiculous anyway to expect compliance, since the underground economy would skyrocket.

    Pretty simple difference.

  14. Though I don't know who the "rationall economists" are Mr. Boaz referred to, I do know that I turned away from the Cato/Reason bloc early on in my libertarian "trajectory" due to their constant references to me as being a part of "public policy" in much of their work.

    That was too creepy for me to accept, even to this day, and should be, at least in my mind, the tip-off for anyone who is intellectually "weighing" the two "branches" (LvMI/Cato).

    And then their is Chris Branco's point above: How do they justify their near/total ignorance/dismissal/downplaying of Ron Paul and his enormous contriibutions? It's disturbing and I suspect it has much to do with their pro-state leanings.

  15. And in that context, I dug this up:

    The talking points stay the same, don't they?

  16. Chris, I suspect that much of the disagreement with Paul from the Cato/Reason crowd is due to his pro-state leanings. Immigration and gay marriage aren't inconsequential issues.

  17. @Lila,

    Thanks again for another link, and yes, they do.

    It's almost enough to make this grown man cry.

  18. Cato supporting the warfare state and the Fed make them lose any sort of credibility whatsoever to being for limited government.

  19. Here's how I see their respective roles:

    Cato does POLICY work informed by Libertarianism, however you want to define that. Their aim is to assist lawmakers primarily and the populace second.

    Reason is a Current Affairs news magazine from a Libertarian perspective. They are simply a news outlet -they don't do as much proscriptive recommendations but mostly report the news that would interest to individuals and libertarians.

    Mises is less interested in policy and news but more focused on grounding folks in the PHILOSOPHY of sovereign individualism and liberty.

    I'm a fan of all three and I hope I haven't disparaged any of them in their respective roles. All are extremely valuable and a world under any of their visions would be so much superior to what we have now.

  20. You've never seen members of Mises/LRC refer to Reason Magazine as "tReason"? The only time I see any mention of Cato/Reason from Mises/LRC is to discredit them as "beltway libertarians" or as a segue to make some comments about Koch Industries. I think it's safe to say there's very little mutual respect on either side, along with a fair amount of name-calling.

  21. Lew Rockwell asked the Koch Brothers for some funding support when he was starting the Mises Institute and he was told in no uncertain terms that not only would they not give him funding, but they would go out of their way to bury the Mises Institute. "Totalitarian Libertarianism"?

  22. I still read Reason, but only occasionally visit the Cato website. I do enjoy their presentations on C-Span.
    The comments here seem to think of Reason as a monolithic organization. So, when one person or even a couple of them criticize Ron Paul, the PC libertarian knives come out.
    In fact, I agree with some of their columnists and disagree with some. To believe that every libertarian has to follow a narrow plumb line of thought and express only the most radical libertarian ideals in every post seems almost Stalinist.
    Reason takes a more skeptical scientific view of some sacred cows on the Lew Rockwell site. Lew seems to be pushing the Mercola natural foods pov to an extreme, while Ron Baily is more scientific. Dare I say rational?

    BTW, all libertarians on both sites could be more radical. I don't see libertarians from either site not paying income taxes, and working to overthrow the income tax by action, not just complaints.

  23. a minor point, but I do not believe libertarianism to be a minarchist/anarchist ideology. It is based on the non-agression principle, therefore a voluntary state could be of any size and scope, from nonexistent to leviathan, so long as no individual was forced to participate.

    Libertarianism may lend itself to minarchy, but that is only a byproduct of libertarian voluntarism.

    Cato supports government programs that are based on force, and therefore Cato is NOT a libertarian group. LvMI "hates the state", and the force that it uses to sustain itself beyond what a voluntary public would support, and is therefore libertarian, as well as anarcho-capitalist.

  24. @Texas Chris

    I do agree broadly with what you are saying.

    However, unless you are a native American, when your parents or grandparents moved to the US, they voluntarily chose to do so.

    I know I chose to live here.

    So it's not possible for me to say that the US government forced me to live here...and since children inherit the claims of their parents, there is an argument to be made that if your ancestors chose to come here, they too have voluntarily accepted a contract of a reinforced by continuing acceptance of the terms of contract.

    If you haven't left, which is not impossible, then you have in the scheme of things chosen this government.

    If you object that this kind of freedom is not worth much, well it's no different from the freedom of the market where you are free to either starve or work at something you like for a pittance, right?

    So if you accept a contract in those market circumstances, logic seems to compel you to give at least similar treatment to the "contract" with the state as well...

    After all, if you received an advance for your work with a corporation and then refused to work, they too would show up with subpoenas and attorneys, which, while not "men with guns," is close enough...

    I realize hackles with rise when I make this comparison, but there is enough truth in it that I feel comfortable offering it as one more reminder that purist positions in these things end up biting you in the backside.

  25. I reject the idea that if you live in a geographical area you have a voluntary contract, a "social contract" with the government of that area. That is the left wing version of the old conservative saw : if you don't like it, move to Russia!

    A practical problem with the notion that living in a particular area is tantamount to a contract is the problem of defining just what the contract entails. There is no clear limits to this notion of a social contract. There is no tangible property exchange (consideration) for clearly defined benefits. The social contract is all so vague, so undefined.Yet, still backed up by "men with guns".

    To equate the "social contract" with a private contract is therefore an apples and oranges analogy.

    To bring up my former point, the income tax laws, to anyone who bothers to read them with the modern tools of internet search engines, simply do not say what the government claims they say. So, the government is engaged in fabricating claims to your property without foundation in law, and uses the excuse of "public policy" to override actual law. The monopoly judicial system is relatively weak in protecting rights deprivations caused by this
    chasm between the contract (the statutes and regulations and Supreme Court cases) and its enforcement.

    While lawyers may play some games with a private contract, there is much less latitude when terms are clearly laid out and voluntarily accepted between willing parties.

    The notion that in the free market you are "free" to either starve or work for a pittance is so riddled with logical fallacy and unsupported by historical experience as to be unworthy of more serious refutation.

  26. @Brendan

    1. I am not "left wing" or right wing.
    2. It is not a version of "if you don't like it, you can move." I merely said that you are not lacking in choices and you are not exerting all your choices.

    Or is it your contention that voluntarism is exerting EASY choices?

    3. Not at all. There is an exchange of value, albeit with some compulsion. There is a vote (however corrupted). There are services rendered (even if not always what we want or at the best price).

    4. I didn't equate the two. Can you read?

    I said there are enough similarities that it should give us pause before we become too purist.

    Apparently, there IS some truth in that, or you wouldn't get so hot under the collar.

    And apples and oranges while different ARE both fruit. Which is exactly my point.

    5. Your point about income tax however is beside the point. I have no illusions about the state. I am on the libertarian side, in case you didn't notice.

    I merely like to make good arguments, not bad ones, and there seem to be terrible to mediocre arguments being put out for a quite noble philosophy.

    This one isn't terrible, but it is mediocre.

    6. "While lawyers may play some games...."

    Oh ha ha, my dear sir. The receiving end of a corrupt corporate contract is no less painful, I assure you, than the receiving end of government justice.

    And often it is the very same people applying the screws. It isn't called a corporate-state for nothing.

    7. The notion of "starve or work" you scoff at is one regularly put forward by capitalists and free market advocates, so I am well within my rights to use it.


    You have not refuted a single point I made, except to label things this or that...and load on some verbiage ("unworthy of serious consideration" surely ranks along with "of course' and "evidently" as fact-bereft rhetoric.

    Libertarianism is a profound enough philosophy to allow for some refinement in its defense rather than defensive emotion.

    Or do you think it needs intellectual affirmative action?

  27. I know a considerable amount of people associated with both the Cato Institute and the Mises Institute. To suggest that no one involved with the Mises Institute says things like this is simply ludicrous. I seriously doubt Mr. Wenzel actually believes this claim. There are constant suggestions and insinuation that Cato explicitly promotes facism and is actually totally influenced by funding/power and must be acting in bad faith. Assume bad intentions instead of principled disagreement is just as serious a crime of disrespect as a joke about another institutions rationality. Arguing, claims against intentions are worse since they suggest a moral crime, not a persistent incorrectness in logic. Wenzel insinuates as much here:

    "That Cato would allow such a piece to be printed, which hails Friedman's money printing advocacy, indicates that they themselves don't get the business cycle or there are other motives which are ranked higher than economic truth."

    It takes a reasonable point that Mr. Wenzel is making about a tasteless joke or worse, and actually trivializes it because of his total unwillingness to confront the bilateral ugliness/stupidity of this feud and engage in a serious discussion about moving past it. The "it's all their fault...what do you want me to do?" mentality is a poison to both houses. It's posts like this that advance the division on both sides instead of making anyone think critically about how they treat the people they agree with 99.9% of the time.

  28. so lila, if you moved into an area known to have occasional crime (like virtually every place on the planet), then you should accept (as a part of some "contract" you made with the criminals when you moved there) criminal acts against your person or property, right?

    "yeah, i was raped yesterday, but it's part of what i signed up for when i moved to [anywhere on earth]" that's sad logic, even without going into the idea that you should be happy with being raped because your ancestors moved someplace (that likely wasn't the same at that time, anyway).

    "...well it's no different from the freedom of the market where you are free to either starve or work at something you like for a pittance, right?"

    and what of the other options? what about prospering? what about getting rich at doing something you don't like, or doing something you do like and maintaining a middle-of-the-road income? why put forward such false dichotomies?

    people shouldn't be free to starve if they want to? everyone knows (including you) that someone is unlikely to starve in any somewhat resourceful economy simply because people will work to help others if they think they have the available resources. so, the only reason someone would starve if if they wanted to, for some reason, or if there simply weren't available resources to sustain the society at a certain population (which is rare).

    "...if you received an advance for your work with a corporation and then refused to work, they too would show up with subpoenas and attorneys, which, while not "men with guns," is close enough..."

    yeah, they would, because you stole from them. they won't show up because they want to stop you from smoking, or because they want you to pay them to live in your own house, or because they think they're entitled to a part of your income, etc., which is what the state does.

  29. @zrated

    Your rape analogy is false. Criminals are not part of the fixtures in a place that one can foresee in any detail nor does one enter into any kind of dealing with them.

    When I research and move to a country, I do indeed know something about the government and I do deal with them from the start.

    True, I might not like it that every place on earth has a government. But that should give me pause and make me wonder if there is something in human nature itself which (at some point) asks for government and authority.

    And if it is human nature itself that is asking for it, then to constantly project the state as an evil OUTSIDE of one, rather than an EVIL arising from within, is to mistake the nature of the battle you are doing, which is not merely against random indoctrinated "statists" but against the violent and delusional propensities within ourselves that seek fraud and force not only through the institution of the state but through many other ways.

    That is why I think Stefan Molyneux's objections to political action do have serious weight, although I ultimately disagree with his contention that one way or other is BETTER.

    My belief is that each should search his own conscience and do what seems right and natural to him. No more.

    And furthermore, I don't see why you are getting so bothered about my raising the point that there IS some choice in the matter of citizenship.

    I would think you'd find it heartening. Many libertarians ARE forming groups to secede, or expatriating. Why isn't that a good solution? It is certainly a solution at the individual level, and for me, that is mostly what matters.

    I think a large mass of people expatriating to a less intrusive state is an enormously powerful act.

    About your other point -

    "People will starve if they don't work" is precisely the justification made for multinationals who hire workers for very miniscule wages in third world countries, where there are often times no alternatives.

    Mind you, I am not criticizing the MNC's for that, I am merely saying that that is the defense of contract that is made when the target of criticism is a corporation. And some elements of that defense hold good for the state as well.

    (I don't say, obviously, that we have a voluntary contract with the government in our individual persons. We don't).

    Bottom line:

    1. We have many more choices than we admit to having.

    2. Governments exist because en masse, people want them..

  30. I really hate to be the one to say this, but: Cato needs to be disestablished. I don't care how much good stuff they churn out (they do, I admit), because on net, they have sold out, they have compromised, they have rejected their own principles. I will still occasionally hit the site, and give credit where it is due, but Cato as an organization, is a complete crock. But I will always cherish my copy of the Cato institution Declaration of Independence and US Constitution.

    I am somewhat suspicious of the Koch brothers. They may very well be in the wrong in their disputes with Cato, but I personally hope they take it out.