Thursday, August 30, 2012

Panic Inside Cato Over a Potential War Hawk Turn

Cato employees are so concerned about new Cato president John Allison's recent speech at a Randian organization that Allison has sent an email to all employees to quell anxiety.

David Weigel sets the scene (my emphasis):
My friend Jeremy Lott broke the news of an Allison speech at a meeting of the Ayn Rand Institute, the Objectivist group run by Leonard Peikoff, whom Rand considered an intellectual heir. According to tweets from the meeting, Allison had been open to "reform" of Cato's foreign policy shop -- meaningful because pure Objectivism is hawkish, and Cato's current national security hawks are not. 
Below is the letter Allison sent out:
From: John Allison
Subject: Update/Rumors
Date: August 30, 2012 
All Cato Employees,
I have now had the pleasure of meeting with almost all the Cato team. I'm impressed with the quality of Cato's employees and their commitment to Cato's mission. 
However, there a couple of rumors circulating that are creating unnecessary anxiety. The first has to do with  my association with the Ayn Rand Institute ( ARI ). I participated in a Q and A at a previously planned ARI event shortly after the announcement that I would become President of Cato. There has been Internet chatter based on "tweets" from the Q and A. I was being "grilled" at the event and will not guarantee that my answers were the best. Also, I was still learning about Cato. However, in the many sessions I have had with employees at Cato my answers have been totally straightforward. Make your own judgment. 
As regards to my philosophy, I had a number of discussions with Ed Crane long before being approached to become Cato's President. I believe Ed and I are in fundamental agreement on all essential philosophical issues. Also, I have written a book, The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure, which will be published by McGraw Hill on September 27. The book focuses on economics, but also includes fundamental comments on individual liberty, national defense, and the overall role of government. Ed said he agreed with everything in the book, except my position on Fair Value accounting which is an esoteric issue. I think you will find my philosophy as expressed in this book very consistent on every major issue with Cato 's core beliefs. The book was written before I considered becoming Cato's President. Furthermore, I certainly do not expect anyone at Cato to always agree with me and I have a great deal to learn. 
As discussed at several employee meetings, while I am proud to be an objectivist, the focus on my association with ARI is completely out of context. I am also on the boards of the Duke, UNC, and Wake Forest business schools and universities are fundamentally philosophical organizations. I guarantee some of the faculty at these universities are dramatically less philosophically aligned with Cato than is ARI. I have learned from this university engagement and possibly changed some minds. In fact, now that I have a deeper understanding about Cato, I believe almost all the name calling between libertarians and objectivists is irrational. I have come to appreciate that all objectivists are libertarians, but not all libertarians are objectivists. I respect this distinction, (although I consider anarchy to be dangerous).
It's important to understand that my primary life experience is as a businessman, with over 40 years of working with BB&T. The conspiracy theories that seem important in think tanks appear very odd to me. When I retired as CEO, BB&T had $152 billion in assets and 30,000 employees. There was a radically wider range of fundamental beliefs among these employees than exist at Cato. Yet, we worked together to create a great organization. Having run a large organization with many different constituencies, I am a "big tent" thinker. I have long encouraged ARI to work with Cato. Furthermore one of the reasons I came to Cato is that I believe we can play a leadership role in the greater free society movement without sacrificing our principles. Frankly, if all of us who believe in a free society don't become more impactful, the future wellbeing of the U.S. is at risk. Being successful demands both a long term perspective and current action plan.
We are in the last stages of finalizing the settlement documents. If all goes as planned, I will assume the Presidency of Cato October 1 and Ed will continue in a consulting role (after year end). By the way, the Cato Board who are long time libertarians offered me a contract which I refused. If I am not optimizing the performance of Cato in fulfilling its mission then the board can and should find a new leader. All of you (especially Ed) have the right to be proud of Cato's many accomplishments. However, everything can be improved. Some of the strategic thinking skills I learned leading a rapidly growing and highly successful organization can drive Cato to even greater effectiveness. We will make the world a better place to live by powerfully communicating the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace while creating a culture where each employee can pursue their personal happiness. 
Best Wishes, 
P.S.  For those interested in foreign policy, these are some quotes from my book:
The Founding Fathers did not see the purpose of the U.S. military to eliminate injustice on the planet as liberals demand. They did not expect the U.S. military to make the world safe for democracy as the neo-conservatives demand. They viewed the role of our armed forces to protect and defend the U.S.  George Washington wisely advised to avoid foreign entanglements. The Founding Fathers were familiar with the economic waste of European military adventures. 
It is clear that the defense budget in the U.S. could be cut at least 25% and the U.S. be better defended than it is today.

Yeah right, first it is significant to note that Allison goes out of the way in this "big tent" email to state "anarchy to be dangerous". So much for Rothbardian anarcho-capitalists being allowed in Allison's big tent.

And here's Jeremy Lott reporting what tweeters said Allison said when he thought he was off the record with Randian friendlies:
One observer with the handle Atlas 51184, who was there, notes that Allison “said those disrespectful of Rand will change their attitudes or find other employment.” He claimed that he only took the job at the behest of [ARI executive director Yaron]Brook and in the years that Allison serves at Cato, “he will be grooming an Objectivist replacement.”

A guy named Earl Parson also live-tweeted the Q&A. His tweets show considerable overlap with what Atlas51184 had to say, but also add a few more bombshells. The two agree, for instance, on the succession bit:

A[llison]: I’ll stay a couple years at least and try to groom a good O[bjectiv]ist successor while bringing some positive change to the organization.

Here is how Allison characterized Cato’s strengths and weaknesses to a roomful of Objectivists: 
They are a mixed bag: healthcare policy research excellent; foreign policy bad; intellectual property mixed but not too bad.

And foreign policy came up again:

JA expects challenges in the area of reforming foreign policy there but seems to look forward to the challenge.
He's lying to someone.

It is noteworthy that Allison mentions Yaron Brook's name as one who urged him to take the Cato position. Brook is a major war hawk, who believes that the U.S. must battle "Islamic-totalitarianism".  Indeed, his advocacy of US attacks on "Islamic totalitarian states"  is plain for all to see in his writings.  Wikipedia's summary is quite informative:
Brook claims that the Islamic terrorists initiated a war against the West because they hate the West's culture, wealth, love of life, and global influence.[15] This is opposed to the ideas that Islamic terrorists attack the West because they are poor, or because the West supports Israel, or any other reason.[16]
They [Islamic terrorists] don't hate us because we support Israel, they hate Israel because they look like us[17] 
Brook claims that the West isn't at war with terrorism, but the ideology of Islamic totalitarianism...

Brook further argues that these Islamic states must be severely attacked in order to crush their will to engage in and support terrorism.

The US has been attacked first thus it has the moral right to fight Islamism. The sole moral duty of the United States is to defend its citizens against its enemies by all means, even with the use of the atom bomb if necessary.[28]

What specific military actions would have been required post-9/11 to end state support of Islamic Totalitarianism is a question for specialists in military strategy, but even a cursory look at history can tell us one thing for sure: It would have required the willingness to take devastating military action against enemy regimes—to oust their leaders and prominent supporters, to make examples of certain regimes or cities in order to win the surrender of others, and to inflict suffering on complicit civilian populations, who enable terrorist-supporting regimes to remain in power.[20]..

From the beginning of the War on Terrorism, Brook has argued that Iran should be the primary target of U.S. retaliation for Sept. 11, secondary targets being Saudi Arabia and Syria.[14]
It should also be noted that Cato was not a beacon of consistency on the war issue with the creep Ed Crane in charge, but apparently the Koch brothers have chosen to bring in a man as president who has very strong war hawk views and hangs with war hawks. Have the Kochs become neocons?


  1. Well, it's not like Cato has been flying the peace flag, Seriously, I couldn't give a rat's ass about Cato or ARI. Thank god for Ron Paul for teaching a new generation that the essence of libertarianism is peace. Hopefully the new generation will go straight to Rothbard and free market anarchism, jumping right pass the minarchist mindset quicksand, where many get stuck and slowly sink for years.

  2. What’s the provenance of this email? Sounds unlike John Allison. (Would he go so directly against the Objectivist linkage of politics and morality? And would he decapitalize “Objectivist”?) This needs to be definitely linked to Allison to have any credibility … it seems a neat fulfillment of what some bloggers would like to see.

  3. Actually, I find this very troubling:

    "There was a radically wider range of fundamental beliefs among these employees than exist at Cato. Yet, we worked together to create a great organization. Having run a large organization with many different constituencies, I am a "big tent" thinker."

    Someone who doesn't see a difference between running a business for profit (where people's political beliefs are quite irrelevant as long as they act in accordance with the business objective) and running a think tank probably shouldn't be a think tank president. A think tank, as far as I understand, works with ideas.

    To have employees with "a wide range of fundamental beliefs" in a think tank MUST be a problem, since the objective of the think tank is the expression and diffusion of these very ideas. If you don't agree, then you're not a good employee--just like you're not a good employee in a construction firm if you fundamentally disagree with construction or architecture. It is not a big problem if you believe in certain political ideas in a construction firm, just like it is not a big problem if you disagree on construction techniques in a think tank.

  4. "I believe almost all the name calling between libertarians and objectivists is irrational. I have come to appreciate that all objectivists are libertarians, but not all libertarians are objectivists. I respect this distinction, (although I consider anarchy to be dangerous)."

    And Rands ashes are rolling in her grave.

    In just a few sentences he has alienated both libertarians AND objectivists. (big O or little O :) )

    For my part, I think its time libertarians AND objectivists stop treating their respective philosophies like religions. Stop treating themselves like followers. The whole point of either is the supremacy of the individual OVER the collective! In this, the Anarchists are on to something.


  5. Think tanks need to be run like a business just as government does. If you can assign a monetary value to each position you can advance based on the size of the audence and the new viewers/members/speakers etc. as a result, then you can determine where your best course of action is to maximize the dollars you have to advance your position. In short it is imperceptive that CATO be run like a business.

    Is Allison a Brook Objectivist? Absolutely not. Listen to what's been said by Allison on Stossel's show on wars and using the US military to fight the extremism and you'll realize that he and Brook don't agree at all.

    As for Anarchy being dangerous. Sure it is. If executed effectively it eliminates the power of people in think tanks and lobbies and government. If done ineffectively, it leads to tyranny and worse. But then so was the American experiment in its day and actually everywhere that the American Republic has been tried - It has worked exactly once and only once throughout all human history. In every other case the design of the American Republic has resulted in a quick and fiery death of a nation. All government systems (or lack there of) can result in tyranny and likely will. It is a very incredibly narrow path to any lasting freedom and prosperity as exemplified by a total of about 150 years of true freedom in a small part of the world in all of human history.

  6. Yaron Brook, Israeli born Jew, perverts Ayn Rand via the one bad answer (nonanswer really) that Mrs Rand gave on the Phil Donahue show many decades ago. Rand was no Zionist, no believer in the UN and certainly an atheist. But Yaron Brook will not point that out, indeed, his mission is to make sure her ideas go to assist the Zionist cause. If Rand wanted to assist the Zionist cause, she would have written an article to do so, but she did not. She, like many Americans at the time of the Donahue show, had no contemporary historical understanding of the creation and goals and practices of the UN created Israel. Ayn Rand's nonanswer to Phil Donahue shows that she, like most people, did not understand the underlying cause of the conflict in Israel. So she fell back on her championing of the industrious over the moochers and looters. So what, it did not answer the lady's question. Now in the Journal of Libertarian Studies, the libertarian answer is found there, and it all comes down to private property rights in a land where three religions claim they have a deed straight from gawd, but none can produce it. Until such deed is produced, we should base our sense of justice and right and wrong by establishing the best we can the property rights of all. Just as elderly Jews from WWII and their heirs get their stolen property back today, so too should Palestinian lands that where stolen and taken be returned to them. Peace comes from respecting private property rights, justly owned of course. Peace does not come from taking and occupying that which is not yours to begin with. The current system of Israeli to Palestinian apartheid has created a whole people, afflicted with PDS syndrome. It has created it on both sides. It has created a climate of religious-racial hatred that is taught, generationally. Once a system of force is created by the State, the State's only interest is to maintain its system of force and thus, maintain the apartheid that justifies it. Peaceful existence came to Israel each time it gave land for peace, from Egypt to Jordan to Lebanon. Now that the damage has been done, a simple land for peace will not be enough, instead a whole national educational psychological counseling will have to go on for generations who are effectively mentally abused with the evil hatred they now hold. Most of all, religious decrees of marital autarky must be shamed and not enforced in laws, norms and practice. This means Judaism must change itself, and give up its race claims to jewish tribal membership. Finally, this also means that Muslim claims to the rightful use of violence must be denounced as well. For peace in the middle east, property rights of each need to be respected, but most of all, both religions need to change for the better, and shamed when they don't. Both could use the wisdom of secular atheism, with its non-aggression tolerance and nonracial marital practices.