Dreams of Anarchism

There is a debate between Larken Rose and Mark Skousen. It is amusing, if not enlightening. It is an argument between two radical right-wingers.

Larken Rose is an anarchist and not the pacifist live-and-let-live kind. He seems to be a hardcore anarcho-capitalist, where capitalists instead of government rules the world. He also argues for shooting cops when one feels their rights infringed, a rather subjective standard. This is the kind of guy who fantasizes about violent revolution and overthrow of all authority.

Mark Skousen is related to the even more infamous W. Cleon Skousen. That other Skousen is his uncle, a crazy right-wing Mormon who is a favorite of Glenn Beck. Theoretically, Mark Skousen is a libertarian, but I suspect of the authoritarian variety—i.e., a pseudo-libertarian. Maybe he is an aspiring theocrat like his uncle. Whatever he is, he doesn’t exude the principled dogmatism and righteous outrage seen with Rose. But both believe in violence in resolving conflict—see Skousen’s honor culture attitude.

I don’t normally bother with such things. But I do get curious in exploring worldviews outside of the mainstream. What got me thinking was something said by Rose in the debate:

The best attempt ever in the history of the world at creating a country based on ‘limited government’ created the largest authoritarian empire in the history of the world, with the largest war machine in the history of the world, and the most intrusive extortion racket in the history of the world.

Invariably minarchists, at this point, pull a page out of the communist handbook and say “Well the theory works, if just wasn’t done right!”

I have a tip for you, if every SINGLE time your theory is applied to the real world it FAILS COMPLETELY, maybe your theory SUCKS.

At this point, this could be said pretty much of every political theory. Maybe political theory is not the answer. I’ve always thought the least anarchist thing one could ever do is to turn anarchism into an ideology to worship and bow down to. But I have some fondness for what might be called epistemological anarchism, a whole other creature. The kind of anarchist I prefer is Robert Anton Wilson, the complete opposite of a dogmatic ideologue.

I find it amusing when anarchists like this complain that others are disconnected from reality. The only reason they can make their arguments is that they are offering utopian visions. No one can point to the failure of anarchism because there is no great example of anarchism ever having been attempted.

When anarchists try to bring up real world examples, they come off as entirely unconvincing. They are so lost in abstractions and imaginings that they can’t look at the evidence for what it is. This kind of right-wing ideological certainty fascinates and frustrates me. I’ve been down this road before (see herehere, here, here, here, and here). I know all the arguments made. I know the mindset.

There is a careless thinking in much of this. There are left-wing examples that are similar. But in the US the right-wing examples are more prevalent and in your face. It’s harder to ignore them. Unlike left-wing fantasies, right-wing fantasies hold immense power in our society. Confronting these fantasies is important. This requires engaging them, not just dismissing them.

Ancaps have a few favorite things they like to cite. History doesn’t offer them much in the way of evidence, and so they have to cling to what meager evidence they can find. They’ll bring up such things as ancient Ireland. But they end up cherrypicking the facts to fit their ideology and then molding them into a vague resemblance of what their advocating.

Consider the interpretation of the historical and archaeological evidence. It demonstrates the problem when you try to make anarchism into an ideology and then try to apply that ideology to complex social reality. Ancient Ireland wasn’t anarchist in the normal sense of the word—certainly not anarcho-capitalist.

Not only laissez-faire capitalism wouldn’t have existed, but neither would individualism, land ownership, etc. These were highly communalistic societies with strict hierarchies and powerful authority figures. If you disobeyed tradition and broke taboos, you’d quickly find that you weren’t free to do whatever you wanted. The modern idea of individual civil rights was simply nonexistent.

Yes, they were small-scale, local, and decentralized. But that isn’t the same thing as anarchism. Many confuse anti-statism with anarchism. What anarchism means is no rulers. These ancient Irish societies didn’t lack rulers, even if they operated differently than in statist societies. They also didn’t lack violence and oppression. The ancient Irish regularly fought one another—including wars of aggression, not just wars of defense. They didn’t simply respect each other’s liberty and freedom.

We need to speak more clearly and not filter reality through our ideas and ideals.

At a Youtube video, one person left this comment:

Er… There was no individual property ownership in Medieval Ireland. Land was controlled by the nobility as heads of collectives known as “túaths”. These collectives were based on kinship and regional proximity. The vast majority of the people were peasants, or “Churls”, who worked the land for the nobility. Yes, the membership of the túaths was fluid, but this system was based on fealty (oath and allegiance), to break an allegiance was not a simple matter.

These societies had rulers. An anarchist society would lack rulers. By definition, these ancient Irish societies weren’t anarchist. Plus, the cost of leaving one of these societies would be extremely high, including the clear possibility that one wouldn’t survive for long. These were extremely authoritarian societies. There was nothing libertarian about them.

From the same video, someone else wrote:

Under that definition, every economic arrangement imaginable is capitalism. Socialism is capitalism, merchantilism is capitalism, feudalism is capitalism etc. It’s fallacious.

People traded. But trade alone is not capitalism. There wasn’t much if any notion of individual ownership. One community might trade with another, but it was typically a collective action as decided by the king and nobility.

Plus, most daily activity would have included more along the lines of social exchanges, not necessarily even barter as we think of it, but more likely a gift society. See David Graeber’s writings.

As all this demonstrates, anarchists are going to have to take their own arguments more seriously. It’s not a matter of convincing others. The best way for them to convince others would be to create an anarchist society somewhere. They could buy an island and start their own non-statist society. No one is stopping them, at least in a legal and economic sense.

Of course, they would argue that the statists are stopping them or making it difficult. Sure, statists have no reason to make it easy. That isn’t the responsibility of statists. If your anarchism can’t withstand the power of statism, then that is proof of why your beliefs have never succeeded in reality. State governments aren’t going to roll over and die. An actual functioning anarchist society will have to be able to fight and win a war against the militaries of nation-states…. or otherwise somehow defend and prevent such attacks.

The problem here isn’t ideologicaly. It isn’t about finding the right principles and being unswerving in one’s conviction. What anarchists face is a whole world of people, a global population growing ever larger on a planet that is staying the same size. Telling most people that they are wrong doesn’t really achieve anything, however satisfying it might feel to express one’s righteous outrage.

If anarchists hope to find real world applications for their utopian ideals, they will have to confront human nature and not just in theory. That goes for anyone with an ideological agenda, even those who claim to have none. As for utopian ideals, I have my own that I favor and that is the reason I spend so much time thinking about human nature. I want to understand what might lead a mere potential to become manifest. This is the tough questioning and self-questioning that I rarely see anarchists willing to take on.

Despite my criticisms, I support anyone with utopian aspirations. Go right ahead. Dream those crazy beautiful dreams. Think big. You are right to not confuse what is and what ought to be. We need more people with daring imaginations and the courage of their convictions. The next step is to experiment, find out with an open mind whether what you believe is a possibility. Prove all your detractors wrong, if you can. I’ll cheer you on in your bold quest for humanity’s future.

Just don’t full yourself that analyzing a problem is the same thing as offering a solution.

Political Alliances and Reform

“Our opponents have stripped the discussion of rights of all its complexity.”
~ Howard Schwartz, Beyond Liberty Alone, Kindle Location 1349

I had a direct experience of this over these past few days. I was involved in a political debate. It was on a facebook page for a local group, Reform the Johnson County Criminal Justice System. Before I go into the details of the situation, let me briefly explain the background of the group.

The group was formed because of a particular issue that was being fought against, but it quickly broadened in scope. It attracted many people from a wide variety of ideological perspectives. Over time, some people grew dissatisfied. Many liberals, progressives, and similar types left the group and joined another group. The main guy who organized the group was one of those who left. He passed the keys onto at least one other person, Sean Curtin.

Sean is a lawyer and a libertarian. He is very much an activist. I get the sense that he dedicates his entire life to his politics. He seems devoted and is a decent guy. However, he is a tad dogmatic in his right-wing politics. There is a slight reactionary slant to his libertarianism, but someone was explaining to me that he has been moving (or, because of circumstances, has felt pushed) leftward toward greater alliance with liberal and progressive reformers.

I like to see alliances. This is what makes me a liberal. I’m all about seeking mutual understanding. That is often easier said than done. Sean had sent me a friend request on Facebook and I accepted. I remained ‘friends’ with him for a while, until his dogmatism irritated me enough and I unfriended him.

That wasn’t that long ago when I unfriended him. I hadn’t interacted with him since. For some reason, I was drawn to comment on a post on the group’s Facebook page. He joined in along with some others. It didn’t lead to fruitful discussion. No mutual understanding followed from it, to say the least. Instead, Sean deleted the entire discussion thread. He essentially silenced his opponents. Not very libertarian of him, I must say… or maybe all too typically ‘libertarian’, in that it is liberty for me and none for thee.

The discussion began because of a video talking about “personal responsibility”. This led to talk about rhetoric in terms of language and ideas. It was just when I thought the discussion was getting interesting that it got deleted. I think I understand why. The direction that I was pushing the discussion toward was one in which a libertarian position has little defense. Right-libertarianism can’t handle much direct scrutiny of its ideological rhetoric, because it falls apart or else becomes quite wobbly.

From Sean’s perspective, betraying his idealized principle of liberty by shutting discussion down was more acceptable than allowing any further scrutiny of that ideal and the related ideological rhetoric upon which it is based. That is why I began with that quote by Howard Schwartz. Libertarianism, in its extreme right-wing form, necessitates a simplification of thought and hence a narrowing of debate.

As such, someone like Sean can move pretty far to the left on many issues, but he can only go so far. This leftward shift can even include acknowledging racial bias. It’s just that it has to be kept within a limited framework of analysis. To question too deeply into racism would point toward its structural nature. This enters into dangerous territory of larger social injustice issues that erode at the very foundations of the economic system that libertarians so strongly uphold.

This was the direction in which the discussion was headed. And this is why Sean had to end it before it got too far. This is problematic for any attempt at an alliance for reform. If an alliance is dependent on the lowest common denominator, including reactionary politics into a reform group can bring the agenda down to an extremely low level. This is an even greater problem when reactionary attitudes are held by the leader of a reform group.

This incident has made me question any hope for an effective alliance between the left and right. I haven’t given up hope, but I’m feeling circumspect. Maybe Sean and other libertarians will surprise me in how far they might go, when push comes to shove.

Beyond Liberty Alone

Liberty and responsibility can’t be separated. There is no dependence without interdependence. There are no individuals outside of community and society.

This is why a people who can’t be trusted with collective governance can neither be trusted with self-governance. Eliminating big government wouldn’t solve the problem. Corruption and oppression often is even worse with small governments. This is the failure of the libertarian fantasy.

More importantly, those who would take away from others the right and freedom of self-governance are those who lack the moral capacity for good governance. They shouldn’t be allowed to govern anyone, not even themselves. This speaks to the problem of ruling elites, whether in big or small government, whether local or centralized power.

Too often people who speak of liberty speak only for their own liberty while hoping to deny the liberty of others. This inconsistency shows that they don’t even respect the principle of liberty. It is just empty rhetoric and so dangerous rhetoric. We should fear those who use talk of liberty in order to undermine any real possibility of a free society.

The problem, as always, is the lack of functioning democracy. The balance of liberty and responsibility is democracy’s defining feature. If that doesn’t exist, there is no free society and hence no free individuals. Either everyone is free or no one is free.

“Instead of thinking of liberty as a set of natural or individual rights that must be protected no matter what, this other tradition also sees liberty as including a set of obligations, duties, sacrifices, and responsibilities that come into being as members of social communities and as human beings. Liberty in this view means living justly as part of and within a social community and as a responsible member of the human species.”
~ Howard Schwartz, Beyond Liberty Alone, Kindle Locations 395-397

If You Think Democracy Is Bad, You Should See Libertarianism

I differ from mainstream liberals in having some libertarian inclinations. I don’t think I’m extraordinarily unusual in this. I live in a liberal town and know other liberals that think more like me.

The reason I’m so inclined is simple. I like democracy. It appears that democracy has failed on the large-scale. The only successful examples of democracy are on the small-scale. Hence, libertarianism of a leftist variety.

That said, I wouldn’t identify as a libertarian. Not because I don’t like the label. I couldn’t care less about the label. The real point for me is the principles I hold. In principle, I’m indifferent to the argument of big versus small government. I suspect big government might be a necessary evil.

For example, there is good reason few minorities are libertarians. Colonial African slaves had to choose between Britain and America. It was no easy choice. Few of them were thinking about grand changes. They were simply seeking the best hope available to them. If they chose to fight on one side or the other, it was a very personal decision. They were more fighting for their individual freedom than they were fighting for some ideal of a free society.

It was very concrete and direct. They just wanted to be able to live their own lives and be left alone. That is freedom in the most basic sense.

Since that era, their descendents have continuouslly fought for ever greater freedoms. Yet most of the battles continued to be for very basic freedoms. And most of the battles have been fought at the local level. But almost every victory they had at the local level was reversed by local whites, almost everything they built at the local level was destroyed by local whites.

Conservatives complain about what they see as minorities love of big government. It’s not that they love big government. It’s just that they’ve learned from hard-fought experience that the only lasting change for the good they’ve gained has come from forcing change at the level of big governmment and so forcing local small governments to comply.

Black history demonstrates the failure of libertarianism. An even greater failure than democracy.

Libertarian rhetoric is a white privilege and also a class privilege. There is a reason most libertarians are wealthier whites. They already have their basic rights and freedoms protected, more than anyone else in society.

Minorities aren’t stupid. They see this privilege for what it is.

Libertarian Failure of Principles

I came across a decent article by Will Moyer. I’ve never heard of him, but for the sake of amusement I’ll just assume he is the son of Bill Moyer. This piece is published in Salon with the title, “Why I left libertarianism: An ethical critique of a limited ideology“.

This interests me for a number of reasons. My criticisms of libertarianism, similar to this article, are motivated by my principles. I like aspects of libertarian rhetoric, but I see two problems. First, libertarian reality doesn’t live up to libertarian rhetoric. Second, libertarians don’t take their own rhetoric seriously enough to follow it to its inevitable conclusion. That last point is major part of the article.

I don’t know if libertarianism is possible on a large scale of running a society. Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing a society attempt it. The one thing libertarians pride themselves is on their principles, as if they are more principled than everyone else. Considering that, it is strange how they sell short their own principles. Some of the strongest criticisms of libertarianism come from within libertarianism, just as some of the strongest criticisms of liberalism come from within liberalism.

I’d love to see libertarianism succeed. My harsh attitude toward libertarianism is that it fails according to its own high ideals. I’m a classical liberal and I’m attracted to left-libertarianism. What this means is that I actually take seriously the values of the Enlightenment. When I hear libertarians go on about freedom and such, what makes me wary aren’t that I disagree with those values but that I don’t trust libertarians to live up to them. I don’t trust the Koch brothers to follow libertarian principles any more than I trust Obama to follow liberal principles.

Here is what I liked about Will Moyer’s analysis:

“Both Rothbard and Block accept that some degree of child abuse either violates the NAP (in Rothbard’s case) or delegitimizes parental ownership (in Block’s case), but what constitutes abuse represents a “continuum problem” for libertarians. Some attacks on children are okay but not too much. It’s a big gray area.

“It’s embarrassing that many libertarians have so little moral clarity on this issue. Especially when compared to a website like Jezebel, which has no problem taking a hard stance on aggression against children. [ . . . ]

“Besides all it leaves out, the framework also includes a facile conception of consent.

“Within the libertarian ethical framework, choice is binary. Either something was consented to voluntarily or it was not. This conception of consent marks the line between good and evil. On one side of the line are socially acceptable behaviors and on the other side are impermissible behaviors.

“Theft, rape, murder and fraud all lie on the nonconsensual side and are therefore not good. The other side includes all forms of voluntary human interaction which, again because we’re limited to a political ethic, we can’t really say much about. It’s all fine.

“But there is some gray on the good side. Is a rich CEO really in the same ethical position as a poor Chinese factory worker? In the libertarian view, yes. There are plenty of differences, but if that Chinese worker voluntarily chose to work for that factory, they’re not ethical differences.

“Like the starving-your-child issue, any moral objections you might have are outside the scope of the libertarian ethic. They reflect your personal morality, which has no business being used to dictate social behaviors.

“But choice isn’t binary. It’s a spectrum. There’s a gradient that we can use to measure how constrained a choice really is. On one end is outright force and on the other is pure, unconstrained freedom. But in between is a fuzzy gray area where economic, psychological, cultural, biological and social forces are leaning on human decision making.

“Most libertarians would admit that this spectrum exists, but there is still strong sentiment within libertarianism that any non-coercive relationship is good. And — within the political ethic — even if it isn’t “good,” it’s still permissible. That’s why you see libertarians defending sweatshops.

“A poor Chinese factory worker is far more constrained than a rich white businessman. His range of possible options is tiny in comparison. He is less free. The same may be true depending on your race, gender, class or sexual orientation. The way you were treated growing up — by your parents, teachers and peers — may contribute. The way people like you are represented in media and entertainment may contribute. Social prejudices and cultural norms may contribute. These factors don’t mean people are being outright forced to do anything, but simply that they’re constrained by their environment. We all are, in different ways.

“We don’t lose any ground or sacrifice any claims to a rational moral framework by admitting that. We can still say that one side of the spectrum — the unconstrained one — is good for human beings and the other side is bad. And we can still conclude that the use of force is only a legitimate response to human behavior that falls on the far end of that bad side (theft, rape, murder). But by accepting the spectrum we can examine other relationships that, while they may not include force, can be exploitive, hierarchical and authoritarian.

“As before, without admitting that this spectrum exists, libertarianism leaves an entire range of human social behavior off the table.”

Cryptonomicon: Democracy & Moderation, Conflict & Violence

I’m not going to do a full review, much less a fair and neutral analysis, of Cryptonomicon. The book is large with multiple storylines, one of which involves World War II. The passage that caught my attention, however, comes from the storyline set in the late 1990s when the book was written. Before I get to that passage, let me make note of the worldview of the novel and of the author’s other novels.

I’m going to take a partly critical view on Neal Stephenson’s work or at least aspects therein, but I’m not trying to dismiss his work. I enjoyed Snow Crash, in particular. It felt like a very plausible future in many ways. Stephenson can be a fun writer to read. He is imaginative. So, my purpose here isn’t to do a review of Cryptonomicon or literary criticism of his ouevre. I simply want to use his writing as a way of offering cultural criticism since Stephenson very much seems like a product of our culture. So, I will be narrowly focused in this sense.

I haven’t read all of Stephenson’s books (nor do I want to try). From what others have written, it seems that all of his fiction involves conflict and typically fighting, often outright war. As Al Dimond explains:

Conflict is a theme that runs through every Stephenson novel that I’ve read. That’s a pretty vague theme, you might say. Well, how about this: they’ve all ended in the middle of violent struggle. The corporate wars and virtual swordfights of Snow Crash, global factional fighting in The Diamond Age, small-scale jungle combat in CryptonomiconCryptonomicon‘s story of World War II, its central thesis made explicit in Enoch Root and Randy’s conversations in jail, is the clearest statement that Stephenson basically believes in conflict. He believes that the right side (the progressive side) will eventually win if there is conflict. That without conflict societies lose their sense of what they believe in the first place and can’t progress. Whether or not you believe that what I’m calling progress here is good, this is something that rings true to me: in a world of competitive civilizations, the progressive ones wipe out the others. We always worry that they (we) may wipe out themselves, too, just for the sake of completeness (ha, not really, actually just because we know no other way, or because there’s still enough inequity and thus conflict to keep us fighting and thus progressing). This is a subject that I’ve got to do some reading on, because I’m sure Great Books have been written on the subject.

One could easily conclude that Neal Stephenson, going by his fiction, seems to have little faith in the ideal of social democracy working out its problems without recourse to violence and revolution. There seems to be no overarching socio-political worldview that can encompass the diverse opinions and viewpoints of his characters. Some group apparently has to win and everyone else lose… or else there will be endless fighting and competition between forces. One might say that it is a bit of a Social Darwinian vision. Unsurprisingly, there is a libertarian bent to many of the narratives and characters.

The following is by David Axel Kurtz. This is from the beginning of his post which is a celebration and apologia of this worldview:

In Neal Stephenson’s novel Cryptonomicon, there is nothing more derided than irony. It is seen as the enemy of the artist, an obstacle to creativity, and the antithesis of true production.

If there is a protagonist to Crypto it is Randall Lawrence Waterhouse. He is comparable in many ways to the author of the story. They both came from the American heartland. They both ended up in the Pacific Northwest. They both came of age at the time of the computer’s introduction. They are both highly educated. They are both “white male technocrats.” They are both nerds.

The nerd as hero. I have nothing against that in principle. It is better than Rambo, but Cryptonomicon has both types: the nerd-hero and the soldier-hero. The greatest enemy of all is not taking one’s mission deadly seriously (i.e., irony is bad). No matter which type of hero you are in this world, you have to fight for what you believe in. There is no pacifist-hero of slow, gradual democratic change… for I guess that would make a boring story (and some would say make for a boring ideology)… very few stories, ideologies or products are sold without some drama involved, even if the only drama is the conflict of not having the beautiful woman in the advertisement.

Kurtz identifies the character Randy (Randall) with the author Stephenson. That is something I wondered when I came across the passage where Randy takes on the smug humanities professor G. E. B. Kivistik, a truly pathetic caricature in the tradition of right-wing fear-mongering about the academic liberal elite. What I wanted to know is: Why was the author setting up a straw man for his antagonist to knock down, unless that caricature is genuinely how the author perceives such people? The scenario was a libertarian wet dream. This immediately put my defenses up and made me start to pay closer attention to the story. I’m still not entirely sure where the author comes down on this.

Randy sees himself as self-accomplished and hardworking. He doesn’t see the privilege he has had a white guy born and raised in America. Nor do those inspired by this passage see this. It has become a manifesto of white male victimhood.

Dominic Fox explains this worldview in terms of a “tribal sociology”:

The point to understand here is that Randy is right for a small, local value of “this society”: if you are in a position to participate in the social customs and network of the Dwarves, the path to advancement is indeed to “work hard, educate yourself, and keep your wits about you”. If you are amongst Hobbits, you need to practice quite different virtues. Tribes such as these act as force-multipliers for personal effort (working one’s ass off, something Kivistik has also presumably done in his own way), provided it is directed towards goals that the tribe esteems and is in a position to reward. What is “entrenched” is of course not Randy’s personal position within the tribe to which he is affiliated, but the position of the tribe itself, with its considerable resources of knowledge and power.

The ideological move common to Cryptonomicon and The Diamond Age is to displace class analysis (which would have something to say about hierarchy and exploitation, as fundamental operators of the division of the social world) into a “pagan” compartmentalisation of the world into competing tribes, a flat ecology of value-systems whose historical development is governed by something like an evolutionary fitness landscape. This is apparent from Cryptonomicon’s opening metaphor of the “first self-replicating gizmo” as a “stupendous badass”, and progenitor of a tremendous and varied proliferation of badassery throughout the natural and, by metaphorical extension, social world. This compartmentalisation enables Stephenson to range across wildly varied social and moral environments, and gives the Baroque Cycle its bewildering sweep and scope as well as its synoptic power. But it leaves Randy Waterhouse essentially mystified as to the nature of the opportunities available to him, and unable to grasp the Hobbits’ point, rendered as it is in language that seems offensively fatuous and vapid to him, about “false consciousness”.

An even more scathing criticism came from an unknown author of an essay, Retronomicon:

[W]hat’s most striking given recent political events, Cryptonomicon reads now like a lengthy, pulped-up pamphlet from Ron Paul. In its fascination with electronic cash and the gold standard, the book was dated even at the time of writing (remember, Paypal made its debut only a few months after publication, and the bubble burst in Silicon Valley a year later). Like seemingly all libertarian fantasies, there’s a lot of water, boats, and islands involved. Reading it critically, one is struck by the attempt to normalize some pretty wild ideologies, like tying Holocaust prevention to the possession of homemade automatic firearms. Pull back from the engaging spy-counterspy plot for even a second, and the whole thing starts to unravel, particularly since the dot-com bust has put a lot of its present-day speculation to death. Indeed, the WWII sections are still the strongest in the book, if only because they focus on a character who is not A) a self-indulgent technocrat or B) a particularly deep thinker.

But what I remember bothering me even as I read Cryptonomicon for the first time in college, is the dinner-party flashback in which he viciously burns a strawman of liberal arts and academia. In a novel that often goes out of its way to champion nerdiness (particularly the unexplainable romantic plotline, in which the tough-but-beautiful girl seems to fall for the protagonist through a courtship that bears no resemblance to human behavior), the dinner party stands out as a towering triumph of misplaced Mary Sue dialog.

This critic is speaking of that same passage. Further on, s/he gets into the meat of the issue:

Let’s set aside the poor-little-white-male victimhood schtick for a second, since it’s patently transparent. Look at Kivistik’s original question, the one Randy derides so readily: How many onramps will connect the world’s ghettos to the Information Superhighway? If you strip away the metaphor, all he’s asking is “who’s going to make sure the poor can also access the advantages that the Internet brings?” This isn’t some far-fetched academic pretense: it’s a classic question of the Digital Divide. Perhaps a superhighway is indeed a bad metaphor for this, although I think it actually works rather well. But to argue about the highway, instead of connectivity for the poor, is to miss Kivistik’s point entirely.

And in a book written by an honest author, instead of one using his protagonist as a mouthpiece for radical cyber-selfishness, a professor from Yale would point that out. But Cryptonomicon is not that book, sadly. That the author is capable of writing these sentences himself, and then misinterpreting his own words, is a sign of a shocking lack of empathy with his characters. And yet, I get no sense that he’s writing from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, since the same tone of self-congratulatory geekishness pervades the entire story.

This gives voice to my intuitive response when I initially read the passage in question. It seems the author expects us to take fully seriously this portrayal of academia and its takedown by the idealized nerd-hero outsider. Nonetheless, I wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt.

In the passage, Randy defends himself against the accusation of being a technocrat… worse still, a privileged technocrat. I haven’t done a thorough search about the author’s views on such things, but I did come across an interview where he discusses a technocratic society:

The success of the U.S. has not come from one consistent cause, as far as I can make out. Instead the U.S. will find a way to succeed for a few decades based on one thing, then, when that peters out, move on to another. Sometimes there is trouble during the transitions.

[ . . . ] for the era from, say, 1940 to 2000 it was the engineer, the geek, the scientist. It’s no coincidence that this era is also when science fiction has flourished, and in which the whole idea of the Future became current. After all, if you’re living in a technocratic society, it seems perfectly reasonable to try to predict the future by extrapolating trends in science and engineering.

It is quite obvious to me that the U.S. is turning away from all of this. It has been the case for quite a while that the cultural left distrusted geeks and their works; the depiction of technical sorts in popular culture has been overwhelmingly negative for at least a generation now. More recently, the cultural right has apparently decided that it doesn’t care for some of what scientists have to say. So the technical class is caught in a pincer between these two wings of the so-called culture war. Of course the broad mass of people don’t belong to one wing or the other. But science is all about diligence, hard sustained work over long stretches of time, sweating the details, and abstract thinking, none of which is really being fostered by mainstream culture.

Since our prosperity and our military security for the last three or four generations have been rooted in science and technology, it would therefore seem that we’re coming to the end of one era and about to move into another. Whether it’s going to be better or worse is difficult for me to say. The obvious guess would be “worse.” If I really wanted to turn this into a jeremiad, I could hold forth on that for a while. But as mentioned before, this country has always found a new way to move forward and be prosperous. So maybe we’ll get lucky again. In the meantime, efforts to predict the future by extrapolating trends in the world of science and technology are apt to feel a lot less compelling than they might have in 1955.

That seems to offer a clue.

In Cryptonomicon, Randy denies being a technocrat, denies even knowing what that means. The author in this interview, on the other hand, offers a loving portrayal of the technocratic society he was born into. Growing up, Stephenson saw strife and bickering take over our country. Little of the optimism that brought us to the moon was left by the time he was an adult.

Stephenson states that, “It has been the case for quite a while that the cultural left distrusted geeks and their works”. That is pretty much the opinion of Randy and how he sees the humanities professor. Following this statement, Stephenson also makes a similar statement about the “cultural right”. He is speaking of the culture wars and so the “cultural right” he speaks of is the religious right. However, he separates out the technical class out of this culture war. That is precisely the view of Randy as he sees himself as the outsider. This so-called “technical class” is stereotypically known for its libertarianism and I doubt Stephenson is unaware of this when he makes such statements. He is speaking about a specific group with a specific ideological tendency.

Stephenson seems to have sympathies for the libertarian-minded, but at the same time he sees a broader view:

Speaking as an observer who has many friends with libertarian instincts, I would point out that terrorism is a much more formidable opponent of political liberty than government. Government acts almost as a recruiting station for libertarians. Anyone who pays taxes or has to fill out government paperwork develops libertarian impulses almost as a knee-jerk reaction. But terrorism acts as a recruiting station for statists. So it looks to me as though we are headed for a triangular system in which libertarians and statists and terrorists interact with each other in a way that I’m afraid might turn out to be quite stable.

As he further explains, “Myth of Redemptive Violence, which he sees as a meme by which domination systems are perpetuated. But he is clearly all in favor of people standing up against oppressive power systems of all stripes.” Despite all the conflict and violence in his fiction, he apparently hasn’t embraced this as normative. Still, the fictional worldview being presented is certainly not one of moderation or even any obvious hope for moderation. Stephenson’s stories offer some particular conflict resolved or semi-resolved in a world of conflict, maybe never to be resolved.

Like me, Neal Stephenson was a child of the Cold War. He is of a slightly older generation, a young Boomer. So, he is even more of the Cold War era than I am. That “triangular system” of stability is very much a product of the twentieth century, but when Stephenson spoke in that interview it was several years after the 9/11 terrorist attack and in an entirely new decade following Cryptonomicon. In this new century, conflict and violence has become a lot more personal to Americans. It isn’t about oppressive foreign countries or dystopic futures. We have come to a point where statism, terrorism and libertarianism are being brought to their extremes.

Stephenson explores the world where great heroes go on quests and great men fight for what they seek. Most of us on this teeming planet aren’t great heroes or great men. We are just people trying to get by and hoping for a better world for the next generation. What is everyone else supposed to do while all the great things are happening? Is there any room for democracy to emerge, for grassroots change that doesn’t require conflict and violence?

Sea Change of Public Opinion: Libertarianism, Progressivism & Socialism

I’ve been pointing out over this past decade the sea change occurring in American demographics and public opinion. Despite being well informed, I was blown away by looking at an area of polling I hadn’t previously looked into as deeply.

Pew had a poll from a couple years ago that I missed. If you look at the broad public opinion, it looks like the same old same old. Most Americans have a more favorable opinion of capitalism than socialism. They also have a more favorable opinion of conservatism than liberalism. But it’s always in the details where it gets interesting. The cracks are beginning to show in the Cold War edifice.

More Americans have a positive opinion of progressivism, significantly more than their opinion of conservatism. As many have noted, progressivism has basically become the label for those who like liberalism but are afraid of the negative connotations of the word itself. There isn’t a vast difference between what liberals support and what progressives support.

Even most Republicans give a positive response toward progressivism. This probably relates as well to why many people who self-identify as conservatives will support many traditionally liberal positions. These positions back in the Progressive Era used to be called progressive. Americans strongly support them. That is the true Silent Majority or rather Silenced Majority.

Now, prepare to have your mind blown… or else your stereotypes dismantled.

More Democrats have a positive view of of libertarianism than Republicans. And fewer Democrats have a negative view of libertarianism than Republicans. This shouldn’t be as surprising as would be suggested by watching the MSM. Libertarianism is a direct political competitor with the Republican Party, but Libertarians socially have more in common with liberals and progressives.

What about socialism and capitalism?

“Of these terms, socialism is the more politically polarizing – the reaction is almost universally negative among conservatives, while generally positive among liberals. While there are substantial differences in how liberals and conservatives think of capitalism, the gaps are far narrower. Most notably, liberal Democrats and Occupy Wall Street supporters are as likely to view capitalism positively as negatively. And even among conservative Republicans and Tea Party supporters there is a significant minority who react negatively to capitalism.”

Interestingly, blacks and hispanics both have a negative view of capitalism. However, blacks have a more positive view of liberalism while hispanics have a more positive view of socialism. That will be an interesting future dynamic as these two demograhics grow.

As Sarah van Gelder (at Yes! Magazine) summarized this trend:

“There is growing willingness to name corporate rule and global capitalism as key problems, and to look to decentralized, place-based economies as the answer. While capitalism is viewed more favorably among all Americans than socialism, the reverse is true among those under 29, African Americans and Hispanics, and those making less than $30,000 a year, according to a Pew poll. And more Americans have a favorable view of socialism than of the Tea Party.”




Libertarianism and Reactionary Conservatism

The Leopold and Loeb of Modern Libertarianism
By Corey Robin

While the disparity between the free-wheeling philosophy of the market and the reality of coercive capitalism has long been known, the last four decades have sharpened it. Partly because of the rise of an aggressive defense of untrammeled markets in the name of liberty, partly because of the assault on the welfare state and social democracy. For some on the left, today’s disparity between libertarian theories of the market and the reality of capitalism proves that the idea of the free market is a simple ideological mystification. “Nietzsche’s Marginal Children” takes a different tack: it tries to show that the practice is built into the theory, that it is not elided there but embraced.

“[ . . . ] the libertarian defense of the market—while often treated as a source of tension on the right because it conflicts with the conservative commitment to stability and tradition, virtue and glory—is in fact consistent with the right’s reactionary project of defending private hierarchies against democratic movements from below.

I’d also recommend checking out another article in The Nation by Corey Robin:

Reclaiming the Politics of Freedom

Average Right-Libertarians Support Direct Democracy?

I was debating a Ron Paul libertarian. It made me realize something I hadn’t realized before.

Many right-libertarians will criticize democracy. They claim it’s mobocracy: two wolves and a sheep deciding on what is for dinner. I’ve often pointed out that conservatives and right-wingers have little understanding of democracy. They just present strawman caricatures and repeat talking points.

This particular libertarian seemed to be a typical example. Then he brought up Switzerland as an example of libertarianism. Switzerland does have a more decentralized government. However, Switzerland also has high corporate tax revenues compared to US, strong regulation, an effective welfare system, higher union membership, compulsory military service, state-owned utilities, etc.

It just seems like a standard democracy as it’s practiced in a smaller country, but actually it isn’t entirely standard. I realized that what this libertarian was calling libertarianism was in practice what liberals would call direct democracy. A direct democracy can only function in a decentralized government. What differentiates a libertarian minarchism from a direct democracy minarchism is social democracy. All of those things I listed about Switzerland are social democracy.

So, that was my realization. Many people who think they are libertarians are actually supporters of direct democracy.

The libertarian ideal of localizing power can only happen through a more direct democracy where decisions are voted on by local populations. Maybe most libertarians don’t have a problem with direct democracy. Despite all of their criticisms of direct democracy, maybe most libertarians are criticizing the failure of representative democracy. I agree. Our present government that supposedly represents doesn’t actually represent us, but that is so far from direct democracy as to not even be funny.

It’s not just a failure of education or the media to inform the public. It’s a failure of narrative. They have a narrative that tells them that direct democracy is mobocracy. They are in reality fine with direct democracy just as long as you don’t call it that.

Cato Institute: Corporatist Libertarianism

What is the Cato Institute? Who funds it? Who has been on its board? What are the connections? What is their agenda?


“My contact with [Cato] was strange. They’re ideologues, like Trotskyites. All questions must be seen and solved within the true faith of libertarianism, the idea of minimal government. And like Trotskyites, the guys from Cato can talk you to death.”
~ Nat Hentoff, columnist

The Cato Institute was founded with Koch money just as the John Birch Society was during an earlier generation. As Koch money turned the Tea Party into astroturf, Koch money has turned the libertarian movement into astroturf. David H. Koch, Executive Vice President of Koch Industries, currently sits on the Board of Directors at The Cato Institute. Rupert Murdoch, the worst corporatist and media propagandist in US history, was on the board of the Cato Institute. The ties are numerous between the Cato Institute, the Koch family, and Rupert Murdoch. The Koch’s and Murdoch have been major players controlling the direction of the Libertarian Party, and both participated in creating the Tea Party astroturf. Murdoch took it a step further by using Fox News to align the libertarian ‘movement’ and the Tea Party with the neocon Republican Party.


You might think it’s all about what brings in the advertising dollars for Rupert Murdoch, CEO of Fox’s parent company, News Corporation. But it runs much deeper than that, involving key players at the Wall Street Journal, News Corp.’s crown jewel. The informal partnership between billionaire David Koch, whose campaign dollars and astroturf group, Americans for Prosperity, have fomented the Wisconsin crisis, and billionaire Rupert Murdoch, is profoundly ideological — the ideology being the exponential enrichment of the two men’s heirs, all dressed up in the language of libertarianism and free enterprise. Together with his brother, Charles — also a big donor to right-wing causes –David Koch runs Koch Industries, the conglomerate that sprang from the oil and gas company founded by his father.


Notice how the Cato Institute has been hiding it’s funding sources for years. Hiding this information implies a dishonest agenda. If they weren’t afraid of the truth, why would they hide it? Why trust a think tank that refuses to disclose basic facts behind its agenda?


Some of the key financial information on the Cato Institute‘s finances, based on returns submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, is:(based on IRS 990 returns)

Year Total revenue Program services Total Expenses Net assets
1993 6,085,321 [1] Not Available Not Available Not Available
1994 6,421,265[1] Not Available Not Available Not Available
1995 9,338,834[1] Not Available Not Available Not Available
1996 9,473,622[1] Not Available Not Available Not Available
1997 11,160,734 6,321,351 9,814,776 11,055,652
1998 15,874,852 6,788,006 10,576,951 16,353,553
1999 13,349,590 7,559,568 11,794,075 17,909,068
2000 12,401,337 7,702,965 12,219,864 18,035,650
2001 17,631,255 8,593,972 14,045,306 21,602,805
2002 16,975,806 10,933,980 17,582,455 20,996,283
2003 12,975,701 12,583,901 15,630,490 18,341,494
2004 14,530,419 11,887,101 17,002,063 15,869,850
2005 22,656,851 11,228,618 17,065,056 21,461,645

Let me clear up one point. As with everything, this issue is complex. It’s not as if the Cato Institute is a front for all big biz. Some of their public positions are actually contrary to the interests of some corporations in some industries (SourceWatch):

“Cato’s corporate fund raising may be hampered by its scholars’ tendency to take positions that are at odds with some of the interests of some large corporations. Cato has published numerous studies criticizing what it calls “corporate welfare,” the practice of funneling taxpayer money to politically well-connected corporate interests.[76][77][78][79][80][81][82] For example, in 2002, Cato president Ed Crane and Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope teamed up to write an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for the abandonment of the Republican energy bill, arguing that it had become little more than a gravy train for Washington lobbyists.[83] And in 2005, Cato staff Jerry Taylor teamed up with Daniel Becker of the Sierra Club to attack the Republican Energy Bill as a give-away to corporate interests.[84]

The Cato Institute only represents certain corporations and only defends certain corporate interests. However, there is an undercurrent of corporatism in that Cato is supportive of global warming denialism, near-monopolies, deregulation, nondisclosure, corporate personhood, and the destruction of grassroots democracy. Basically, they are for anything that makes corporations more powerful and makes government (by and for the people) less powerful. Anyway, they certainly don’t lack corporate funding (e.g., energy companies that donate as part of their lobbying effort to stop environmental regulation) and most of the individual donations probably come from the richest of rich (i.e., the plutocratic class).

It’s confusing in the way all politics is confusing. Many corporations will fund a libertarian think tank like Cato Institute while funding a neocon politician. It’s the same reason they’ll fund a neocon Republican while funding a ‘liberal’ Democrat. Corporations like to cover all bases. So, the ‘principled’ rhetoric of a think tank or a politician is meaningless, just nice-sounding fluff, just political spin to obfuscate the issues, just faux ideology to manipulate the public. Political rhetoric is simply what corporations call marketing. Like the corporations it represents, the Cato Institute is selling a product and any means are justified in that agenda. Are there deeper agendas? Of course. But those deeper agendas wouldn’t be publicly disclosed just as their funding isn’t publicly disclosed.

Corporate libertarianism (AKA establishment libertarianism, libertarianism for the privileged) is a lot closer to neocon politics than it is to grassroots libertarianism. There are some very basic shared interests. For example, take the close connection between the libertarian Cato Institute and the neocon Heartland Institute:


Lindzen and Singer are both associated to the Heartland institute and Cato Institute, extreme-rightist think-tanks and eager defenders of the big coal, oil, tobacco, arms, chemicals and asbestos industry – and funded by these. Heartland institute promotes the extreme neo-conservative approach to economy and regards any efforts by the government to restrict free market forces and big (American) multinational corporations as a nuisance, and perceives e.g. President Obama as a kind of a muslim communist. Government is regarded as an evil force that intrudes on private citizens and puts restrictions on private initiatives (read American multinational corporations). Governments should therefore be kept as small as possible to ensure “freedom”.

Some of the scientists associated to Heartland institute and other similar think tanks were witnesses for the American tobacco industry, claiming that it was not possible to prove a clear connection between lung cancer and smoking. The parallell between the tobacco industry and the big coal and oil industry is striking. It is now evident that smoking cigarettes is addicting and deadly. When the tobacco corporations understood in the 1980’s that they were facing a court trial with compensation claims to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, they invented the term ‘Junk science” about mainstream medical science, and mobilised “the merchants of doubt”. They had previously bought medical doctors to recommend cigarette smoking, and to claim that the purported hazards of smoking were hysterical. They bought spin doctors and connected these to PR-firms and think tanks. They gave the impression that the government is scaring the public to accept taxes on tobacco by making the warning texts on tobacco products mandatory. The message is that the government just pretends to protect us while in reality they manipulate us and extort our money.

– Again we see that the American coal and oil industry repeat history. – Even according to president George Bush, we all “are addicted to oil”. Lindzen and Singer defended the tobacco industry 20 years ago and still do, e.g. by claiming that passive smoking is harmless. They claim that the government is again trying to scare us through their “hysterical doomsday prophecies” – in reality just to increase taxes. Again scientists are bought and spin-doctors allied with PR-firms and lobbyists are deceiving the public: “there is no danger! Everything is natural! The big government and the UN are just after more taxes”.
-These persons act more like lawyers than scientists, defending their clients by any means.
It seems that if you are a very big polluter making very big money, spin-doctors from the Heartland-, Cato-, and George Marshal institutes will be there to defend you.
George Marshall Institute, Cato Institute, Heartland Institute, “Americans for prosperity” are all financed by oil-multibillionaires such as the Koch brothers, media moguls like Robert Murdoch with Fox news and other media forming his empire. In addition these think tanks have financial support from Exxon Mobile, Chevron, Philippe Morris and other tobacco giants and the big American coal industries:

The typical climate skeptic prefers to present himself as the underdog; the small, ordinary but concerned person, taking a stand against impersonal and corrupt bureaucracies, the “mighty UN” and oppressing, big governments that will do anything to increase taxes. (That there is a tremendous, ongoing transfer of power and capital from democratically elected representatives to closed boardrooms in multinational corporations is of no concern). He prefers being perceived as David fighting the Goliaths. However, when checking his sources of information – and money – you usually end up with ideas and support from wealthy American ultra-right think tanks, PR groups financed by big multinational corporations in coal, oil, tobacco, arms, GMOs, chemicals etc and lobbyist groups financed by the Arab-American-Canadian oil and coal cartels. For some reason the typical skeptic has never read the IPCC reports he claims to be so skeptical to, and he is never skeptical to the “information” disseminated by the Heartland institute.


Funder of Like-Minded Think Tanks

Aside from its own advocacy efforts, the Cato Institute has become a substantial funder of other “like-minded” think tanks around the U.S. In its 2006 annual report Cato lists 26 organizations and one individual it provided grants totaling $1,243,00 to. Groups the benefited from Cato’s generosity wereAgencia Americana ($30,000 “to help fund study on S.A. corruption”); the Philanthropy Roundtable ($5,000); the Manhattan Institute ($5,000); the American Enterprise Institute ($5,000); the Fund for American Studies ($10,000); the Bluegrass Institute ($50,000); the Cascade Policy Institute($25,000); the Ethan Allen Institute ($50,000); the Evergreen Freedom Foundation ($100,000); the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii ($40,000); the Illinois Policy Institute ($50,000); the James Madison Institute ($100,000); the John Locke Foundation ($20,000); the Maine Heritage Policy Center ($50,000); the Maryland Public Policy Institute ($40,000); the Nevada Policy Research Institute ($50,000); the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs ($50,000); the Rio Grande Foundation ($50,000); the Show-Me Institute ($50,000); the South Carolina Policy Council ($90,000); the Sutherland Institute ($40,000); the Tennessee Center for Policy Research ($50,000); the Texas Public Policy Foundation ($100,000); the Virginia Institute for Public Policy ($25,000); the Yankee Institute ($68,000); and the Independent Institute ($60,000). In addition Jim Powell received $25,000 as a Hoiles Fellowship.[12] (note, the Cato annual report refers to the “South Carolina Policy Institute” when the correct name of the think tank is the “South Carolina Policy Council”. Similarly, the Maryland Public Policy Institute was misidentified as the Maryland Public Policy Center.)

[ . . . ]

Call for elimination of ballot referendum disclosure requirements

In March 2007, Cato, along with the Institute for Justice, called for eliminating disclosure requirements for those who contribute funds in support or opposition of ballot measures. One of the primary reasons the two groups cited was the high costs associated with disclosure requirements. At the time, these requirements were already weaker than those required for contributions to a candidate’s political campaign.[56][57]

Howie Rich, a real estate investor and Cato Board Member, had helped to sponsor sixteen different ballot initiatives in 2006. His major effort was the so-called “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” or TABOR, which Rich attempted to place on the ballot in eight states. Courts in five of the states ultimately stripped TABOR from the ballot for numerous reasons, including what one Montana judge called a “pervasive and general pattern of fraud” by Rich and others in their campaign to pass the referendum.[56][58]

The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, an advocacy group in support of ballot initiatives to reach progressive political and policy goals, believe that donor disclosure protects both the voters and the process of direct democracy from secret money and hidden goals. In response to Cato’s position, Kristina Wilfore, the group’s executive director, stated “The problem with being a front group for corporate fat cats like Exxon, Enron, and Howie Rich, is that you are always a little out-of-touch with the public…CATO aligning itself with more corruption in political giving is taking the side of the powerful against the people – and they call themselves libertarian?” [56][59]

[ . . . ]

Cato and Climate Change

Patrick Michaels, a former Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and an outspoken global warming skeptic. On its website, Michaels is listed as Cato’s only speaker on global warming. (Three others are also listed in the “Energy and Environment” category — Jerry Taylor on “gas and oil prices, energy policy, energy conservation and regulation”, Peter Van Doren and on “energy regulation, gas and oil prices” and Randal O’Toole on broader environmental policies.)[62] Pat Michaels represented the Cato Institute as a reviewer on Working Group III of the fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC[63]

Michaels is Editor of the World Climate Report, a blog published by New Hope Environmental Services, “an advocacy science consulting firm”[64] he founded and runs. (Michaels biographical note on the Cato Institute website does not mention his role with New Hope Environmental Services).[65]

In an affidavit in a Vermont court case, Michaels described the “mission” of the firm as being to “publicize findings on climate change and scientific and social perspectives that may not otherwise appear in the popular literature or media. This entails both response research and public commentary.”[66] In effect, New Hope Environmental Services is a PR firm. Michaels’ firm does not disclose who its clients are[67], but in 2006 a leaked memo revealed that Michaels firm had been paid $100,000 by an electric utility, Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA), to counter concern about global warming.[68] An affadavit by Michaels also stated that “public disclosure of a company’s funding of New Hope and its employees has already caused considerable financial loss to New Hope. For example, in 2006 Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, Inc., an electric utility, had requested that its support of $50,000 to New Hope be held confidential. After this support was inadvertently made public by another New Hope client, Tri-State informed me that it would no longer support New Hope because of adverse publicity.”[66]

On a 2007 academic CV, Michaels disclosed that prior to creating his firm he had received funding from the Edison Electric Institute and the Western Fuels Association. He has also been a frequent speaker at events organized by leading coal and energy companies as well as coal and other industry lobby groups.[69]

In 2009, Bob Burton noted that “in its returns, Cato reports that since April 2006 they have paid $242,900 for the ‘environmental policy’ services of Michaels’ firm. (In preceding years, New Hope Environmental Services was not listed amongst the five highest paid independent contractors supplying professional services to Cato.) In response to an email inquiry, Michaels stated that the Cato funding “largely supported the extensive background research for my 2009 book, ‘Climate of Extremes,’ background research on climate change, mainly in the areas of ice melt and temperature histories, and background research required for invited lectures around the world.” (Climate of Extremes was published by the Cato Institute in January of this year [2009].) Asked whether the funding came from a specific company, donor or foundation, Michaels wrote via email that there wasn’t “for this or for any of my activities.” (In case the Cato Institute knew of dedicated funding sources for Michaels work that he was unaware of, I also emailed an inquiry to the think tank’s media office. They did not respond.)”[70]


[ . . . ] In their 1996 book No Mercy, University of Colorado Law School scholars Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado describe a shift in Cato’s patron base over the years. “Early on,” they wrote, “Cato’s bills were largely paid by the Koch family of Wichita, Kansas. Today, most of its financial support from entrepreneurs, securities and commodities traders, and corporations such as oil and gas companies, Federal Express, and Philip Morris that abhor government regulation.”[74] Though diversified, Koch Industries amassed most of its fortune in oil trading and refining. [75]

See the interactive map at the following link:


Cato Institute

Muckety news stories featuring Cato Institute
Koch money is finding its way to Madison.
February 23, 2011

People related to Cato Institute:

K. Tucker Andersen – director
Frank Bond – director
Edward H. Crane – president
Richard J. Dennis – director
William A. Dunn – director
Kevin L. Gentry – director
Ethelmae C. Humphreys – director
David H. Koch – director
Robert A. Levy – director
John C. Malone – director
William A. Niskanen – director
David H. Padden – director
Lewis E. Randall – director
Howard S. Rich – director
Donald G. Smith – director
Jeffrey S. Yass – director
Fred Young – director

Other current Cato Institute relationships:

State Policy Network – associate member

Cato Institute past relationships:

Whitney L. Ball – director of development

Charles G. Koch – founder
David B. Kopel – associate policy analyst
William A. Niskanen – chairman
Frederick W. Smith – director
Walter E. Williams – advisory board member


Examples of Mainly Corporate Funded Think Tanks: Cato Institute

Founded in 1977 the Cato Institutes 1998 budget made up US$ 11 million. Its funding consists of corporate and private donations (especially from corporations and executives in the highly regulated industries of financial services, telecommunications and pharmaceuticals industries) and sales of publications.

Catos corporate donors include tobacco firms: Philip Morris (Rupert Murdoch sits on Philip Morris board of directors) and R.J. Reynolds. Financial firms: American ExpressChase Manhattan BankChemical BankCiticorp/Citibank, Commonwealth Fund, Prudential Securities and Salomon Brothers. Energy conglomerates: Chevron CompaniesExxon Company, Shell Oil Company and Tenneco Gas, as well as the American Petroleum InstituteAmocoFoundation and Atlantic Richfield Foundation. Furthermore the Cato Institute is funded by pharmaceutical firms: Eli Lilly & CompanyMerck & Company and Pfizer, Inc.,foundations, like Koch, Lambe and Sarah Scaife and companies from the telecommunications sector: Bell Atlantic Network Services, BellSouth Corporation, Microsoft, NYNEX Corporation, Sun Microsystems and Viacom.


There have been several articles written lately about the involvement of Koch industries with state Governor’s, particularly most recently with Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker.
Here are some good articles:
Below is a pdf document put out by the Cato Institute that clearly shows their objective of decreasing the power of Unions because of their ability to lobby and spend money for Liberal and Progressive issues and candidates.

“Labor unions play a diminishing role in the private
sector, but they still claim a large share of the public-sector
workforce. Public-sector unions are important to examine
because they have a major influence on government
policies through their vigorous lobbying efforts. They are
particularly influential in states that allow monopoly
unionization through collective bargaining.
Collective bargaining is a misguided labor policy
because it violates civil liberties and gives unions
excessive power to block needed reforms. To provide
policymakers with greater flexibility and to improve
government efficiency, states should follow the lead of
Virginia and ban collective bargaining in the public sector.”

Click Picture to See Full Size

I would expect that there will be other conservative governors, from states other than Wisconsin, that will be trying to do away with collective bargaining too. There have been protests in Ohio and Indiana has a bill very similar to Wisconsin’s, See Indiana Senate Bill 0273.

From the article: Wisconsin Leads Way as Workers Fight State Cuts by Michael Cooper

“In Tennessee, a law that would abolish collective bargaining rights for teachers passed a State Senate committee this week despite teachers’ objections. Indiana is weighing proposals to weaken unions. Union members in Pennsylvania, who are not necessarily facing an attack on their bargaining rights, said Friday that they planned to wear red next week to show solidarity with the workers in Wisconsin.”

“In many states, Republicans who came to power in the November elections, often by defeating union-backed Democrats, are taking aim not only at union wages, but at union power as they face budget gaps in the years ahead.”

“FreedomWorks, a Washington group that helped cultivate the Tea Party movement, said it was trying to use its lists of activists to turn out supporters for a variety of bills aimed at cutting the power of unions — not just in Wisconsin, but in Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio as well.”


Criticisms of the Cato Institute.

Part of the “Critiques of Libertarianism” site.

Last updated 08/27/10.

A “libertarian” quasi-academic think-tank which acts as a mouthpiece for the globalism, corporatism, and neoliberalism of its corporate and conservative funders. Cato is an astroturf organization: there is no significant participation by the tiny libertarian minority. They do not fund it or affect its goals. It is a creature of corporations and foundations.

The major purpose of the Cato Institute is to provide propaganda and soundbites for conservative and libertarian politicians and journalists that is conveniently free of reference to funders such as tobacco, fossil fuel, investment, media, medical, and other regulated industries.

Cato is one of the most blatant examples of “simulated rationality”, as described in Phil Agre’s The Crisis of Public Reason. Arguments need only be plausibly rational to an uninformed listener. Only a tiny percentage will notice that they are being mislead. That’s all that’s needed to manage public opinion.


A Critical Assessment of “Lies, Damned Lies, & 400,000 Smoking-Related Deaths”.
The Cato Institute, heavily funded by tobacco companies, hired Levy and Marimont to denounce statistics about smoking related deaths. This article refutes their key arguments, finding them unscientific and inflammatory.
Media Moguls on Board: Murdoch, Malone and the Cato Institute
An Extra! (the magazine of FAIR, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting ) article that describes how media giants use Cato to lobby Congress for corporate welfare and legal monopolization.
Why Privatizing Social Security Would Hurt Women
An Institute For Women’s Policy Research rebuttal to Cato Institute proposals and claims about Social Security privatization.
An Analysis Of The Cato Institute’s “The Case Against a Tennessee Income Tax” 
Senate finance panel examines Cato report, recognizes propaganda
Citizens For Tax Justice lay open the shoddy errors behind this typical example of the claims Cato makes. The Tennessee Senate finance panel also identified a large number of other errors.
Who knew? The Swedish model is working.
Paul Krugman points out that CATO and other conservatives were dead wrong in their predictions for Sweden, and that big welfare states do sometimes work well. From The Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive.
Libertarian Think Tanks
Tom Tomorrow’s “This Modern World” gives credit where it is due.
Do Windmills Eat Birds?
David Case, executive editor of TomPaine.com, exposes a quotation out of context by CATO in a case of pretend environmental concern.
Millionaires One and All
(PDF) Details the fallacies underlying the CATO Social Security Calculator. Under realistic assumptions, you’d accumulate 1/10th to 1/30th of what CATO estimates. Part of The Social Security Network.
Rethinking the Think Tanks
Sierra Magazine’s article detailing the corporate financing of anti-environmental propaganda from thinktanks like Cato.
Internet Bunk: The Junk Science Page
The CATO Institute is a corporate front that employs Steven Milloy to tarbrush opponents scientific arguments as “Junk Science”. Robert Todd Carroll’s excellent The Skeptic’s Dictionary details Milloy’s unscientific part in this PR campaign.
Zogby Polling For Cato Institute, Other Clients, Manipulates Findings To Misrepresent Public Opinion About Social Security
A poll based on spin, rather than real alternatives, yields more spin. From Campaign For America’s Future.
Cato Institute: “Libertarian” in a Corporate Way
Norman Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy details how the CATO Institute represents its anti-regulation corporate funders, not libertarian individuals. The goal is to give corporate propaganda an air of objectivity by concealing its source.
The ‘freest economies in the world’.
John Berthelsen of the Asia Times points out that the Cato Institute’s ‘economic freedom’ index seems to have no idea of the reality of government intervention and market oligopoly in Hong Kong and Singapore.
NEW 5/06: Dogmatic Libertarians
John Fonte (in National Review) writes a conservative response to the dogmatic Cato position on open borders. He points out the obvious that somehow libertarians seem to miss: borders are important to self-governance for basic reasons of security.
NEW 5/06: The Cato Hypocrisy
David Brin describes “truly grotesque hypocrisies, putting shame to any pretense that these Cato guys are “libertarians,” let along honest intellects.”
NEW 1/07: Comments on “Has U.S. Income Inequality Really Increased”
Gary Burtless of The Brookings Institution severely criticizes the analysis of Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute in the Reynold’s paper Has U.S. Income Inequality Really Increased? The answer is yes, contrary to Cato propaganda.
NEW 3/07: The Denialists’ Deck of Cards: An Illustrated Taxonomy of Rhetoric Used to Frustrate Consumer Protection Efforts
Chris Jay Hoofnagle details the public relations methodology of CATO and other anti-consumer, business-funded organizations. Count how many of these you’ve heard on your favorite topic: global warming, for example.
NEW 2/08: CFP’s Laffer Curve Video
Law Professor Linda Beale debunks the latest Laffer Curve propaganda video from the “Center for Freedom and Prosperity” and CATO’s Dan Mitchell.
NEW 11/08: Politics Compromises the Libertarian Project
Matthew Yglesias takes the Cato Institute to task for corporate shilling in it’s own “jornal”, Cato Unbound .
NEW 8/10: Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.
Jane Mayer’s The New Yorker article on Charles and David Koch. They have financed libertarian propaganda with more than 100 million dollars over more than 30 years. They founded and control the major libertarian think tanks Cato, Reason, Mercatus, and others. See: Koch think tanks at SourceWatch.

Print References

The links here are to Amazon.com, through their associates program, primarily because of the review information. Books without links are generally out of print, and can often be easily found at AddAll Used and Out Of Print Search. Good sites for bargain shopping for sometimes expensive new books are Online Bookstore Price Comparison and AddAll Book Search and Price Comparison. Both of those list applicable coupons. Another is BookFinder.com.

Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber “Trust Us, We’re Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles With Your Future”
Details of the public relations and brownlash manipulations of CATO, Steven Milloy, and others.
Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado “No Mercy: How Conservative Think Tanks and Foundations Changed America’s Social Agenda”
(Temple Univ. Press 1996). The influence of Cato and Heritage Foundations.

Copyright 2007 by Mike Huben ( mhuben@world.std.com ).
This document may be freely distributed for non-commercial purposes if it is reproduced in its textual entirety, with this notice intact.