The intertubes and socialnets have been buzzing with news of big changes at the Cato Institute. First up, there was this piece in the New Yorker, about recent moves by the Koch brothers, who pay the bills, to push Cato more firmly into line with the Repubs and Tea Party, and against Obama. This piece marks the mainstreaming of the term “Kochtopus”, used by the Kochs’ opponents in intra-libertarian struggles to describe the network of organizations they fund.
More striking was the simultaneous departure of Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson. Lindsey has been the leading proponent of a rapprochement between libertarians and (US-style) liberals, under the unfortunate portmanteau of “liberaltarianism”, and Wilkinson was similarly seen as being on the left of Cato.
These departures presumably spell the end of any possibility that Cato will leave the Republican tent (or even maintain its tenuous claims to being non-partisan). And Cato was by far the best of the self-described libertarian organizations – the others range from shmibertarian fronts for big business to neo-Confederate loonies.
On the other hand, breaks of this kind often lead to interesting intellectual evolution. There is, I think, room for a version of liberalism/social democracy that is appreciative of the virtues of markets (and market-based policy instruments like emissions trading schemes) as social contrivances, and sceptical of top-down planning and regulation, without accepting normative claims about the income distribution generated by markets. Former libertarians like Jim Henley have had some interesting things to say along these lines, and it would be good to have some similar perspectives
(a bit more to come when i have time)