Cato versus the Koch Brothers

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Glenn Beck is doing an excellent job, but he is only one person and he presents his own point of view. There are many others, even though they agree on the fundamentals of individual responsibility and freedom.

There is a growing field, one which I am entering (with Internet marketing), which is the celebrity expert field. Or explainer field. Or populaizer field. Or sumpin'... :)

Regardless of what you call it, we live smack dab in the middle of the information revolution with mental equipment more suited to life as it was a couple of centuries ago. There are some enormous problems arising and causing all kinds of trouble, not to speak of anxiety: information overload, connection addiction, attention deficits of varying kinds, and so on.

People find they need celebrity experts to make 3 or 4 main file folders (on the average) for a topic, let them know that they (the celebrity experts) have plenty of details (expertise) to fill those folders with so they can be trusted, show them (the folks) how those 3 or 4 categories influence their lives and how they can use them to do stuff they want or need to do--or how to use it to judge things, give them methods for doing this, and inspire them to do it.

There is a huge difference, for example, between a data dump on the travel industry and an organized method anyone can use for building a dream vacation. And this kind of thinking cuts across everything people do.

The celebrity expert field is growing by leaps and bounds. I believe there are excellent opportunities in the libertarian orbit and God knows what direction they will lead.

To get back to Glenn Beck, he is an entrepreneur who is making a huge success out of precisely this. He adds entertainment and a few other things, but the motor driving his enterprise is getting people to connect dots among large data dumps (of history, social theories, religion, and some other things--generally from a libertarian perspective) and relate those insights to their own lives in order to make changes--both in their lives and socially.

He helps people learn about and create value for themselves, their loved ones and their communities--and then do something with that value.

Where there once was a data dump and an enormous pile of books, there is now a dream.

And it is attainable.

That is the ultimate goal of a celebrity expert.

This is what I believe David Koch might have been hinting at. Not just a bells and whistles kind of dumbed-down propaganda to sell a free market schtick.

Believe it or not, doing celebrity expert stuff is much harder than it looks if you want to do it right. Hell, even if you want to con folks, it's not that easy to cut past people's BS meters.


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What do you want to do?

An expert presumes expertise in something.


It isn't that I want to do something. But if I want to learn about something, such as complex intellectual or political issues, a "celebrity expert" (a person who turns "esoteric concepts" into "concrete deliverables") is not where I would turn. I don't believe that everything complex can be presented as simple, without distortion or omission.

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It isn't that I want to do something.


Of course you do.

You want to learn about something.

But generally, the reason celebrity experts exist is for people to be able to do something with their knowledge, not just accumulate it (which is a data dump if accumulation is the only reason). And not one celebrity expert I know of (except for the snake oil salespeople who try to con people with magic bullets) claims that the different points he presents are all-inclusive and no further learning is necessary. The spirit is that his file folders are the points you need to focus on right now if you want to do X.

I'll give you an example. I went to college to major in music composition and trombone. I spent one semester learning how to do figured bass, which is a numerical short-hand used on music scores in the time of Bach so organ players could fill out the harmony correctly.

Was it interesting knowledge? I suppose. Personally, I found it somewhat boring, but OK. Did it get me one step closer to learning how to organize my musical ideas and get them before an audience?

Nope. Not even a smidgen.

I also learned how to apply the Fibonacci ratio to classic counterpoint, dodecaphonic technique, using kernel motives to shape the overall form of a work*, and a whole bunch of other goodies.

(* This one got into some really forced and fudged reasoning, but at least I found a use for it later when I adapted it, but that's another issue. I'm just trying to be fair by mentioning it.)

I would have vastly preferred to have studied under a celebrity expert back then to tell me things like how to research the musical language my target audience understands, strategies for looking deeper into my own musical drives, separating musical ideas into background and foreground and how this works and changes on a time continuum, planning climaxes, and things like that. Just those four would have changed the course of my life. But I didn't realize what I was looking for.

I thought the university was where you go to prepare to do things in life and I couldn't make heads or tails out of the information I was being fed and had to study.

I made the mistake of wanting to learn how to do something instead of just learn data dumps when I went to Boston University.

I have nothing against data dumps. We all need telephone books. I just think a lot of them come with misleading advertising presented in a really snooty voice--and usually you get the dumper's pet peeves peppered in to jazz it up a little.

btw - I learned more about music composition from my conducting teacher in Brazil, Maestro Eleazar de Carvalho, than I did the whole time I was at college, and he didn't even teach me music composition. But he did use a celebrity expert approach to teaching conducting and the crossover was eye-opening to me, to say the least. That was when I actually started composing good works, getting played and winning prizes and so forth.

Unfortunately, almost all of my music from back then got scattered all over Brazil during my drug days. Maybe some day, when I go back to visit, I will try to run some of it down.


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btw - Ayn Rand used a celebrity expert approach--until she tried her hand at academic stuff with ITOE (where I believe she had mixed results).

For example, she broke philosophy down into 4 categories: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics. Later she added aesthetics.

If you check this out on a Google search, you will see that this breakdown of philosophy is not the way most people do it.

What can you do with this? Use it as a frame to lead a rational life and help save the world.

it almost sounds trite when put that way, but that's the way it is. Learning those categories and what Rand put in them allows you to use philosophy in a practical manner almost immediately. In other words, the short version:

Metaphysics - Objective reality

Epistemology - Reason

Ethics - Self-interest

Politics - Capitalism

(Whether you agree with that or not is beside the point here. It can be used to get fairly predictable results on a practical level and that's the point. That's why it spreads and won't go away, too.)


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  • 1 month later...

The virtue of CATO is income for George H. Smith and the great stuff he writes consequently. Speaking truth to politicians is a waste of time, something I discovered in the early 1960s, although I was rather slow to generalize.


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I sure hope this doesn’t signal the transformation of the Cato Institute into the Washington branch of the Leonard Peikoff Institute.

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John Allison, the great benefactor of ARI (and who also, according to the book "Ayn Rand Nation," used the not-so-secret-but-fabled-summit between David Kelley and Yaron Brook to attempt to convince the key financial backers on the Board of Directors of The Atlas Society to defect to the ARI), to be the new Director of the Cato Institute.....

Well, this may provoke another "psycho-epistemological" (or whatever) crisis for the beleagured Leonard. Libertarians have been anathema to Randroids ever since Ayn pronounced them as such way back in 1976, Leonard has dutifully followed her proscription ever since. That is, until Yaron started to informally, then formally, meet with certain prominent libertarians. Somehow, Yaron has got away with what was considered heresy and grounds for excommunication, ala David Kelley.

And now, John Allison, former BB&T CEO, and a very prominent financial backer of ARI, has accepted the position of Director of The Cato Insitute - the most prominent of Libertariann "thinktanks." I assume the leaders of ARI were informed of this before the official announcement and maybe even Leonard (since ARI cannot risk losing his support).

So. what are the "orthodox" Objectivists/Peikovians going to do? Dump Allison? I don't think they could risk that.

What is Peikoff going to do? Grap his "marbles" (he owns much of their Ayn Rand documents) from the ARI and go home? Endorse this development, with some ideological contortions?

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I'm leery of the whole thing, but fact is Allison is like McCaskey in that he can easily tell ARI to vaffanculo if they have a problem with whatever he's doing. Ed Snider ditched them too, right? And he was a founder.

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The article I linked in post #33 says John Allison is replacing Ed Crane as Cato's president. Cato says CEO (link), not president. On the other hand, this Cato page shows Crane as president.

Who's on first? I don't know is on third. Maybe it's good that Cato will no longer be a stockholder corporation; it can't keep the titles straight.

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John Allison, the new president, CEO or whatever of the Cato Institute, has an article in the current issue -- Volume 32 Number 2, Spring/Summer 2012 -- of the Cato Journal (link).

[T]he fact is there has never been a single terrorist caught and convicted because of the Patriot Act. The Act cost the banking industry more than $5 billion annually, and I would argue that no one is going to be caught. If you are dumb enough to get caught under the Patriot Act, you are going to get caught anyway. The only significant conviction of the Patriot Act was Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York, who was convicted of soliciting prostitutes under a law designed to catch terrorists. You should worry about your civil liberties.
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I don't know which will be more interesting: the ARIans/Peikovians and their ilk, tryining to explain: A) how ARI super-funder accepting the head position of the leading Libertarian (with a capital L) thinktank, is a right and proper application (although a reversal of ARI official position for at least the last 30-some years) of Objectivism-in-action. Or B) why joining forces with the libertarians is okay now, even though David Kelley got purged/excommunicated for speaking before a libertarian group, or C) announcing it's time for yet another purge [- but even the ARIans can't be that stupid...... can they?]...

Over at the Cato Insitute, they may not actually be looking at the Allison elevation as a coup by a rival ideology. I recall remarks that Ed Crane made in an address at the"50th Anniversary of Atlas Shrugged" celebration in Washington D.C., and jointly sponsored by Cato and The Atlas Society. Referring to the standoffish disdainful attitude of the ARI Objectivists toward Cato, he pointed out that practically all the staff and associated scholars at Cato considered themselves to be Objectivists, whether recognized as such by ARI or not.

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  • 1 month later...

Who Is John...Allison? A Randian, Libertarian Business Icon Takes Over the Cato Institute


Who is John Allison? “The libertarian vision is a moral vision and we own the moral high ground.”

“Who is John Galt?” This tantalizing question opens Atlas Shrugged, one of the most popular, if least critically acclaimed, novels of all time. A new chapter of an epic story worthy of the pen of Ayn Rand is scheduled to open next October. It centers around John Allison IV. Who is John Allison?

John Allison is taking over the helm of the Cato Institute. And for devotees of human dignity and liberty this is good news indeed. The stated mission of the Cato Institute is “to increase the understanding of public policies based on the principles of limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and peace.” It is an extraordinary place.

A fight for control over Cato recently was in the news. There was a struggle for governance between the celebrated and powerful industrialist/philanthropist Koch brothers, Charles and David, who helped to create Cato, and its founder and CEO Ed Crane who nurtured Cato into the respected cultural force that it is today.

Crane transformed libertarianism from a marginal ideology into a major input to the policy discussion. He took libertarianism out of the Star Wars cantina and gave it a place of dignity in the modern culture. “The Cato Institute is the foremost upholder of the idea of liberty in the nation that is the foremost upholder of the idea of liberty,” wrote George Will.

Cato has been very much about making an intellectual impact. Its analysis consistently is impressive. But, understandably coming from the most elite proponent of libertarianism, an attitude of disdain for government bleeds through. This has put Cato into a somewhat aloof posture towards the policy fray. Power to elect the majority of the Cato board recently passed, legally, to the Kochs. And the Kochs invest great importance in policy, as well as cultural, relevance. Confrontation loomed.

Cato, unquestionably, is the bellwether of the libertarian school. And libertarians, it can be argued, often cast the deciding “swing vote” in policy matters. When the libertarian movement sided with the conservatives on foreign and tax policy, that united front set the stage for the defeat of international communism. It similarly set the stage for the push to reduce the top U.S. federal tax rate from 70% to 28%, and for nation after nation to adopt far lower rates on their own. World prosperity blossomed. When, however, most libertarians sided with liberals on cultural issues (such as abortion and gay marriage, neither inevitably libertarian stands), the liberals prevailed.

Cato is “the cat who walks by himself and all places are alike to him.” And when the libertarian cat throws her weight around … she turns out to be a tiger. Cato weighs in on economic issues far more often than on social issues. Hence Cato, in practice, is counted as more of an asset of the Right than the Left. A potential implosion of the bellwether of the libertarian faction thus was a matter of grave civic import, moreso than many outsiders understood. The Authoritarian Left certainly must have been hoping for Cato to implode.

Enter John Allison — who almost (he lacks the swagger) could be a protagonist escaped from an Ayn Rand novel. Allison recently retired as the CEO of BB&T, which he had built up from a small bank to a behemoth with over $100 billion in deposits. He, unlike many business people, is an outspoken and lucid advocate for free markets and against oligarchy. (Allison’s compensation package while at BB&T revealed him as not part of oligarchic Wall Street society.)

Allison presents as a courtly figure, like a Frank Capra protagonist. The Kochs and Crane (among many others) share a great respect for him. The dueling forces decided to put him in charge of Cato. Here was a man in whom the values of cultural relevance, prized by Crane, and policy relevance, prized by the Kochs, were united.

In an interview last week with this columnist, Allison observed:

Cato is a great asset for the libertarian free society movement. Cato has made some very important contributions. It can be even more impactful in providing the intellectual ammunition to move our society back to the principles that made America great in the first place.

Cato has a strong team of intellectuals and I’m confident that we can provide even more world-class thinkers to defend the free society. We want to be able to impact current policy through decisions by providing the intellectual ammunition to elected officials who execute these concepts. We want to be long-term thinkers who have an immediate effect.

One of the things that I really want to do is make this a moral fight instead of a fight around the technical aspects of economics. The libertarian vision is a moral vision and we own the moral high ground. A free society is the only society in which people can think for themselves and pursue their rational self-interest.

Freedom creates the ability, through creativity and incentive, to raise the quality of life for everyone. When I was CEO of BB&T we saw the opportunity, on many occasions, to create products and services that would improve the quality of life of our clients but some government regulation prevented us from doing it. Unfortunately most business leaders are not really capitalists. They are crony capitalists looking for some way to use the government to give them a special advantage. Cato is a defender of real capitalism, real free markets.

Allison explains his famous commitment to Atlas Shrugged:

I am a major proponent of Rand’s philosophy because
Atlas Shrugged
changed my life. Initially the most empowering part of the philosophy was the absolute sense of purpose that her heroes and heroines demonstrate. Rand does a better job of capturing that aspect of the American sense of life than any other novelist I have encountered.

Atlas Shrugged
is my favorite work. BB&T has sponsored 68 programs on the moral foundations of capitalism where
Atlas Shrugged
is one of, although not the only, of the prescribed readings. 25,000 students go through the program annually. Thousands describe the program as life changing and almost all of them attribute the transformation of their worldview to
Atlas Shrugged.

They do not all agree with Rand’s philosophy but they appreciate the sense of life, of the power of purpose, of reason, and they have never in their whole educational career heard this point of view. As good as Hayek and von Mises are, typically people who are interested in them already are conservative. Very few people read technical books and have their worldview changed. Rand’s work is a novel and about ethics and not economics. Rand was a defender of rational self-interest, properly understood.

We are given a false alternative in our society: take advantage of other people or self-sacrifice.
Taking unfair advantage of others is self-destructive because people won’t trust you. On the other hand, I ask students, do you have as much right to your own life as anyone else does?
What Rand is defending is about giving value for value: life is about creating win-win relationships.

The champions of Big Government lost their cause in the pop culture in part due to Ayn Rand. The champions of Big Government lost their cause in respectable intellectual circles in part due to Ed Crane and the scholarship he marshaled upholding the Jeffersonian creed of skepticism about central government. Comes now a new champion of liberty. The champions of Big Government must be quaking at the prospect facing such a worthy new adversary in the policy arena when Allison takes charge of the Cato Institute.

Who is John Allison? “The libertarian vision is a moral vision and we own the moral high ground.”

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A reliable source within Cato tells me that no one expects things to change much after John Allison takes over in October. Allison is well liked among the current Cato employees.


I'm beginning to think Peikoff has shot his bolt and cultural and professional fear of him is evaporating not leaving him naked and powerless but somewhat denuded as the Ayn Rand crown slips off and away and gone for good.


nothing to do with the intellectual aspects which, BTW, never obtained since Rand went to Valhalla and LP told us what Objectivism was all about with OPAR

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