Sunday, May 29, 2005

Is Cato controlled by corporations?

I've seen a bunch of stuff online recently that is highly critical of Cato and, more specifically, the Koch's, who are big contributors to Cato and other libertarian/conservative institutions. This criticism of the Cato Institute is not exactly objective (Cato's called a "quasi-academic think-tank which acts as a mouthpiece for the globalism, corporatism, and neoliberalism of its corporate and conservative funders."), but it uncovers some interesting things.

I did not realize, for example, how much Cato was funded by corporations. Obviously, being funded by corporations (or their charitable foundations) doesn't necessarily mean their positions are biased, but then why has Cato come out against wind turbines with an obviously disingenuous concern for birds that might be killed by such turbines:
On the environmental side, wind power is noisy, land- intensive, materials-intensive (concrete and steel, in particular), a visual blight, and a hazard to birds. The first four environmental problems could be ignored, but the indiscriminate killing of thousands of birds--including endangered species protected by federal law--has created controversy and confusion within the mainstream environmental community.
Cato's usual skepticism is absent here, accepting without much question the fact that wind turbines will kill thousands of birds. I would expect Cato to reason one step further and question, as this op/ed does:
One high-profile environmentalist admits that birds do occasionally crash into the twirling blades. But, he says (anonymously and carefully, for fear of unleashing another contagious quote), "Do you know how many birds die every day?" They crash into skyscrapers and plate glass windows; they're crushed by trucks; they're sucked into jet engines and gag on smog. Kids with BB guns knock them off. Windmills are a concern, but they don't appear high on anyone's list of avian threats.
I've come to expect more from libertarians. If someone mentions how many people "die each year" from a particular behavior, I expect libertarians to retort with something like, "Well, how many people die crossing the street every day?" I have to say, I'm disappointed with Cato's performance here.

I guess I can' t expect Cato to be perfectly objective, but their funding sources make them an easy target for charges of unobjectivity and acting on behalf of corporations. What irks me is that in these criticisms of Cato, the word "libertarian" is given a negative if libertarians support big corporations and corporate welfare. I think Tim West is right that libertarians (especially the LP) needs to make their opposition to corporate welfare and corporate corruption more vocal.

UPDATE: For comments, see the original blog post here.

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