By Bryan Caplan
Thinking about this Friday’s Cato Intern Alumni Reunion is making me nostalgic. I worked in the legendary think tank‘s old building (yes, the old building!) in the summer of 1991. It was an amazing experience. The highlights of my youthful Cato summer:
- Near-daily lunches with the inspiring Sheldon Richman. He didn’t didn’t just run the intern program; he devoted himself to our enlightenment. I particularly remember his massive policy analysis, “‘Ancient History’: U.S. Conduct in the Middle East Since World War II and the Folly of Intervention.” Too bad no one in power listened, but that’s long been Cato’s Cassandra curse.
- Interminable philosophical arguments with fellow intern Brian Doherty, the future author of Radicals for Capitalism. It took me a while to accept, but he poked a hundred holes in my Randian meta-ethics. A year later, after Mike Huemer had straightened me out, I stopped by Cato for a rematch lunch.
- Cleaning the Cato archives. In a footnote in Why Americans Hate Politics, E.J. Dionne wrote: “My thanks to Ed Crane and David Boaz of the Cato Institute for letting me read through their excellent files of clippings on libertarianism… To their credit, the libertarians save everything and not just the flattering stuff.” I found this very funny because the files that E.J. Dionne perused had been cleaned out years earlier… by me! In the process, I discovered a lot of obscure libertarian history. The most striking was the 1980 (?) platform of the Libertarian Party’s Abolitionist Caucus. While it was a strident anarchist tract, it insisted (contra the Rothbardian Libertarian Party Radical Caucus) that the American public’s fear of the Soviet Union was entirely reasonable.
- Talking jurisprudence with Tim Lynch. At the time, I was seriously thinking about law school. If the typical lawyer were as thoughtful and enthusiastic as Tim, maybe I would have become one myself.
- Publishing my first op-ed. It doesn’t google, but as a Cato intern I wrote a syndicated op-ed defending the Boy Scouts’ right to exclude gay scoutmasters. It ended up in quite a few smaller papers. I also remember David Boaz‘s wise editorial advice: “Cato is promoting libertarianism with a human face.” In the final draft, I tried to emphasize the difference between the “right to exclude” and the “rightness of exclusion.”
Almost two decades later, Cato remains one of my two favorite libertarian organizations. (The other is IHS). Yes, Cato usually takes a more moderate line than I would. But I value common sense and common decency above ideological purity – and by those measures, Cato excels.
P.S. If you’re attending the Reunion on Friday, and want to join a group I’m setting up for dinner at 8 P.M. afterwards, email me at bcaplan – at – gmu dot edu.