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How Libertarians (Especially Those at the Cato Institute) Dominate Everything

Paulina Borsook, in Cyberselfish, also laments the prominence of libertarianism among the high-tech set. Rather than a work on law, hers is a very personal (and highly abusive) attack on libertarians involved in the computer and software industries. (Libertarians are called or compared to nerds, sexual “nerverts,” “neo-hippies,” Christian fundamentalists and “neo-pagans,” terrorists, pornographers, “ungrateful adolescent off-spring of immigrants,” and so on—a motley collection, indeed.) In a bow to substantive criticism, Borsook restates Lessig’s main point: “The technolibertarian worldview likes to pre-tend that there are not social decisions embedded in code, to pretend that technology is neutral” (pp. 239–40). To support that assertion, Borsook points out that search  engines don’t always find what you’re looking for. If you want to understand the world around us, set aside Milton Friedman and F. A. Hayek and turn to “Marx and his pal Engels,” who had “relevant things to say about the spread of global capitalism (and much more accurate for the description of what is happening at the end of our own century than at the end of his)” (p. 44). Perhaps Borsook had in mind the theses of the immiseration of the masses and the inevitability of socialist revolution, but if she means only to highlight that Marx noted that the world was changing awfully fast, well, so did everyone else.

 Borsook specializes in “color” paid-by-the- word journalism rather than accurate reporting: “Cato, with its menhir of a HQ smack in the middle of D.C., is among the sleekest and most fearsome of the right-wing, free-market, think-tank conquistadors. Hugely funded since the late 1960s and early 1970s [Cato was founded in 1977 with a budget of $800,000], it has colonized political discourse in the United States” (p. 66). When done well, color journalism can be enlightening.

 Another journalist incensed by libertarians is Trudy Lieberman, director of the Center for Consumer Health Choices at Consumers Union. She devotes a chapter of her book Slanting the Story, which describes how terrible people with bad ideas “shape the news” and “dominate public policy debates,” to the Cato Institute’s “1993 assault on Head Start, one of the crown jewels of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society” (p. 99). That assault consisted of publishing one policy analysis by John Hood, “Caveat Emptor: The Head Start Scam.” But even that is too much for Lieberman, for “Cato’s analysis was an attempt to discredit Head Start by focusing on its weaknesses and offering the right wing’s solutions for fixing them—in this case, eliminate the program” (p. 101). According to Lieberman, what saved Head Start from Cato’s “assault” was that “the think tank soon turned its attention to Social Security” (p. 113). (A bit more research would have revealed to our crack journalist that Cato published its first book on the case for personalizing Social Security in 1980.) Lieberman portrays the Cato Institute as being like the dastardly Snidely Whiplash, cackling as he ties a damsel to the railway tracks, until his eye is caught by the chance to carry out an even more nefarious deed. The damsel (Head Start) may be saved for now.  But beware! “Cato, by its own admission, is in for the long haul. This time destroying Head Start wasn’t worth the effort. But who is to say that Cato won’t try again when Head Start’s sugar daddy [President Clinton] leaves office?” (p. 115). Indeed. And with all of that blatant media bias in favor of limited government, individual rights, free markets, and liberty on their side, who knows what the Cato Institute might accomplish?

paulina b.

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Cyberselfish 2015
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