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Cato Institute
Established 1974[1]
Mission to increase the understanding of public policies based on the principles of limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and peace.[2]
President (and CEO) John A. Allison IV[3]
Chairman Robert A. Levy[3]
Executive Vice-President David Boaz[4]
Faculty 46
Staff 100
Budget $ 23.6 million (2011)[5]
Slogan "Individual Liberty, Free Markets, and Peace"
Location Washington, D.C., U.S.

1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20001-5403
United States

The Cato Institute is an American libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. According to the 2011 Global Go To Think Tank Index, Cato is the 6th most influential US based think tank, ranking 3rd in Economic Policy and 2nd in Social Policy.[6]

The Institute's stated mission is "to increase the understanding of public policies based on the principles of limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and peace. The Institute will use the most effective means to originate, advocate, promote, and disseminate applicable policy proposals that create free, open, and civil societies in the United States and throughout the world."[7]

Cato scholars were critical of George W. Bush's Republican administration (2001–2009) on several issues, including the Iraq War,[8] civil liberties,[9] education,[10] agriculture, energy policy, and excessive government spending.[11] On other issues, they supported Bush administration initiatives, most notably health care,[12] Social Security,[13][14] global warming,[15] tax policy,[16] and immigration.[17][18][19][20][21] During the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Cato scholars criticized both major-party candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama.[22][23][24][25]

Cato has criticized President Obama's stances on policy issues since his inauguration, such as fiscal stimulus, healthcare reform, foreign policy, and the War on Drugs,[26][27][28][29] while supporting his stance on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell[30] and liberal immigration policy.[31]


The Institute was founded as the Charles Koch Foundation in 1974 by Murray Rothbard, Ed Crane and Charles Koch,[32] chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the conglomerate Koch Industries, Inc..[footnote 1] In July 1976, the name was changed to the Cato Institute.[32][33] [34] Libertarian economist Murray Rothbard was a core member of Cato's founding group and coined the institute's name. Rothbard served on its board until leaving in 1981 after disagreements with Ed Crane.

The Institute is named after Cato's Letters, a series of British essays penned in the early 18th century by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon expounding the political views of philosopher John Locke, that had a strong influence on the American Revolution's intellectual environment.[35][36] The essays were named after Cato the Younger, the defender of republican institutions in Rome.

Cato relocated first to San Francisco, California in 1977, then to Washington, D.C. in 1981, settling initially in a historic house on Capitol Hill.[37] The Institute moved to its current location on Massachusetts Avenue in 1993. Cato Institute was named the fifth-ranked think tank in the world for 2009 in a study of think tanks by James G. McGann, PhD of the University of Pennsylvania, based on a criterion of excellence in "producing rigorous and relevant research, publications and programs in one or more substantive areas of research".[38]


  1. Koch Industries is the second largest privately held company by revenue in the United States. "Forbes List". Forbes. Retrieved November 13, 2011.


The Cato Institute publishes numerous policy studies, briefing papers, periodicals, and books. Its periodicals include Cato's Letter, Cato Journal, Regulation, Cato Supreme Court Review, and Cato Policy Report. The Cato Journal[39][40] and Regulation[41][42] are peer-reviewed academic journals.

Some of Cato's books include Social Security: The Inherent Contradiction, In Defense of Global Capitalism, Voucher Wars, You Can't Say That!: The Growing Threat to Civil Liberties from Antidiscrimination Laws, Peace and Freedom: A Foreign Policy for a Constitutional Republic, and Reclaiming the Mainstream: Individualist Feminism Reconsidered.[43][44] Cato scholars also write books that are published by outside publishers, such as Libertarianism: A Primer by David Boaz (Free Press), The Age of Abundance by Brink Lindsey (HarperBusiness), and Restoring the Lost Constitution by Randy Barnett (Princeton University Press).

Cato published Inquiry Magazine from 1977 to 1982 (before transferring it to the Libertarian Review Foundation), and Literature of Liberty from 1978 to 1979 (before transferring it to the Institute for Humane Studies, where it was ended in 1982). They also had a monograph series called "Cato Papers" that ran 16 volumes from 1979 to 1980.

Ideological relationships[]


In the years following the Republican Revolution of '94, the Cato Institute was often seen as a standard-bearer of the U.S. conservative political movement Template:Citation needed. Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, credited with reshaping and rejuvenating the Republican Party, and key contributors to the late-20th century conservative movement, were heavily influenced by libertarian ideals Template:Citation needed. However, the Cato Institute officially resists being labeled as part of the conservative movement because "conservative smacks of an unwillingness to change, of a desire to preserve the status quo".[45]

Cato scholars were critical of the expansion of executive power under President George W. Bush[46] and the Iraq War.[47] In 2006 and 2007, Cato published two books critical of the Republican Party's perceived abandonment of the limited-government ideals that swept them into power in 1994.[48][49] For their part, only a minority of Republican congressmen supported President George W. Bush's 2005 proposal to partially privatize Social Security, an idea strongly backed by the Institute. And in the 109th Congress, President Bush's immigration plan – which was based on a proposal by Cato scholar Dan Griswold[50] – went down to defeat largely due to the eventual opposition of conservative Republican congressmen.[51]

Cato scholars tend to disagree with conservatives on drug liberalization,[28] liberal immigration policy,[31] energy policy,[52] and LGBT rights[53] - including the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.[30] Cato President Ed Crane has a particular dislike for neoconservatism. In a 2003 article with Cato Chairman Emeritus William A. Niskanen, he called neoconservatism a "particular threat to liberty perhaps greater than the ideologically spent ideas of left-liberalism."[54] As far back as 1995, Crane wrote that neoconservatives "have a fundamentally benign view of the state," which Crane considers antithetical to libertarian ideals of individual freedom.[55] Cato's foreign policy team have frequently criticized neoconservative foreign policy,[56] albeit the opposition to neo-conservative foreign policy has not always been uniform.[57]


Cato's scholars also advocate positions that are appealing to many on the left side of the American political spectrum, including support for civil liberties, liberal immigration policies,[31] equal rights for gays and lesbians,[30][53] and drug liberalization.[28] An early example of this effort was the launching of Inquiry Magazine, which was aimed at liberals who shared libertarians' skepticism about concentrated state power.

More recently, in 2006, Markos Moulitsas proposed the term libertarian Democrat to describe his liberal particular position, suggesting that libertarians should be allies of the Democratic Party. Replying, Cato vice president for research Brink Lindsey agreed that libertarians and liberals should view each other as natural ideological allies,[58] but noted continuing differences between mainstream liberal views on economic policy and Cato's "Jeffersonian philosophy." Cato has stated on its "About Cato" page:

The Jeffersonian philosophy that animates Cato's work has increasingly come to be called "libertarianism" or "market liberalism." It combines an appreciation for entrepreneurship, the market process, and lower taxes with strict respect for civil liberties and skepticism about the benefits of both the welfare state and foreign military adventurism.[59]

However, there remain significant differences between liberalism and libertarianism on issues such as taxes, gun ownership, and school choice. As a consequence, the Cato Institute has criticized a number of decisions made by President Obama, just as it had regularly criticized decisions made by former President Bush.


Main article: Libertarianism and Objectivism

Relations between the Cato Institute and Objectivist organizations have been strained. Ayn Rand scorned the nascent libertarian movement[60] and her intellectual heir, Leonard Peikoff, has followed her lead, refusing to associate with libertarian organizations, Cato included. Other Objectivist organizations, notably The Atlas Society, have been friendlier. Ed Crane has emphasized that Objectivists and other libertarians are natural allies, and encouraged Objectivists to become more involved in the libertarian movement. Cato Institute leaders have worked for years to improve relations between Objectivists and libertarians.[61]

The relationship between Cato and the Ayn Rand Institute improved with the nomination of Cato's new president John A. Allison IV in 2012. He is a former ARI board member and is reported to be an "ardent devotee" of Rand who has promoted reading her books to colleges nationwide.[62]

Web projects[]

In addition to maintaining its own website in English and a version in Spanish, the Cato Institute also maintains some other websites:

  • Downsizing the Federal Government, with a roadmap for downsizing the US Federal Government and commentary on news and events related to the US federal budget.
  •, a website dedicated to the theory and practice of libertarianism
  • Cato Unbound, a web-only publication that features a monthly open debate between four people. The conversation begins with one lead essay, followed by three response essays by separate people. After that, all four participants can write as may responses and counter-responses as they want for the duration of that month.

Cato positions on current political issues[]

Following its mission statement, Cato scholars advocate policies that advance "individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace". They are libertarian in their policy positions, typically advocating diminished government intervention in domestic, social, and economic policies and decreased military and political intervention worldwide. Cato was cited by columnist Ezra Klein as nonpartisan, saying that it is “the foremost advocate for small-government principles in American life" and it "advocates those principles when Democrats are in power, and when Republicans are in power".[63]

Specific policy proposals advanced by Cato scholars include such measures as abolishing the minimum wage,[64] reforming policies on illegal drugs,[65] eliminating corporate welfare and trade barriers,[66] diminishing federal government involvement in the marketplace,[67] and in local and state issues,[68] enhanced school choice,[69] abolishing affirmative action,[70] and abolishing restrictions on discrimination by private parties.[71] Eric Lichtblau thinks Cato is presently "one of the country’s most widely cited research organizations".[72]

On foreign policy and civil liberties[]

Cato's non-interventionist foreign policy views, and strong support for civil liberties, have frequently led Cato scholars to criticize those in power, both Republican and Democratic. Cato scholars opposed President George H. W. Bush's 1991 Gulf War operations (a position which caused the organization to lose nearly $1 million in funding),[73] President Bill Clinton's interventions in Haiti and Kosovo, and President George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq. As a response to the September 11 attacks, Cato scholars supported the removal of al Qaeda and the Taliban regime from power, but are against an indefinite and open-ended military occupation of Afghanistan.[74]

Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato's Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, criticized many of the arguments offered to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. One of the war's earliest critics, Carpenter wrote in January 2002: "Ousting Saddam would make Washington responsible for Iraq's political future and entangle the United States in an endless nation-building mission beset by intractable problems."[75] Carpenter also predicted: "Most notably there is the issue posed by two persistent regional secession movements: the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south."[75] Cato's Director of Foreign Policy Studies, Christopher Preble, argues in The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free, that America's position as an unrivaled superpower tempts policymakers to constantly overreach and to redefine ever more broadly the "national interest".[76]

On other domestic issues[]

Cato has published strong criticisms of the 1998 settlement that many U.S. states signed with the tobacco industry.[77] Among other laissez-faire policies, Cato scholars have argued for allowing immigrants to work in the U.S.[17]

The Cato Institute published a study proposing a Balanced Budget Veto Amendment to the United States Constitution.[78]

In 2003, Cato filed an amicus brief in support of the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down the few remaining state laws that made private, non-commercial homosexual relations between consenting adults illegal. Cato cited the 14th Amendment, among other things, as the source of their support for the ruling. The amicus brief was cited in Justice Kennedy's majority opinion for the Court.[79]

In 2006, Cato published a Policy Analysis criticising the Federal Marriage Amendment as unnecessary, anti-federalist, and anti-democratic.[80] The amendment would have changed the United States Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage; the amendment failed in both houses of Congress.

Cato scholars have been sharp critics of current U.S. drug policy[65] and the perceived growing militarization of U.S. law enforcement.[81] Additionally, the Cato Institute opposes smoking bans[82] and mandatory use of safety belts.[83]

Criticism of corporate welfare[]

In 2004, the Institute published a paper arguing in favor of "drug re-importation."[84] A 2006 study attacked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.[85] Cato has published numerous studies criticizing what it calls "corporate welfare", the practice of public officials funneling taxpayer money, usually via targeted budgetary spending, to politically connected corporate interests.[86][87][88][89]

In another example Cato president Ed Crane and Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope co-wrote a 2002 op-ed piece in the Washington Post calling for the abandonment of the Republican energy bill, arguing that it had become little more than a gravy train for Washington, D.C. lobbyists.[90] Again in 2005, Cato scholar Jerry Taylor teamed up with Daniel Becker of the Sierra Club to attack the Republican Energy Bill as a give-away to corporate interests.[91]

On environmental policy[]

Cato scholars have written extensively about the issues of the environment, including global warming, environmental regulation, and energy policy. The Cato Institute lists "Energy and the Environment" as one of its 13 major "research issues",[92] and global warming is one of six sub-topics under this heading.[93] The Institute has issued over two dozen studies on energy and environmental topics in recent years, which is on par with Cato's other research areas.[94]

Some groupsTemplate:Who have criticized Cato's work on global warming.[95][96] Cato has held a number of briefings on global warming with global warming skeptics as panelists. In December 2003, panelists included Patrick Michaels, Robert Balling and John Christy. Michaels, Balling and Christy agree that global warming is, in fact, related at least some degree to anthropogenic activity but that some scientists and the media have overstated the danger. The Cato Institute has also criticized political attempts to stop global warming as expensive and ineffective:

No known mechanism can stop global warming in the near term. International agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, would have no detectable effect on average temperature within any reasonable policy time frame (i.e., 50 years or so), even with full compliance.[15]

In response to the Worldwatch Institute Report in May 2003Template:Clarify that linked climate change and severe weather events, Cato scholar Jerry Taylor said:

It's false. There is absolutely no evidence that extreme weather events are on the increase. None. The argument that more and more dollar damages accrue is a reflection of the greater amount of wealth we've created.Template:Cite quote

Three out of five "Doubters of Global Warming" interviewed by PBS's Frontline were funded by, or had some other institutional connection with, the Institute.[97] Cato has often criticized Al Gore's stances on the issue of global warming and agreed with the Bush administration's skeptical attitude toward the Kyoto protocols.

Cato scholars have also been critical of the Bush administration's views on energy policy. In 2003, Cato scholars Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren blasted the Republican Energy Bill as "hundreds of pages of corporate welfare, symbolic gestures, empty promises, and pork-barrel projects".[98] They also spoke out against the former president's calls for larger ethanol subsidies.[99]

Funding and structure[]

The Cato Institute is classified as a 501(c)(3) organization under U.S. Internal Revenue Code. The Institute performs no contract research and does not accept government funding. For revenue, the Institute is largely dependent on private contributions.

According to its annual report, the Cato Institute had fiscal year 2008 income of $24 million. The report notes that 77% of Cato's income that year came from individual contributions, 13% from foundations, 2% from corporations, and 8% from "program and other income" (e.g., publication sales, program fees).[100]

Shareholder dispute[]

There have been four shareholders of the Cato Institute. As of March 2012 they were Charles and David H. Koch, president Edward H. Crane,[101] and Kathryn Washburn, the widow of former Chairman Emeritus (and shareholder) William A. Niskanen.[102] In March 2012, a dispute broke out over the ownership of Niskanen's share.[101][102] When Niskanen died, Charles and David Koch filed suit in Kansas, seeking to void his shareholder seat. Crane contended that Niskanen's share belonged to Washburn and that the move by the Kochs was an attempt to turn Cato into "some sort of auxiliary for the G.O.P.... It's detrimental to Cato, it's detrimental to Koch Industries, it's detrimental to the libertarian movement."[72]

In June 2012, Cato announced an agreement in principle to settle the dispute by changing the institute's governing structure. Under the agreement, a board will replace the shareholders and Crane will retire to be replaced as Chief Executive Officer by former BB&T bank CEO John A. Allison IV.[103][104] The Koch brothers agreed to drop two lawsuits.[105]

Foundation support[]

In 2008 Cato received 13% of its support from foundations.[100] In 2010, Cato reported contributions by some 60 plus foundations[106] including: Template:Colbegin

  • Atlantic Philanthropies
  • Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation
  • Earhart Foundation
  • JM Foundation, founded by businessman Jeremiah Milbank
  • John M. Olin Foundation, Inc.
  • Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation
  • Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
  • Castle Rock Foundation (formerly known as The Coors Foundation)
  • Scaife Foundations (Sarah Mellon Scaife, Carthage)
  • Ford Foundation


Corporate support[]

In 2011 Cato received just under 2% of its support from corporations.[107] Corporations providing support in 2011[107] included some of the following: Template:Colbegin

  • Atlantic Trust Co
  • BB&T
  • Google
  • K12 Management
  • MAZDA North America
  • OLCIO International
  • Reynolds American
  • Whole Foods Market


Criticism of corporate support to Cato[]

Template:Expand section The advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers Rights accused Cato of being too tied to tobacco industry corporate funders. They reported that Cato received funding from Philip Morris and other tobacco companies in the 1990s and that at one point Rupert Murdoch served on the boards of directors of both Cato and Philip Morris.[108]

Associates in the news[]

  • Several Cato Institute-affiliated scholars have achieved academic distinction, including Nobel laureates F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, James M. Buchanan, and Vernon L. Smith.
  • Cato senior fellow Randy Barnett argued the Gonzales v. Raich case before the Supreme Court in 2004.
  • Mencken Fellow P. J. O'Rourke is the bestselling author of Parliament of Whores, All the Trouble in the World, and other books.
  • Former Cato policy analyst Radley Balko was cited by Justice Breyer's dissent to the Supreme Court's 2006 Hudson v. Michigan decision, concerning "no knock" raids.[109]
  • Cato senior fellow Robert A. Levy personally funded the plaintiffs' successful Supreme Court challenge to the District of Columbia's gun ban (District of Columbia v. Heller), on the basis of the Second Amendment.[110]
  • In December 2005, Doug Bandow, a Cato fellow, admitted taking money from lobbyist Jack Abramoff in exchange for writing columns for the Copley Press favorable to Abramoff clients. The columns did not, however, deviate from Bandow's own views. Copley suspended his column. Bandow subsequently resigned from Cato on December 15, 2005. He returned to Cato in early 2009.
  • In 1999, David Rall, a prominent environmental scientist, died in a car accident. Steven Milloy, at the time a Cato adjunct scholar, celebrated Rall's death on his site, writing: "Scratch one junk scientist who promoted the bankrupt idea that poisoning rats with a chemical predicts cancer in humans exposed to much lower levels of the chemicalTemplate:Spaced ndash a notion that, at the very least, has wasted billions and billions of public and private dollars." Cato Institute President Edward Crane called Milloy's attack an "inexcusable lapse in judgment and civility," but Milloy refused to apologize. He retained his position with Cato until the end of 2005. Following renewed controversy over the financial support Milloy received from tobacco and oil companies while writing editorial pieces favorable to them, Milloy's name was removed from the list of Cato adjunct scholars.[111]
  • In January 2008, adjunct scholar Dominick Armentano separated from the Institute after writing an op-ed piece about UFO's in the Vero Beach Press-Journal. Cato Executive Vice President David Boaz wrote that "I won't deny that this latest op-ed played a role in our decision."[112]

Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences winners at Cato[]

The following Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences Honorees have worked with Cato:[113]

  • F. A. Hayek
  • Milton Friedman
  • James M. Buchanan
  • Robert Mundell
  • Edward C. Prescott
  • Douglass C. North
  • Vernon L. Smith
  • Gary S. Becker
  • Ronald Coase
  • Thomas C. Schelling

Milton Friedman Prize[]

Since 2002, the Cato Institute has awarded the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty every two years to "an individual who has made a significant contribution to advancing human freedom." The prize comes with a cash award of US$500,000.

Past Prize Winners
Year Recipient Nationality
2002 Peter Thomas Bauer[114] Template:Flag
2004 Hernando de Soto Polar[115] Template:PERvian
2006 Mart Laar[116] Template:ESTn
2008 Yon Goicoechea[117] Template:VENn
2010 Akbar Ganji[118] Template:Flag
2012 Mao Yushi[119] Template:Flag

Board of directors[]

As of March 2012:[120]

  • K. Tucker Andersen, Senior Consultant, Cumberland Associates LLC
  • Ed Crane, President, Cato Institute
  • Richard Dennis, President, Dennis Trading Group
  • William A. Dunn, President, Dunn Capital Management
  • Kevin Gentry, Vice President for Strategic Development, Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation
  • Ethelmae C. Humphreys, Chair, Tamko Roofing Products, Inc.
  • David H. Koch, Executive vice-president, Koch Industries, Inc.
  • Robert A. Levy, Chair; Senior Fellow, Cato Institute[121]
  • John C. Malone, Chairman, Liberty Media
  • Nancy Pfotenhauer, consultant, Washington, D.C.
  • Lewis E. Randall, board member, E-Trade Financial Corporation
  • Howard Rich, Chairman, Americans for Limited Government
  • Donald G. Smith, President, Donald Smith & Co.
  • Kathryn Washburn, nonproft advisor
  • Jeffrey S. Yass, Managing Director, Susquehana International Group, LLP
  • Fred Young, former owner, Young Radiator Company
  • Frank Bond, Director Emeritus, Chairman, The Foundation Group LLC

Notable Cato scholars[]


  • Swaminathan Aiyar, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity
  • Steve H. Hanke, Senior Fellow
  • Nat Hentoff, Senior Fellow
  • Andrei Illarionov, Senior Fellow, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity
  • Patrick J. Michaels, Environmental Studies
  • Jeffrey A. Miron, Senior Fellow
  • John Mueller, Senior Fellow
  • Johan Norberg, Senior Fellow
  • Walter Olson, Senior Fellow
  • Randal O'Toole, Senior Fellow
  • Tom G. Palmer, Senior Fellow
  • Roger Pilon, Vice President for Legal Affairs
  • José Piñera, Co-chairman, Project on Social Security Choice
  • William Poole, Senior Fellow
  • Alan Reynolds, Senior Fellow
  • Jerry Taylor, Senior Fellow
  • Ian Vásquez, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity


See also[]


  • The Heartland Institute
  • Reason Foundation


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