Politico dropped an investigative article yesterday afternoon titled "Former Cato employees describe years of harassment: Libertarian leader and ex-Cato President Ed Crane repeatedly made inappropriate sexual comments, staffers say."
The paper reports on a 2012 settlement in a sexual harassment dispute with then–Director of External Affairs Carey Lafferty, and it includes multiple anonymous allegations of other incidents as well. As it happens, 2012 was the same year that Crane, after a bitter and very public ownership dispute with Cato co-founders Charles and David Koch (the latter of whom sits on the Reason Foundation's Board of Trustees), agreed to step down after 35 years as president.
Foes of libertarianism are predictably taking the opportunity to indict an entire political philosophy. "More broadly," tutted New York Magazine's Eric Levitz, "libertarians fail to grapple with the reality that, for most individuals in an advanced society, the most coercive force in day-to-day life isn't the state, but the boss."
That is a spectacular exercise in point-missing. Since the Roger Ailes debacle kickstarted things, one rather clear pattern of perpetrator has emerged: a retirement-age Baby Boomer male who exerts monarchal workplace authority at an institution within kissing distance of power and fame. Whatever Ailes had in common with Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Bill O'Reilly, and Leon Wieseltier, it certainly wasn't a belief in the optimal size of government. Not to mention retirements and resignations at NPR, hardly a libertarian stronghold.
Levitz tosses in a grudging to-be-sure at the end ("the cause of Crane's decades-long misbehavior was not his think-tank's ideology") but then doubles down ("libertarianism's refusal to grapple with the reality of workplace coercion—or accept the legitimacy of those remedies most likely to mitigate it—is so deeply misguided").
If anything, private sector remedies have been more effective at responding to the #MeToo moment. As Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown wrote in The New York Times, "The modern American capitalist system is far from perfect. But for all its flaws, our system—and the digital communication channels it enabled—has delivered social justice more swiftly and effectively than supposedly more enlightened public bodies tend to. As we observe and adjust to the sociosexual storm we're all in, let's appreciate the powers and paradigms making it possible: feminism, but also free markets."
Politico quotes Cato's current president, Peter Goettler, underscoring that the organization has "a pretty explicit policy against sexual harassment" and a "robust complaint process." Also: "I expect and demand a working environment that's one of mutual respect….I also like to remind people that things that they believe are innocent, like jokes and personal comments, can make others uncomfortable." This is pretty much standard operating procedure for dealing with such allegations, especially when the alleged perpetrator has already been shown the door.
As in many other industries, this grappling with a legacy of sexual harassment by a powerful man in the libertarian movement comes too late. As in many other industries, it may not yet have gone far enough. But to claim there's something special about libertarianism that caused or magnified the Crane scandal is little more than disingenuous political posturing. Unfortunately, this problem is much much bigger than any one industry, ideology, or institution.