A Wall Street Journal editorial this morning heaps much deserved praise on the Cato Institute’s founder and recently retired president, Ed Crane, for his near-lifelong commitment to limited constitutional government and the “freedom legacy” he has entrusted to the next generation. Hundreds of millions of Americans and perhaps billions more people around the world are freer – or at least less tightly shackled by the freedom-encroaching tendencies of government – on account of the ideas that Crane and the Cato Institute have helped keep alive, proliferate, and popularize. The WSJ is gracious in acknowledging Crane’s critical contribution.
At the risk of appearing to make the perfect the enemy of the good, however, there is one characterization in the editorial that is inaccurate – the characterization of Cato’s foreign policy as “isolationist.” The editorial implies disagreement with Cato’s foreign policy prescriptions, which is presumably a reference to Cato’s opposition to the war in Iraq or Libya or Syria, or to the prospective war in Iran. After “validated,” I would characterize Cato’s positions on those matters as being in lock step with the precepts of limited, constitutional government: “non-interventionist,” in foreign policy parlance, which is a far cry from “isolationist.”
As director of the Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies at Cato, I can assure you that our unfettered advocacy of real free trade is the antithesis of isolationism. We in the trade center believe to our cores that Americans should be free to transact (as sellers, buyers, investors, workers, or collaborators in transnational production/supply chains) with whomever we choose, wherever they live. We believe that foreigners who want to work in the United States should be given green cards to do so and that foreign governments’ policies should treat Americans in the same regard. We believe that foreign investment should be welcomed almost unconditionally in the United States (the exception being the rare and narrowly-defined cases of clear threats to national security), and that Americans who want to invest their assets abroad should be free to do so without being punished through taxes and regulations or demonized by politicians for “shipping jobs overseas.”
We advocate person-to-person, business-to-business, mutually beneficial engagement between Americans and people in every country without exception and with minimal roles for governments. That is hardly an isolationist foreign policy. That is a recipe for peace and prosperity. That is part of Ed Crane’s freedom legacy.