September/October 2010

Training Libertarian Leaders

This summer, the Cato Institute welcomed its newest intern class. The 29 young men and women represent the new generation of advocates for individual liberty, limited government, free markets, peace, and the rule of law. The internships are part of the broader Young Leaders Program at the Cato Institute, a project of student outreach that includes Cato On Campus and Cato University.

The Summer 2010 intern class has something to be proud of: they survived an application process more selective than the most prestigious universities. Of the 1,100 applicants, only 2.6 percent got to call Cato home this summer. Compare this to the top of the Ivy League. According to the Harvard Crimson, “A record-low 6.9 percent of applicants have been accepted to the Harvard College Class of 2014.” The program’s rigor is similar to the Ivy League, too. But, unlike the Ivy League, Cato interns receive a broad and deep education in the fundamentals of liberty. Each intern is assigned to policy directors at Cato, allowing the intern to delve deeply into a particular area of study. Not only do the interns help Cato scholars with research and work with the conference department to organize policy conferences, debates, and forums, but they attend regular seminars on politics, economics, law, and philosophy, as well as a series of lectures and films on libertarian themes. The interns develop their public speaking skills by presenting policy recommendations and develop their writing skills by drafting letters to the editor and op-eds. After such intense study, they emerge at the end of the summer well equipped to promote and live the ideas of liberty.

The film seminar series, which highlights documentaries, television series, and feature films that provoke discussion related to other parts of the Cato curriculum, is also unrivaled in most places in the world. Interns gather for the film seminar series having already read an accompanying selection of articles and essays. After the viewing, they gather with their discussion leader to explore the various liberty-related themes and economic principles illustrated in the chosen film.

Because there are few skills more valuable than the ability to form cogent, concise arguments in defense of liberty and present them in a confident, persuasive manner, Cato launched the Intern Debate Series as part of the research intern program. The series hosts rousing, parliamentary-style debates on various topics of public interest between Cato research interns and other think tanks and groups in Washington, D.C.

This summer, Sara Scarlett, a student at the University of London, participated in one such debate, alongside Liya Palagashvili, an intern at the Institute for Justice. The event, moderated by Cato vice president Gene Healy, pitted the Cato intern against two interns from the Heritage Foundation on libertarianism versus conservatism. “It’s great to see students who care enough about fundamental ideas to publicly argue about them,” said George Mason University economics professor Bryan Caplan after the debate. By helping develop bright students into eloquent, persuasive speakers, we intend to strike a blow in favor of liberty on college campuses around the country.

Interns represent not just the United States, but also Mexico, Venezuela, Kenya, and Dubai. The exposure of foreign students to life and academia in the United States is invaluable for them, and they are able to bring the ideas they learned at Cato back to their home countries. American students benefit from learning alongside young people who bring cultural, linguistic, and intellectual differences to the program. Within these diverse backgrounds and cultures there exists a powerful cohesive force: a consuming passion for liberty.

The interns bring a wealth of experience to Cato. Health policy studies intern Sloane Frost co-founded Students For Liberty, an organization with a network of 290 student groups. Jorge Osuna, a Venezuela native, works with the Organizacion por la Democracia Liberal en Venezuela in the formation of a Libertarian Party and with the Instituto de Libertad y Prosperidad to expose young people to libertarian ideas.

Preparing the interns for life after Cato is crucial. Cato’s staff works closely with our interns to teach them the skills that enable them to find jobs as journalists, public interest lawyers, Capitol Hill staffers, college professors, and in other important and influential positions.