Nathan Goodman, Mercatus Center

Cato Intern Class Spring 2016

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How did you learn about the Cato Institute? What made you want to be an intern?

I first learned of the Cato Institute at some point when I was in middle school. I was reading about politics online and I came across an article from Cato on corporate welfare. At the time I was a left-liberal with some libertarian leanings. I was more certain of my social views than my economic views. My clearest economic position was opposition to corporate welfare, which was probably heavily shaped by the Cato Institute piece. I grew to appreciate Cato's combination of clear and non-partisan principles with rigorous research. I decided I wanted to become an intern at Cato as I became more interested in doing policy-relevant research and writing.

How did the internship affect the way you think about public policy and/or political philosophy?

By the time I was an intern, I was already a pretty committed libertarian. I was convinced of philosophical anarchism, public choice theory, and various other topics covered during the internship. So the main changes I experienced as an intern were more marginal, such as reading Alexis de Tocqueville for the first time and appreciating his insights. Those moments of learning were really valuable.

What kind of work are you doing now?

I am currently a second year PhD student in economics at George Mason University. My funding is provided by the Mercatus Center, where I am a Graduate Research Fellow at the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. In practice, this means that I work as a research assistant for Dr. Bobbi Herzberg and work with various other scholars at the Hayek Program. So my work is a mix of economics coursework and research.

What advice can you offer to fellow alumni who want to secure a job like yours?

If you're considering graduate school, I strongly urge you to get in touch with the good people at the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS). A big part of IHS's mission is helping libertarian students become professors, and that means they will do a lot to help you apply for graduate school and succeed in graduate school. They can offer you lots of great professional advice, and they can also offer you money. IHS's PhD Application Fee Waiver program reimbursed me for my grad school application fees. Since I started grad school, I have received some funding from them for conference travel, as well as a Humane Studies Fellowship which provided me with some additional funding this year.

You should also familiarize yourself with the Mercatus Center's graduate fellowships. My funding comes from the PhD Fellowship Program, but that program is specifically for PhD students at George Mason's economics department. Mercatus also offers the Adam Smith Fellowship, which provides funding for students in any PhD program. If you're not a PhD student, there is also the Frederic Bastiat Fellowship, which funds students in any type of graduate program who are interested in public policy.

When you apply for PhD programs, one thing that is very important is demonstrating your interest in research. You should express this interest in a way that shows you have compatible research interests with faculty at the program you're applying to. A PhD program is like an apprenticeship for researchers, and you need to be interested in doing research with your professors in order to succeed in such an apprenticeship. Look for schools that have professors who you could imagine writing a dissertation with.

What’s a change—a policy perspective, a philosophical point, a messaging strategy, anything—that you would like to see in the libertarian community?

We need to prioritize both our radicalism and our liberalism. Libertarians who prioritize radicalism but neglect liberalism can find it all too easy to ally with illiberal movements that seem anti-establishment. Walter Block and other libertarians who supported Trump because they (incorrectly it appears) thought he would be less aggressive abroad are an example of this error. Many other libertarians, especially here in DC, make the opposite mistake of neglecting radicalism. Those libertarians who supported the Iraq War because it promised to bring liberal values and institutions to Iraq are an example of this error. We need to foster both our liberalism and our radicalism. If we are not radical liberals, we risk inadvertently supporting injustice.

Are there any important ideas (policy, philosophy, or something else) to which you subscribed for a long time, but now believe to be erroneous?

I used to be very favorable to alliances with illiberal but anti-establishment movements, including both Marxists and paleoconservatives, because I thought their opposition to American empire was admirable. In light of the success of Trump and the alt-right, I think I underestimated the chance that illiberal movements can become successful and implement their bad ideas. I am now much more wary of allying with anti-establishment authoritarians simply because of agreements on particular policies.

What makes you feel most optimistic about the future of liberty?

Technology is introducing numerous opportunities to route around unjust laws, form connections with people across borders, encrypt our communications, bypass state-protected monopolies, and blow the whistle on governmental crimes. That gives me hope.