The Cato Institute's mission is to "advance liberty". That sounds good, in fact in sounds very good. But wait till you find out exactly what "liberty" is thought to mean.
How to label Cato
The Catoists reject the label conservative. They like the term classical liberal but worry that it might be thought backward looking. So they prefer to be labelled as libertarians or market liberals.
In short, they are right-liberals. Like all liberals, they want a society made up of radically autonomous individuals. They reject the left-liberal idea that such a society can be organised by the administration of a central state, so their politics is anti-statist.
They believe instead that the best way to regulate a society made up of millions of abstracted, atomised, autonomous individuals is through the free market. The hidden hand of the market, it is thought, will keep the individual pursuit of profit working for the overall progress and benefit of society.
So they have a vision of Economic Man, in which our core identity and purpose is realised through our unimpeded participation in the market. That is the kind of liberty that matters to the Catoists, but as we shall see it's an understanding of liberty with unfortunate consequences.
If you believe that the most important freedom is unrestricted trade, then you won't want limits placed on the movement of labour. And so you'll support open borders and mass immigration.
This is the immigration policy of the Cato Institute:
Immigration should be considered an important source of necessary labor for the American economy. Immigration policies should be revised to allow US based businesses liberal access to both high and low-skilled workers. Immigration control should be focused on securing our borders from terrorists and criminals.
Throughout history, immigration has been an important source of economic and social vitality for the United States, naturally expanding and contracting depending on the available supply of jobs in the US economy. Regulating immigration is the responsibility of the federal government, and we should have a comprehensive federal immigration system that promotes family cohesion, economic innovation, economic growth, the rule of law, and secure borders.
It's all focused on Economic Man. There's nothing about preserving a culture, heritage, identity or tradition. Nor is there even any serious consideration of social cohesion, apart from the one restriction of not allowing entry to terrorists.
Consider also two of the books that are being plugged by the Cato Institute:
Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders
Jason Riley makes the case for welcoming more immigrants to the United States. Drawing on history, scholarly studies and first-hand reporting, Riley argues that today’s newcomers are fueling America’s prosperity and dynamism.
Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them
In a provocative new book, British author Philippe Legrain presents a comprehensive case for expanding the freedom of workers to cross international borders legally, especially from less to more-developed countries. With an American audience in mind, Legrain examines the economic benefits of both high-skilled and low-skilled immigration.
A Cato type liberty means open borders for the sake of free trade. Little else is seriously considered. Isn't this a very limited view of man and society? And doesn't it impede other kinds of liberty, such as the freedom to enjoy and uphold an existing culture and identity? Or to enjoy stable forms of communal life that we can feel secure attachments to?
Even the economic arguments are dubious. There's evidence that lower skilled native workers suffer a fall in their economic condition during times of mass immigration. And yet such workers are supposed to believe that through open borders they are experiencing maximum liberty.
Breaking a pattern
These right-liberal ideas do have an influence. The more intellectual types within the Liberal Party, the Republican Party and the Conservative Party would have been influenced by these right-liberal ideas in their formative years.
It's important that those of us who don't like left-liberal politics don't fall into a right-liberal politics as an available alternative. The Cato slogan of "Individual Liberty, Free Markets, and Peace" might sound appealing, but in its details it's not helpful for conserving the larger Western tradition.