- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2002

When young California investment manager Edward Crane visited Washington in 1976, he noticed how much influence a few public policy think tanks had on Capitol Hill.
There was the American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institution, the two most visible public policy research organizations at the time. The Hoover, RAND, Hudson and Urban institutes were also around.
Mr. Crane, now 57, thought there should be a think tank dedicated to the American principles of liberty and limited government.
"We needed an independent think tank in Washington, one that wasn't afraid to say something that wasn't popular on Capitol Hill or with the current administration," Mr. Crane said in an interview last week. "We wanted an organization that wasn't going to engage in partisan politics."
A year later, in 1977, Mr. Crane and his friend, Kansas industrialist Charles G. Koch, founded the Cato Institute and tomorrow the organization will mark its 25th anniversary.
The key to the institution's success? It's all about opening up the floor for discussion and allowing a free forum where arguments from the entire political spectrum are represented, Mr. Crane said.
"Cato is the embodiment of the philosophy of the founders of this country," Mr. Crane said. "It's about being upfront and being accurate in our product." The Institute is named after "Cato's Letters," a series of libertarian pamphlets that helped lay the philosophical foundation for the American Revolution, says its Web site.
Cato started its operations in San Francisco with only three persons on its staff and a budget of about $500,000. The institute left behind its California origins and set up shop on Capitol Hill in 1982 in the home of the first Librarian of Congress, George Watterston. Cato continued to grow so that by 1993, it moved into its own building in Northwest. Today, it employs at least 20 persons and has a $15 million annual budget.
Alan Kors, president of the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said Cato has played an important role in providing an open forum on issues like Social Security.
"Cato has changed the national debate by offering new ways of thinking about the relationship between government and the individual," Mr. Kors said.
Cato has been making a name for itself, at home and abroad.
In 1979 the institute developed the concept of Social Security privatization, now a major public policy-reform initiative in Washington.
On the 60th anniversary of the creation of the government-run Social Security program in 1995, Cato established the Project on Social Security Privatization. Since the project's founding, Cato has convened nine separate policy forums and three major conferences on Social Security reform.
Its Center for Trade Policy has become the leading source in Washington for research on the benefits of free trade. The institute's research has helped to shape debate and policy on trade with China; U.S. membership in the World Trade Organization; Internet taxation; immigration; and trade barriers against steel.
Overseas, Cato's foreign policy work has supported the concept of a national defense based on strategic independence, a strong military and nonintervention. "We should stop trying to be the world's policeman," Mr. Crane said. "You just wish the world well and remain a shining city on the hill. That's the reason why Switzerland doesn't get attacked."
Cato's defense and foreign policy department has published a number of books analyzing world affairs and advocating a more restrained U.S. presence abroad, warning of the risk of terrorism and supporting a technologically sophisticated national defense. "The best defense is not to commit an offense overseas," Mr. Crane said.

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