Marr blog 10/26 cato
The Wall Street Journal recently ran a tribute to Ed Crane, founder of the 35-year-old Cato Institute.
Under Ed’s direction Cato became the undisputed authority on the theory of limited government. It took the Libertarian stance . . . promoting free people, free choice, free markets and freedom of thought. In 1977 Cato had a staff of 10 and a budget of $800,000. Today, its staff numbers 127 and operates on a budget of $21 million per year.
At age 68, after three decades of heading up his respected think tank, Ed is retiring.
But, there are always vignettes that add up to create the big picture, stories that very few people know. These tidbits reveal character and personality far better than a strict recitation of numbers. My experience with Ed Crane, how he extended a hand and helped me achieve my goal, is one of those tales
Way back in 1994 I started an odd little newspaper known as The Trout Wrapper. Published from a tarpaper-covered shack in McAllister, MT., The Wrapper was my response to the frustration I had encountered while working on-staff at traditional news publications that consistently eschewed any and all viewpoints that did not promote a liberal, statist bias. In contrast, my paper’s content consisted primarily of opinion pieces, written by myself and a group of good friends. The copy was decidedly Libertarian (though we never labeled it as such) and from day one I insisted that we feature great writing that was both funny and full of plain old horse sense. My description of the paper was that it should be a cross between the old National Lampoon, The National Review and The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
I expected the paper to fail spectacularly and near immediately. I mean . . . I only had enough money to print and mail out six weeks of introductory copies. Moreover, horse sense wasn’t (and isn’t) always that popular. Last but not least, sometimes what my writers and self found humorous struck others as just a tad offensive (I guess taking up a collection to buy one-way tickets to China for Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton . . . not to mention Socks the Cat . . . could rub a few folks the wrong way).
Somehow, to my total surprise The Wrapper received enough subscriptions and ads to make it through that first year (barely). We were just scraping along when, out of the blue and utterly unsolicited, I received a letter from Ed Crane.
I knew all about the DC-based Cato (a friend was a subscribing member and received their newsletters). I thought they were a great and extremely intelligent group. What I never expected was that the founder and president would somehow learn of my tiny endeavor. Never in my most vivid imaginings did I ever think that the guy who ran that brilliant outfit would drop me a line.
It all happened in a strange way. McAllister, MT., was a trout-fishing Mecca, and folks descended from around the world in search of brownies and rainbows. One subscriber, a prominent San Francisco businessman, sent a copy of The Wrapper to Ed Crane (this same kind fellow also showed the paper to the late Nobel-prize winning economist Milton Friedman. Mr. Friedman apparently liked it, as he sent me an autographed copy of “Free To Choose,” the book he and his equally brilliant wife, Rose, had co-written.)
Lets talk character. Many (most) people would have received my little paper, perhaps glanced at it, likely chucked it in the trash. This is not how Ed Crane does things. This is how I learned that Ed Crane cared not just about big ideas, policies and events. This is how I learned that he was eager to help out the little guy.
I received Ed’s letter. It was a complimentary note telling me that not only was he a fan of The Trout Wrapper, he was also going to re-print my subscription ad in his next newsletter. The man was true to his word, and his efforts led to enough paid subscriptions to get me through another 12 months. With a couple of years under my belt the Wrapper had established some credibility. We were suddenly being quoted all over the place (everywhere from Playboy to Paul Harvey). Ed and PJ O’Rourke -- the noted author, humorist and H.L. Mencken Research Fellow at Cato -- appeared on a Wrapper front cover. They were in China, holding up copies of my paper in front of a Buddhist shrine, grinning from ear to ear.
Other folks noticed the paper (former Playboy editor David Stevens featured us a couple times in that magazine’s Potpourri section, and remains a good friend to this day). The late Jack Kemp sent me a photo depicting the then vice presidential-candidate reading The Wrapper. Well-known columnist Alan Caruba not only wrote for The Wrapper but also promoted it all over the place. He also remains one of my closest friends.
By the time I sold the Wrapper to a publishing group in the year 2000 (an offer I couldn’t refuse), The Wrapper had subscribers in 48 states and three countries. My little cadre of friends/writers were having a gas making fun of stuff we found ridiculous. I’m not certain we were profound. I am certain we were prodigious and that we amused the hell out of ourselves.
I’m also certain we would have ever achieved the degree of success we did if not for the thoughtful assistance of Ed Crane.
A truly humble man does not blow his own horn; he does not speak of his small acts of help. Such a way of living is akin to the idea that true character is defined as what you do when no one is looking. To my mind, for the way he offered a hand to a total stranger who was struggling to get a fledgling business off the ground, Ed personified that most wonderful concept.
The Wrapper no long exists (I stayed on as editor until the new owners closed it in 2006). And, as mentioned in the first paragraph, Ed Crane has now retired as the guiding force behind Cato. I’ve no doubt that both he and the group he built from the ground up will continue to prosper and thrive.
But, there are stories rarely heard, stories that should be heard. Because we live in fractious and cynical times we sometimes forget that there are people who help others with no ulterior motive, seeking nothing in return, desiring no accolades or notice.
Ed Crane is one of those people.