Safeguarding Civil Liberties
Ed Crane, BS 67
Founder and President
Liberty. For most folks, it’s a fancy word reserved only for the finest of occasions, like a rare vintage wine. But for Ed Crane, BS 67, "liberty" is the fuel that gets him up in the morning, as quotidian and well-loved as a cup of coffee. Indeed, Crane has made something of a career out of liberty – of writing about it, promoting public dialogue about it, and making every effort to protect it – through the work of the think tank he founded in 1977, the Cato Institute.
"I’ve always thought that the essence of a free society was respect for the dignity of individual human life and for people’s right to live as they choose," says Crane. "America’s founding fathers had profound insights into the nature of government, and I feel a moral obligation to help preserve the freedoms they established as the basis for this country."
"In other words," says the iconoclast wryly, "I believe that your decision to take drugs, for example, should be considered nobody’s business but your own – however dumb that decision may be."
When he came to Cal, where he earned his bachelor’s in business administration, Crane already had libertarian leanings. His bid for the student senate, run on a platform "to abolish student government itself," proved too perplexingly subversive even for the Berkeley of the 1960s, so he had to content himself with serving as president of Sigma Chi fraternity. "It was an exciting time, even if I did take issue with much of the social philosophy at the time," Crane recalls. "You’d wake up smelling tear gas and know you didn’t have to go to class. Those were the days."
The drive to promote a libertarian agenda – one that combines an interest in free-market economics and lower taxes with strict respect for civil liberties and skepticism about both the welfare state and foreign military intervention – inspired Crane to leave his post in 1975 as vice president of Alliance Capital to briefly run the Libertarian Party. Frustrated, however, by institutionalized impediments to establishing a viable third political party, Crane soon paired up with industrial entrepreneur Charles Koch to set up the Cato Institute in 1977. "I saw that think tanks had enormous leverage getting ideas on the table of national debate with relatively small budgets," he says.
Under Crane’s leadership, Cato, based in Washington, DC, has become one of the nation’s top public policy research organizations, with 105 employees and 60 adjunct scholars working to promote libertarian ideas through conferences, policy forums, and a wealth of publications. Crane himself has helped spearhead the term-limitation movement, has authored several books, and contributes regularly to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the New York Times on such topics as challenges to civil liberties brought about by 9/11, the critique of the far right, tax cuts, and Social Security.
"In our 26 years of existence, Cato has been a voice for school choice, Social Security privatization, the uselessness of the War on Drugs, and many other issues," says Crane. "We’ve seen the public policy debate come a long way in our direction, and we’re proud of that."
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