April 3 2017
Allison Kasic is the girl with the bison tattoo.
She is also an alumna of the Mercatus Center MA Fellowship at George Mason University (economics) and serves as associate director of research at the Charles Koch Foundation, where she works on free speech issues, criminal justice reform, economic freedom, and other issues that, as a libertarian, she deeply values. Fresh out of Bucknell University (from which she graduated summa cum laude in 2005), Allison worked at IWF for four years as a policy analyst and director of the campus program. She has written for The Weekly Standard (notably an account of the National Organization for Women's fortieth anniversary, which did not sit well with the ladies of NOW), National Review, and Phi Beta Cons.
Of NOW's anniversary fete, held in 2006 in a hotel in Albany, New York, Allison observed:
The whole gathering, moreover, has a distinctly retro air. Everyone I talk to seems to be a sixtysomething women's studies professor or a fiftysomething social worker named Fran. The T-shirts in evidence everywhere say things like "Doing My Part to Piss Off the Religious Right," "Born-Again Pagan," and "Thelma and Louise Finishing School" (remember the 1991 movie about the housewife and coffee shop waitress who kill an attempted rapist, then take off on the lam, and on a crime spree, in a 1966 convertible?).
As for the bison, obtained at Cirque de Rouge, a custom tattoo parlor in Northeast Washington, D.C., (Allison regards them as true artists and wouldn't dream of going anywhere else), it is Allison's latest. The LARGE image on her thigh, which Allison calls a “bison totem,” is full of meaning. "It looks like an artsy buffalo head," she explains, "and it is in homage to Colorado, where I grew up. The University of Colorado's football team is The Colorado Buffaloes. The bison is also Bucknell's mascot."
To more specifically commemorate Bucknell--which remains "the happiest place on earth" for Allison--she has a tattoo of the peculiar kind of lamp post prevalent in Lewisburg, Pa., where the college is located. "Most people think it is just a random lamp post," Allison admits, "but for me it is a part of Bucknell that is always with me."
To many, the tattoos seem inconsistent with Allison's political work on the right. Yet Allison sees issues of liberty and self-expression as the common core:
"All my tattoos are very personal for me," Allison says. "To me, they are a form of art. It is also like you are curating your own personal fashion in a sense. I didn't get them for political reasons, but having them is consistent with my libertarian thinking. I believe people should have great freedom to do what they want to do, as long as they aren't harming somebody else or infringing on their rights. For me, doing what I want to do includes going to concerts, reading nerdy economics books, and getting tattoos." Allison is a fan of the music group Weezer ("I am evangelical about them"), admits to going too often to the 9:30 Club, a concert venue in Washington, and is head of the local supporters club for Chelsea Football Club (a soccer team in London)—no surprise, another tattoo acknowledges the team.
Topics like these are the perfect segue into a discussion of the state of the contemporary college campus, where students may be very comfortable with music and tattoos, but are losing sight of the larger issue of the importance of the free exchange of ideas. "When I look at the campus today," Allison says, "it's pretty scary how issues like free speech play out. When I was at Bucknell, I was probably more conservative than I am now--I was just coming to my libertarian positions. We were the minority on campus, but we had a place and we had a lively dialogue with students who disagreed with us. We'd have panels and debates with groups promoting minimum wage hikes or the college Democrats, and there was a free market of ideas. It's changed a lot, and it's not like I was there thirty years ago – I graduated in 2005."
Allison was editor of a free-market campus paper called The Counterweight, which is still going today; it recently hosted Christina Hoff Sommers on campus. The Hoff Sommers' visit was protested but otherwise came off without incident. A Bucknell economics professor, Marcellus Andrews, however, sent around an email urging the student body to “impose a steep and lasting price” on conservative students, calling those students who had invited conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on campus “fascists.”
Allison stresses that, since Bucknell is a private institution, these actions violate "the spirit of free speech" rather than the legal right to free speech. "I'd probably not have invited Milo," Allison says, "because I think there were more thoughtful alternatives. But I'd never say he shouldn't be invited. That a professor would call students 'fascists' for doing so is concerning to me." Allison is interested in why college students are so resistant to listening to ideas with which they do not agree: "To some extent," she says, "I wonder if it is not a cultural extension of overly protective, helicopter parenting.' Of course, you do need to protect your children from physical harm, but it is going too far to regard an idea with which you disagree as harmful. Classifying something you disagree with as harmful is sometimes used to justify physical violence."
When it comes to wooing young people and others to conservative or libertarian points of view, Allison believes that instead of haranguing young people on specific issues, it is better to show them how the things they care about would flourish in a free society, "It's not an effective strategy to go and try to convince people your position on a particular issue is right. They may not even care about that issue. It is also important to grant an assumption of good will to those with whom you disagree. If you approach people with intellectual curiosity, you'll find most people are interested."
Allison grew up in Littleton, Colorado and was an athletics-obsessed jock in public school. She played golf, hockey, swam, and went skiing at every available opportunity. Her libertarianism surfaced quite early. "I always joke that it must be organic to my DNA," she says. "When I was in seventh grade, we took a test to ascertain our political leanings. I was intuitively pro-gay rights and civil liberties, but against things like federal subsidies for the arts, which is a ridiculous thing for a seventh grader to care about."
When Allison went off to Bucknell, she continued to develop her political philosophy, play sports and work for the college radio station . She also joined a sorority, Chi Omega. "I am the unexpected sorority girl," says Kasic, a staunch defender of the Greek system. She cites something that the left often brags about--diversity--as present in Bucknell's Chi O chapter. "I was able to meet and be exposed to so many different types of people," she remembers. "My pledge class members are still my best friends." Allison is an adviser to Chi Omega chapter at George Mason and active in the alumnae chapter in Washington, D.C.
While at Bucknell, Allison began contributing articles on campus life to IWF's website. Shortly after graduating, she came to work at IWF (where, among other undertakings, she tried to teach your humble correspondent millennial slang, one of the few egregious failures of her otherwise stellar career). "It was absolutely my dream job," she recalls. "I loved it that we had an interesting coalition of women on the right, some conservatives and some more libertarian like me."
During her tenure at IWF, Allison wrote and spoke extensively on Title IX, which had evolved from being a brief statement rejecting gender discrimination to the raison d'etre for imposing quotas in college athletics. "Title IX was a very simple statement," Allison says, "but administration got turned over to the executive branch, resulting in its becoming a regulatory behemoth for college athletics, spilling over into high school athletics. It has become this whole other thing to what was intended. If you can take something like Title IX and use it however you want, it is probably a good sign that there are not very effective parameters in place."
Allison began to feel a need to learn more about economics. "I had a fabulous job and I got to work on interesting issues, but more and more the economic aspects of problems were just jumping out at me." She signed up to earn a master's degree from George Mason, which she brags has "a world-class economics department. She read Israel Kirzner, John Stuart Mill, and Adam Smith and became grounded in economic thinking. "I tend to approach policies from an economics point of view," she says. She laments that, while many politicians will focus on benefits of a program, they fail to consider the "unintended consequences and opportunity costs."
Allison joined the Koch Foundation in May 2011. As a representative of the foundation, she works with "an awesome coalition across the ideological spectrum" on criminal justice reform (among other issues). They work on excessive or mandatory sentencing and the proliferation of crimes considered felonies, many of which we may do without even knowing them to be illegal. "You shouldn't be able to be charged with a crime if nobody involved knew it was illegal," she says, citing Harvey Silverglate's classic book, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. She is also concerned about superfluous professional licensing that keeps many people, including many ex-cons, out of work. She says that, for example, somebody who has worked as a prison barber can't be a barber afterwards because of unnecessary licensing requirements.
So with this incredibly varied cultural identity, does Allison consider herself a feminist? "Absolutely," she says. "At its core, feminism is all about equality of the sexes. I don't understand why everybody isn't a feminist when it is defined correctly. I believe if we thought of it in these basic terms, everybody would consider themselves feminists. Unfortunately, the word has become politicized. You can't call yourself a feminist if you support XYZ. "
She adds, "A lot of people whom I admire have given up on the term. To me, it is too important to concede that word. IWF is fighting for equality every day--you just have different IDEAS of what will create an environment of equality from those who would try to exclude us from calling ourselves feminists."
Although Allison is concerned by what she sees as AN UPRISE IN nationalism and populism, she is optimistic about the future. She just hopes we won't look to government to get to that future. Part of my intellectual journey," Allison says, "has been toward individual liberty. I learned along the way that we put too much stock in government solutions and particularly in politicians. This guy is going to fix everything. It's all the last guy's fault. A politician is not going to be anybody's savior. Entrepreneurs, people out there just doing their jobs--these are the people who matter. Innovation doesn't come from Congress, it comes from these people. Politicians will come and go, do some things I agree with and some things I disagree with, but our core American values will remain the same and are carried about by unique individuals."
Allison is a perfect example of such an individual – living and enjoying her life on her own terms, while working to advance that central, American ideal of personal liberty every day.