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Volume 12, Issue 42: October 19, 2010

  1. Road to Economic Recovery Must Bypass Federal Spending
  2. The Meaning of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature
  3. Woodward Sheds Light on Obama’s Wars
  4. Runaway Defense Spending Does Not Strengthen U.S. Security
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) Road to Economic Recovery Must Bypass Federal Spending

President Obama’s $50 billion plan for the nation’s transportation infrastructure, another stimulus package offered to help revive a sluggish economy, is long on specifics but short on justification. It calls for re-building 150,000 miles of roads, laying down 4,000 miles of railway tracks, and rehabilitating 150 miles of airport runways—numbers that might as well have been pulled from a hat.

It’s a textbook example of the federal government dictating our transportation priorities, instead of allowing consumers themselves to set their own priorities through their willingness to pay for them, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Gabriel Roth. In the absence of federal transportation funding, Roth argues, user fees, a more efficient tool to help fund infrastructure projects, would play a large role. Also, the popular goals of improved road safety and effective congestion relief, via electronic toll-collection systems, would be better served.

“Instead of vying with Congress to determine expenditures on transportation infrastructure,” Roth writes, “the president should encourage Congress to leave these decisions to the states—which could employ market mechanisms to provide the transportation facilities users are prepared to pay for.”

“Obama’s Transportation Infrastructure Plan Wastes $50 Billion,” by Gabriel Roth (Fort Myers News Press, 10/9/10)

Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads, edited by Gabriel Roth

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2) The Meaning of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature

In his latest column for the Washington Post Writers Group, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa examines the cultural significance of his father, Mario Vargas Llosa, winning this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature.

After learning of the award from a phone call from his father, the younger Vargas Llosa writes: “I thought how different Latin America would be by now if its political economy had resembled his approach to literature.” For example, while many Latin American political leaders espoused protectionism during the 1960s and ‘70s, Mario Vargas Llosa and his literary cohorts were “busy demolishing the walls of protectionism, prejudice, self-doubt and envy” that hampered their own trade, literature.

Moreover, whereas many Latin American public intellectuals continued to pursue the fantasies of utopian collectivism, Mario Vargas Llosa “broke with that decades ago, opting for a quite solitary, often misunderstood defense of individual freedom,” continues Alvaro Vargas Llosa. “This cause is more widely supported in Latin America today, a region where the notion of self-effort is growing rapidly, as the millions who have left poverty through enterprise account for, and where the dust of anti-Western protectionism is being blown off by the winds of globalization. But it took a long time, and in some parts authoritarianism still weighs heavily on societies.”

“A Nobel Laureate in the Family,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (10/13/10) Spanish Translation

Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Lessons from the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, edited by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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3) Woodward Sheds Light on Obama’s Wars

Obama’s Wars, the latest book by Washington Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward, turns a spotlight on the infighting waged behind the scenes in the formation of U.S. military policy. The Obama administration, Woodward shows, has been sharply divided over the war in Afghanistan, yet the war effort continues due in part to momentum generated by past policies—a force that has quashed “the cogent logic of those skeptical of future escalation,” explains Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty, in his latest op-ed. Those skeptics of U.S. military escalation, Woodward shows, include not only Vice President Biden but also several prominent National Security Advisers.

One key battle in the war-policy conflict pitted some in the Pentagon against the President himself. “The book catches the military trying to game the bureaucratic system by developing several unworkable options, which would lead to the only viable option being the insertion of 40,000 more troops,” writes Eland. “In the end, Obama felt he was being hoodwinked by the military, so he only gave them 30,000 more troops with little actual military rationale for that number.”

Yet trying to pacify Afghanistan with a counterinsurgency strategy that employs 10,000 fewer troops than requested—a strategy Eland calls “counterinsurgency-lite”—is a dubious proposition, a sentiment that Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reportedly expressed. Even Gen. David Petraeus, the current U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said privately: “I don’t think you win this war.” In short, Woodward’s book documents that “we are watching a slow-motion train wreck,” concludes Eland.

“Woodward’s Expose Documents What We All Suspected,” by Ivan Eland (10/13/10)

Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, by Ivan Eland

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, by Ivan Eland

The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland

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4) Runaway Defense Spending Does Not Strengthen U.S. Security

Since 2007, the U.S. defense budget has been larger than it has ever been since the end of World War II. But you couldn’t tell that by looking at the shape of the U.S. Navy: its fleet is smaller and older than in the recent past. The Air Force is in worse shape: the number of active and reserve pilots and bomber squadrons has fallen 51 percent since the start of the decade. The Army shows an increase in the number of brigade combat teams, but only from 44 to 46, despite a 53 percent increase in expenditures for that branch of the armed services.

“In sum, an extra trillion dollars for the Pentagon has been processed into forces that are, with minor exceptions, smaller, older and less ready to fight,” writes Winslow T. Wheeler, a defense budget expert and research fellow at the Independent Institute.

Although a few members of Congress have begun to take notice, Wheeler calls their efforts “seemingly dramatic, but substantively feeble, initiatives” to cut out-of-control spending by the Pentagon. “Those who recently have become politically active out of disgust with the mess in Washington should be particularly incensed over the Pentagon’s horrific performance,” Winslow concludes.

“Smaller, Older, Less Prepared: Where Is the Payoff for Huge U.S. Budget Hikes?” by Winslow T. Wheeler (Defense News, 10/13/10)

Congress, the Defense Budget, and Pork: A Snout-to-Tail Description of Congress’ Foremost Concern in National Security Legislation, by Winslow T. Wheeler

Budgeting for Empire: The Effect of Iraq and Afghanistan on Military Forces, Budgets, and Plans, by David Isenberg

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5) This Week in The Beacon

Stay informed. Get heard. Read and comment on the Independent Institute blog.

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