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The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 16, Issue 36: September 9, 2014

  1. Immigration Reform: An Obituary
  2. Labor Unions Down, Occupational Licensing Up
  3. Obama and His Hawkish Critics Need History Lessons
  4. The High Road to Electronic Toll Collection
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts


1) Immigration Reform: An Obituary

Much to the relief of some congressional Democrats, President Obama has announced that he will delay any executive action on immigration until after the November elections. But this change signals more than a momentary retreat for the president: It’s a sign that no significant immigration reforms will be enacted in the foreseeable future—neither by Obama nor by Congress. According to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa several factors are responsible for halting the momentum for reform that made headlines only a few months ago.

For starters, fewer Republican leaders are now willing to support an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws than when the Senate passed its reform bill in late June. House majority leader Eric Cantor is no longer in Congress, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush is no longer championing reform. “Gradually the perception that a huge majority of the GOP base was against reform silenced the most active conservatives [on immigration reform],” Vargas Llosa writes in The Beacon. In addition, news stories of unaccompanied Central American children illegally crossing the country’s southern border also weakened the prospect for immigration reform, even though their tribulations were unrelated to the key reasons for reform and even though by August “the number of kids trying to sneak in was down to one-third the level of May and June,” according to Vargas Llosa.

Obama’s leadership style will also contribute to the end of reform efforts. Pundits often portray the president as a leader torn by inner debate that pits his moral values against his reading of the nation’s laws, but does this narrative apply? “As far as immigration reform goes, it really hasn’t looked that way,” Vargas Llosa continues. “It has simply come down to a failure of leadership or, in Milan Kundera’s eternal words, an unbearable lightness of being.”

Obama: The Unbearable Lightness of Being on Immigration, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (The Beacon, 9/8/14)

Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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2) Labor Unions Down, Occupational Licensing Up

Membership in labor unions has declined markedly in recent decades, falling from about 30 percent of the U.S. workforce in the 1950s to 11 percent today. Unions are famous for lobbying the government for protections from competition that benefit their members at the expense of non-union workers and consumers. So one might be forgiven for thinking that the decline of union membership means that labor markets have become increasingly free of government interference. But this is not the case, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman. In his latest op-ed for Townhall, he argues that another form of government interference—occupational licensing laws—has been inflicting more and more damage on the U.S. workforce.

“All told, an estimated 500 different occupations are subject to licensing restrictions somewhere in the United States,” writes Goodman. “One area where licensing has been particularly important is the practice of medicine.” For example, although a properly credentialed and licensed nurse in Oregon is permitted to act with autonomy for many medical procedures, a nurse practitioner in Texas “can’t do much of anything without being supervised by a doctor.”

Medical licensing may be particularly pernicious when it comes to medical schools; such restrictions amount to a chokehold on the supply of physicians. Fortunately, scores of for-profit medical schools that educate students hoping to practice in the United States circumvent these restrictions by operating abroad—especially in the Caribbean. And the quality of some is first rate: A recent study by the New York Times found that at a few of these schools, a whopping 95 percent of students pass Step 1 of the U.S. medical licensing exam—an indication of the high level of teaching. The implication, according to Goodman, is that medical school licensing is unnecessary. Moreover, he writes, “there is no legitimate reason to license any profession.”

Why Did We Celebrate Labor Day?, by John C. Goodman (Townhall, 9/6/14)

Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, by John C. Goodman

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3) Obama and His Hawkish Critics Need History Lessons

President Obama has been getting flack from Republicans and Democrats for not asserting U.S. power on the world stage as much as they would like. As Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland writes, “The general line of their analysis is that the world is going to hell, and Obama is doing nothing about it. Yet that criticism ignores history and logic.”

Hawks in both parties have ignored the causes of the latest foreign-policy troubles and have failed to make a persuasive case that they represent threats to America’s genuine security interests. Most of the problems they cite were partly created by the president’s predecessors: The Islamic State, which has held territory in two countries, is a by-product of George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Crimea and eastern Ukraine was partly caused by NATO’s expansion to Russia’s doorstep in the years after the Warsaw Pact imploded. And the Gaza War might not have happened without the U.S. government’s longstanding annual aid of $3 billion to Israel. On each of these fronts, Obama has followed the course set by those who came before him.

“Only the Libyan civil war between tribal militias and the heightened spread of radical Islamism in northwestern Africa originated during the Obama administration,” Eland writes. “He caved in to allied pressure to overthrow Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi using armed force. The militias who fought Gaddafi are now fighting among themselves. In addition, weapons from Gaddafi’s plentiful arms stockpiles ended up fueling an Islamist insurgency in nearby Mali, which the French are still trying to extinguish.” Obama—and his hawkish critics—should heed the advice of Dwight Eisenhower, who, as Eland puts it, “had an easier time denying that adverse foreign developments were ‘crises’ requiring U.S. armed intervention.”

Obama Is No Wimp, by Ivan Eland (The Huffington Post, 9/2/14)

No War for Oil: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East, by Ivan Eland

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4) The High Road to Electronic Toll Collection

With midterm elections just two months away, aspiring officeholders face huge challenges in their campaigns to unseat incumbents. Those looking for fresh policy ideas should embrace a proposal whose time has long since come: getting the federal government out of the road business. As Independent Institute Research Fellow Gabriel Roth explains in his latest op-ed, “The government’s record in this area is not good. And its priorities are often politicized.”

The U.S. government has been financing road construction with federal fuel taxes since the birth of the Interstate Highway System in 1956. It was supposed lift the taxes when it more or less completed the interstates two decades ago, but the thirst for revenue and power keeps lawmakers from taking that route. States such as Virginia are prime examples of federal highway pork, but Oregon is one that offers hope. The Beaver State is eagerly working with commercial firms to raise revenue for road construction and maintenance through the use of electronic tolling.

“It is impossible to envision the federal government, which cannot even update its air-traffic control system, speedily developing a successful electronic road payment system or abandoning an unsuccessful one,” writes Roth, a former transportation economist with the World Bank. “Instead of introducing new electronic methods for charging road users, the federal government should step aside, phase out federal fuel taxes, and allow the states to develop new road pricing systems consistent with the principle that those who use the roads should pay for them.”

Go Further! Get the Federal Government Out of the Road Business Altogether, by Gabriel Roth (The Fresno Bee, 7/28/14)

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

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Taxpayers Must Sweat the Small Stuff
K. Lloyd Billingsley (9/8/14)

The Expanding Regulation of the American People
Craig Eyermann (9/8/14)

What 20 UVA Students Did over Summer Vacation
Craig Eyermann (9/5/14)

Uncovered California, Continued
K. Lloyd Billingsley (9/4/14)

You can find the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language website here and blog here.

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6) Selected News Alerts

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  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org