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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 9, Issue 43: October 22, 2007

  1. U.S. Should Condemn All Government Atrocities, Eland Argues
  2. Tabarrok Explains the 2007 Nobel Prize in Economics
  3. Why Scholars Misread Tocqueville’s Democracy in America
  4. Latin American Round-up

1) U.S. Should Condemn All Government Atrocities, Eland Argues

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has denied the historical fact of the Jewish holocaust at the hands of the Nazis. This rightly makes many people nervous. Yet some of these same people seem comfortable with other denials of government-sanctioned atrocities.

U.S. leaders have done little to challenge, for example, the Japanese government’s denial of the conscription of Chinese and Korean women as sex slaves during World War II. Similarly, although the Turkish mass slaughter of Armenians during World War I is a matter of historical record (some put the death toll at 1.5 million), the Bush administration failed to support a recent House resolution calling the slaughter “genocide.” Although Turkey and Japan are now democratic allies of the U.S. and Iran is not, Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty, challenges the wisdom of this double standard.

“If the United States were to have the same standard for all countries—both friend and foe—and join the international community in identifying and strongly condemning all documented cases of genocide, other war crimes, and repressive behavior by al countries, then perhaps there would be a chance that history might not be repeated,” Eland writes in his latest op-ed. “If the United States is going to criticize other countries’ behavior, both historical and current,” he continues, “it should eliminate the double standard at home and abroad, and clean up its own act first.”

“United States Has Double Standard at Home and Abroad,” by Ivan Eland (10/19/07)

Also see:

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

Center on Peace & Liberty (Ivan Eland, Director)

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2) Tabarrok Explains the 2007 Nobel Prize in Economics

Last week the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences named the winners of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Economic Science. Leonid Hurwicz (University of Minnesota), Eric S. Maskin (Institute for Advanced Study) and Roger B. Myerson (University of Chicago) will share the award and prize money “for having laid the foundations of mechanism design theory.” Independent Institute Research Director Alex Tabarrok explains the ideas behind their prize-winning work in an article for Reason.

“The idea of mechanism design is to create institutions that produce a desirable outcome while respecting the fact that agents have private information and are self-interested,” writes Tabarrok.

Ironically, Hurwicz, the godfather of the field, was influenced both by free-marketeer F. A. Hayek and Hayek’s “market socialist” opponent Oscar Lange. Tabarrok, however, sees little hope for Hurwicz’s theories to advance big-government policies.

“More realistically, I see mechanism design as a tool to make markets more powerful,” Tabarrok continues. “In some situations, for example, mechanism design shows that public goods can be voluntarily provided. In other situations, mechanism design can make government more effective, but it will do so by making government more ‘market-like.’ Contracting-out of government services like garbage pickup, prisons, and roads, for example, can be carried out even farther if contracts are more carefully designed…. Overall, mechanism design increases our appreciation of markets, if only by showing how difficult it is to produce good outcomes while respecting the constraints that markets must satisfy.”

“What is Mechanism Design?” by Alex Tabarrok (Reason, 10/16/07)

Also see:

The Voluntary City, edited by David Beito, Peter Gordon, and Alex Tabarrok

Entrepreneurial Economics: Bright Ideas from the Dismal Science, edited by Alex Tabarrok

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3) Why Scholars Misread Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

Alexis de Tocqueville, author of the two-volume classic Democracy in America (1835, 1840), predicted that the United States would avoid the Industrial Revolution that was then transforming England. Instead, he believed Americans would remain self-sufficient farmers or jacks-of-all-trades who would avoid not only large industry, but also higher education, professional specialization, scientific and scholarly research, and large-scale organizations in general; they would also stay relatively equal in wealth and income. History long ago proved Tocqueville grossly mistaken, yet he is hailed almost universally as the supreme oracle of the modern age.

Why have scholars across the ideological spectrum gotten Tocqueville wrong? Simple. Like the inkblots of a Rorshach test, parts of Democracy in America are so ambiguous that readers can see what they want to see and thus misinterpret Tocqueville in ideologically congenial ways, argues Daniel Choi in the fall 2007 issue of The Independent Review.

Choi writes: “Had these various commentators pursued clarity rather than ideological vindication, the anti-Marxists among them might have seen that Tocqueville’s vision of the future is classless only because the early-nineteenth-century democratic economy, which he mistook as eternal, was too simple and unproductive to generate modern economic classes; the communitarians among them would have seen that Tocqueville cared so much about townships not because they fostered civic participation per se, but simply because they were effective in teaching the generic art of collaboration; and, finally, the conservative commentators among them might have seen that the ‘pettiness’ Tocqueville ascribed to democracy was an artifact of early-nineteenth-century economic assumptions as well.”

So much for consensus scholarship.

“Unprophetic Tocqueville: How Democracy in America Got the Modern World Completely Wrong,” by Daniel Choi (The Independent Review, Fall 2007)

Also see:

“Chesterton and Belloc: A Critique,” by Walter Block, Marcus Epstein, and Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (The Independent Review, Spring 2007)

Subscribe to The Independent Review.

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4) Latin American Round-up

Three Independent Institute Fellows weigh in on Latin American affairs in this week’s Lighthouse. From his vantage point in Assisi, Italy, Adjunct Fellow William Ratliff, a frequent writer on Chinese and Cuban foreign policies, comments on the fortieth anniversary of the death of t-shirt icon (and revolutionary leader) Che Guevara.

“Che’s writings on guerrilla warfare became world-famous,” Ratliff writes, “but the efforts to lead guerrillas that absorbed him in the final years of his life were pathetic failures, in Africa and Latin America, and thousands influenced by him died in wars against dictators and democrats. In country after country, the downtrodden lost much more than they gained from this True Believer’s ideas, activities and fanaticism.”

Che’s influence persists, however, as Adjunct Fellow Carlos Sabino indicates in his report on Paraguay’s forthcoming elections.

“‘Change or death.’ That’s the stark campaign slogan of Fernando Lugo in his bid to become Paraguay’s next president. The outspoken populist appeals to the poor—but he also increasingly resembles Latin America’s leading anti-democratic firebrand, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. His candidacy is cause for concern that Paraguay’s gradual 18-year move toward democracy may be reversed. The last thing Latin America needs is another populist troublemaker.”

Finally, Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa comments on the extradition and forthcoming trial of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori for corruption and human rights violations.

“One way to start [Peru down a stable path] is to show the population that Fujimori’s trials are not part of any political revenge and that he will be treated more fairly than he treated his enemies,” Vargas Llosa writes. “But Peru’s still precarious judiciary will also need to show that it is ready to do its job impartially, no matter how much political pressure Fujimori’s supporters bring to bear.”

“Che is the ‘Patron Saint’ of Warfare,” by William Ratliff (10/9/07) Spanish Translation

“Latin America Doesn’t Need Another Radical Like Chávez, by Carlos Sabino (Christian Science Monitor, 10/10/07) Spanish Translation

“Fujimori’s Shadow,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (Washington Post Writers Group, 10/10/07) Spanish Translation

Also see:

The Che Guevara Myth, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Liberty for Latin America, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

The Independent Institute’s Spanish-language Website

The Independent Institute’s Spanish-language Blog

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