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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
Subscribe now, or browse Back Issues.

Volume 10, Issue 3: January 21, 2008

  1. Obama as Viewed from Abroad
  2. Dismal Science Sees Upbeat Future
  3. Firearms and Safety
  4. When Will the Troops Come Home?

1) Obama as Viewed from Abroad

Few Europeans or Latin Americans believe that Barack Obama, if elected president, would chart a new direction in domestic policy, the way Franklin Delano Roosevelt did with the New Deal and Lyndon Baines Johnson did with the Great Society. Some foreign pundits even argue that whoever wins in November will be too constrained by current political realities, both foreign and domestic, to implement policies that would depart dramatically from the status quo. Nevertheless, the foreign press’s treatment of Senator Obama is illuminating—particularly for what it suggests about the political climate outside the United States, explains Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

In Europe, the left is not really saluting Obama, notes Vargas Llosa. Both Italy’s La Repubblica and France’s Le Monde, for example, have refrained from fawning over the senator. Europe’s right, in contrast, appears more enthusiastic. French political scientist Dominique Moisi has written that an Obama victory would dramatically improve America’s image and soft power, while others on the right have expressed hope that the lack of an individual insurance mandate in Obama’s health-care plan means he does not aspire to be a social engineer on the scale of his Democratic rivals for the nomination.

“In Latin America, conservatives are also looking at Obama for different reasons,” writes Vargas Llosa. Argentinian journalist and playwright Mario Diament, for example, seems to suggest that Bolivia’s and Venezuela’s leaders should adopt Obama’s less divisive tone regarding the legacy of racial discrimination. Latin America’s left has been less supportive, with one Venezuelan pundit suggesting that President Obama’s only meaningful gesture toward Latin America would be a lifting of travel restrictions against Cuba and perhaps one day talking to Hugo Chavez. Ultimately, the non-American pundits’ take on the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois “has more to do with the way each faction relates to the other across the ideological divide at home than what Obama would actually do or not do,” concludes Vargas Llosa.

“Translating Obama,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (1/16/08) Spanish Translation

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

Money and the Nation State: The Financial Revolution, Government and the World Monetary System, edited by Kevin Dowd and Richard H. Timberlake.

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

Center on Global Prosperity

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2) Dismal Science Sees Upbeat Future

Despite its label as the “dismal science,” economics is fundamentally optimistic about the prospects for treating many rare diseases and for increasing living standards across the globe. Independent Institute Research Fellow Alexander Tabarrok explains why in a new op-ed published on Forbes.com, “The Dismal Science Sees Upbeat Future.”

The driving force behind this optimism is a growing population coupled with greater economic liberty. First, having more people on the planet means that it will become profitable for companies to solve problems that were not profitable to solve when world population was small. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, will have stronger incentives to develop and market new treatments for rare afflictions because more people will have them. Thus, writes Tabarrok, “AstraZeneca and Novartis are building major research facilities in China, which will benefit patients everywhere.”

Second, as world population and wealth increase, more scientists and engineers will be available to tackle rare diseases and to solve other problems that have long plagued humanity. The more brain power the world has—and the more effectively our institutions employ it—the faster the pace of material progress. According to Tabarrok, the world would have more than five times as many scientists and engineers if, on the whole, it were as wealthy as the United States is now and it devoted the same share of population to research and development.

“New ideas mean more growth, and even small changes in economic growth rates produce large economic and social benefits,” Tabarrok continues. “At current income levels, with an inflation-adjusted growth rate of 3% per year, America’s real per capita gross domestic product would exceed $1 million per year in just over 100 years, more than 22 times higher than it is today. Growth like that could solve many problems…. Trade, development and the free flow of people and ideas are uniting all of humanity, maximizing the incentives and the means to produce new ideas. This gives us reason to be highly optimistic about the future.”

“Dismal Science Sees Upbeat Future,” by Alexander Tabarrok (Forbes.com, 1/16/08)

For more on this and related topics, please see:

“Collapse? The ‘Dismal’ Science Doesn’t Think So,” by Robert Whaples (The Independent Review, Fall 2006)

Entrepreneurial Economics: Bright Ideas from the Dismal Science, edited by Alexander Tabarrok, foreword by Steven E. Landsburg

Making Poor Nations Rich: Entrepreneurship and the Process of Economic Development, edited by Benjamin Powell, foreword by Deepak Lal

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3) Firearms and Safety

Forty state governments have issued more than 5 million concealed-weapons “carry” permits to law-abiding Americans. A 25-year study of crime rates credits laws passed in the 1990s that have enabled the arming of ordinary Americans with helping to reduce violent crime. Criminals, it seems, are unlikely to attack if they are uncertain whether their would-be targets are armed. Furthermore, “virtually no gun-related crimes have been committed by ordinary people with carry permits,” according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Don B. Kates, Jr.

In an op-ed published in the Contra Costa Times, Kates notes two major consequences of these developments. First, some prominent academics who had previously favored gun bans have become vocal supporters of less-stringent carry laws. Criminology professor Hans Toch, who has repudiated his earlier views, has written that guns in the right hands deter crime and “do not elicit aggression in any meaningful way.” Similarly, Prof. David Mustard, also a former advocate of gun bans, has written in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review that research has convinced him that “laws that require [gun carry] permits unless the applicant has a criminal record or a history of significant mental illness reduce violent crime and have no impact on accidental deaths.”

The second consequence of these trends can be found in the political landscape. Politicians who favor gun bans are much less vocal than they used to be, and some of them have reversed their public stance. “The issue of national defense is helping fuel the 2008 presidential election season,” Kates writes. “But individual defense, in certain candidates’ campaign speeches, is not only easily overlooked, but judging by political history, its avoidance actually may be in the candidates’ best interest.”

In Election Season, Mum’s the Word about Gun Control,” by Don B. Kates Jr. (Contra Costa Times, 1/19/08)

For more on this and related topics, please see:

More by Don B. Kates, Jr.

More on gun control.

That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right, by Stephen Halbrook

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4) When Will the Troops Come Home?

With 40,000 pounds of explosives dropped, the January 10th U.S. air strike on Arab Jabour, a region south of Baghdad, was one of the largest bombing campaigns in the history of the five-year-old Iraqi war. Vice President Dick Cheney opined a month after 9/11 that the “global war on terror” may not end in our lifetime, and Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain recently echoed these sentiments. Rather than simply “mopping up” in Iraq and pulling out in the foreseeable future, could it be that the U.S. presence will continue with no end insight?

Unless U.S. authorities come to believe that a troop withdrawal is in their material, political, institutional, or ideological interests, a very long-term U.S. presence in Iraq is a distinct possibility, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs. Historically speaking, two factors seem more likely than others to make policymakers rethink their commitment to maintaining U.S. troops in Iraq: higher body counts and higher costs. For example, public support of the Korean War and the Vietnam War, Higgs notes, fell about 15 percentage points for every 10-fold increase of American casualties. Mounting casualties during the Korean War made it politically viable during the 1952 presidential election campaign for General Dwight Eisenhower to call for ending the enormously unpopular war. During the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon not only felt public pressure to stop the war because of mounting casualties, he also believed the war was costing too much.

“Sad to say, the public may not turn decisively against their leaders’ continued prosecution of the war until many more American soldiers have died,” writes Higgs. “Some of us wish that rational argument, cogent evidence, and humane sentiment would persuade a preponderance of the public to demand and end to the war. History suggests, however, that only personal grief and economic pain will induce the American public to act against their perfidious leaders.”

“The War in Iraq: 1,760 Days and Counting,” by Robert Higgs (1/14/08)

The transcript of “Troop Withdrawal: Looking Beyond Iraq,” featuring Ivan Eland, Leon T. Hadar and David R. Henderson (9/21/07)

Neither Liberty nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government, by Robert Higgs

Opposing the Crusader State: Alternatives to Global Interventionism, edited by Robert Higgs and Carl Close

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