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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 10, Issue 10: March 10, 2008

  1. The Costs of Daylight Saving Time
  2. Putin’s Stooge?
  3. Facing Facts in Iraq and Afghanistan
  4. Pentagon Touts New Budget Baseline

1) The Costs of Daylight Saving Time

As you may have noticed this weekend, starting this year, daylight saving time (DST) is with us four weeks longer. Representatives Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who sponsored the 2005 law extending (or, rather, reallocating) daylight, said the measure would conserve about 100,000 barrels of oil per day, but their claim is based on outdated data from 1974. The Department of Energy doesn’t know the economic impact of the time change, either.

“In fact, there is no reliable data supporting the premise that DST significantly reduces energy consumption,” writes Independent Institute Research Fellow William F. Shughart II in a new, widely published op-ed.

Although a dramatic reduction in energy use from DST could be illusory, the costs of moving from standard time to daylight saving time and back each year are very real. Those few minutes each of us loses from adjusting our clocks aren’t free: Shughart puts that cost at $2.93 per person twice a year—a total of about $1.7 billion per year. Shughart’s back-of-the-envelope estimate doesn’t factor in the cost of diminished worker productivity from circadian rhythm disruptions, but perhaps he assumed you’d still be too groggy to read about that.

“Daylight Saving Time Costs Nation $1.7 Billion,” by William F. Shughart II (3/7/08) Spanish Translation

Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination, edited by William F. Shughart II

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2) Putin’s Stooge?

Hypothetically, at least, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, acting on his claim to be a liberal, might be able to toss his mentor Vladimir Putin, now the prime minister, out of his new administration. But that’s an unlikely scenario, given that Putin’s spies, technocrats, and pragmatists surround Medvedev, explains Independent Institute Research Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa in a new column.

“What is more unlikely is what really matters—changing the nature of the system,” writes Vargas Llosa. “For that, Medvedev would need to rein in the military and the security forces, allow opposition parties like Garry Kasparov’s Other Russia to flourish, give the media its independence and privatize the mammoth oil and gas complex, including Gazprom, the gas monopoly, and Rosneft, the oil firm that gobbled up Yukos, whose owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was sent to a Siberian prison because he challenged Putin’s rule.”

But don’t count out an independent Medvedev just yet: Russian political history is filled with unexpected plot twists, as Putin, who outmaneuvered his own mentor, Boris Yeltsin, in the 1990s, can attest. To pull that off, however, Medvedev would need to maintain the economic boom that has been so helpful to Putin’s career. “If he wants to be remembered as something more than another corrupt tyrant,” concludes Vargas Llosa, “he will also need to start chipping away at his own power as well as that of the prime minister so that his country’s institutions begin to rule above men.”

“Putin’s Stooge,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (3/5/08) Spanish Translation

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

The Che Guevara Myth, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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3) Facing Facts in Iraq and Afghanistan

The sooner the American public, press, and policymakers recognize that U.S. troops are unlikely to defeat the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the sooner we can take steps to genuinely strengthen national security, argues Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland in his latest op-ed.

The success of Gen. David Petraeus’s troop surge in Iraq is illusory and temporary, according to Eland. This is partly because ethnic cleansing, conducted by sectarian militias and guerrilla groups prior to the surge, has put more geographical distance between Shi’ites and Sunnis. More important, Eland argues, it is because these groups remain deeply suspicious of each other—yet they have the patience to wait for a U.S. troop drawdown before they ramp up hostilities, he argues. In Afghanistan, Taliban insurgents are making gains partly because the U.S. presence is alienating many locals and also because the Taliban have developed a lucrative revenue source: they supply “protection” to Afghanistan’s poppy growers.

“The media, the American public, and even the Democrats think Afghanistan is a ‘must win’ in the war on terror,” continues Eland. “Yet Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, the leaders of al Qaeda, are probably in Pakistan—not Afghanistan. To have the best chance to capture or kill these terrorist kingpins, perhaps, for once, the U.S. government should concentrate its efforts and vast resources where they are likely to be.” Such a campaign, Eland says, should be conducted quietly, for a change.

“Accepting Reality Is No Vice, and Being Oblivious Is No Virtue,” by Ivan Eland (3/3/08) Spanish Translation

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

Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World, by Ivan Eland

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4) Pentagon Touts New Budget Baseline

What should be the size of the U.S. defense budget? Whatever your orientation or understanding of military affairs, it’s unlikely that you would answer the question by pulling a number at random. Yet Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staffs Chairman Mike Mullen, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell—and even the New York Times—seem to agree on a method for determining this figure that is arguably equivalent to that: determining some level of military spending based on its relationship to U.S. gross domestic product. Today, U.S. military spending is about 4 percent of GDP—far lower than the ration obtained during the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or World War II—but this number hardly seems relevant, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs.

“Does it not make much more sense to assess the actual threats the country faces, to determine the optimal means of meeting or deterring these threats with a sufficient degree of confidence, and then to add up the costs of obtaining the stipulated means?” asks Higgs in a new op-ed. “Whether this total amount happens to be 1 percent or 20 percent of GDP is entirely beside the point, which is to protect the American people from potential, likely, external attackers. Once an adequate defense program has been designed and its components priced, the military leadership can present the total bill to Congress and defend it by showing, item by item, why each of its elements is necessary to achieve the desired degree of national security.”

Government spending as a share of total output is a wholly inadequate way to measure government intervention in the economy, as Higgs has explained in Neither Liberty nor Safety. Still less is it an adequate way to determine defense needs. But its political uses are plainly obvious. Touting a baseline in this manner prevents military spending from significantly shrinking. “This sequence of events is a recipe for upward-ratcheting growth of the defense share of GDP, regardless of its reasonableness in relation to dealing with actual foreign threats,” writes Higgs.

“Military Spending / GDP = Nonsense for Budget Policy Making,” by Robert Higgs (3/7/08)

“Military-Economic Fascism: How Business Corrupts Government, and Vice Versa,” by Robert Higgs (The Independent Review, Fall 2007)

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

Depression, War, and Cold War: Studies in Political Economy, by Robert Higgs

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