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

Volume 10, Issue 20: May 19, 2008

  1. The Other Burmese Disaster
  2. U.S. Military Reform Unlikely, Eland Argues
  3. Latin America’s Populist Party and Coming Hangover
  4. Freedom’s Future: Tempering Optimism with Realism

1) The Other Burmese Disaster

Although natural disasters often bring out the best in people, Cyclone Nargis has brought out the worst: it has shown the world that Myanmar’s (Burma’s) generals are concerned more with retaining and enhancing their political power than with saving the lives of the unfortunate people they rule.

“The Myanmar catastrophe is the result of a political mind-set—that is, of cold-blooded decisions aimed at protecting the military government from the threat of instability,” writes Alvaro Vargas Llosa, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Global Prosperity.

Myanmar’s rulers concealed from the public the magnitude of the approaching tempest, lied about the number of victims left in its wake, obstructed the efforts of foreign relief agencies, forbade civilians from distributing the little aid that made it through, and sought to legitimize and further entrench their rule with a bogus referendum. “The Myanmar government’s conduct in the last few weeks,” continues Vargas Llosa, “may soon rank among the worst tragedies in living memory caused by people obsessed with power.”

“Myanmar’s Real Cyclone,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (5/14/08) Spanish Translation

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

“You may not agree with everything Alvaro Vargas Llosa says in his Liberty for Latin America, but you should take very seriously his central argument: that lack of political and economic freedom is at the root of our region’s underdevelopment. With this volume, Alvaro makes an important contribution to the present debate on the causes of Latin America’s poor economic and social performance.”
—Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico; Director, Center for the Study of Globalization, Yale University

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2) U.S. Military Reform Unlikely, Eland Argues

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants the armed services to devote more resources to training for counterinsurgency and guerilla warfare and fewer resources to preparing for conventional warfare against traditional nation-states. Will the military—and Congress, which controls the purse strings—take his heed? Probably not.

According to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace and Liberty, even if Gates were not a lame-duck secretary, his proposal would still face very powerful obstacles—namely, the Pentagon’s infamous inertia and Congress’s strong incentives to favor big-ticket arms and equipment manufactured in favored congressional districts, such as the F-22 fighter and expensive naval vessels.

“Thus, Gates and his successors as Secretary of Defense can chatter, cajole, exhort, prod, and even threaten the services, but they’ll probably have little luck in changing the incentive structure of the military-industrial-congressional complex,” Eland writes. “In short, when U.S. policy makers stumble into the next counterinsurgency quagmire, the U.S. military will probably have to reinvent the wheel yet again.”

“Bob Gates’s Hope to Reform the Pentagon Is Barking at the Moon,” by Ivan Eland (5/19/08)

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

“In The Empire Has No Clothes, Dr. Eland makes a persuasive case that current U.S. national security policy is contrary to the principles of both liberals and conservatives and is actually undermining our security and civil liberties. This book is an excellent contribution to the debate on the Bush Doctrine of waging preventive wars, maintaining hegemony, and spreading democracy by force.”
—Lawrence J. Korb, former Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense

Purchase Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy, by Ivan Eland.

“The book is a useful addition to a wide-ranging debate on defense spending today. Recommended for general readers, undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals.”
Choice

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3) Latin America’s Populist Party and Coming Hangover

The May 5 Lighthouse reported on the political constraints that may prevent Paraguay’s new president, Fernando Lugo, from implementing radically populist policies à la Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia.  There’s also an economic constraint on Lugo, as Independent Institute Adjunct Fellow Carlos Sabino explains in a recent op-ed.

Simply put, Paraguay lacks the commodities whose price increases have helped finance the left-wing populism that has been resurgent in many Latin American countries. Yet because Paraguay has been left out of the party, it may be spared the hangover these other countries are likely to suffer when their profligate governments hit the wall as commodity prices stabilize and/or budget deficits return.

“Public money has been spent on bureaucracy, on social programs of doubtful efficacy, and on shoring up their political bases—Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez likes nothing more than occupying center stage—but not on economy-building,” writes Sabino. “As experience shows, such populist measures only lead to greater shortages, increased inflation and a return to the cruel crises so common in this part of the world.”

“Latin America’s Bad Habits,” by Carlos Sabino (Washington Times, 5/8/08) Spanish Translation

More by Carlos Sabino

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4) Freedom’s Future: Tempering Optimism with Realism

Many people claim to love freedom, but as economist and sage Joseph Schumpeter observed, few of them think they could actually handle it, were they to live in a truly free society. Thus, they lobby their governments, ceaselessly, for all manner of subsidies and favors at their fellow taxpayers’ expense, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs.

The pattern is ubiquitous but perhaps easiest to detect after a tyranny collapses, whether due to wartime defeat (such as Nazi Germany) or internal implosion (such as the Soviet Union). What arises from the ashes of the all-powerful police state is not a truly free society, but rather a less obtrusive police state, a sort of Tyranny Light whose usurpations worsen with the years.

“Most people are content as long as they enjoy creature comforts, ample entertainment, and the illusion that the rulers are protecting them from real and imagined dangers,” writes Robert Higgs. “They would rather go to the mall than the barricades.”

“Does Our Weakness Matter?” by Robert Higgs (5/9/08)

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

Neither Liberty nor Safety is an important addition to Robert Higgs’s systematic analysis of the political uses of fear-mongering. The cancerous growth of the modern ‘guardian’ state—uncontrolled by a ‘higher power’—is our generation’s legacy: future generations will have to control it, submit to it, or escape from it.”
—Thomas S. Szasz, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, SUNY Health Science Center, Syracuse

“Restoring the Republic 2008: Foreign Policy and Civil Liberties,” featuring the Independent Institute’s Robert Higgs and Anthony Gregory, as well other luminaries. June 6–8, Reston, Virginia

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