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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 10, Issue 36: September 8, 2008

  1. More Troops for Afghanistan?
  2. Election 2008: Experience versus Judgment?
  3. How Goes the War on Poverty?
  4. Empowering Peru’s Peasants with Property Rights
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) More Troops for Afghanistan?

If elected president, Barack Obama says he would deploy at least 10,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. McCain says he’d send at least 15,000 or so. Either alternative would be a bad idea, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Charles Peña, author of Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism.

Peña gives several reasons why increasing troops would not serve U.S. vital interests. First, U.S. ground forces are already stretched thin, so figuring out where best to get the additional troops would be problematic. Second, even if they could be found, another 20,000 to 30,000 troops would still be well below the historically reliable benchmark of 20 solders per 1,000 civilians needed to control a country. Third, more troops in Afghanistan will not solve the problem of violence originating from Pakistan, such as much of that committed by the Taliban and al Qaeda. Fourth, increased U.S. troops in Afghanistan would likely worsen, not strengthen, U.S. stranding in the Muslim world, thereby worsening our prospects to defeating anti-U.S. terrorism.

President Karzai has pleaded with Americans to avoid killing innocent civilians, but increasing U.S. troops would likely worsen that problem, according to Peña. “Such incidents breed exactly the kind of anti-American resentment that is the basis for terrorist threats to this country,” he writes. “Every innocent civilian killed is someone’s father or mother, sister or brother, relative or best friend. It is safe to say that they do not harbor any great love for the United States, which makes them easy recruits to the ranks of al Qaeda and radical Islam.”

“More Troops for Afghanistan?” by Charles Peña (8/13/08)

More by Charles Peña

Center on Peace & Liberty

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2) Election 2008: Experience versus Judgment?

Both Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin have been criticized for their “inexperience.” In his latest op-ed, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland argues that experience should not be a determining factor in the selection of national political leaders. Richard Nixon and James Buchanan, for example, had lots of experience before becoming president, yet neither was a good president, according to Eland. In contrast, Chester Arthur was a good president despite having previously held only two mid-level jobs in New York and being vice president for a mere six months when the assassination of James Garfield thrust him into the Oval Office.

John McCain, although a more experienced candidate than Obama, has shown poor judgment on several matters of foreign policy, according to Eland, including calling for greater U.S. involvement in Iraq and advocating Georgia’s entry into NATO—a move that could draw the United States into a military confrontation with Russia.

On the other hand, Obama, writes Eland, “was against invading Iraq from the start, has astutely championed withdrawing U.S. combat forces during what is likely to be a temporary lull in violence, and was much more measured about the conflict in Georgia, which threatened no vital U.S. strategic interests.” McCain, Eland concludes, has too much experience in getting co-opted into making bad judgments from serving too long in Washington’s military-industrial-congressional complex.

“A President Needs Good Judgment Rather than Experience,” by Ivan Eland (9/8/08) Spanish Translation

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

Center on Peace & Liberty (Ivan Eland, Director)

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3) How Goes the War on Poverty?

Americans transfer about one trillion dollars a year to low-income families at the bottom fifth of the U.S. income distribution. Putting that into perspective, one trillion dollars is more than twice the total spent annually on national defense, ten times as much as was spent on redistributive policies in the 1950s (adjusting for inflation), and about equal to the total before-tax cash income of middle-income households, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Edgar K. Browning, author of Stealing from Each Other: How the Welfare State Robs Americans of Money and Spirit.

Had that money gone directly to those poor families--with no “leakage” by the federal bureaucracy middleman--that trillion would break down to about $81,000 for a family of three--higher than the median income of all American families and far greater than the poverty threshold of $15,577, according to Browning.

Those sizable sums should prompt Americans to ask rather obvious questions: Are poor Americans more independent and self-supporting than before the War on Poverty? Are children born into poor households better off than they were before the War on Poverty? Has the trillion-dollar expenditure reduced inequality? Are egalitarians grateful to Americans’ sacrifices in the name of redistribution, or do they continually complain about rising inequality?

“The answers to these questions, I submit, paint a bleak picture of the accomplishments of the American welfare state,” writes Browning in a new op-ed. “While a nuanced interpretation of the evidence may identify a few positive returns on our ‘investment,’ we have a right to expect a lot more for a trillion dollars a year.”

“Our Trillion-Dollar War,” by Edgar K. Browning (9/5/08)

“The Anatomy of Social Security and Medicare,” by Edgar K. Browning (The Independent Review, Summer 2008)

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4) Empowering Peru’s Peasants with Property Rights

Peru’s tribal communities have had difficulty selling their land. The reason has not been that no one wants to buy it at an attractive price. Rather, laws have required that two-thirds of the community must vote in favor of selling, but this supermajority requirement is often very hard to obtain, explains Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa in his latest column for the Washington Post Writers Group.

President Alan Garcia wants to make it easier to sell land by reducing the requirement to a simple majority. However, critics of his proposal charge that it would make tribal communities more “vulnerable” to lobbying by Big Oil—which is precisely Garcia’s point. Poor people who sit on land rich in oil and other extractive resources could more easily sell it to well-heeled developers and thereby move out of poverty.

Vargas Llosa has a question about Garcia’s critics: “How would they tell a peasant sitting on billions of dollars worth of oil or gas, and willing to ether sell, partner with or give a concession to a private investor, that ‘tradition’ requires him to stay miserably poor?” Unfortunately, the critics have succeeded in dodging it.

“The Peasants’ Oil,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (9/3/08) Spanish Translation

Also see, “Mine Your Own Business,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (9/5/07) Spanish Translation

Purchase Lessons from the Poor: The Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, edited by Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

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

Center on Global Prosperity (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Director)

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5) This Week in The Beacon

Here is the latest from The Beacon—the weblog of the Independent Institute:

  • Art Carden on the economics of police brutality

  • Peter Klein on The Onion versus real life Websites

  • David Beito on community organizers and politicians

  • David Beito on Secret Service harassment of Ron Paul delegates at the GOP convention

  • Anthony Gregory on the Rally for the Republic

  • David Theroux on the de-socialization of Russian farms

The Beacon is always open for reader comments.

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