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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 10, Issue 46: November 17, 2008

  1. New Book Examines Vietnam’s Economic Boom
  2. The GOP, Immigration, and the Hispanic Vote
  3. Obama’s Herculean Task
  4. What’s Ahead for Taxpayers?
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) New Book Examines Vietnam’s Economic Boom

Vietnam, a country once known for food shortages, is on the rise: since the beginning of this decade its economy has grown by more than 7 percent annually. At the heart of this remarkable transformation are market-based reforms that Vietnam Communist Party officials insist merely “renovate” the economy while maintaining a commitment to socialism. Will the reforms continue apace? Or will Vietnam backslide in the face of a global financial crisis or a political and cultural backlash?

In Vietnam Rising: Culture and Change in Asia’s Tiger Cub, East Asia historian and Independent Institute Research Fellow William Ratliff examines the nature and extent of Vietnam’s doi moi reforms and provides insights on the further changes that must occur for Vietnam to fulfill its potential as a dynamic, emerging economy.

“While for many years I have averaged about two months annually in China, I have also continued periodic trips to Vietnam, as an academic, journalist, and tourist,” writes Ratliff in the book’s preface. “Each time I visit the country I am more impressed by the spirit and dynamism of the people and by their determination to transform their lives and thus bring the long-embattled, stagnant, and repressed land into the modern world.”

Political scientist Robert Packenham (Stanford University) calls Vietnam Rising “an informed, wide-ranging, eye-opening survey of economic policies and practices in Vietnam since 1986, when the program of economic reform or Doi Moi was launched.” Economist James Gwartney (Florida State University) agrees: “This accessible and comprehensive book is a must read for anyone interested in economic growth and this increasingly important economy.” Read Vietnam Rising and learn what’s in store for this fascinating country.

Topics include: Confucianism, Colonialism, and Communism • Overview of Reforms Today • Entrepreneurship in Vietnam • Special Challenges for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises • Confronting the World

Vietnam Rising: Culture and Change in Asia’s Tiger Cub, by William Ratliff

Read the Press Release: “What Must Vietnam Do to Join the Asian Tigers?”

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2) The GOP, Immigration, and the Hispanic Vote

Although exit polls after the 2004 election showed that about 44 percent of Hispanic voters backing President Bush’s reelection, in 2008 they voted by a 2 to 1 margin in favor of Obama. This astounding shift can largely be explained by the right’s growing animosity toward immigrants, according to Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute’s Center on Global Prosperity.

“It is as if the relentless anti-immigration voice on the right managed to turn millions of Hispanics who were not illegal immigrants into a community-conscious force acting in fear of a perceived threat,” Vargas Llosa writes in his latest column. “This fear even produced the irony of California Hispanics voting for the center-left of the political spectrum in the general election while siding with the right on social issues, as shown by their vote against Proposition 8 — the anti–gay marriage initiative.”

Once upon a time, foes of immigration were more concentrated on the country’s political left than the right. Writes Vargas Llosa: “In a radio address given in 1977, Ronald Reagan mocked ‘the illegal alien fuss,’ asking himself: ‘Are great numbers of our unemployed really victims of the illegal alien invasion, or are those illegal tourists actually doing work our own people won’t do?’ If only in the interest of political survival, those who claim to idolize the Gipper — the same guy who in 1986 legalized almost 3 million Hispanics, many of whom were driven by fear to vote for Obama — should think again.”

“Hispanics at the Polls,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (11/12/08) Spanish Translation

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

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

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3) Obama’s Herculean Task

Many U.S. presidents inherited huge problems when they entered the Oval Office. Franklin Delano Roosevelt acquired the nation’s worst depression (and then implemented policies that helped prolong it). Lincoln, Johnson, and Grant faced a massive civil war and its aftermath — caused in part by their predecessors’ policies. And Washington had to figure out how to hold the fledgling republic together long enough for it to take root. More recently, Ford fell heir to economic stagflation and the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Despite these major handicaps, the mess Barack Obama will inherit will be even worse, according to Ivan Eland, Senior Fellow and Director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty.

“When entering office, no president has ever faced two losing wars and a severe economic meltdown, which also undermines the ability to successfully turn the wars around,” writes Eland in his latest op-ed.

Although the public and the media might treat Obama deferentially, given the enormity of the problems he will inherit, Obama’s policies are unlikely to cure the country’s maladies, Eland suggests. “Unfortunately, it seems that Obama will also join Bush’s big government response to the [financial] crisis,” Eland continues. Eland is optimistic that Obama will withdraw troops faster from Iraq than either McCain or Bush would have. “He may, however, transfer them to Afghanistan — the other nation-building and Islamist-rallying quagmire.”

“Obama’s Challenges Are Unprecedented in U.S. History,” by Ivan Eland (11/17/08)

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

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

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4) What’s Ahead for Taxpayers?

American taxpayers are in for “interesting” changes at both national and state levels. Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II examines some of these changes in a series of recent op-eds.

First, consider President-elect Obama’s “middle class” tax cuts. His campaign pledge is likely to be derailed (or seriously attenuated) by the ongoing financial crisis. But even if that’s not the case, a thorny question arises: how exactly would his administration define “middle class”? There is no clear-cut answer — and yet how that question is answered would have a tremendous impact on the pocketbooks of millions of Americans.

Second, states going through dire fiscal straits may impose tax hikes that could take a chunk out of any federal “middle class” tax cuts that Obama might somehow get through Congress. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed raising the state sales tax — allegedly for only three years — but that’s not all. “Except for tax credits granted to television and film production companies, all Californians will see their taxes go up,” writes Shughart. But tax hikes and increased spending are precisely the opposite of what’s necessary. “No government can hope to balance its budget without encouraging growth in the private sector, which is its only source of revenue,” Shughart continues. “The formula is well known: cut taxes and cut spending; live within your means.”

 “Déjà vu for California’s Budget, Terminator-Style,” by William F. Shughart II (11/17/08)

“Obamanomics and Tax Relief for the ‘Middle Class,’” by William F. Shughart II (11/13/08)

“Correct Suggestions Made on Corporate Income Taxes,” by William F. Shughart II (10/19/08)

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

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5) This Week in The Beacon

Below are the past week’s offerings from The Beacon, the web log of the Independent Institute. Please post your comments to the blog.

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