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

Volume 11, Issue 25: June 22, 2009

  1. Essay Contest to Award $26,500 in Prize Money
  2. Walking a Political Tightrope over Iran
  3. Reforms Would Enable Lenders and Entrepreneurs to Better Reduce Poverty
  4. Competition, Not Mayoral Control, Would Improve Education
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) Essay Contest to Award $26,500 in Prize Money

The Independent Institute is pleased to announce the 2010 Sir John M. Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest. The Independent Institute, in cooperation with the John M. Templeton Foundation, will award a total of $26,500 in prize money to the contest winners.

The Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest is open to college students (undergrads and grad students) and untenured college teachers from around the world. All entrants must be under 36 years old on the May 3, 2010, contest deadline.

The essay topic for the 2010 contest pertains to a quotation from the French political economist Frederic Bastiat:

“Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state wants to live at the expense of everyone.” —Frederic Bastiat (1801–1850)

Assuming Bastiat is correct, what ideas or reforms could be developed to make people better aware that government wants to live at their expense?

Junior Faculty Division:

1st Prize: $10,000
2nd Prize: $7,500
3rd Prize: $4,000

Student Division:

1st Prize: $2,500
2nd Prize: $1,500
3rd Prize: $1,000

In addition to the cash prizes, winners will receive assistance in getting their papers published and two-year subscriptions to The Independent Review. Selected winners will be given assistance to present their paper at a professional meeting or other public forum. The winners will be announced in October, 2010. (Winners of the 2009 Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest will be announced in October, 2009.)

More information about the 2010 Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest, including rules, bibliography, and winning essays from previous years

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2) Walking a Political Tightrope over Iran

Pundits from across the political spectrum—from the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute to the liberal Plowshares Funds—have called for President Obama to speak out publicly in favor of the Iranian election protestors. So far, the Obama administration has been relatively restrained in his remarks.

If Obama were to follow their advice, however, the results would likely be counterproductive, with the authoritarian regime labeling and marginalizing the protestors as lackeys of the United States, according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty.

“Although by the standards of an interventionist superpower, Obama has done a credible job of staying out of the Iranian political tumult, it is not enough,” Eland writes. Eland also notes that any government in Iran, even a reformist one, would likely have support for a nuclear energy program. “Obama needs to say even less about the unpredictable Iranian turmoil—in hope that ‘doing no harm’ to the reformists will help them prevail—and be resigned, over the long-term, no matter what kind of government eventually arises, to living with the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran just as we have lived with all the other nuclear-armed countries in the world.”

“Obama: Walking the Tightrope on Iran,” by Ivan Eland (6/22/09)

Video: Ivan Eland on Obama’s first 100 days

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, by Ivan Eland

Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, by Ivan Eland

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

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3) Reforms Would Enable Lenders and Entrepreneurs to Better Reduce Poverty

Microenterprise lending—the lending of small sums of money to small-scale entrepreneurs—has been in the news in recent years, but critics have questioned their long-run viability. The most famous microenterprise lender, the Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank, relies on government subsidies to stay afloat, and many other microenterprise lenders are nonprofits that rely on outside funding. Can for-profit lenders that receive no other funding serve the poor? BBVA Microfinance Foundation, a division of the Spanish bank BBVA, thinks so. After only one year in operation, its business model looks promising: it has more than one million customers in Latin America. A typical product might be a $1,600 farm loan in Peru or a $870 commercial loan in Colombia.

Although BBVA Microfinance Foundation is off to a great start, it has encountered the same obstacle in country after country: governments’ failure to adequately define and record property rights. Governments show more concern with regulating lenders than with reforming property registries, even though the latter would greatly improve the ability of lenders to reach out to poor entrepreneurs, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

“The main problem is that government policies are inadequate and insensitive to the entrepreneurial revolution now taking place among people once considered beyond the reach of the bank loans and the market,” writes Vargas Llosa. “In other words, government rules are hurting the good guys in attempting to pre-empt the bad ones.” Nevertheless, the rapid rise of BBVA Microfinance Foundation shows a huge untapped potential for “doing well while doing good.” As Vargas Llosa concludes, “At a time when the world is picking up the pieces of the last speculative bubble, it is heartening to know that there are still investors out there renewing the promise of free enterprise for the excluded masses.”

“The Rise of the Poor,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (6/17/09) Spanish Translation

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

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

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4) Competition, Not Mayoral Control, Would Improve Education

Are public schools better off if they are governed by the office of the city mayor, or by an elected school board? Parents in Nashville, Tenn., are asking that question. According to Independent Institute Adjunct Fellow Art Carden and Mike Hammock, research on school choice shows that there is no reason to think public schools provide a better education if they are controlled by city mayors.

“Mayoral control doesn’t solve the fundamental problem, which is that government-run schools are insulated from competitive pressure,” write Carden and Hammock in the Tennessean.

Like elected school boards, mayors have stronger incentives to win favor with parts of the political machine than to improve the quality of students’ education. “Theory and evidence suggest that government involvement in education is superfluous, if not outright destructive,” they continue. “Taxpayers might save a few dollars if Nashville’s schools are reorganized, but this will not address the fundamental problems that government involvement brings.”

“Mayoral Control Would Do Nothing to Boost the Schools,” by Art Carden and Mike Hammock (The Tennessean, 6/15/09)

School Choices: True and False, by John D. Merrifield

Government Failure: E. G. West on Education, edited by James Tooley and James Stanfield. Review by John B. Eggers. (The Independent Review, Winter 2005)

“Why Are the Public Schools Failing and What Can Be Done?” featuring Richard Vedder and John D. Merrifield (7/5/01)

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5) This Week in The Beacon

If you haven’t done so yet, please be sure to check out the past week’s offerings from the Independent Institute’s blog, The Beacon.

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