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

Volume 6, Issue 1: January 5, 2004

  1. Latin America’s Individualist Tradition
  2. Does the Terror Alert System Help Terrorists?
  3. Restitution Essential for Criminal Justice

1) Latin America’s Individualist Tradition

If Latin America were to enact a thorough-going program of genuine economic and political liberalization, this would represent a dramatic break from the region’s statist heritage. But it would also represent a return to the individualist tradition that has manifested itself throughout Latin America’s history, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

“From the days when Indians in parts of Central America and Mexico used cacao seeds as money to the present-day informal economy, the [pro-individualist, pro-freedom] instinct of the Latin American people is no different from that of the rest of the human species,” writes Vargas Llosa in the Winter 2004 issue of THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW.

Latin Americans’ yearning for liberty, Vargas Llosa explains, built extensive trade networks in ancient times and contributed to at least the rudiments of a private-property system. Before the rise of the highly collectivist Incan Empire, for example, family chiefs were required to protect their extended family’s private property, such as their houses and orchards.

“One has only to see how peasants have parceled out 60 percent of the land collectivized by agrarian reform in Peru to recognize the heritage of ancient times, when the communities used to parcel out the land among the families and individuals who subsequently became its owners,” writes Vargas Llosa.

Although Europeans brought colonialism and mercantilism to Latin America, they also brought their opposites -- the ideas of liberty and independence that had been gestating in the Old World. And a century before Argentina was crippled by the fascism of Juan Peron, it had progressed under the liberal economic policies inspired by Juan Bautista Alberdi -- the Frederic Bastiat of South America.

“For proof that Latin Americans are the same as others in their instinctive pursuit of self-interest through enterprise and exchange, no contemporary phenomenon speaks more eloquently than the informal (‘underground’) economy,” Vargas Llosa continues.

“Housing, transport, manufacturing, retail commerce, and other activities to which informal producers devote their time represent approximately 60 percent of all hours worked in Peru,” writes Vargas Llosa. “Informal employment accounts for more than 50 percent of the working population in Mexico and for 40 percent of wage earners in Argentina, and it involves more Brazilians than the combined number of people in the public sector and in formal industry in that country.”

The entrepreneurial spirit of Latin America’s poor suggests that the region’s underdevelopment results not from any shortage of hard and creative workers. Rather, Vargas Llosa’s analysis suggests, the only barriers standing in the way of Latin American economic progress are the policies that have hindered the region’s individualist traditions.

See “The Individualist Legacy in Latin America,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Winter 2004)

Also see:

“Latin American Liberalism: A Mirage?” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Winter 2002)

“The Freedom of Expression Award Acceptance Speech” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (12/19/03)

OnPower.org -- Latin America

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2) Does the Terror Alert System Help Terrorists?

The color-coded nationwide terror alert system, adopted six months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, probably helps terrorists more than it helps make Americans secure, according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty, in his latest op-ed.

Not only do federal “orange alerts” unnecessarily startle 285 million Americans, most of whom live far from the most likely terrorist targets in major U.S. cities, in effect they tell terrorists when their activities and electronic “chatter” have been discovered by anti-terrorism officials.

“Although raising the alert level nationwide results in greater state and local protection of, for example, subway stations, shopping malls and airports, it probably wastes scarce state and local resources where the threat is not acute and gives the general citizenry everywhere no useful information about what they should do,” writes Eland

“The government’s advice to the public essentially boils down to ‘be alert and keep shopping so the economy won’t go south.’ But, unfortunately, many people that are little threatened by terrorism do become fearful and curtail their normal activities -- all with consequences for the economy. Impairing the U.S. economy through excessive fear is one of the primary goals of the terrorists.”

Eland notes that Britain abandoned its formal index for the threat of Irish Republican Army bombings and that Israel, which has a much more serious terrorist problem than does the United States, does not have a formal terror threat index. He recommends that U.S. officials drop the nationwide threat alert system and return to their earlier practice of informing law enforcement and emergency mangement officials in areas that may be at greater risk.

“The country would be both safer and less fearful with a more low-key alert system, targeted to state and local agencies that specific intelligence shows to be under threat at a particular time. Instead, we have a high profile, nationwide threat index that draws a bull’s eye on America, helps the terrorists achieve their goal of inducing fear and creates only the illusion that the government is protecting us.”

See “The Greatest Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself” by Ivan Eland (12/31/03)

Center on Peace & Liberty

War on Terrorism

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3) Restitution Essential for Criminal Justice

Along with the repeal of victimless crime laws and the privatization of corrections facilities, one of the most essential reforms for helping to fix a broken criminal judicial system is to require criminals to pay restitution to their victims (or their victims’ heirs), argues Independent Institute Research Fellow Wendy McElroy in her latest column for FoxNews.com.

Many proponents of criminal restitution have argued that it is unfair for the victim to pay for the losses brought on by the criminal. McElroy agrees, but she makes an obvious argument seldom articulated by restitution advocates: requiring criminals to pay restitution makes sense because it is their victims who are harmed, not “society at large.”

“For years, I’ve argued against the idea that categories of people commit crime -- e.g. ‘men’ are rapists, ‘men’ commit domestic violence, ‘whites’ oppress minorities. Equally, I reject the idea that a category such as ‘society’ can be a victim in any legally meaningful sense. Categories do not swing fists, rape, and murder: individuals do. Categories are not battered, violated, and killed: individuals are. The real victims deserve to be the focus of law.”

Under McElroy’s proposal, criminals would pay emotional as well as property damages. “If criminals did not have the means to pay a judgment or could not be trusted to do so over time, they could be monitored or confined to an institution for the sole purpose of working to earn that compensation and to pay the cost of confinement. The taxpayer would be taken out of the loop.”

It shouldn’t go unnoticed that by removing taxpayers from the incarceration equation, a whole category of would-be victims -- taxpayers -- is protected from the ravages of the taxman.

“Criminals Owe Debt to Victims, Not Society,” by Wendy McElroy (12/30/03)

Also see:

CHANGING THE GUARD: Private Prisons and the Control of Crime, edited by Alexander Tabarrok

TO SERVE AND PROTECT: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice, by Bruce L. Benson

VICTIM’S RIGHTS, RESTITUTION, AND RETRIBUTION, by Williamson M. Evers

Click here for more on crime policy

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