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

Volume 12, Issue 15: April 12, 2010

  1. Ecological Science as a Creation Story
  2. Putin’s Power Grab Reminiscent of U.S. Policies after 9/11
  3. PIGS’ Malaise Merits Sensible Economic Reforms
  4. Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest Deadline Approaches
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) Ecological Science as a Creation Story

Secular environmentalists often report a sense of religious reverence and awe when in the presence of nature “untouched by human hand”—a modern equivalent of devout Christians in previous centuries encountering “the Book of Nature” as written by God at the creation. This paradox is nothing new. Leading ecologists have long drawn from theology without acknowledging its influence. Consequently their conclusions often resemble Bible stories with an environmental twist, argues Robert H. Nelson in the Spring 2010 issue of The Independent Review.

Pioneering ecologist Frederic Clements, for example, theorized that ecosystems evolve toward an Eden-like “climax state” and revert to that state when human impacts (and other disturbances) are removed. Mainstream ecological scientists have since disavowed Clements’s theory, but its influence endures through the writings of Aldo Leopold and others who proclaim an ethic based on the ideal of self-regulating ecosystems. Many environmentalists also offer a secular version of the fall of man, but instead of placing it 6,000 years ago in the Garden of Eden, they place it 10,000 years ago with the rise of agriculture and civilization.

“For people who regard ecology as a value-neutral scientific field, the large role of such religious and other subjective elements often comes as a surprise,” writes Nelson. Several paragraphs later he concludes: “Surprising as it may seem, the key to improved government performance in dealing with issues of the human relationship to the natural world may lie in an improved theological understanding.”

“Ecological Science as a Creation Story,” by Robert H. Nelson (The Independent Review, Spring 2010)

Subscribe to The Independent Review.

Purchase The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America, by Robert H. Nelson.

Read a detailed book summary.

4th International Conference on Climate Change, Chicago, Illinois, May 16-18, 2010.

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2) Putin’s Power Grab Reminiscent of U.S. Policies after 9/11

A recent New York Times editorial took Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to task for using the Moscow subway terror bombings to further consolidate his power, rather than dealing with the underlying causes of the attacks, as his protégé President Dmitri Medvedev counseled.

The same conclusions and advice could equally be applied U.S. policy after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty. Eland faults former President George Bush’s claim that wartime presidents could disregard statutes requiring court-approved warrants for surveillance of Americans, the unconstitutional indefinite detention and illegal torture of suspected terrorists, and the evasion of Osama bin Laden’s stated reasons for the attacks.

“Although it is easy to pick on the Times, the newspaper’s view merely reflects the lack of introspection by the U.S. political elite and American society about the ill effects of a U.S. foreign policy of overseas interventionism and hostile foreign reactions to it,” writes Eland. “But then the pot should not call the kettle black, but rather try to clean up its own act first.”

“Let’s Get Our Own Foreign Policy House in Order Before Criticizing Others,” by Ivan Eland (4/7/10) Spanish Translation

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

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

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

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3) PIGS’ Malaise Merits Sensible Economic Reforms

Southern Europe’s largest economies—those of Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain (PIGS in geopolitical wonkspeak)—are moribund. They are buried under the weight of large public debt but, having adopted the euro, their policymakers are unable to take the easy way out—namely currency depreciation. Instead, they may have to do the right thing—reduce public-sector spending and adopt meaningful pro-market reforms, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

“It is a mistake to focus on the euro as the essence of the PIGS’ problems,” writes Alvaro Vargas Llosa. “The common currency contributed greatly to Spain’s delusional economy by giving it an unrealistic purchasing power and is making it doubly tough to overcome the recession by not allowing it, as the Nordic economies did when they ran into trouble in the late 20th century, to devalue the exchange rate. But the real cause of what is happening is that the nation mistook easy credit, subsidies and social protection for real wealth.”

On the topic of recent civil strife in Greece, Independent Institute Research Fellow José Yulo examines that country’s profound cultural transformation from ancient times to the present. “In bizarre contrast to their ancestors who fought on the plain of Marathon and the pass of Thermopylae, the current-day protesting Greeks do not clash for their freedom from an outside aggressor,” writes Yulo. “Rather, in uniquely Greek irony, they fight for their freedom from being in a position to exercise their freedom to choose their own distinct futures.”

“When Greeks Bear Gifts: On Economy, Philosophy and Freedom,” by José Maria J. Yulo (IgnatiusInsight.com, 4/1/10)

More by José Maria J. Yulo

“PIGS and Euros,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (4/7/10) Spanish Translation

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

The Che Guevara Myth, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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

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4) Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest Deadline Approaches

With the May 3 deadline less than one month away, college students and untenured college teachers eligible to enter the 2010 Sir John M. Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest may wish to consult a helpful online resource—the Essay Reference Bibliography. Divided into two sections, this list cites books and articles about the meaning and significance of economic personal liberties—and, in particular, publications (many of them online) related to this year’s topic:

“Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget 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 that would make people better aware that government wants to live at their expense?

Contest winners receive a two-year subscription to The Independent Review and may receive travel assistance for presenting their papers at an academic conference. (Four winners of the 2009 Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest delivered their papers today at a special Templeton Essay Contest Panel held at the 2010 conference of the Association of Private Enterprise Education at Caesers Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.) And have we mentioned the 2010 contest prize money?

College Student Division:

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

Junior Faculty Division:

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

Essay Reference Bibliography

The 2010 Sir John M. Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest

Winning essays from previous years

The Independent Review: A Journal of Political Economy, edited by Robert Higgs

The Association of Private Enterprise Education

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5) This Week in The Beacon

Visit the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language blog, El Independent. Below are the past week’s offerings from our English-language blog, The Beacon.

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