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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 12, Issue 23: June 7, 2010

  1. New Book Proposes Fixes for the Flawed U.S. Legal System
  2. Ivan Eland Assesses Israeli Attack on Gaza Flotilla
  3. Tragedy and Opportunity on the West Bank
  4. Capitalism at the Movies
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) New Book Proposes Fixes for the Flawed U.S. Legal System

Why does the current system of fingerprint testing in the United States result in up to 4,762 wrongful felony convictions each year? Which regulations of legal services harm consumers the most? Why are elected judges more likely to incarcerate a defendant, whereas appointed judges tend to pass longer sentences? What can be done to restore the public’s confidence in the legal system?

The Pursuit of Justice: Law and Economics of Legal Institutions, edited by Edward L. López, answers these questions—and dozens of others—by exposing the faulty incentives at the heart of numerous failures of the U.S. legal system. Rather than the romanticized version of the law as portrayed in television dramas and in much academic literature, this pathbreaking book portrays the legal system as it actually performs in practice. This realism, in turn, provides the basis for reform proposals in a host of areas—from fingerprinting to criminal sentencing, from lawyer licensing to judicial selection, and from eminent domain to wealth transfers via class-action lawsuits.

The Pursuit of Justice, which has just been co-published by the Independent Institute and Palgrave Macmillan, covers five broad topics: the capture of the law by private interests, judicial selection methods, forensic science administration, eminent domain, and the legal system as an instrument of wealth redistribution. Its strength comes in part from the inspiration and analytical toolkit provided by public choice theory—traditionally the economic study of politics—and utilized by a new generation of scholars. “That is why reading The Pursuit of Justice is such a refreshing intellectual experience,” writes noted public choice professor Robert D. Tollison in his foreword to the book.

The U.S. legal system is rife with injustices and inefficiencies. Fortunately, The Pursuit of Justice provides fresh ideas for dramatically reducing both!

Purchase The Pursuit of Justice: Law and the Economics of Legal Institution, edited by Edward J. López.

Read the book summary.

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2) Ivan Eland Assesses Israeli Attack on Gaza Flotilla

In his latest op-ed, Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty, examines last week’s Israeli attack against a supply ship bound for Gaza during which at least nine passengers were killed. He argues that the Israeli government is morally culpable for the deaths even if its account of what transpired is true.

“The Israeli military attacked unarmed ships in international waters about 41 miles from the Israeli coastline—well beyond the 12-mile limit of Israeli territorial waters—to enforce an illegal and inhumane blockade of Gaza,” writes Eland. “The blockade is a violation of international law and an act of war. Thus, the passengers of any ship being illegally attacked have a right to defend themselves with any armaments they can scrounge up, including pistols captured from incompetent commandos.”

If there is one silver lining to this event, Eland concludes, it is that the tragedy will likely make the blockade politically unsustainable.

“Israeli Attack May Have a Silver Lining,” by Ivan Eland (6/2/10) 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) Tragedy and Opportunity on the West Bank

Alvaro Vargas Llosa, senior fellow at the Independent Institute, recently visited the West Bank city of Hebron and found both tragedy and opportunity. On the one hand, Vargas Llosa saw the Hebron city center—formerly teeming with lively Palestinian bazaars and thoroughfares—populated by abandoned buildings covered in graffiti. The separated Hebron, he argues, is a casualty of Israel’s electoral system, which has led to the expansion of Jewish settlements into the West Bank, and especially of Israelis’ increasing preoccupation with their high-tech economy at the expense of the settlement issue.

On the other hand, Vargas Llosa says it is easy to imagine peace in the region. Perhaps no more than 100,000 settlers in the West Bank are truly committed to staying there, writer Amos Oz, an influential advocate of the two-state solution, told Vargas Llosa. Israel’s economic boom and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s pro-investment policies can also contribute to progress.

Writes Vargas Llosa: “The Palestinian boy who led us out of a dangerous backstreet in the Jerusalem casbah; the settler who asked us to mediate between him and Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yosef Alalu, a critic; the economic elan of the Palestinian territories, and Israel’s mesmerizing entrepreneurship all demonstrated to us the wonders these two societies could achieve together.”

“Postcard from Hebron,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (6/2/10) 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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4) Capitalism at the Movies

Hollywood is a by-product of the voluntary interaction of filmmakers, studio executives, investors, and consumers, but it seldom depicts the free-market economy in a positive light. In a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, Independent Institute Research Director Alex Tabarrok offers three reasons for the movie industry’s seeming antipathy toward capitalism. One reason, he argues, is that screenwriters and directors often see their artistic visions undermined by studio executives who seek to maximize profits by giving moviegoers what they want—e.g., happy endings, as Robert Altman lampooned in “The Player.” “Thus, even the languages of capitalism and art conflict: a firm that has ‘sold out’ has succeeded, but an artist that has ‘sold out’ has failed,” writes Tabarrok.

A second reason, according to Tabarrok, is that Hollywood tells stories by focusing on individual character, choice and action. Depicting the workings of a market economy, on the other hand, would require dramatizing the subtle intricacies of many, many people—each with a different goal. Entrepreneurs can be glorified, as in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Tucker,” but it takes an entire television series like “The Wire” to show how the invisible hand of the market connects people, and even that series’ depiction is often unfair.

A third reason for Hollywood’s apparent antipathy, according to Tabarrok, is that it tends to define virtue in a way that excludes self-interest. When self-interest is depicted, it is done so via movie villains such Gordon Gekko of “Wall Street.” A pleasant exception to the rule, however, is the character of Chris Gardner in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” an exemplar of capitalist ambition, hard work, and ingenuity. Although syrupy at times, “the story of Gardner’s rise from homelessness to a successful job as a stockbroker is full of drama and uplift, which makes it all the more surprising that more films don’t use the business world as the setting for great cinema,” writes Tabarrok.

“Capitalism: Hollywood’s Miscast Villain,” by Alex Tabarrok (The Wall Street Journal, 6/4/10)

Entrepreneurial Economics: Bright Ideas from the Dismal Science, edited by Alexander Tabarrok

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5) This Week in The Beacon

Here now are the past week’s offerings from our English-language blog, The Beacon:

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