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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 12, Issue 25: June 21, 2010

  1. New Book Assesses Property-Rights Protections and Eminent Domain
  2. Environmentalists See Opportunity in Oil-Spill Crisis
  3. Solving the Bioethics Crisis
  4. U.S. Should Emulate Turkey’s Policy Toward Iran, Eland Argues
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) New Book Assesses Property-Rights Protections and Eminent Domain

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the authority of local governments to transfer property to private developers. The Court’s decision in the landmark case, Kelo v. City of New London, was controversial and prompted several states to enact legislation that voters hoped would limit the scope of eminent domain.

How should voters, policymakers, and the courts ameliorate the problems created by government takings in the wake of Kelo? What problems arise when courts attempt to determine “just compensation” for the owners of condemned property? How significant is the so-called “holdout problem” that eminent domain is supposed to solve? How does eminent domain affect entrepreneurship? Property Rights: Eminent Domain and Regulatory Takings Re-Examined—which has just been co-published by the Independent Institute and Palgrave Macmillan—addresses these questions and many others related to the institution that America’s Founders considered the “guarantor of liberty.”

Edited by Independent Institute Senior Fellow Bruce L. Benson (also of Florida State University), Property Rights amounts to a powerful economic and legal critique of government takings of private property. The views expressed by its seventeen contributors range from proposals to “mend, not end” the takings process to the contention that involuntary takings are incompatible with “just compensation.” As noted University of Chicago Professor of Law Richard Epstein writes, “Professional and lay readers alike can profit from the different perspectives contained in this comprehensive and thoughtful book edited by the energetic Bruce Benson.”

Purchase Property Rights: Eminent Domain and Regulatory Takings Re-Examined, edited by Bruce Benson.

Read the book summary.

“The Evolution of Eminent Domain: Market Failure or an Effort to Limit Government Power and Government Failure?” by Bruce L. Benson (The Independent Review, Winter 2008)

“The Mythology of Holdout as Justification for Eminent Domain and Public Provision of Roads,” by Bruce L. Benson (The Independent Review, Fall 2005)

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2) Environmentalists See Opportunity in Oil-Spill Crisis

The environmental lobby, members of Congress, and the White House have seized the Gulf oil spill as an opportunity to pursue their pre-existing agendas. Sierra Club representative Athan Manuel echoed the zeitgeist when he recently said, “You don’t want to let a good crisis get away.”

As Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs notes in his latest op-ed, environmental lobbyists are calling for the Obama administration to go beyond its six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling. They are pushing for the White House to halt shallow-water drilling “and, in some cases, all use of fossil fuels,” Higgs writes. Consequently, the fate of up to 50 shallow-water oil rigs—employing about 5,000 workers—is uncertain as the administration plans to review its policy options.

“The oil pollution in the Gulf is already hurting residents, workers and business owners and causing heartbreaking damage to marshlands, beaches and the wildlife that inhabits the area’s waters and wetlands,” continues Higgs. “Let us hope the terrible situation will not be politically leveraged into measures that cause even greater damage to the national economy.”

“Will Oil Drilling Become a Pipe Dream?” by Robert Higgs (Washington Times, 6/16/10)

Alex Tabarrok Questions Obama’s “War on Error” (New York Times, 6/16/10)

Re-Thinking Green: Alternatives to Environmental Bureaucracy, edited by Robert Higgs and Carl Close

Neither Liberty nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government, by Robert Higgs

Depression, War, and Cold War: Challenging the Myths of Conflict and Prosperity, by Robert Higgs

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3) Solving the Bioethics Crisis

In 2008, a 12-year-old Brooklyn boy, Motl Brody, died while in a coma that had rendered him brain dead but had left his heart and lungs working. In the weeks before his tragic death, Motl’s parents battled the doctors over whether to keep the boy on life support or to pull the plug and let nature take its course.

The field of bioethics is supposed to identify ethical principles that would help improve decision-making in life-or-death situations such as this one. Unfortunately, the bioethics community contributed virtually nothing positive during the episode—a lapse typical of the discipline in recent years, political scientist Lauren K. Hall (Rochester Institute of Technology) argues in her cover article for the Summer 2010 issue of The Independent Review.

According to Hall, bioethics would become more relevant to those affected by biomedical technology if it were to apply classical-liberal insights about how to balance power—insights that John Locke, Adam Smith, James Madison, and others developed to limit government power—to the realm of biomedical decision-making. A classical-liberal bioethics, Hall writes, “will be marked by humility, a recognition of the importance of individual interests, and the belief that a centralized sovereign authority (such as the courts or legislatures) is not the best agent for achieving the delicate balance that must be struck to preserve patient dignity and autonomy, physician obligations and responsibilities, and broader social interests.”

“A Classical-Liberal Response to the Crisis of Biotechnology,” by Lauren K. Hall (The Independent Review, Summer 2010)

Subscribe to The Independent Review.

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4) U.S. Should Emulate Turkey’s Policy Toward Iran, Eland Argues

Iran’s commercial ties with Russia and China make it very unlikely that trade sanctions will economically cripple Iran and prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, the failure of sanctions might help build momentum for war—as happened after sanctions imposed in 1991 failed to spark the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and sanctions imposed in 1989 failed to cripple Manuel Noriega in Panama.

According to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland, director of the Center on Peace & Liberty, the strong likelihood that stiffer trade sanctions against Iran would do no good—and would inflict much harm to the cause of peace and prosperity—means that the United States should abandon sanctions. Instead of pushing for stronger sanctions, he argues, U.S. policy should emulate Turkey’s strategy.

“The Turks are of the opinion that a more cooperative approach from Iran’s neighbors might make Tehran stop short of making a bomb,” writes Eland. “In other words, Iran might feel secure enough to halt at developing technology that would enable it to construct a weapon on short notice—much as Japan has already done.”

“Turkey’s Policy Toward Iran Is Worth Emulating,” by Ivan Eland (6/16/10)

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

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

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5) This Week in The Beacon

Now we present the past week’s offerings from the Independent Institute’s blog, The Beacon.

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