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

Volume 12, Issue 28: July 12, 2010

  1. BP Execs Should Face Strict Liability for Oil Spill
  2. Is Obama Overrated?
  3. The High Road to Better Transportation
  4. Argentina’s Tragic Hero
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) BP Execs Should Face Strict Liability for Oil Spill

The White House’s moratorium on offshore deepwater oil drilling, struck down June 22 by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, would have harmed consumers and workers and unfairly penalized the safety-conscious competitors of BP. There’s a better way to reduce the risk of oil spills and blowouts, according to William F. Shughart II, senior fellow at the Independent Institute.

“If President Obama truly wanted to supply incentives for trading off risk and reward optimally, he would press for legislation that holds oil companies strictly liable for the economic and environmental damages they cause,” writes Shughart.

Shughart also recommends jail time and fines for the executives of the responsible company because its financial resources may not be sufficient to pay for all the damages to injured parties.

“Moratorium on Offshore Deepwater Oil Drilling Wrong Move,” by William F. Shughart II (Vicksburg Post, 6/21/10)

Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination, edited by William F. Shughart II

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2) Is Obama Overrated?

Siena College’s new survey of 238 presidential scholars ranked Barack Obama as the 15th best president in U.S. history and George W. Bush as 39th out of 43. Ivan Eland, senior fellow of the Independent Institute and director of the Center on Peace & Liberty, takes issue with the thrust of the poll. In his latest op-ed, Eland argues that “despite differences in rhetoric and political party affiliation—and thus against conventional wisdom—the policies of Obama and Bush are strikingly similar.”

As under Bush, the federal government under Obama has taken an activist stance in both domestic and foreign affairs. According to Eland, both administrations increased federal spending and used Congress’s resolution authorizing war with al-Qaeda and the Taliban to justify unconstitutional activities. Thus Obama’s policies scarcely differ from those of Bush, at least in terms of their fundamental orientation, and they will likely result in essentially similar outcomes.

Writes Eland: “If the withdrawal from Iraq actually comes to fruition, the surge in Afghanistan was the price a Democratic president had to pay to begin withdrawing forces after 18 months, and Obama begins to reduce the massive record U.S. budget deficit of 11 percent of gross domestic product by cutting spending (every time a large budget deficit has occurred in U.S. history, it has been closed), he may rise above Bush. But he likely will never deserve the no. 15 ranking of all time given by the Siena poll.”

“New Rankings Overrate Obama,” by Ivan Eland (7/7/10) Spanish Translation

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

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

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

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3) The High Road to Better Transportation

The U.S. Department of Transportation has released a new Five Year Plan. Like its Soviet counterparts, it offers strategies that undermine its explicit objectives, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow and former World Bank transportation economist Gabriel Roth.

The plan allegedly puts safety first—although it has announced that it will tighten federal gas mileage requirements, thereby making automobiles lighter and less crashworthy. The maintenance of transportation infrastructure is another alleged high priority of the plan—although the plan actually favors new investment instead. The plan also touts economic competitiveness—but it provides no yardstick to measure it, such as profitability or cost-benefit analysis. In addition, the plan makes “livable communities” a high priority—but it says not a word about making communities more livable by transferring power from the federal bureaucracy to the local level. Finally, the plan makes “environmental sustainability” a priority—but it does so by favoring extravagant (and thus economically wasteful) high-speed rail corridors and other pork.

Roth concludes with an alternative proposal for transportation reform. He calls for Congress to end the federal fuel tax and urges that highway financing be transferred to the states. States would have strong incentives to improve the highways by adopting innovations. “Successful innovations, such as contracting out some or all of their operations to private firms, would be copied in other states,” writes Roth.

“Menace to Mobility,” by Gabriel Roth (The American, 6/30/10)

Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads, edited by Gabriel Roth

“Autonomy and Automobility,” by Loren Lomasky (The Independent Review, Summer 1997)

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4) Argentina’s Tragic Hero

Argentine national soccer coach Diego Maradona is a tragic figure whose ups and downs parallel the rise and fall of his country, explains Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa in his latest column.

Maradona began as a brilliant soccer player, descended into drug abuse, and with his unorthodox coaching style, led his team to a humiliating 4-0 defeat by Germany in the World Cup. Argentina’s sparking economy in the 19th and early 20th centuries attracted immigrants from Europe, but it took a tragic turn under Juan Peron’s statist policies and never fully recovered. Like Maradona’s downward spiral, Argentina’s fall stems from the character flaw of attempting to rely on inspiration rather than instituting a well thought-out plan for success.

“Today, Argentina is ranked on average in 60th place in terms of per capita income; its stock of foreign direct investment is smaller than that of Trinidad & Tobago,” writes Vargas Llosa. “The tax-and-spend policies of the last decade echo what happened with Maradona in the first round of this World Cup, when victory against relatively weak teams was confused with the real thing.”

“Argentina’s Tragic Hero,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (7/7/10) Spanish Translation

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

The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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

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5) This Week in The Beacon

Here are the past week’s postings to the Independent Institute blog:

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