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

Volume 12, Issue 39: September 27, 2010

  1. The Pentagon’s Missing Trillion Dollars
  2. Independent Institute Announces Winners of the 2010 Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest
  3. France’s ‘Gypsy Problem’ Made Worse by Strict Labor Laws
  4. U.S. ‘Democracy’ Pressures Intensify Iraq’s Challenges
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) The Pentagon’s Missing Trillion Dollars

MyGovCost.org allows you to estimate not only your lifetime federal tax liability, but also your share of the tax liabilities for twenty specific spending categories, including foreign aid, welfare, and national defense. Defense spending is especially mysterious to most Americans—and understandably so. It is the least transparent component of the budget, and questioning its size and composition invites the spurious charge that one is “soft on defense”—a label that few politicians wish to acquire, no matter how plagued the defense budget is with waste, fraud, and abuse.

In his latest op-ed, defense budget expert and Independent Institute Research Fellow Winslow T. Wheeler notes a trillion-dollar anomaly in defense spending: from 1998 to 2010 Congress added $1.031 trillion to “base” (non-war) Pentagon spending, yet during that time, the Navy and Air Force shrank, whereas the Army grew by only 7 percent. That’s right. The Navy saw a reduction of 46 ships, the Air Force (along with the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard) saw a decline of 36 squadrons, and the Army saw three additional brigade combat team equivalents—an increase of about 7 percent.

What did the Pentagon do with the extra trillion dollars? It didn’t spend that money on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—spending for those $1.113 trillion campaigns is not considered “base” spending. It didn’t spend the bulk of the trillion dollar “base” increase on the Army’s small expansion (although, at a price tag of about $150 billion, that expansion represented a staggering 55 percent increase in non-war forces). And it didn’t spend that money mostly on new, high tech equipment: most of our military hardware inventory has grown older, according to Wheeler and the Congressional Budget Office.

“The Surge in Defense Spending,” by Winslow T. Wheeler (9/18/10)

Congress, the Defense Budget, and Pork: A Snout-to-Tail Description of Congress’ Foremost Concern in National Security Legislation, by Winslow T. Wheeler

MyGovCost.org

MyGovCost Facebook Page

MyGovCost Twitter Page

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2) Independent Institute Announces Winners of the 2010 Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest

The Independent Institute is pleased to announce the winners of the 2010 Sir John M. Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest. The inspiration for this year’s contest came from 19th century French economist Frederic Bastiat, who once said: “Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget the state wants to live at the expense of everyone.” The essay contestants were required to address the following question: 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?

In the junior faculty division, Evgeniy Gentchev (Northwood University) was awarded first prize ($10,000) for his essay, “Making the Case: Effectively Advocating an Old Idea in Modern Times.” In the college student division, Chen Sheng (Wesleyan College) was awarded first prize ($2,500) for her essay, “Grassroots Associations, Popular Literature, Future Interests, and Limited Government”; Mats Ekman (Stockholm University) was awarded second prize ($1,500) for his essay, “Some Economics of Advocacy and Government Competition”; and third prize ($1,000) was awarded to both Alicia Constant (Patrick Henry College) for her essay “A Matter of Incentives: Public Choice and the Great Fiction” and George Hawley (University of Houston) for his essay “Leviathan’s Greatest Deception: Exposing the False Promise of Life ‘at the Expense of the State.’”

The Independent Institute gratefully acknowledges the generosity of the John Templeton Foundation, for funding the contest, and contest judges Jonathan Bean (Southern Illinois University), Benjamin Powell (Suffolk University), and Aeon Skoble (Bridgewater State University).

Read the press release.

Read the winning essays.

No essay contest has been announced for 2011.

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3) France’s ‘Gypsy Problem’ Made Worse by Strict Labor Laws

On August 5, France’s Ministry of the Interior ordered the police to dismantle an illegal campsite populated by Roma—commonly known as Gypsies. President Nicholas Sarkozy, in an effort to stir nationalist sentiments and thereby win reelection in 2012, has deported more than 8,000 Roma this year, even though discrimination of groups based on culture or nationality is in violation of the Lisbon Treaty.

“What Sarkozy is doing to a tiny minority of people who are the least of his problems is an act of populist barbarism,” writes Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Senior Fellow of the Independent Institute.

Sarkozy plays on the popular perception that the Roma typically engage in criminal activity and resist assimilation into the broader culture. Yet as Vargas Llosa notes, poorly conceived public policies make such behavior more common. For example, immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria (countries with sizeable Roma minorities) can freely enter France, but they cannot obtain a work permit due to regulations scheduled to remain in effect until 2013. Asks Vargas Llosa: “How exactly are these European citizens whom Sarkozy accuses of scrounging off France’s welfare and who are theoretical members of an integrated Europe supposed to earn a living legally?”

“The Roma Tragedy,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (9/22/10) 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

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

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4) U.S. ‘Democracy’ Pressures Intensify Iraq’s Challenges

Iraq’s 2005 parliamentary elections were fraught with fraud, intimidation, and violence; not until six months later had the country’s power brokers managed to agree to a backroom deal regarding power sharing. Iraq’s 2010 elections were even less decisive, causing a plunge in Iraqi citizens’ public confidence, according to polls taken by the National Endowment for Democracy.

“As the American military presence is reduced, many Iraqis feel their politicians are fiddling while Rome—well, Baghdad—burns,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland in his latest op-ed.

U.S. policy has likely made matters worse. “The United States has been pushing for Maliki and Allawi to form a grand governing coalition, so disaffected losers won’t turn to violence,” Eland continues. Unfortunately, coalition politics leads to sheepish governance unable to deal with the country’s leading challenges, such as crafting a new law governing oil, reintegrating the Sunnis into the national government and armed forces, and diffusing the powder keg that is Kirkuk.

“Democracy Is Overrated,” by Ivan Eland (9/22/10) Spanish Translation

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

Stay informed. Get heard. Read and comment on the Independent Institute blog.

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