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The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 18, Issue 10: March 8, 2016

  1. Nature Unbound Uproots Environmental Policy Myths
  2. Four Spending Cuts Republicans Can Easily Enact
  3. School Lunch Food Nannies: Starved of Common Sense?
  4. U.S. Should Let China Rise Peacefully
  5. Students: Have a Great Summer Experience at the Challenge of Liberty Summer Seminars!
  6. New Blog Posts
  7. Selected News Alerts



1) Nature Unbound Uproots Environmental Policy Myths

What if what we think we know about ecology and environmental policy is wrong? What if U.S. environmental laws often make things far worse? What if there were a better way to improve our natural (and human) environment? Answering these questions and drawing out the implications is the achievement of the new Independent Institute book, Nature Unbound: Bureaucracy vs. the Environment, by Randy T Simmons, Ryan M. Yonk, and Kenneth J. Sim—a detailed and hard-hitting critique of hallowed, major U.S. environmental policies enacted since the 1960s.

The most celebrated environmental laws of the past fifty years, Nature Unbound argues, have blocked a much better approach to conservation and environmental quality. The Clean Water Act has slowed down progress at state and local levels. The Endangered Species Act has undermined the protection of threatened species. Policies to shield wilderness areas from all human activities (even conservation management) undermine biodiversity. And renewable energy legislation has mostly wasted resources rather than conserved them.

These deeply flawed environmental laws, the authors argue, rest on two faulty pillars: an outdated theory about ecosystems (the “balance of nature” doctrine) and a mistaken view of the political process (a childlike naiveté about electoral politics and government bureaucracy). But Nature Unbound offers more than a critique of false assumptions and flawed policies. It also offers a pathway toward sensible policies: six bold principles to help us rethink environmental objectives, align incentives with goals, and affirm the notion that human beings are an integral part of the natural order and merit no less consideration than earth’s other treasures.

Nature Unbound: Bureaucracy vs. the Environment, by Randy T Simmons, Ryan M. Yonk, and Kenneth J. Sim

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2) Four Spending Cuts Republicans Can Easily Enact

Republicans in Congress have cut taxes without cutting spending, a fiscal and moral lapse that has prompted the Congressional Budget Office to raise the projected increase in the cumulative federal budget from $7 trillion last August to $8.5 trillion. The lawmakers could reduce the damage they’ve done, however, if they sign on to spending cuts in President Obama’s proposed budget. In a recent op-ed for The Hill, Independent Institute Senior Fellow John R. Graham discusses two of the cuts.

Obama’s budget proposes competitive bidding among Medicare Advantage plans, just as the plans already are required to compete against a government benchmark. Combined with lesser reforms to Medicare Advantage, the feds would save $77 billion over the next decade. The budget proposal would also cut Medicare’s reimbursements to healthcare providers for bad debts—a reduction from the existing rate of 65 percent of uncollectibles to only 25 percent. This would save an estimated $33 billion in federal spending. Republican lawmakers should go along with these spending reductions. They should also revive cuts they and their Democratic counterparts proposed in previous budgets.

Two programs from past budgets are especially worthy of Congress’s consideration. One can be called site-neutral Medicare payments. This involves reducing the government’s reimbursements at new in-patient facilities when the provider already has outpatient facilities (savings: $30 billion over 10 years). The other involves Medicare supplemental insurance (Medigap). In 2020, the cost-sharing rules will change so as to encourage consumers to become price-sensitive with regard to their premiums. Adopting this change in 2018 instead of 2020 would add $3 billion in savings. The four reforms discussed above, Graham concludes “are reasonable first steps the Republican majority in Congress can take to demonstrate it can govern responsibly with spending cuts that will win the president’s signature.”

Opportunities for Healthcare Savings in Obama’s 2017 Budget, by John R. Graham (The Hill, 2/24/16)

Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, by John C. Goodman

A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, by John C. Goodman

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3) School Lunch Food Nannies: Starved of Common Sense?

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, championed early on by Michelle Obama and signed into law in 2012, was supposed to get America’s school children to eat better by improving the food choices in school lunch programs. Like many well-intentioned government programs, however, this one has had negative consequences that its advocates didn’t anticipate. Independent Institute Research Fellow Abigail R. Hall Blanco gives the program a failing grade.

The healthy options don’t sit well with many kids, leading to a significant portion of lunches getting thrown out—an increase of 56 percent, according to one study. The bland fare has also created a new market in spices, with child entrepreneurs selling their classmates not-so-healthy additives such as sugar and salt. The new cafeteria menu has also prompted millions of students to opt out of their school’s lunch programs, resulting in financial losses for 41 percent of schools surveyed, according to the School Nutrition Association.

This episode, Hall Blanco says, should serve as a cautionary tale. “When government attempts to modify individuals’ behavior, a cache of unintended consequences is waiting around the corner. Ultimately, people find ways around the new rules.”

Michelle Obama’s School Lunches Get an “F”, by Abigail R. Hall Blanco (The Beacon, 3/3/16)

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4) U.S. Should Let China Rise Peacefully

President Obama’s “pivot to Asia” hasn’t changed the focus of U.S. foreign policy as much as anticipated. Thanks in part to Vladimir Putin’s antics in Ukraine and ISIL’s barbaric occupation in the Levant, the White House has kept its gaze on eastern Europe and the Middle East longer than most had anticipated just a few years ago. Nevertheless, the Obama administration has done enough in the Far East to warrant much concern, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland.

The president has stepped up the U.S. military presence in Australia, Guam, and the seas of east Asia—an effort to instill confidence in America’s allies, Japan and the Philippines, and to send a warning signal to a rising China. “However, this forward-based containment strategy, reminiscent of the Cold War, is out of date and unsustainable,” Eland writes. “With China’s rapid economic growth and concomitant improvement of its military...a time will come when the proximity of China to East Asia will allow it to have local ascendancy over a faraway American superpower saddled with almost $19 trillion in national debt.”

The U.S. military posture is risky economically and militarily, yet it serves no vital U.S. interest. The U.S. government spends about $600 billion a year on the military, equal to the defense budgets of the next seven largest spending countries. It also has a vast nuclear arsenal that discourages any nation foolish enough to entertain the thought of attacking U.S. territory. For these and other reasons, according to Eland, the United States can easily afford to pull back U.S. forces from East Asia and let China become the regional power in East Asia that it’s bound to become anyway.

The United States Should Peacefully Let China Rise, by Ivan Eland (The Huffington Post, 2/14/16)

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

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5) Students: Have a Great Summer Experience at the Challenge of Liberty Summer Seminars!

The Independent Institute is accepting applications for its two Challenge of Liberty Summer Seminars: June 20–24 in Santa Clara, California, and July 18–22 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Our seminars are a great way for eligible college students to learn about free-market economics, public policy, and the history and philosophy of liberty! The teachers are top-notch (and eager to engage with students), and past attendees have praised our seminars to the hilt!

Informative, inspiring, and fun, the seminars will help you:

  • Sharpen your mind during the summer
  • Bolster your network while creating meaningful and lasting relationships
  • Build your own legacy for liberty

Challenge of Liberty Summer Seminars

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6) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Life When Government Is Bankrupt
Craig Eyermann (3/6/16)

Government Waste an Ongoing Show
K. Lloyd Billingsley (3/2/16)

Bureaucratic Bloat Endures
K. Lloyd Billingsley (2/29/16)

You can find the Independent Institute's Spanish-language website here and blog here.

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7) Selected News Alerts

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  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org