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The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 18, Issue 12: March 22, 2016

  1. Wildlife Preservation and the ‘Balance of Nature’ Myth
  2. No, Bernie and Donald, Trade Has Helped the Poor
  3. Soda Tax Proposal Loses Its Fizz
  4. The Quest for Unity: Politics versus Markets
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts



1) Wildlife Preservation and the ‘Balance of Nature’ Myth

Government programs often entail contradictions. The classic type is a policy that goes against the original justification for a program, such as anti-poverty policies that penalize people when their incomes rise. The National Wildlife Refuge System, which turned 113 years old on March 14, exemplifies a contradiction pervasive in environmental policy, according to Ryan M. Yonk, co-author of Nature Unbound: Bureaucracy vs. the Environment. What’s the contradiction?

On the one hand, many government-designated wildlife preserves and wilderness areas were created to prevent humans from upsetting the “balance of nature”—the notion that a natural eco-system represents an ideal equilibrium with just the right proportion of plant and animal species so that they can sustain their populations indefinitely. On the other hand, left to their own devices, flora and fauna work ceaselessly to push each other out of the equation, unbalancing the supposed “balance of nature.” Thus, letting nature “do its thing” can be good for some species and bad for others, sometimes to the point of reducing another vaunted environmental goal: biodiversity.

There are variations on this theme. Conservation managers at Idaho’s Minidoka Wildlife Refuge, for example, had a policy of protecting migratory pelicans—an effort to maintain the “proper” number of pelicans. But such favoritism has been “unbalanced,” leading to diminished numbers of cut-throat trout. Now the refuge personnel are trying to save the trout. “Continuing to manage using the notion of a balance of nature will continue to lead to perverse outcomes like those presently occurring in Idaho,” Yonk writes in a recent op-ed. “Because as long as ‘balance’ itself is the goal, what we will see are simply men’s ideas of what balance should look like. After all, a ‘human-less’ reality would be one that did not even include wildlife management.”

Does Wildlife Depend on Government?, by Ryan M. Yonk (The Daily Caller, 3/14/16)

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

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2) No, Bernie and Donald, Trade Has Helped the Poor

Economic inequality is a complex topic with lots of moving parts. It’s also highly politicized. For these reasons, much of what people say about inequality is wrong. It’s not true, for example, that inequality in the United States has increased thanks in part to international trade. Indeed, the opposite is true, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman.

“Thanks to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, a lot of attention has been given to the job losses [from foreign imports],” Goodman writes. “Almost no attention has been given to the job gains or to the increases in our standard of living.”

The mistake of focusing on visible costs while ignoring hidden benefits is an error that French economist Frederic Bastiat exposed in his 1848 essay, “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen.” More recently, researchers have tried to quantify the benefits that imports bestow on consumers. A recent study by economists at UCLA and Columbia University, for example, concludes that the world’s poorest 10 percent had a 63 percent gain from trade, compared to a 28 percent gain for the richest 10 percent. “There will always be winners and losers from trade,” Goodman writes. “But on the whole, trade appears to make incomes more equal, not less so.”

Is Free Trade Bad for American Workers?, by John C. Goodman (TownHall, 3/12/16)

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) Soda Tax Proposal Loses Its Fizz

In November of 2014, Berkeley, Calif., home to America’s top public university, passed the nation’s first tax on sugary beverages. The measure, its backers argued, would reduce soda-pop consumption and related health woes by pushing up prices. Instead, beverage distributors opted to absorb the new tax, rather than passing it on to consumers and risk having them switch to substitute products such as coffee or candy bars. Berkeley’s failure may help explain why the city council of Davis, home to a rival school 64 miles away, recently rejected a similar proposal.

“In voting against placing a soda-tax initiative on the June ballot, the council has kept the nanny state’s nose out of the lives of its citizens, write Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II and Strata Student Research Associate Josh Smith.

For the economically literate, it’s easy to focus on the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of excise taxes such as levies on sugary drinks. Shughart and Smith discuss these problems, but they underscore the moral objection—the violation of liberty entailed by such taxes. “Expansion of the nanny state into policing what people eat and drink clashes with the desires of adults, who should be allowed to pursue their own idea of the good life. Dignity comes from autonomy,” they continue. “Policymakers elsewhere ought to follow the lead of the Davis City Council and California Assembly and let adults be adults and consume whatever they desire.”

Soda Taxes Morally, Ethically Bankrupt, by William F. Shughart II and Josh Smith (The Orange County Register, 3/6/16)

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

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4) The Quest for Unity: Politics versus Markets

During his first bid for the White House, George W. Bush told an interviewer, “I’m a uniter, not a divider.” Unity is again a popular campaign theme, as would-be presidential nominees tout their ability to bring together a divided electorate. It seems strange coming from office seekers who seem to delight in widening the political gulf that separates the American public. Moreover, paying lip service to “unity” illustrates key differences between politics and markets, as Independent Institute Research Fellow Gary M. Galles explains.

“Politicians preen as unifiers,” Galles writes, “but our specific ends are at odds.” We can’t become “united” when we must choose between conflicting alternatives that represent clashing views of freedom and economics. Thus the quest for political unity must always be quixotic, at least in democracy as currently designed. At the ballot box we are offered alternative bundles of policies that we like, dislike, or don’t care about. Voters do not possess a line-item veto.

In the marketplace, however, we can pick and choose. Moreover, the trade offs are transparent, thanks to the price system, whose signals harmonize the economic plans of consumers and producers and create mutual gains from trade. “Price adjustments also enable peaceful adaptation to changing circumstances,” Galles writes, “in contrast to the contentious winner-take-all battles that needed adjustments trigger when determined politically.”

Candidates Sell Unity Illusion, by Gary M. Galles (The Times and Democrat, 3/15/16)

Beyond Politics: The Roots of Government Failure, by Randy T Simmons

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

A Door of Perception on Waste
K. Lloyd Billingsley (3/21/16)

Rising “Corrections” Costs a Bad Deal for Taxpayers
K. Lloyd Billingsley (3/16/16)

How Bad Are Uncle Sam’s Books?
Craig Eyermann (3/15/16)

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

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6) Selected News Alerts

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