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The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 19, Issue 17: April 25, 2017

  1. Empower Schools and Parents by Getting the Feds Out of Education
  2. Clean Energy’s Dirty Federal Cronyism
  3. Arch of Federal Spending Undermines Fiscal Responsibility
  4. Does Trump's Reversal on Syria Increase Risks for U.S. Security?
  5. Independent Updates


1) Empower Schools and Parents by Getting the Feds Out of Education

If President Donald J. Trump is to stop federal bureaucrats from, as he put it in a campaign ad, “telling you how to manage your children’s education,” then he and Congress will need to drastically slash, if not completely eliminate, the U.S. Department of Education, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki E. Alger. In Returning Education to Schools and Parents, the latest in the Independent Institute’s Executive Summary series of policy recommendations, Alger outlines her proposal for reining in the $70 billion a year agency.

Dismantling the 4,400-employee Department of Education is a bold move that requires only a few steps. Alger proposes the following: (1) Immediately eliminate all non-program offices and divisions. This would save nearly $221 million in base salaries associated with more than 1,900 department employees and another $13.9 billion—money the feds could return to the taxpayers via tax rebates and refunds. (2) Send program management and its funding to the states. As the programs and grants expire (their terms usually last 5 years), the states would decide which ones to renew and fund with state taxes.

Alger also calls for transferring programs related to constitutionally authorized activities to other federal agencies. Scholarships for veterans, for example, could be taken over by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and programs in the Office of Civil Rights could be continued at the Justice Department. The Census Bureau, the National Science Foundation, and the Justice Department could handle data-collection and research programs currently handled by the Education Department. All of these steps, Alger stresses, have a moral goal in mind: to decentralize authority so that parents can better ensure that their children are properly educated. “Parents—not distant bureaucrats—are endowed with unalienable rights and responsibilities over their children’s education,” Alger writes. “And children are due the blessings and opportunities that unfold when their schools have the resources, competence, and flexibility to deliver educational excellence.”

Returning Education to Schools and Parents, by Vicki E. Alger

Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children, by Vicki E. Alger

VIDEO: Parental Choice in Education, featuring Vicki E. Alger (11/8/16)

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2) Clean Energy’s Dirty Federal Cronyism

Earth Day started as a protest but has long been a mainstream institution. It’s therefore fitting that the cause it represents often reflects an even older American institution: politicization and cronyism in government spending. In recent testimony to Congress, Independent Institute Research Fellow Ryan M. Yonk explained how the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program exemplifies those unhealthy by-products of government intervention as it creates additional unhealthy by-products.

The loan guarantee program “has been used as a political tool, exposed taxpayers to unnecessary risk, diverted funding from alternative clean energy investments, and primarily benefitted large, politically connected corporations,” Ryan states in his written testimony. Moreover, the program is counterproductive. “The fundamental problem,” he continues, “is that the loan guarantee program makes it more difficult for new ideas to emerge since it further entrenches established ideas.”

Case in point: Solyndra. It was a struggling young company rather than an established firm with large market share, but the solar-systems manufacturer was the darling of a president and energy secretary who were so eager for a political win that federal bureaucrats approved its loan guarantees without completing essential steps required by other applicants. The loan guarantees program also diverts scarce investment funds away from firms who avoid feeding at the public trough. Writes Yonk: “Government support, as a previous chief marketing officer at Tesla Motors complained, may make it easier for those who receive support, but it also makes it more difficult for new ideas to gain private funding and grow.”

Risky Business: The DOE Loan Guarantee Program, by Ryan M. Yonk (2/15/17)

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

Independent Institute Wins Two Prestigious Book Awards (4/20/17)

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3) Arch of Federal Spending Undermines Fiscal Responsibility

Congress has until April 28 to either approve a new federal budget or issue another Continuing Resolution to avoid a shutdown in “non-essential” federal government services. The same drama has been staged many times in recent years. It’s one that (rightly) puts Washington in a bad light, one that raises doubts in the minds of the federal government’s bond buyers. The irresponsibility can also be seen in a new chart put together by Independent Institute Research Fellow Craig Eyermann, creator of the Government Cost Calculator at MyGovCost.org.

The chart depicts federal spending and revenue per household in the form of an asymmetrical arch. (Apparently, St. Louis’s Gateway Arch left a lasting imprint on a young Eyermann.) Federal borrowing, the chart shows, amounts to $4,393 per household, compared to federal revenue of $26,761 per household. The largest category of federal spending, it shows, is Social Security and Medicare, amounting to $12,141 per household, followed by anti-poverty programs ($6,143), defense ($4,696), and interest on the national debt ($2,121). The latter, in other words, accounts for almost one-half of federal borrowing.

“The arch format can provide a lot more insight than you would ever get from a more typical bar chart presentation of this kind of data,” writes Eyermann. “When a simple visual element can communicate such a wealth of information, it’s hard not to take notice, and you don’t have to be from the Show Me State to see it!”

The Arch of U.S. Government Spending, by Craig Eyermann (MyGovCost News & Blog, 4/24/17)

Love Gov: From First Date to Mandate– Award-winning video series from Independent Institute

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4) Does Trump's Reversal on Syria Increase Risks for U.S. Security?

Whether he meant to or not, President Trump’s airstrikes in Syria earlier this month may have raised the stakes for the United States to heights not seen since the Cold War. “Not even during the Korean or Vietnam Wars did Russia and the United States overtly have their forces on the same battlefield, as they do now in Syria,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland in an op-ed at CNN.com. This may be the most important reason that the White House should rethink any impulse to meet Assad’s recent or future chemical-weapon attacks with bombs of its own.

But even if Vladimir Putin were not standing pat with his ally Bashar al-Assad, U.S. airstrikes against Syrian targets are a bad idea from the standpoint of American interests. Indeed, they repeat the same mistakes that other U.S. presidents made when they sent U.S. forces into countries of no strategic interest to national security. “If history is any guide—and it almost always is—direct U.S. military action often leads to stronger military action in the future,” Eland continues.

Assad has already followed up the U.S. airstrikes with conventional bombing raids on the city that was the target for his chemical weapons attacks—as if to dare Trump to try again. Thus, the notion that Trump’s airstrike was a useful show of strength against the Syrian strongman “is simply a dangerous illusion—something Trump is rapidly becoming a specialist in creating,” Eland writes. “Trump should stop now with the counterproductive showmanship and get back to the grinding fight against ISIS.”

Trump Should Be Fighting ISIS, Not Syria, by Ivan Eland (CNN.com, 4/12/17)

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

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5) Independent Updates

The Beacon: New Blog Posts
MyGovCost: New Blog Posts
Featured Video
News Alert

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