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

Volume 12, Issue 51: December 21, 2010

  1. The Gulf Oil Gusher, Mass Hysteria, and Environmental Religion
  2. Private Remedies for TSA Holiday Blues
  3. Swedish Example Offers Hope for European Malaise
  4. The Case against Federal Subsidies for Public Broadcasting
  5. New Blog Posts

1) The Gulf Oil Gusher, Mass Hysteria, and Environmental Religion

President Obama declared it “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced,” but the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil gusher turned out to be far less harmful to natural resources than many people feared. Although more than two thousand oil-soaked bird carcasses were collected, fewer than half a dozen dolphins and other marine mammals were found dead and no live fish were discovered to have been contaminated.

Had the media interviewed marine scientists more often than environmental groups, they might have reported that damage from the gulf gusher was likely to be mild in comparison to the havoc caused by the much smaller Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989—thanks to factors such as the deepness of the water at the gusher’s source, the long distance from the source to the shoreline, and the presence of ravenous oil-eating bacteria that feed on natural oil seepage in the gulf. Instead, a mass hysteria shaped by assumptions of pending environmental doom prevailed.

“The message was that we have sinned against nature, and God is justly punishing us,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert H. Nelson in his analysis of the gulf oil gusher panic. “Whatever the facts, such messages can resonate powerfully. America is unusually religious for a modern nation, and some of its religions, such as environmentalism, are secular. As always, there are many people—the Elmer Gantrys of our time—who are happy to feed the public’s fears.”

“Oil Spill Hysteria,” by Robert H. Nelson (The Weekly Standard, 12/13/10)

The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America, by Robert H. Nelson

Rethinking Green: Alternatives to Environmental Bureaucracy, edited by Robert Higgs and Carl P. Close

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2) Private Remedies for TSA Holiday Blues

Two days after 9/11, former cocaine smuggler Hank Asher surprised the FBI by giving the agency an accurate list of the terrorists’ names he created by running a computer program he wrote to mine personal information databases. Asher now heads TLO, a data-mining firm that helps law enforcement track down missing children. But what if his company or other data miners in the private sector were charged with providing airline security rather than the Transportation Security Administration?

So long as private-sector firms stood to gain from their successes and suffer losses from their failures—and thus their incentives were aligned with the desired outcomes—everybody would win, according to University of Mississippi economist Michael T. Belongia and Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart.

“The airlines,” Belongia and Shughart write in Investors Business Daily, “would have a new revenue stream, passengers who pose no risk could board planes with less harassment and fewer delays, resources could be directed at genuine threats and, perhaps best of all, TSA might be put out of business.”

“Government Has Botched Airline Security, So Why Not Let the Airlines Do the Job?” by Michael T. Belongia and William F. Shughart II (12/14/10)

Video: Ivan Eland on TSA Screening Procedures (CTV News, 11/21/10)

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3) Swedish Example Offers Hope for European Malaise

Sweden—Europe’s great bastion of democratic socialism. That may be how many people still think of the country, but for the past two decades—and especially during the past four years of rule by the current governing coalition—the Scandinavian kingdom has been cutting taxes that hamper job creation and slashing subsidies that encourage idleness, reports Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

“Although the reforms of the governing ‘bourgeois’ bloc—the Moderates, the Centrists, the Liberals and the Christian-Democrats—are more gradual than bolder spirits would want, Sweden has been steadily paring down the statist excesses of the socialist era that for most of the 20th century was eponymous with the country,” Vargas Llosa writes in his latest column. “This is why the coalition was re-elected three months ago.”

Cutting government spending has helped spare Sweden from the kind of fiscal debacle that has hit many European countries and has contributed to the country’s stunning 6.9 percent economic growth rate in the last quarter. “Even in the aftermath of the bursting of the housing bubble, when government stimulus was the universal policy du jour, Sweden incurred a deficit of barely 1 percent of the size of the economy (the fiscal purse will soon be in the black again),” Vargas Llosa continues.

“The Brighter Europe,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (12/15/10) Spanish Translation

Lessons from the Poor: The 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) The Case against Federal Subsidies for Public Broadcasting

Back in 1967, when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was created, three national networks dominated the television airwaves. Today, a host of competitors vie for the audience of the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio—including the History and Discovery channels, Public Radio International, American Public Media, Sirius satellite radio, and others.

This year, Congress gave CPB $422 million, making federal funds the largest revenue source for the enterprise—perhaps 15 to 20 percent of the operating budget of public broadcasting. Although $422 million is a drop in the bucket compared to a federal budget deficit of more than $1 trillion, President Obama’s deficit-reduction commission should be lauded for recommending the elimination of all federal funding of public broadcasting, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart.

“If NPR and public television cannot survive in such an environment without taxpayer subsidies, they should be allowed to go the way of the dodo bird,” writes Shughart. “In today’s information-heavy media marketplace, no one should have special privileges.”

“Public Broadcasting Subsidy: Unnecessary and Irrational,” by William F. Shughart II (Sacramento Bee, 12/10/10)

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost Blog:

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