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The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 19, Issue 35: August 29, 2017

  1. P. J. O’Rourke on Marx, Prophesies, and the Future of Liberty
  2. School Choice: Would Federal Support Be Counterproductive?
  3. Trump’s Afghanistan War 2.0
  4. U.S. Credit Rating Probably Won’t Suffer, at Least Not This Year
  5. Independent Updates


1) P. J. O’Rourke on Marx, Prophesies, and the Future of Liberty

Political satirist P. J. O’Rourke (who will serve as Master of Ceremonies at Independent Institute’s 30th Anniversary Gala for the Future of Liberty in San Francisco on September 22) is more than America’s funniest pundit: He’s also our most underrated. Who else could show, in just a few words, that crackpot communist Karl Marx also happened to be good at making predictions? No, the bestselling humorist and self-admitted ex-hippie has not taken to worshiping at the feet of the man who inspired Lenin and Mao—the opposite is true—but he does offer witty insights about Marx’s prescience in his recent op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle.

First, a quiz: Did you know that, as O’Rourke explains, Robert C. Merton, the 1997 Nobel laureate in economics who crashed his $4.6 billion hedge fund in 1998, is the son of Robert K. Merton, the sociologist who coined the term “self-fulfilling prophecy”? (Merton the father also originated the “strain” theory of social deviance, but that’s an irony for another day.) And did you know that Marx predicted the rise of the Internal Revenue Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Chicken McNuggets? It’s true, the father of “scientific socialism” prophesied what America’s favorite fast-food clown would someday cook up. Eat that, Edgar Cayce!

O’Rourke, in case we forgot to mention it, will be the MC at our Gala for the Future of Liberty on September 22 at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco—buy 20 tickets here before it sells out. He will offer a few predictions of his own, but more importantly, he’ll help us honor three champions of enterprise, ingenuity, and the human spirit: North Korean human-rights activist Yeonmi Park, high-tech venture capitalist Tim Draper, and Nobel laureate economist Vernon L. Smith (who, we promise, won’t say a word about interest rates, GDP, or the Black-Scholes options pricing model). Please join us for an unforgettable evening!

A Gala for the Future of Liberty, Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, September 22, 2017

Predicting the Economic Future: Karl Marx’s Crackpot Predictions in a New Light, by P. J. O’Rourke (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/16/17)

The Future of the Economy: Self-Fulfilling Prophecies, by P. J. O’Rourke (The Independent Review, Winter 2016)

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2) School Choice: Would Federal Support Be Counterproductive?

School choice advocates typically see President Donald Trump, who promised $20 billion in federal money for the cause, as their ally. This view is not unanimous, however. According to Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki E. Alger, a federally funded school choice program runs the risk of inviting government regulation that would ultimately stifle innovation at the state level and hamper private schools’ efforts to meet their students’ needs.

“He who pays the piper calls the tune, and federal control could ultimately impose the same regulations on once-independent schools that have stifled public institutions,” Alger writes in a Washington Post op-ed co-authored with Neal McCloskey of the Cato Institute and Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation. The risk can be seen from the experience of federal aid to higher education.

If the feds are to promote school choice, they should limit this to expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Fund, broadening school choice for military families, and expanding it for the worst performing schools of all—Bureau of Indian Education schools. These moves, along with championing school choice and education savings accounts at the state level, “would go far to advance the cause of educational freedom and opportunity,” Alger and her co-authors conclude.

Keep the Federal Government Out of School Choice, by Vicki E. Alger, Neal McCluskey, and Lindsey Burke (The Washington Post, 8/22/17)

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

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3) Trump’s Afghanistan War 2.0

President Donald Trump has announced a new strategy for the sixteen-year-old U.S. war in Afghanistan. The general thrust involves setting military-performance goals, as opposed to the fixed timetables of his predecessors, leaning hard on Pakistan (and enlisting help from its rival India), and presumably freeing the U.S. military from any self-imposed restraints that might hinder the defeat of the Taliban and ISIS. Unfortunately such a strategy undermines the actual security needs of the American people, argues Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland, in a new piece for Newsweek.

A visible military footprint, Eland argues, is what got America in trouble in the first place. “No one chose to hear what [al-Qaeda chief Osama] bin Laden kept repeating: he attacked the United States because the U.S. military presence in the Islamic holy land of Saudi Arabia and U.S. treatment of Muslim countries—U.S. meddling in the Middle East.” To understand such motives isn’t to justify the actions, Eland adds. In fact, no less an Afghanistan war hawk than former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asked, “Are we creating more terrorists than we are killing?”

For this reason, Eland calls for the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan—and other Muslim regions. “None of these countries are strategic to the United States, and wars there merely generate unwanted blowback.”

We Have Lost the War in Afghanistan. We Should Get Out Now, by Ivan Eland (Newsweek, 8/10/17)

Video: Trump’s Afghanistan Strategy: Sr. Fellow Ivan Eland Appears on Fox Business Network (8/22/17)

The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland

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4) U.S. Credit Rating Probably Won’t Suffer, at Least Not This Year

President Donald Trump has threatened a government shutdown if Congress doesn’t approve funding for a border wall. It’s only the latest episode in the ongoing story of government shutdown theater. With all the bluffing and counter-bluffing one might wonder: Doesn’t the bluster itself run the risk of downgrading Uncle Sam’s credit rating?

According to Independent Institute Research Fellow Craig Eyermann, creator of the Government Cost Calculator at MyGovCost.org, one of the three major rating agencies, Moody’s, says it wouldn’t lower its Aaa rating if the U.S. Treasury only missed a payment on its non-debt spending obligations, such as failing to meet payroll. So long as the feds prioritize and meet the payments schedule for principal and interest on federal borrowing, its credit rating will remain unchanged.

“Now, if the U.S. Congress and the President could just get their collective act together and restrain the growth of the government’s spending to be slower than the growth of its revenue, we might finally get to the point where we can officially cancel any new performances of Government Shutdown Theater,” Eyermann concludes.

Moody’s: U.S. Credit Rating Safe in Government Shutdown, by Craig Eyermann (MyGovCost News & Blog)

The Return of the Debt Ceiling, 2017 Edition, by Craig Eyermann (MyGovCost News & Blog, 8/14/17)

Video Series: Love Gov: From First Date to Mandate

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5) Independent Updates

The Beacon: New Blog Posts

MyGovCost: New Blog Posts

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