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The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 19, Issue 40: October 3, 2017

  1. Las Vegas Tragedy
  2. GOP Tax Plan Shows Promise
  3. Hurricanes Reveal Flaws in U.S. Flood Insurance Program
  4. Fixing Campus Assault Policies
  5. Gala Honors Heroes and Charts the Future of Liberty
  6. Independent Updates


1) Las Vegas Tragedy

“The Independent Institute joins the rest of the world in offering our thoughts and prayers to those who have lost loved ones in the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. From this tragedy, we hope the nation can learn and work together to build a better, more secure future, one where no one need fear for their safety and where everyone can rest assured that their rights to live in freedom and dignity will be honored.”
David J. Theroux, Founder and President, Independent Institute

“The evil done in Las Vegas is not a time for politicians to seek momentum in debates on political issues. It is a time for people to come together as they grapple with questions such as the problem of evil in the world and why bad things happen to ordinary, decent people.”
William J. Watkins, Jr., Research Fellow, Independent Institute

“All Americans are greatly saddened by the horrendous murders committed in Las Vegas by a person with the most callous disregard for human life.”
Stephen P. Halbrook, Senior Fellow, Independent Institute

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2) GOP Tax Plan Shows Promise

Would U.S. taxpayers come out ahead from the tax reform proposal that President Trump and congressional Republicans unveiled last week? It all depends, but some key aspects look positive. Writing in The Beacon, Independent Institute Research Fellow Randall Holcombe calls it “an improvement over the current system, but more so for corporate income taxes than for individual income taxes.” But by no means does it guarantee a tax cut for everyone.

The proposal would, for instance, reduce the number of income tax brackets to only three (12 percent, 25 percent, and 35 percent), but as Holcombe notes, “the proposal does not say at what income levels those brackets would be in effect.” Moreover, many taxpayers would lose from its elimination of most deductions and exemptions, including for payments of state and local taxes. (The deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations would be spared.)

As for corporate income taxes, the proposed rate cut to 20 percent of profits, and shift toward the taxation of domestic profits rather than profits earned worldwide, “should improve the global competitiveness of American businesses.” It would also, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II, “eliminate the double taxation of U.S. firms and align the U.S. tax code more closely with the rest of the world." In any case, Holcombe writes, “we can expect lots of political bickering over ways the proposal falls short, but the bottom line is that what is proposed would be an improvement over the current system.” As Shughart puts it, “the status quo cannot be allowed to win.”

Trump’s Tax Reform: On the Right Track, by Randall Holcombe (The Beacon, 10/2/17)

Status Quo Should Not Win When It Comes to Tax Reform, by William F. Shughart II (Morning Consult, 8/30/17)

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3) Hurricanes Reveal Flaws in U.S. Flood Insurance Program

As if Hurricanes Irma and Harvey weren’t enough natural disasters for one season, Hurricane Maria has left tremendous devastation in its wake, killing at least 68 people. Aside from the horrors inflicted on their victims and survivors, the storms have imposed unusually large costs on public and private insurers.

Even before Maria was detected, financial stress on the National Flood Insurance Program—created in 1968 to help rebuild homes in deluged communities—was so great that analysts predicted the agency would end up owing the U.S. Treasury $50 billion by the end of 2017, approximately twice what it owed before the three hurricanes. In large part, this massive debt is the result of the program’s mispricing of flood insurance: it has overpriced coverage for low-risk homes while underpricing coverage for high-risk homes. This, in turn, has “had the effect of encouraging building on other flood-prone areas,” writes Independent Institute Research Fellow Eli Lehrer, in an op-ed that ran in the Sacramento Bee and elsewhere.

“While it would be impractical to eliminate the program right away, there is no reason that it can't be phased out over time,” Lehrer continues. “This is not 1968; today, private flood insurance is available. Businesses and homeowners in the highest-risk areas along the Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico might have to pay more, but this would discourage continued overbuilding in these areas.”

Faulty Federal Flood Insurance Program Exposed by this Year’s Storms, by Eli Lehrer (Sacramento Bee, 9/28/17)

Watery Marauders: How the Federal Government Obstructed the Development of Private Flood Insurance, by Eli Lehrer (10/19/09)

Risky Business: Insurance Markets and Regulation, edited by Lawrence S. Powell

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4) Fixing Campus Assault Policies

Sexual assault on American college campuses was a problem long ignored by school administrators, until survivors identified a powerful tool for getting their attention: Title IX, the federal provision outlawing gender discrimination in education. Since then, the possibility of federal lawsuits (or threats to federal funding) has incentivized administrators to take the issue more seriously, encouraged also by guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education. These developments, unfortunately, prompted many schools to create policies that violate due process and effectively drop the presumption of innocence for the accused.

Standards of proof were lowered from “clear and convincing evidence” to “a preponderance of evidence.” Guilt was practically taken for granted. “Cross examination—the single most effective way to get at the truth in a challenged case—was virtually disallowed,” writes Independent Institute Research Fellow Donald A. Downs in a recent piece that ran in the Miami Herald and scores of other papers.

Campus sexual assault should not be countered by assaulting venerable legal principles, Downs argues. “A good place to begin reform: Have campus tribunals read the seminal studies of the national ‘Innocence Project,’ which highlight how rushes to judgment can lead to mistaken verdicts.” Commenting on the same topic, Independent Institute Research Fellow Samuel R. Staley writes in the Las Vegas Sun: “More-innovative approaches that focus on bystander intervention, securing individual dignity, and directly addressing the harm created by assault would result in the cultural and procedural shifts necessary to reduce campus sexual assault.”

Should Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Rescind Obama-era Guidelines on Campus Sexual Assault Enforcement? Yes: Time to End Kangaroo Court Tribunals, by Donald A. Downs (Miami Herald, 9/25/17)

New Approaches Needed to End Campus Sexual Assault, by Samuel R. Staley (Las Vegas Sun, 8/11/17)

Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, by Donald A. Downs

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5) Gala Honors Heroes and Charts the Future of Liberty

On September 22, a capacity crowd gathered at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco for the Independent Institute’s 30th Anniversary Gala for the Future of Liberty. (For more coverage and photos, see this write-up in Red Carpet | Bay Area.) The event’s main purpose, Independent Institute President David J. Theroux explained, was to honor forward-looking heroes with the Alexis de Tocqueville Award. Following an inspiring invocation by the Very Reverend Alan Jones of Grace Cathedral, David Teece, chairman of Berkeley Research Group, presented the evening’s first award to Nobel laureate economist Vernon Smith. An inveterate optimist, Smith said he believes people will meet whatever challenges that lie ahead by rising to the occasion.

The second award, presented by Thor Halvorssen of the Human Rights Foundation, went to North Korean refugee Yeonmi Park, who escaped her native country at age 13. Ever hopeful that her compatriots will become free, she said: “Lies don’t have power. People will see the truth.” The final award, presented by Franklin Resources president Jennifer Johnson, went to high-tech venture capitalist Timothy Draper, who has financed some of the world’s most innovative entrepreneurs. The most important innovation awaiting humanity, he said, may be the complete transformation of government itself.

After the award ceremony, political satirist and Master of Ceremonies P. J. O’Rourke, whose wit was in ample abundance, moderated a discussion about the future of liberty. Deloitte innovation strategist John Hagel III wrapped up the evening with inspirational ideas for bringing about positive social change.

Gala for the Future of Liberty (Red Carpet | Bay Area)

More photos from the Gala

Yet more photos

See our Gala videos about Independent Institute’s 30th Anniversary, honoree Vernon Smith, honoree Yeonmi Park, honoree Timothy C. Draper, and Master of ceremonies P. J. O’Rourke.

Stay tuned for more videos from the Gala!

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6) Independent Updates

The Beacon: New Blog Posts

MyGovCost: New Blog Posts

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