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The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 19, Issue 43: October 17, 2017

  1. Public Safety after Las Vegas
  2. Beyond Obamacare: Bridging the Political Divide?
  3. Puerto Rico, the Jones Act, and Cronyism
  4. Escaping the Military Budget Quagmire
  5. Independent Updates


1) Public Safety after Las Vegas

What, if anything, could have prevented the Las Vegas massacre? Learning the full answer will require serious study, not political talking points. It’s already clear, however, that improvements in public safety at large-scale events warrant greater imagination from “ordinary citizens, organizations that sponsor events, and state and local authorities,” writes Independent Institute Research Fellow Stephen P. Halbrook in an op-ed published in the Sacramento Bee and elsewhere.

What this means is that, for example, event promoters may sometimes need to hire security firms using trained snipers, placed in strategic locations, to ensure public safety. In the case of the Las Vegas massacre, “Had two or three riflemen been on duty with the right equipment, they might have been able quickly to spot the room from which [the killer] was shooting and dispatch him,” Halbrook writes.

Getting more imaginative (and, paradoxically, more real) about risk assessment also means recognizing the limitations of gun control laws. The European Union’s diktats against law-abiding gun owners, Halbrook notes, did nothing to prevent a single terrorist from using a cargo truck to mow down 86 people in Nice, France, on Bastille Day in 2016. Stronger gun control therefore may give us a dangerously false sense of security while eroding the ultimate check on the abuses of would-be tyrants. “Just like our response to 9/11, our reaction to the Las Vegas massacre should be that we continue to live and stand strong as free Americans,” Halbrook concludes.

Gun Control Laws Won’t Stop Las Vegas-Type Massacres, by Stephen P. Halbrook (Sacramento Bee and numerous Tribune papers, 10/12/17)

The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms, by Stephen P. Halbrook

Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State”, by Stephen P. Halbrook

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2) Beyond Obamacare: Bridging the Political Divide?

Will President Donald Trump and the Democrats ever bridge the divide over healthcare policy? Not unless (1) Democrats find a way to move beyond Obamacare without alienating constituents who support it, and (2) Republicans explain to the public how their favored reforms would actually improve people’s lives. Absent either condition, significant health reform legislation is a no-go. Fortunately, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman in his latest column at Forbes, there is a policy proposal compatible with crossing these obstacles.

It’s the policy reform advocated by Sen. John McCain—and former Obama health policy advisor Zeke Emanuel, M.D.—during the 2008 presidential race. Here, in Goodman’s words, is how it works: “Take all the government spending and tax subsidies for private health insurance, divide it up, and give every American an equal share. (Medicare and Medicaid and other government program enrollees are excluded.) People could only use the money to pay premiums and make deposits to Health Savings Accounts.”

Such a policy should win support from Democrats because it’s so much more progressive than the current system. Today, the top 20 percent of income earners enjoy six times the benefit of the tax subsidies for those with employer-provided coverage as those in the bottom 20 percent. “Under the McCain proposal, everyone would get the same number of dollars, regardless of income,” Goodman writes. Republicans should favor such a policy since it would give the same tax treatment to both group insurance policies and individual coverage, and it would make it easy for employers to help workers get personal coverage that travels with them from job to job. “If Donald Trump and Chuck Schumer want to make progress on health reform, that would be a good place to start,” Goodman concludes.

Can Donald Trump Cut a Deal with Democrats on Health Care? Maybe., by John C. Goodman (Forbes, 10/9/17)

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) Puerto Rico, the Jones Act, and Cronyism

President Trump’s (temporary) waiver of the Jones Act was welcomed relief for the people of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. The law, which is often suspended after natural disasters, requires that shipments between U.S. ports are carried only by U.S.-built, U.S.-operated, and U.S.-flagged vessels. Enacted in 1920, the Jones Act was supposed to strengthen the U.S. shipping industry by protecting it from foreign competition (although today only 91 vessels comply with that law). It’s main effect, however, has been to harm American consumers, explains Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II in a piece for American Thinker.

“Studies suggest that energy prices for consumers on the east coast are one-third to one-half higher than they would be [without the Jones Act],” Shughart writes. “Hawaiians are harmed, too, along with the residents of Guam and other outlying U.S. territories.”

Puerto Ricans, anyone who claims sympathy for them, and anyone who wants to “Make America Great Again” should call for Congress to abolish the Jones Act once and for all. “Trump’s action proves the rule that economic nationalism benefits a handful of cronies at the expense of everyone else, including Puerto Ricans,” Shughart writes. “Rather than depending on benevolent chief executives to waive the Jones Act selectively and temporarily, the law should summarily be repealed, a step that only the U.S. Congress can take.”

The Jones Act Must Be Repealed, by William F. Shughart II (American Thinker, 10/11/17)

How Debt Is Keeping the Lights Off in Puerto Rico, by Craig Eyermann (MyGovCost News & Blog, 10/16/17)

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4) Escaping the Military Budget Quagmire

Congress has recently authorized a U.S defense budget of $700 billion—$81 billion more than last year and even more than the Pentagon had requested. Unfortunately, none of this increase guarantees that Americans will sleep any easier. As usual, national security is marred by budgetary choices that favor pork for local economies at the expense of troop readiness and other inputs of genuine defense. “Essentially, the military is like a fleet of expensive sports cars that is short on money for gas, repair, and maintenance,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland in his latest column for the Huffington Post.

At a time when the national debt has climbed past $20 trillion, it’s imperative that the U.S. government provide security at lower cost. To do so, we could slash pork spending, close unneeded bases at home (as the Pentagon has long requested), and pull back from bases overseas. Repealing Congress’s two authorizations for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would go a long way toward promoting this ideal.

Ending the air and drone wars in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, and Libya would also enable lower military spending while reducing the risk of American lives. But unless such changes are made, the U.S. defense budget—which accounts for half of all military spending on the planet—will continue to slow the growth of the American economy, and without providing much in the way of genuine security for the American people.

National Defense Authorization Act Should Not Be Sacrosanct, by Ivan Eland (Huffington Post, 10/11/17)

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

Forthcoming book: Eleven Presidents: Promises vs. Results in Achieving Limited Government, by Ivan Eland

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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