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The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 19, Issue 45: October 31, 2017

  1. Education Savings Accounts Would Help California’s K-12 Students Thrive
  2. Homage to Catalonia
  3. Congress Should Fast-Track Arctic Oil Exploration
  4. Is the VA Mortally Wounded?
  5. Independent Updates


1) Education Savings Accounts Would Help California’s K-12 Students Thrive

Although California has long lagged the nation in academic performance, it could become a leader if lawmakers pass legislation to create Education Savings Accounts. ESAs, which are already operational in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee, put parents in charge of their children’s education funding so they can pay for things such as tuition, special education therapies, tutoring, and online curricula. This is done through a dedicated-use debit card that allows parents to purchase eligible education services and supplies.

“ESAs empower parents and guardians to customize their children’s education, and would foster an educational landscape that can quickly adapt to meet the diverse needs of students and their families,” writes Vicki E. Alger, a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, in her new Policy Report, Customized Learning for California: Helping K-12 Students Thrive with Education Savings Accounts, the go-to playbook for California ESAs.

Existing programs rely on public funding through legislative appropriations. In contrast, Alger proposes a California ESA program that relies on tax-credit contributions, much like tax-credit scholarship programs. ESA nonprofit organizations would raise private, tax-favored donations to fund students’ ESAs. (Like ESA programs across the country, they would be subject to audits to help prevent misspending.) By Alger’s calculations, this tax-credit ESA program would generate net savings to the state and local school districts. With the publication of Customized Learning for California, lawmakers in the nation’s largest state have no excuse for accepting educational mediocrity.

Customized Learning for California: Helping K–12 Students Thrive with Education Savings Accounts, by Vicki E. Alger (10/24/17)

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

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2) Homage to Catalonia

The prospects for Catalonia’s independence from Spain look bleak, with an estimated 300,000 pro-unity demonstrators marching in Barcelona last weekend and Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont reportedly fleeing to Belgium. Outside observers, even within the pro-liberty camp, disagree about what exactly it all means.

Some see the secessionist movement as a justified reaction against a central government ambivalent to the people’s wishes. Recalling the Spirit of 1776, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland, author of the forthcoming book Eleven Presidents: Promises vs. Results in Achieving Limited Government, urges Madrid to let Catalans determine their own future. “Spain’s use of force against the Catalan independence referendum, and the implicit support of that central government by the European Union and the United States, are especially appalling,” Eland writes in Newsweek. Others, however, emphasize that the Catalan nationalists aspire not to a freer society, but rather to more collectivist ends, including the imposition of their economic and cultural preferences on their compatriots.

“What the Catalonian nationalists are fighting for has little to do with individual self-determination,” Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa writes in The Beacon. “Under nationalist Catalan rule, those who wanted to speak another language, including Spanish, would have an impossible time. Can we blame millions of Catalans for believing their individual rights are more protected by remaining under the Spanish constitution?” In any case, Catalan secessionists will likely need to rethink their fundamental commitments if they seek to win the hearts and minds of those who fear that nominal independence would mean de facto subservience to a more collectivist, albeit more local, set of rulers.

A Few Thoughts on Catalonia, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (The Beacon, 10/24/17)

Spain Should Let the Catalans Decide Their Own Future, by Ivan Eland (Newsweek, 10/19/17)

Battle for Independence in Catalonia, with Ivan Eland (Fox Business Network, 10/27/17)

Spanish Central Government Threatens Catalonia, by William Watkins (The Beacon, 10/12/17)

Crisis in Catalonia Caused by Judiciary, by William Watkins (The Beacon, 10/9/17)

Lincoln Smiles on Madrid’s Effort to Prevent Independence Vote, by William Watkins (The Beacon, 10/1/17)

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3) Congress Should Fast-Track Arctic Oil Exploration

Nobody is quite sure how much oil sits beneath the sprawling, 19.6-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Although estimates range from 10 billion to 16 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil, we won’t have reliable numbers until exploratory seismic studies have been completed. The U.S. Department of Interior has approved the first step of this project, but congressional authorization is necessary to carry it forward. Given the stakes involved, Congress should act quickly, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II.

“The development of the nation’s energy resources will have a vital effect on how we all live in the next several years,” Shughart writes in The Hill. ANWR could play a particularly significant role, because an oil reserve of 16 billion barrels is capable of producing 1.4 million barrels daily, “more oil than the U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia,” Shughart notes. Fortunately, technological innovations, including 3-D seismic computational power, are reducing the environmental impact of oil exploration and development.

“ANWR alone cannot meet all of our energy needs, but it makes no sense to continue to keep a potentially huge source of domestic oil off-limits,” Shughart continues. Not only would economic growth improve as the result of more plentiful, less costly energy, but the federal deficit would fall “by the billions of dollars [that] oil companies will pay to lease tracts of land on the coastal plain and in other taxes and fees after development begins.”

ANWR’s Oil Reserves Are Too Important to Keep in the Ground, by William F. Shughart II (The Hill, 10/12/17)

Liquidating Federal Assets: A Promising Tool for Ending the U.S. Debt Crisis, by William F. Shughart II and Carl P. Close

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4) Is the VA Mortally Wounded?

Military veterans face numerous challenges, including a dysfunctional agency created to serve them. Three years ago, after highly publicized stories about unacceptable wait times, Congress passed legislation to enable vets to access healthcare from outside providers. Unfortunately, that law—the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act—has yet to patch up the problems, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Craig Eyermann in a recent post at MyGovCost News & Blog.

The law’s offspring—the Veterans Choice Program—is facing a major financial squeeze, despite having recently secured $2.1 billion in emergency funding. But this funding shortfall is a symptom, not the underlying malady. The financial gap is largely the result of increasing numbers of vets seeking healthcare outside the VA’s system of hospitals and clinics. Vets are abandoning the agency’s own providers.

“Veterans voting with their feet to seek out medical care provided through practitioners in the private sector are telling us the direction in which that reform needs to move,” Eyermann writes. Outsourcing all veteran care to other providers would save money that could be used for the Veterans Choice Program. Outsourcing all healthcare would also benefit another group: Native Americans enrolled in the Indian Health Service, which also directly provides healthcare. “At the very least, providing that same basic opportunity to be able to choose whether to stay within the Indian Health Service’s socialized health care system or to go outside of it for their medical care would be a good place to begin that reform,” Eyermann concludes.

Veterans Flee VA’s Failing Socialized Health Care, by Craig Eyermann (MyGovCost News & Blog, 10/19/17)

The Veterans’ Administration Has Been a Disaster Since Its Inception, by William F. Shughart II (The Beacon, 6/20/14)

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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