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The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 19, Issue 46: November 7, 2017

  1. How to Curb Wildfires: Emphasize Prevention and Local Control
  2. The Path Forward for K-12 Educational Excellence
  3. Amazon’s Next HQ: Beyond the Hype
  4. The Russian Revolution and the Terror of Marxism-Leninism
  5. Independent Updates


1) How to Curb Wildfires: Emphasize Prevention and Local Control

California’s deadly wildfires have exposed two major flaws in state fire policy: Sacramento policymakers have allocated too few budget dollars toward fire prevention and have given local communities too little authority and assistance for pursuing sensible priorities. This isn’t exactly news—the Sacramento Bee sounded the alarm in 2015—but the October fires that devastated Napa and Sonoma counties and elsewhere might finally get policymakers to take action.

Shifting funds toward prevention means that greater amounts of dry underbrush would be cleared away, robbing massive fires of their fuel. More control for local communities means that people living closest to the state’s fire risks would become empowered to take matters into their own hands; this would also improve accountability. Ideally, reform would include privatization of government-owned land, resulting in even greater alignment of incentives and objectives, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Lawrence J. McQuillan.

“Local communities have lost too much self-determination,” writes McQuillan, in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle. “As recent catastrophes show, it’s time to empower local fire districts and private landowners to direct prevention efforts year-round, and increase their own proactive capabilities.”

CAL FIRE Must Prioritize Prevention, by Lawrence J. McQuillan (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/31/17)

California Burning: CAL FIRE Wins Dishonor of the California Golden Fleece Award, by Lawrence J. McQuillan (3/29/17)

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2) The Path Forward for K-12 Educational Excellence

“Last month marked the 38th anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Department of Education,” writes Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki E. Alger in a new piece for The Beacon. The department is nothing to celebrate. Math and reading performance of 17 year olds is virtually unchanged from the early 1970s, with a majority not reaching proficiency. The solution isn’t to increase funding for the agency, she argues, but rather to enact Education Savings Accounts.

“The ESA concept is simple,” Alger continues. “Parents [of K-12 students] use a type of dedicated-use debit card to purchase the educational services and materials they think are best for their children, and any leftover funds remain in students’ ESAs for future expenses, such as college tuition.” In Arizona and a few other states that have ESA programs, the accounts are funded by state governments. Alger, however, proposes that they be funded by non-profit groups whose donors would receive tax credits for ESA contributions, similar to the tax-credit scholarship programs in 18 states across the country.

“ESAs empower parents to customize their children’s education, from the schools they attend, to the teachers and tutors who instruct them, the online courses their children take, and even the special education therapies their children receive,” writes Alger, whose research has inspired much legislation. If you missed last week’s issue of The Lighthouse, be sure to check out Customized Learning for California, Alger’s proposal for a tax-credit ESA program that would return the Golden State to the upper ranks in K-12 education.

Why Subsidize the U.S. Department of Education When We Could be Funding ESAs Ourselves?, by Vicki E. Alger (The Beacon, 11/3/17)

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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3) Amazon’s Next HQ: Beyond the Hype

Amazon’s search for a home for its second corporate headquarters is like the pre-launch hype for a gizmo that promises more than it can deliver. The promised 50,000 jobs will be staffed mostly by workers who leave their gigs at other companies. Boosters will tout the “multiplier effect” that will take place in the winning city—the secondary and tertiary economic activity resulting from having a new company in town—but any displaced activity will be disbursed among other companies and municipalities, and likely go underreported. And don’t bet that cities offering Amazon a fat tax break will estimate the future stress on tax-funded roads, mass transit, and schools as new workers and their families move into town.

“The social waste in time, money, and effort devoted to buying Amazon’s favor will be monumental, dwarfing whatever benefits net of costs are captured by the winning city,” write Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II and University of Mississippi economics professor Thomas A. Garret in an op-ed in American Thinker.

The same short-sighted thinking has resulted in cities offering massive uneconomic subsidies to entice sports stadium developers. Unfortunately, the lesson has yet to sink in. New Jersey has already offered Amazon incentives worth $7 billion over ten years. Reportedly, 237 other cities have also made offers to host Jeff Bezos’s HQ2. Regardless of who’s left holding the bag, the winning city should save its receipts—hopefully Amazon will continue its popular return policy.

Only Amazon Wins, by William F. Shughart II and Thomas A. Garrett (American Thinker, 10/31/17)

Related book review: They Play, You Pay: Why Taxpayers Build Ballparks, Stadiums, and Arenas for Billionaire Owners and Millionaire Players by James T. Bennett. Reviewed by Raymond D. Sauer (The Independent Review, Winter 2014)

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4) The Russian Revolution and the Terror of Marxism-Leninism

November 7 marks the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s ouster of the months-old Russian Provisional Government. But the Bolshevik Revolution didn’t end then: It took a few more years of party discipline and systematic terror for Lenin to defeat the White Army, eliminate all political opposition, and consolidate Communist rule—terror that would intensify under Stalin. “In its monstrosity, this terror is unrivaled in the course of human history,” writes Yuri N. Maltsev, a Russian émigré economics professor at Carthage College, in an op-ed for The Daily Caller.

Lenin targeted the bedrock of the bourgeoisie: family, religion, and civil society. In 1918, he decreed the nationalization of church property and launched an unprecedented attack on religious people. “Almost all clergy and millions of believers of all (traditional) religions were shot or sent to labor camps,” continues Maltsev, who wrote a longer article on Soviet oppression for a symposium in The Independent Review. Scientists, whose commitment to independent thought might collide with Communist conformity, were also major targets. Under Stalin, even orphans of murdered “enemies of the state” were deemed ripe for legal imprisonment.

Despite more than seven decades of oppressive rule, however, the Soviet leadership never figured out how to reliably deliver basic goods, let alone create a worker’s paradise. “The system had no means to rationally allocate resources in the absence of property rights and the market institutions that rely on them,” Maltsev writes. “Yet, socialism still has sympathizers in the West.”

The Russian Revolution and Terror of Marxism-Leninism, by Yuri N. Maltsev (The Daily Caller, 10/31/17)

Mass Murder and Public Slavery: The Soviet Experience, by Yuri N. Maltsev (The Independent Review, Fall 2017)

The 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution: A Symposium (The Independent Review, Fall 2017)

Subscribe to The Independent Review

Alienation and the Soviet Economy: The Collapse of the Socialist Era, by Paul Craig Roberts

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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