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The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 19, Issue 52: December 19, 2017

  1. State ESAs: The Gold Standard for School Choice
  2. Debating Immigration: Symposium in The Independent Review
  3. Telemedicine vs. Healthcare Luddites
  4. Bill of Rights Day: Cause for Celebration?
  5. Independent Updates


1) State ESAs: The Gold Standard for School Choice

The tax bill heading for a final vote would greatly expand tax-advantaged education savings programs. Under current law, these Section 529 plans (named after the enabling provision in the IRS code) can be used only to pay college expenses, but the new legislation would permit tax-exempt savings for K-12 education spending—up to $10,000 a year for tuition at private or parochial schools. This is great news for those families who can afford to sock away money for their children’s education. However, the expansion of 529 plans is no substitute for creating K-12 education savings account programs with universal eligibility. State ESAs remain the new gold standard for school choice.

ESAs help parents pay for their children’s private education—11,000 kids in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee already participate in them. ESA legislation was also introduced to 21 other states in this year, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki E. Alger in an op-ed for the Washington Times. Most ESA programs fund the child’s accounts using public money that other otherwise go to his or her local public school, but Arkansas, Missouri, New Hampshire and Wyoming are considering programs that are privately managed or funded, much like a tax-credit scholarship program.

“California could readily enact this kind of ESA Program,” Alger writes. “It has nearly 190,000 tax-exempt charitable organizations, along with a well-established regulatory and oversight infrastructure.” Not only does it have the groundwork already in place, but as Alger first showed in her 52-page report Customized Learning for California, a tax-credit ESA program could be structured to pay for itself even if as few as one or two percent of California’s K-12 students participated. More importantly, it would vastly improve the educational opportunities for children in the nation’s most populous state.

Education Savings Accounts: A Golden Opportunity for California Students, by Vicki E. Alger (The Washington Times, 12/7/17)

Want a Choice Not an Echo in Education? Then Keep the Feds Out, by Vicki Alger (The Beacon, 11/27/17)

Customized Learning for California: Helping K–12 Students Thrive with Education Savings Accounts, by Vicki E. Alger

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

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2) Debating Immigration: Symposium in The Independent Review

The United States has long been the top destination for migrants, but in recent years more people than ever—about 1 million annually—have found their way to the land that John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan called “a nation of immigrants.” Although the influx has been met with public controversy, social scientists have been largely ambivalent or optimistic, viewing the free movement of workers as a net benefit to the United States akin to the gains from international free trade. However, not every academic researcher holds this view. Hence the symposium on immigration policy in the winter 2018 issue of The Independent Review.

As journal co-editor Robert M. Whaples writes, “One noted exception to this ‘economistic perspective’ is George Borjas—author of a stream of important research articles on the economics of immigration and a recent, influential book: We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative.” Following the introductory essay by Whaples and the feature article by Borjas are two replies, one by Garret Jones, author of Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own, and one by Independent Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Powell, editor of The Economics of Immigration: Market-Based Approaches, Social Science, and Public Policy.

It’s impossible to do justice to these economists’ viewpoints in one short paragraph, but the following quotes may give you a taste. Borjas: “Immigration [to the United States] is responsible for a huge redistribution of wealth, totaling around half-a-trillion dollars per year, from native workers who compete with immigrants to those natives who use or employ immigrant labor.” Powell: “Borjas’s own writings tend to filter things in the opposite direction, exaggerating the costs and minimizing the benefits of immigration.” Jones: “One side effect of immigration deserves particular attention: the populist backlash against immigration itself.” Whaples: “In the interdisciplinary spirit of The Independent Review, we hope that these articles will push readers to consider immigration in its broadest context.” We publish, you decide!

The Independent Review: A Journal of Political Economy (Winter 2018)

Subscribe and select your free book!

The Economics of Immigration: Market-Based Approaches, Social Science, and Public Policy, edited by Benjamin Powell

Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America, by Alvaro Vagas Llosa

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3) Telemedicine vs. Healthcare Luddites

Approximately seven out of 10 healthcare providers offer telemedicine services of one form or another, including the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Health Administration. The agency would like to expand its offerings to better serve the nearly one-fourth of veterans disabled by combat injuries, but opposition is strong. It’s also largely misguided, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Raymond J. March.

In his latest op-ed on healthcare innovation, March explains how telemedicine is delivering “high-quality medical care even in challenging situations.” Physicians in Delaware, for example, have served more than 2,500 patients using the MEND telemedicine program, teaching a mother, for example, how to determine whether or not her baby’s hernia requires a trip to the emergency room.

Similarly, physicians in New Mexico have used telemedicine to determine whether or not rural patients require a helicopter evacuation to a hospital. Their technology-enabled distance consultations have curbed overcrowding at emergency rooms as well as conserved scare resources better used for actual emergencies. What’s not to like? Unfortunately, there are many critics who are more worried about hypothetical technology-enabled misdiagnoses than about the demonstrable risks from restricting access to innovation. “A long list of veterans and others desperately awaiting care would agree,” March concludes.

Telemedicine: Answering the Call of Those Who Need It Most, by Raymond J. March (RealClear Health, 12/11/17)

Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, by John C. Goodman

FDAReview.org – Is the Food and Drug Administration Safe and Effective?

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4) Bill of Rights Day: Cause for Celebration?

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared December 15 as Bill of Rights Day. It’s safe to say he meant this as a cause for celebration. Many patriots of the Founding era, however, were suspicious of the Constitution’s first 10 amendments, fearing they were—at best—insufficient for preserving the rights of citizens against federal encroachment. History has proven those fears were justified, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow William J. Watkins Jr., author of Crossroads for Liberty: Recovering the Anti-Federalist Values of America’s First Constitution.

First, it’s worth considering that many delegates to the constitutional convention were deeply distressed that, as Watkins puts it in an op-ed for the Daily Caller, “no amendments were considered that would have curbed Congress’s power to borrow money, levy direct taxes, or stay in power without formal term limits.” It’s also worth recalling that even something as basic as the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press were ignored a mere seven years after the Constitution’s ratification, when the Sedition Act of 1798 criminalized criticisms of the national government. These are just starting points for tracing the cracks in the Bill of Rights. See Watkins’s above-mentioned book for the complete structural failure analysis.

“When we measure the first 10 amendments against what the states asked for, we can see that the Federalists cheated Americans out of real limitations on federal power,” Watkins writes. “We are better off with our Bill of Rights than with nothing, but we are poorer for the first Congress’s refusal to consider amendments of substance.”

Bill of Rights Day and National Mourning, by William J. Watkins Jr. (The Daily Caller, 12/15/17)

Crossroads for Liberty: Recovering the Anti-Federalist Values of America’s First Constitution, by William J. Watkins Jr.

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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