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The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 20, Issue 1: January 3, 2018

  1. Death and Tax Reform?
  2. Common Sense about Common Core
  3. Toward Better Road Pricing
  4. Window Opens for Stronger U.S. Ties with Latin America
  5. Independent Updates


1) Death and Tax Reform?

A spirited debate about health impacts from tax reform broke out two weeks before Christmas on the op-ed pages of the Washington Post. Will the GOP tax legislation—now the law of the land—cause thousands (possibly tens of thousands) to die prematurely by reducing the number of people with healthcare coverage? Hardly. The idea that tax reform will cause a spike in mortality, a claim put forth by Harvard University economist Lawrence Summers and Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber, is “the silliest and most outrageous” attack yet made against tax reform, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman.

“As we have noted before, those in favor of government-run coverage for all have a history of distorting defenseless research results in order to claim a link between health insurance and premature death,” Goodman and co-author Linda Gorman write in a column at Forbes. Decades of studies, they claim, have found that the survival value of having health coverage is small, not large,

Moreover, it is the critics of tax reform who are part of the problem, at least in so far as they seek to perpetuate Obamacare’s individual mandate. “They continue to harm people by more than doubling premiums and by reducing the quality of coverage to something approximating Medicaid plus,” Goodman and Gorman conclude.

Will Tax Reform Kill People?, by John C. Goodman and Linda Gorman (Forbes, 12/22/17)

A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, by John C. Goodman

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

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2) Common Sense about Common Core

Common Core is one the most remarkable educational reforms in American history—remarkable in its speed and scope. In just five years, it was transformed from an idea into a working program that affects most public classrooms in the nation. And yet, few books have offered evidence for its superiority, as University of Arkansas professor emerita of education reform Sandra Stotsky explains in her informative review of one of the best books against Common Core, Joy Pullmann’s The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids (The Independent Review, Winter 2018).

“For sure, Joy Pullmann’s useful addition to the negative side of the library bookshelf on Common Core won’t be the last,” Strotsky writes. Pullmann carefully explains what Common Core is and how it came to be, including a heavy push from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

As helpful as Pullman’s short book is, however, the definitive book on the inferior academic quality of Common Core standards, their adoption by state boards of education, and the ineptitude or unwillingness of state legislators to fight for something better remains to be written, Stotsky argues. “Even so-called conservative organizations . . . don’t seem to understand why parents whose children are trapped in Common Cored public schools don’t see their (often governor-appointed) commissioners of education and (often governor-appointed) state boards of education as speaking for their children’s interests,” Stotsky writes.

The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids, by Joy Pullmann. Reviewed by Sandra Stotsky (The Independent Review, Winter 2018)

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

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

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3) Toward Better Road Pricing

On Monday, December 4, high-occupancy toll lanes went into effect for one of the worst commutes in the United States. Single drivers on the 10-mile stretch of Interstate 66 between Rosslyn, Virginia, and the Capital Beltway faced higher tolls when road congestion was high, lower tolls when traffic volume was lower. The results: Over the first two days, tolls ranged from $6.25 to $40, but were usually closer to $20; and gridlock dissipated, with car speeds averaging 54 to 57 miles per hour.

By the standard of traffic flow, the new change is a success. But improving the traffic commute requires more than just taming congestion on one particular road, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Powell. “Although variable pricing on I-66 is a step in the right direction, other freeways around the metro area remain unpriced and so will see increased congestion as people switch to avoid paying high tolls,” Powell writes in an op-ed for The Hill. “Complete variable pricing over the entire freeway system would lead to much less congestion, more efficient commutes, and in the long-run, more efficient land use.”

The challenge of overhauling the freeways, Powell adds, is made more difficult by public ownership. “Unlike private owners of scarce resources, government officials don’t profit when they correct the inefficient use of their roads,” he writes. Variable pricing on congested public roads is a good start, but “as the book Street Smart argues, we need comprehensive privatization and the freeing of competitive entrepreneurial discovery to solve our traffic problems,” Powell concludes.

What America’s Highways Truly Need: More Highway Traffic Tolls, by Benjamin Powell (The Hill, 12/14/17)

Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads, edited by Gabriel Roth

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4) Window Opens for Stronger U.S. Ties with Latin America

Despite obvious setbacks such as political repression in Venezuela, Latin America made progress on a number of fronts in 2017. Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru, for example, have new governments open to better relations with the United States. The window of opportunity, however, may slam shut if the Trump administration makes the wrong move. Unfortunately, the White House shows little awareness of the historic opportunity it faces, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa, in a new op-ed for Investor’s Business Daily.

Consider Mexico’s presidential election next July. Trump’s continuing rhetoric on a border wall and his vociferous opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement make it easier for left-wing demagogue Andreas Manual Obrador, currently the leading presidential candidate, to win the election. In contrast, a more constructive approach by the White House would improve the prospects of a more reasonable candidate. Similarly, a pro-trade approach with the rest of Latin America would also strengthen the hands of pro-U.S. politicians.

“It’s been a long time since most of Latin America shared America’s values and was a place with which the United States could do meaningful business,” writes Vargas Llosa. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime deal that President Trump would be foolish to forgo.”

What Trump Needs to Know about the Western Hemisphere, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (Investor’s Business Daily, 12/27/17)

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

Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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5) Independent Updates

MyGovCost: New Blog Posts

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