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The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 20, Issue 32: August 7, 2018

  1. Cleaning Up the Ocean Blue, Privately
  2. Treasury’s Gift: Regulatory Relief for Health Insurance Price Hikes
  3. Is That Pizza for Pick-up or Drone Delivery?
  4. Hans Solo vs. Immigrant Family Separations
  5. The Beacon: New Blog Posts


1) Cleaning Up the Ocean Blue, Privately

Ocean pollution, especially the sea’s plastic trash, has received much news coverage lately, prompting calls for banning plastic straws and food containers throughout the United States, even though most marine waste originates in the developing world. A non-profit based in Alameda, Calif.—Ocean Cleanup—is now developing technology it hopes will rid the planet of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the gigantic swirl of ocean debris three times the size of California. It’s a bold, promising step in the right direction, though ultimately a more fundamental strategy is necessary, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Lawrence J. McQuillan and Policy Researcher George L. Tibbitts.

“Even if Ocean Cleanup eliminates the garbage patch, the world needs an institutional fix to prevent the problem from recurring,” write McQuillan and Tibbitts, in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle. What the world’s oceans need, they argue, is a rethinking of the way ocean resources are controlled so as to end the tragedy of the commons.

“Because nobody owns an ocean, or even part of an ocean, nobody has a personal incentive to monitor and protect the value of an ocean’s resources by enforcing limits on plastic dumping, overfishing and contamination by other pollutants,” McQuillan and Tibbitts write. “The best solution would be an international convention to establish private property rights to the world’s oceans, especially in heavily impacted zones.” Ocean privatization isn’t as radical as some would make it: The Nature Conservancy and similar nonprofit groups have already shown on a smaller scale that private ownership creates strong incentives for good environmental stewardship.

How to Eliminate the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, by Lawrence J. McQuillan and George L. Tibbitts (San Francisco Chronicle, 8/6/18)

Plastic Pollution: Bans vs. Recycling Solutions, by Katie Colton, Camille Harmer, Brian Isom, and William F. Shughart II (5/14/18)

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2) Treasury’s Gift: Regulatory Relief for Health Insurance Price Hikes

The U.S. Treasury department has announced a new break for the small minority of consumers in the individual health-insurance market. The department is tripling to 36 months the length of eligibility for short-term, limited-duration health plans—coverage exempt from Obama-era benefit mandates and premium regulations. The new ruling also allows the sale of health-status insurance to protect consumers from premium changes when they renew their policies.

“By stringing together these two types of insurance, people will likely be able to remain insured indefinitely,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman in his latest piece at Forbes. “The new plans will probably include most doctors and hospitals in their networks. And they are likely to look like the kind of insurance that was popular before we had Obamacare.”

The new Treasury ruling is motivated in part by skyrocketing premiums and soaring deductibles in the individual market—the result of cities, counties, states, and large employers pushing their high-cost retirees off their group plans. This problem, Goodman believes, imposes a cost that the retirees shouldn’t have to bear alone. “There is no reason to make the small number of people who buy their own insurance shoulder the entire cost, and to build the health equivalent of a Berlin Wall in an effort to keep them from paying actuarially fair prices for insurance that meets their needs,” Goodman concludes.

Trump Throws a Life Belt to People Who Buy Their Own Health Insurance, by John C. Goodman (Forbes, 8/6/18)

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

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3) Is That Pizza for Pick-up or Drone Delivery?

Unmanned aerial vehicles—drones—are poised to become the Next Big Thing in delivery transportation, hauling small shipments of everything from emergency medicines to gourmet pizzas for game night. Their full potential won’t be maximized, however, without a system that keeps drones from crashing into each other. To make the skies safe for drone proliferation, policymakers must foster a decentralized system of drone traffic control—completely the opposite of the air-traffic control system in place since the 1940s, explains Independent Institute Research Fellow Randall G. Holcombe, in an op-ed for the Las Vegas Sun.

“One advantage of a decentralized system ... is that the capacity of the system can be much greater,” writes Holcombe, whose op-ed draws on a longer article he wrote for the symposium on drones in the summer issue of The Independent Review.

Fortunately, policymakers seem to grasp the urgency: NASA and the FAA are collaborating to develop technology that enhances drones’ ability to detect one another, thereby enabling a decentralized system and mitigating the rationale for a top-down, centralized one. Interestingly, this is similar to technology already in use on today’s jet airliners. “One ironic aspect of NASA’s plan for drones is that, if implemented as it is planned, not only could it facilitate the proliferation of drones, but it could also provide a model for modernizing our air traffic control system for airliners beyond its 1940s design and into the 21st century,” Holcombe concludes.

Creating Safe Skies as Drones Proliferate, by Randall G. Holcombe (Las Vegas Sun, 7/18/18)

Introduction: Symposium on Drones, by Christopher J. Coyne (The Independent Review, 2018)

Subscribe to The Independent Review and choose a free gift!

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4) Hans Solo vs. Immigrant Family Separations

Can movies make you politically smarter? In the case of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the answer is yes, according to film critic and Independent Institute Research Fellow Samuel R. Staley. Had White House officials watched trailers of the film before the administration’s family-separation border policy began in April, they might have accurately predicted the public outcry that eventually led President Trump to formally reverse course on June 20.

As Staley notes, it’s significant that the film’s inciting incident—the early scene that drives the rest of the story—is when a young Hans Solo becomes separated from his former girlfriend Qi’ra. “Director Ron Howard and screenwriters Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan chose their soul-tearing separation as the inciting incident with calculating deliberation,” Staley writes in a piece at the Foundation for Economic Education. “They knew that audiences the world over would feel the couple’s anguish so deeply as to establish an immediate and lasting bond with Solo and his quest to reunite with Qi’ra.”

At the highest levels, the Trump administration woefully underestimated the popular backlash against its policy of separating children and parents caught entering the United States from Mexico illegally. “Solutions to illegal immigration can be crafted,” Staley writes, “but the answer is not to inflict ever-greater levels of trauma on those seeking refuge and rebirth in the United States. Perhaps policymakers should start by looking at immigrants as human beings with aspirations, desires, and dreams essentially similarly to their own.”

How ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Helps Us Understand the Outrage Over U.S. Immigration Policies that Separated Families, by Samuel R. Staley (FEE.org, 7/24/18)

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

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

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5) The Beacon: New Blog Posts

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