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The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 20, Issue 35: August 28, 2018

  1. Trump, Breastfeeding, and Civil Society
  2. Are Robots Coming for Your Job?
  3. Public Grows Disenchanted with the Ivory Tower
  4. U.S.-Turkey Alliance: Mostly One-Way Benefits
  5. The Beacon: New Blog Posts


1) Trump, Breastfeeding, and Civil Society

The Trump administration’s refusal to sign a World Health Assembly resolution on breastfeeding—along with allegations of intimidating some of its supporters—has stirred controversy. The statement adopted by the United Nations body calls on governments in developing countries not only to promote breastfeeding, but also to restrict advertisements for infant formula. In an op-ed for The Hill, Independent Institute Research Fellow Raymond J. March acknowledges that nursing is usually the healthiest option for babies and mothers, but that sometimes breastfeeding substitutes are necessary for health and/or economic reasons.

Also, the breastfeeding-resolution controversy raises a more fundamental issue, according to March. “[U]nderneath the allegations of scientific illiteracy, industry pressures, and ideologically tinged misrepresentations lies a crucial question,” he writes. “Can a group of governments effectively and appropriately promote breastfeeding? History and evidence raise doubts.” 

Foreign aid has had little success in promoting health and human development goals, including in lowering infant mortality. That finding, from a breakthrough academic paper by West Virginia University economist Claudia R. Williamson, raises serious concerns about the efficacy of foreign health-sector aid. In contrast, private actions to promote various health outcomes—including higher breastfeeding rates—show great promise. Indeed, civil society groups such as La Leche League and various human milk bank systems are succeeding even as government efforts flounder. “The sooner we can wean off government programs the better,” March concludes.

Breastfeeding Controversy Shows Need for Private Efforts—Not Government Campaigns, by Raymond J. March (The Hill, 8/15/18)

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2) Are Robots Coming for Your Job?

Worker anxiety over automation is in the news—and a hot topic at many a water cooler. One survey found that worries about job displacement from technological innovation is so stressful that it’s prompting some workers to call in sick. What can be done? Some policymakers tout universal basic income (UBI) as part of the remedy. But this proposal is a false promise, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Lawrence J. McQuillan and Policy Researcher Rebecca Sklar.

“UBI gives everyone money with nothing expected in return, encouraging people to disconnect from the workforce and society—diminishing human dignity—while creating unsustainable taxpayer obligations,” McQuillan and Sklar write in an op-ed for The Hill. The right approach, they argue, is more job retraining—but not the kind funded by the federal government, which is overwhelmingly wasteful.

Instead, McQuillan and Sklar call for rapid retraining by companies with strong incentives to do it right, imparting high-in-demand job skills. This includes not only retraining efforts offered by many employers, who collectively spend an estimated $590 billion on such efforts, but also by private technology academies that have popped up across the country, some offering moneyback guarantees of job placement for their accelerated learning programs. “Responsible governments will step aside and let private companies implement cutting-edge retraining to ensure that workers quickly acquire the skills necessary for success,” McQuillan and Sklar conclude.

The Solution for ‘Robogeddon’ Is Rapid Retraining, Not Guaranteed Income, by Lawrence J. McQuillan and Rebecca Sklar (The Hill, 8/23/18)

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3) Public Grows Disenchanted with the Ivory Tower

Is the American public losing faith in public higher education? A recent survey from the Pew Research Center suggests that broad swaths of people are indeed peeved by state-funded universities and colleges. As Independent Institute Senior Fellow Richard K. Vedder explains at Forbes, 61 percent of the survey respondents indicated they thought schools were “going in the wrong direction,” including 73 percent of Republicans (or GOP leaning) and 52 percent of Democrats (or Democratic leaning).

Some concerns involved rising tuition fees (a worry shared by almost all Democrats and most Republicans) and free speech restrictions (shared by many Republicans and some Democrats). One apparent by-product of the bipartisan upset: reduced state funding for certain institutions, including a few schools troubled by well-publicized student demonstrations, such as the University of Missouri and Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Public education has a major PR problem that it can’t afford to ignore.

One step toward fixing the problem—at least on the academic-freedom front—is to ditch certain Obama-era guidelines, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow William J. Watkins Jr. “Under the Obama administration, Title IX [of the Education Amendments of 1972] became a tool not to achieve [gender] participation-parity [in school sports], but to sanction kangaroo courts and silence certain viewpoints,” Watkins writes in an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has already cast aside some of the guidelines, but more needs to be done, Watkins argues. “Undoubtedly, Title IX-inspired speech codes and inquisitions stifle student speech and undermine the first principles of a free society.”

Weak Public Support for Universities Will Hurt Them Financially, by Richard K. Vedder (Forbes, 8/13/18)

Let’s Restore Constitutional Protections on U.S. College Campuses, by William J. Watkins, Jr (Sacramento Bee, 5/24/18)

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4) U.S.-Turkey Alliance: Mostly One-Way Benefits

President Trump’s recent dust-up with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which only superficially is about trade tariffs, offers an opportunity to note what Turkey means to the United States. To be more precise, it’s a fitting time to correct misperceptions about Ankara’s importance for Main Street, USA. As Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland notes in his latest op-ed, this one published in the Washington Times, Turkey is overrated as a U.S. strategic ally.

To be sure, European leaders derive political advantages from certain policies and attributes of Turkey, such as its serving as a physical buffer from waves of refugees escaping various Mideast conflicts, and thus helping to contain Europe’s anti-immigrant backlash. And Turkey obviously enjoys vital benefits from its 66-year membership in NATO, especially fewer worries about Russian firepower. “However, Turkish importance to American security is much less than it is to U.S. imperial policing,” Eland writes.

Imperial policing, of course, must never be confused with actual national security, a mistake that has mired the American military in senseless brushfire wars from Africa to Afghanistan, at the expense of greater safeguards against a rising China. “Thus,” Eland writes, “the United States needs to pander to Turkey only if it still needlessly desires to be the beat cop in the perpetual turmoil of the Middle East and Central and Southwest Asia.”

How Turkey Is Overrated as a Strategic Ally, by Ivan Eland (The Washington Times, 8/22/18)

The Truth about Turkey, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (The Beacon, 8/21/18)

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5) The Beacon: New Blog Posts

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