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The Lighthouse


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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
Subscribe now, or browse Back Issues.

Volume 13, Issue 11: March 15, 2011

  1. Natural Disasters and Economic Reasoning
  2. U.S. Defense Spending Weakens Fiscal Security
  3. Climate Change Accord to Expire in 2012
  4. Exciting Updates for Our Student Programs!
  5. New Blog Posts

1) Natural Disasters and Economic Reasoning

Japan’s earthquake and tsunami are catastrophes of epic proportions. As rescue workers cope with the thousands of deaths, injuries, missing persons, and rubble, officials are working to avert potential disaster from radiation leaks at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant and elsewhere. Columbia University radiation biophysicist David Brenner argues that favorable wind conditions will help minimize exposure to hazardous levels of radiation, and make the harm closer to the order of Three Mile Island, rather than Chernobyl. But the situation is fluid, and front-line news sources can provide more timely information than The Lighthouse.

What The Lighthouse can do effectively is help provide readers with context.

Natural disasters are often made worse by disastrous public policies, as the Independent Institute has explained tirelessly over the years. Below are a few blog posts, newspaper op-eds, and journal articles on a variety of issues related to disaster mitigation and recovery. We hope they shed light on the public-policy issues that are sure to follow.

“Larry Summers Claims Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami Disaster Will Boost Economy,” by David Theroux (The Beacon, 3/12/11)

“Walking on Broken Glass?” by Art Carden (Forbes.com, 3/12/11)

“Preventing Post-Disaster Price Gouging Yields Devastating Results,” by Art Carden (3/6/09)

“Property Insurance for Coastal Residents: Governments ‘Ill Wind,’” by Jeffrey R. Pompe and James R. Rinehart (The Independent Review, Fall 2008)

“Disaster Relief as Bad Public Policy,” by William F. Shughart II (The Independent Review, Spring 2011)

“The Use of Knowledge in Natural-Disaster Relief Management,” by Peter T. Leeson and Russell S. Sobel (The Independent Review, Spring 2007)

“The Long Road Back: Signal Noise in the Post-Katrina Context,” by Emily Chamlee-Wright (The Independent Review, Fall 2007)

The Political and Cultural Economy of Recovery: Social Learning in a Post-Disaster Environment, by Emily Chamlee-Wright, reviewed by Jeffrey J. Pompe (The Independent Review, Spring 2011)

“The Failed Promise of Nuclear Power,” by William Beaver (The Independent Review, Winter 2011)

“The Demise of Yucca Mountain,” by William Beaver (The Independent Review, Spring 2010)

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2) U.S. Defense Spending Weakens Fiscal Security

The United States spends more money on defense than any other country on the planet—seven times the amount allocated by the second largest spender, China. The Pentagon budget has risen dramatically over the past decade, and President Obama is projected to spend more on the military than George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan ever did. The problem stems not merely from the $1.3 trillion price tag on the prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: the share of defense spending unrelated to those wars—so-called “base” spending—has risen by $1 trillion since 2001.

Knowing this context helps us to assess Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s claim that a one percent cut in military spending would amount to a “crisis.” Simply put, it’s bogus. “The real crisis is what has been happening to our forces,” writes defense budget expert and Independent Institute Research Fellow Winslow Wheeler in an op-ed for the Hill. Despite the Pentagon’s additional trillions of dollars, the defense capabilities of the armed forces have fallen, if the sizes of the Navy’s “battleforce,” the Air Force’s combat squadrons, and the Army’s brigade combat team equivalents are reliable indicators.

“Worse, the Pentagon can’t track its own inventory, financial transactions, or even what it has paid out to contractors and received in return,” Wheeler continues. “Despite the accountability clause of the Constitution, the General Accounting Act of 1921, and the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, the Pentagon has maintained itself in a state where it cannot be audited. But then, if I were presiding over this mess, I would not want you to know the facts either.”

“The Defense Budget: Ignorance Is Not Bliss,” by Winslow T. Wheeler (The Hill, 3/9/11)

Congress, the Defense Budget, and Pork: A Snout-to-Tail Description of Congress’ Foremost Concern in National Security Legislation, by Winslow T. Wheeler

Arms, Politics, and the Economy, edited by Robert Higgs

Depression, War, and Cold War: Challenging the Myths of Conflict and Prosperity, by Robert Higgs

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3) Climate Change Accord to Expire in 2012

The Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty that sought to cut greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized nations approximately 5 percent below 1990 levels, has enriched ethanol refiners and corn growers but has done nothing good for society at large. The U.S. Senate wisely rejected Kyoto in a vote of 95 to 0, but that act of common sense has nothing to do with the accord’s substantive failures, according to atmospheric physicist and Independent Institute Research Fellow S. Fred Singer. “Even if it had been punctiliously followed by all of the nations who ratified it,” Singer writes, “it would have achieved essentially nothing—a measly reduction in the calculated temperatures half a century hence of 0.02 degrees C—an amount too small to even measure.”

Countries that abide by the Kyoto Protocol would do well to lift their emission mandates when the accord expires next year. Its stimulatory effect on the market for ethanol and other bio-fuels has taken a sizable toll on some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, Singer argues. “Among the worst of the consequences of this ‘bio-fuel craze’ has been the rise in the world price of corn—doubling to $7 a bushel in the past six months—wheat, and other agricultural commodities,” Singer writes. “It has led to food riots in many developing nations and served to perpetuate poverty throughout the world.”

Unfortunately, although cap-and-trade legislation perished in Congress last year, the general idea of mandating reductions of carbon dioxide emissions did not. “President Obama is calling for an 80% reduction by 2050,” Singer continues. “As he promised during the 2008 campaign, under his plan ‘electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.’” It would be cynical not to take the President at his word.

“Good Bye, Kyoto,” by S. Fred Singer (American Thinker, 3/13/11)

Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate, by S. Fred Singer

“After Kyoto: A Global Scramble for Advantage,” by Bruce Yandle (The Independent Review, Summer 1999)

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4) Exciting Updates for Our Student Programs!

Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs has joined the faculty of our College Summer Seminar! In addition to editing our quarterly journal, The Independent Review, he has authored classic books such as Crisis and Leviathan, Depression, War, and Cold War, and Against Leviathan.

In addition, a generous grant has enabled us to lower the price of our college seminar to $475. Offering five days of stimulating lectures, discussion, networking, and camaraderie, our summer seminars are great opportunities for students to connect with liberty-minded peers and faculty. (Scholarships are available for both our high-school seminar and our college seminar.)

Also, we are still accepting applications for our Summer Internship Program. Based in Oakland, California, the internship exposes students to the excitement of a top public-policy think tank. Internships are available in Communications, Marketing, Publications, Acquisitions, and Development. Join us this summer and help advance the cause of liberty.

The Challenge of Liberty Summer Seminars

High-school Session: June 20-24
College Session: August 1-5

Independent Institute Summer Internship Program

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

The Independent Institute’s Spanish-language blog is available here.

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