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

Volume 13, Issue 20: May 17, 2011

  1. What the U.S. Fiscal Crisis Means for You and Your Family
  2. Revealing the Roots of U.S. Wars
  3. Getting Rich at Others’ Expense
  4. Alvaro Vargas Llosa Takes Up Investment Research
  5. New Blog Posts

1) What the U.S. Fiscal Crisis Means for You and Your Family

How can American taxpayers better grasp the practical meaning of runaway federal deficits and a mounting national debt? After all, it’s hard for the human mind to understand the import of a billion dollars, let alone hundreds of billions or more than a trillion dollars. readmorelink

Emily Skarbek, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation, discussed this problem—and one powerful solution—last week with Nick Gillespie at Reason TV. Be sure to catch the video.

The Government Cost Calculator—available for free at MyGovCost.org—is an immensely valuable tool, Skarbek explains. It enables a taxpayer to estimate his or her lifetime federal tax liability. It also helps users see just how much of their income taxes are spent on specific programs such as Social Security, Medicare, defense, and environmental regulations—and to calculate the amount of money they could have earned had their tax dollars been invested in a private account that yielded the stock market’s historical average return.

Video: Emily Skarbek on the Government Cost Calculator Reason.tv, 5/12/11

The Government Cost Calculator: MyGovCost.org

The Federal Deficit: Why You Should Care by Emily Skarbek (StarNews Online, 4/16/11)

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2) Revealing the Roots of U.S. Wars

America’s denial of the roots of 9/11 is not a unique phenomenon in U.S. history, according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty. Although Osama Bin Laden told the world why he attacked—he detested specific U.S. policies in the Middle East—Americans did not want to hear this, just as they wished not to learn about U.S. policies that precipitated other security crises.

Like the citizens of many other countries, Americans believe that their government is blameless when it comes to taking up arms against other peoples: wars are simply thrust upon their government, which they absolve of any responsibility for helping to create the conditions that precipitated the crises. The pattern, Eland argues in his latest op-ed, can be found in the popular perception of the causes of the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Battle of Little Bighorn, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, the Iran hostage crisis, and the U.S. invasion of Grenada.

Americans need to better learn their history—and to see what their government does in their name. Were they to do so, they would learn scores of unacknowledged truths, such as that the War of 1812 was instigated by congressional “war hawks” who sought to grab land from Canada, that the Mexican-American War was precipitated by President James Polk’s blockade of the Rio Grande, and that the attack on Pearl Harbor resulted from the United States cutting off oil and other vital resources to Japan. “American history vindicates the old saying that ‘truth is the first casualty of war,’ Eland writes, “but the passage of time should allow a republic to undertake a more honest and dispassionate examination of historical events. It rarely does, with truth being swept under the rug in favor of assuming uncaused indignities.”

‘Unprovoked’ Attacks, From 1812 to 9/11 by Ivan Eland (5/11/11)

The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, by Ivan Eland

Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, by Ivan Eland

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3) Getting Rich at Others’ Expense

Wanna get rich? You might try offering a product or service that the paying public will consider valuable. But if building the proverbial better mousetrap and waiting for the world to beat a path to your door doesn’t suit you, you could resort to direct theft—but risk getting caught. Or, if you can afford bribery (or you’re a good political organizer), you might manipulate a government official into enriching you at others’ expense.

But there’s also a fourth way, for those who are especially sneaky: you could get the government to throttle your competitors, such as by erecting a regulatory barrier that’s easier for you to negotiate. Just be sure the hurdle is raised in the name of promoting public safety, Independent Institute Research Fellow Art Carden explains in his latest column at Forbes.com.

“To consider one example, long-haul trucking companies are trying this by seeking federal regulations that would require independent truckers to install expensive GPS tracking systems in their trucks,” Carden writes. “Naturally, the lobbyists are saying ‘public safety,’ but I think the real story is that this will allow bigger, established trucking companies to shield themselves from smaller, independent competitors.

Getting Rich Through Special Privilege by Art Carden (Forbes.com, 5/6/11)

More by Art Carden

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4) Alvaro Vargas Llosa Takes Up Investment Research

After five years of writing for the Washington Post Writers Group, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa has announced a change: he is cutting back on some of his journalistic endeavors. His celebrated weekly column will go by the wayside. Thanks to the stock market dip of 2008, he will be devoting his time to learning the wealth-creation methods of the world’s greatest investors.

The reason is partly practical and partly intellectual. To better recover from the hit he took during the past bear market, Vargas Llosa immersed himself in “value investing”: the school of securities analysis pioneered by Benjamin Graham and made famous by his immensely successful protégé Warren Buffet. His new avocation, Vargas Llosa now realizes, brings both challenges and opportunities.

“I had not planned on reshaping my life at 45,” he writes in the final installment of his column, “but I want to be fully cognizant of what is coming the next time the monetary excesses of government, the erratic behavior of banks, and the wantonness of Mr. Public produce another crash. I also crave for the sheer intellectual pleasure of understanding how individual businesses work in various industries and why one should or should not invest in them. There is something riveting about the angels and demons of human nature, the market economy and modern society to be learned from this kind of study. I hope to write about it someday.”

Hasta La Vista by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (5/11/11) Spanish Translation

Lessons from the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, edited by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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

The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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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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