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

Volume 13, Issue 37: September 13, 2011

  1. 9/11: Then and Now
  2. On Civil Liberties and War, Obama Not Much Better than Bush
  3. Time to Scrap FEMA?
  4. The Stimulus Myth
  5. New Blog Posts

1) 9/11: Then and Now

In the days and weeks after the horrendous terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Independent Institute scholars anticipated the consequences of the policies that were being forged in Washington, DC, and offered viable alternatives—words that mostly went unheeded. Within days, the Institute posted its Statement on the Terrorist Attacks, a call for reason in place of panic. Robert Higgs argued that the federalization of airport security would be a poor way to foster the innovation and accountability necessary to make air travel safer. Along with Steve H. Hanke, he also warned that, following the pattern of other national crises, opportunists would exploit the terrorist attacks for their own ends. William J. Watkins, Jr., warned of the cost to civil liberties of the USA Patriot Act and executive orders that suspended due process for certain suspected terrorists. The late Larry J. Sechrest made the case for relying on privateers to pursue Osama bin Laden, noting their success in prosecuting the War of 1812 under the provision for Letters of Marque and Reprisal found in Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution. Wendy McElroy argued against the federal ban on private weapons aboard airplanes. Timor Kuran offered a well-informed alternative to common speculations about the motives of Islamist terrorists. Ivan Eland argued against military campaigns that left a large U.S. footprint. The above list is hardly exhaustive: in the intervening decade, virtually every issue of The Lighthouse has examined the folly of some wrong-headed policy response to the terrorist attacks.

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is a fitting occasion for the public to seek perspective on Washington’s response—an often-counterproductive approach to national security both at home and abroad. “If the goal has been to minimize pain and suffering, Homeland Security has proven to be a poor investment,” writes Independent Institute Research Fellow Art Carden in his latest column at Forbes.com. Indeed, those “investments” are supposed to target risks that have been grossly overblown. Security experts John Mueller and Mark Stewart estimate the annual probability of a terrorist killing an American citizen at 1 in 3.5 million, roughly the same chance of death from a lightning bolt, a deer, or a severe allergic reaction to peanuts. They conclude that it would take 1,667 terrorist incidents the size of the failed 2010 Times Square bombing attempt to justify current levels of Homeland Security spending. “Rather than dumping more money into equipment, rules, and agencies of dubious benefit,” Carden continues, “we should revive the Policy Analysis Market—an initiative that would have deployed the predictive power of markets in the fight against terrorism.”

In a new op-ed for the Huffington Post, Independent Institute Research Editor Anthony Gregory argues that the costs of the Bush/Obama wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been far greater than most estimates. Independent Institute Research Fellow Winslow Wheeler puts the cost of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, increased security costs in the United States, interest on war-related debt, and other expenses at $3.2 to $3.9 trillion. Add the value of the forgone production diverted from the private sector to the military, and the price tag is far greater. And then there is the death toll from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: U.S. deaths in both countries combined exceed 6,000. U.S. liberties and national character have also taken a blow, Gregory argues. Fourth Amendment and Habeas Corpus protections have suffered, and many Americans now accept policies of torture, warrantless wiretapping, and undeclared war as necessary for national security. “Indeed, what has been lost is priceless,” Gregory concludes.

9/11: Ten Years Later

The Priceless Price of the Post–9/11 Decade, by Anthony Gregory (Huffington Post, 9/9/11)

Risk and Reason Ten Years After 9/11, by Art Carden (Forbes.com, 9/9)

Statement on the Terrorist Attacks (9/15/01)

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2) On Civil Liberties and War, Obama Not Much Better than Bush

The discovery of documents that show Muammar Gadhafi’s intelligence service worked closely with the United States to receive suspected terrorists bound for Libya’s torture chambers raises a vital question: are President Obama’s policies on civil liberties better than those of his predecessor? According to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland, the answer is: not really.

Obama promised to close the torture-tainted U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay within one year of taking office, but in the face of congressional opposition he has removed that from his list of priorities. Military tribunals thus continue at the facility, although some prisoners won’t even get a military trial. Torture can still take place via the rendition loophole, and suspected terrorists who have not been charged with a crime can be detained as “material witnesses.”

Moreover, Obama has increased the U.S. military presence in some countries. According to Eland, public opinion polls indicate that U.S. foreign policies are less popular in Muslim countries now than they were at the end of the Bush administration. “Thus, Obama’s war on terror, expanded from even the aggressive Bush efforts, may in the long run be as counterproductive to the republic as his Bush Lite usurpation of civil liberties,” Eland concludes.

Comparing Obama and Bush on Civil Liberties and War, by Ivan Eland (9/7/11)

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

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

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3) Time to Scrap FEMA?

In the wake of Hurricane Irene, two Independent Institute Research Fellows are calling for an end to FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. According to economists Emily Skarbek and David Skarbek, the $6 billion-a-year agency is wasteful and driven by political interests rather than emergency needs. The public would be better off if it were shut down and the voluntary sector were allowed to flourish in its place.

The agency’s failures in New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina made landfall are legendary. What’s less known is that its operations are driven largely by political concerns. FEMA’s expenditures for disasters, the Skarbeks write in The Atlantic, “are strongly determined by whether the states affected are important to the president’s reelection and whether the local congressional representatives are members of FEMA oversight committees.”

The Skarbeks discuss two examples of how voluntary efforts have outperformed FEMA in response to major disasters. The first is the American Red Cross in the aftermath of Katrina. Within one week of the hurricane, the organization “opened up 275 shelters in nine states, and were providing nearly 500,000 hot meals to disaster victims every day,” they write. Their second example is the public’s response to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871—a charity drive organized by the Chicago Relief and Aid Society. “Within a month after the fire, the Society built homes from scratch for over 30,000 people—complete with stoves, crockery, and bedding,” the Skarbeks continue. “Over the course of the following year, the Society supplied over 150,000 people with weekly rations, including fuel and fresh beef, administered over 70,000 free small pox vaccinations, assisted people in finding employment, and provided free transportation on the railroads for people seeking to relocate.”

It’s Time to Get Rid of FEMA, by Emily Skarbek and David Skarbek (The Atlantic, 9/12/11)

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

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

Public and Private Responses to Katrina: What Can We Learn?, by Mary L. G. Theroux (10/20/05)

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4) The Stimulus Myth

Current political squabbles can affect how we see the past. Case in point: today’s debates about whether more federal spending can restore economic growth has led to renewed bickering about what got the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression, as Arthur Herman notes in a piece for The Weekly Standard. This article has special relevance for readers of The Lighthouse: Herman cites the work of Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs, author of Depression, War, and Cold War: Challenging the Myths of Conflict and Prosperity.

Did World War II pull the United States out of the Great Depression? Keynesians have said so for decades, but a close look at the relevant statistics reveals the opposite interpretation. “Economist Robert Higgs has shown that nongovernmental GNP growth, which was moving ahead in 1940, actually slowed down in 1942 and then slowed still further in 1943,” Herman writes. “Far from getting stimulated by the frenzy of government spending, the nongovernment share of GNP recovered its earlier pace of growth only once the war was over. In short, the war may have killed off a recovery already under way.”

Nor did World War II restore prosperity to the American economy. The belief that it did, Higgs shows, is a historical myth. The draft reduced official unemployment numbers, but military service yielded little pay under harsh conditions and cannot be reasonably equated with jobs in the civilian sector. Moreover, few durable and non-defense capital goods were produced by the new labor force, and real personal consumption, adjusted for population growth, changed very little between 1941 and 1944.

The Ultimate Stimulus? World War Two and Economic Growth (WeeklyStandard.com, 9/12/11)

Depression, War, and Cold War, by Robert Higgs

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

You can find the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language blog here.

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