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

Volume 13, Issue 47: November 22, 2011

  1. Walesa to Protesters: Build a Consensus for Positive Change
  2. Immigration Foes Plagued by Dubious Claims
  3. New Temperature Studies Don’t Settle the Climate Debate
  4. Thanksgiving and the Incentives for Abundance
  5. New Blog Posts

1) Walesa to Protesters: Build a Consensus for Positive Change

Human rights activist and former President of Poland Lech Walesa—recipient of a 2011 Alexis de Tocqueville Award—offers advice to the world’s protesters, in an op-ed published last week in the San Francisco Chronicle in conjunction with the Independent Institute’s Gala for Liberty. Dislike of the status quo is not enough, he argues; if you wish to see your aspirations and activism result in lasting good, you must work to build a consensus for constructive reform.

“While today’s protesters have many legitimate concerns, let me assure them that instead of either cronyism or greater government control, it is dialogue and solidarity leading to freedom that we should all strive for,” he writes. “What is needed in addition are sound solutions that are mindful of both the effects of government powers and the importance of vital freedoms. These solutions have to be earned through dialogue between bankers, entrepreneurs, public administrators, labor unions and social organizations.”

Walesa bases his advice on his years leading the opposition Solidarity trade union in communist Poland—an effort that contributed to the fall of totalitarianism throughout the Soviet bloc—and also on his analysis of recent anti-authoritarian campaigns around the planet. “Whenever I support the freedom movements in Cuba, the Middle East, Burma and other outposts of tyranny, I do not support solely the idea of overthrowing those who are in power,” he continues. “I support the processes that would lead to new orders guaranteeing individual liberty, democracy, civic virtue, equality and the rule of law.”

Protesters Need a Plan, Not Just a Complaint, by Lech Walesa (San Francisco Chronicle, 11/15/2011)

More on the Alexis de Tocqueville Award

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2) Immigration Foes Plagued by Dubious Claims

Opponents of immigration to the United States typically claim that newcomers “steal jobs” from native-born Americans. The claim is common but spurious, according to economists Benjamin Powell and Art Carden of the Independent Institute. Nor do immigrants tend to depress the wages of native-born Americans—in part because immigrants tend to have either high-level job skills or low-level ones, whereas native-born Americans tend to have mid-level job skills, Powell and Carden argue. “This means that immigrants aren’t substitutes for American labor but, instead, free up American labor to do jobs where it is more productive,” they write in the Birmingham News.

But many immigration foes offer dubious moral claims, as well as economic myths. They often say that they view legal immigrants favorably and reserve their animosity for those who violate federal immigration law. But this position is flawed, Powell and Carden argue, because federal policy makes it very difficult for many immigrants to work legally in the United States today compared with, say, in the nineteenth century.

“Defenders of restrictions might insist that the restrictions are still the law, but lots of immoral and unwise things—like slavery and Jim Crow—used to be ‘the law,’” Powell and Carden write. “Immigrants are a boon to our economy and restrictions on immigration seem as immoral as many other past laws. . . . As our friend Mark LeBar, a philosopher at Ohio University, has put it, illegal immigration is one of very few issues that really has a magic wand solution: Legalize it.”

Why Is Immigration Illegal Anyway?, by Benjamin Powell and Art Carden (Birmingham News, 11/20/11)

More on immigration policy

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3) New Temperature Studies Don’t Settle the Climate Debate

Media coverage about recent studies published by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project has created a false impression about climate data and the climate debate, according to atmospheric physicist and Independent Institute Research Fellow S. Fred Singer. For one thing, the media reports have discounted BEST director Richard Muller’s skepticism about whether the temperature data—drawn from land-based stations located mostly in North America and Europe—are truly representative of trends for the planet as a whole, which would include temperature changes on five other continents and above oceans and seas that account for 70 percent of the Earth’s surface.

The media coverage, Singer claims, has also discounted Muller’s insistence that the data tell us nothing about the causes of the reported warming. Muller himself has said he believes the warming was caused mostly by oscillations of the atmosphere-ocean system—natural processes that climate models have not yet explained or simulated—and he told Capitol Report New Mexico that U.S. policies to curb carbon dioxide emissions would not affect global warming significantly because China, India, and the developing world are projected to contribute more CO2 than the United States.

Although Muller believes that the BEST data nevertheless tell us something useful about global temperature trends, Singer remains doubtful. “Muller thinks that he has eliminated the effects of local heating, like urban heat islands,” Singer writes. “But this is a difficult undertaking, and many doubt that the BEST study has been successful in this respect. Some of Muller’s severest critics are fellow physicists: Lubos Motl in the Czech Republic and Don Rapp in California. Somewhat harshly, perhaps, Rapp would change the study designation from BEST to ‘WORST’ (World Overview of Representative Station Temperatures).”

Why BEST Will Not Settle the Climate Debate, by S. Fred Singer (American Thinker, 11/17/11)

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

Video: Hot Talk and Cold Science of Global Warming, featuring S. Fred Singer (7/14/11)

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4) Thanksgiving and the Incentives for Abundance

The Pilgrims of the American founding discovered a land abundant in natural resources and free of the persecution that haunted them in the Old World. But those blessings weren’t enough to enable them to thrive. The problem: food shortages. Thankfully, their lot improved dramatically when they adopted new policies. The food shortages ended, Governor William Bradford explained in his 1647 journal, when the Plymouth Plantation scrapped communal property rights and began to allow families to keep the crops they grew for themselves.

“We are direct beneficiaries of the economics lesson the pilgrims learned in 1623,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Powell. “Today we have a much better developed and well-defined set of property rights. Our economic system offers incentives for us—in the form of prices and profits—to coordinate our individual behavior for the mutual benefit of all; even those we may not personally know.”

“It is customary in many families to ‘give thanks to the hands that prepared this feast’ during the Thanksgiving dinner blessing,” Powell continues. “Perhaps we should also be thankful for the millions of other hands that helped get the dinner to the table: the grocer who sold us the turkey, the truck driver who delivered it to the store, and the farmer who raised it all contributed to our Thanksgiving dinner because our economic system rewards them. That's the real lesson of Thanksgiving. The economic incentives provided by private competitive markets where people are left free to make their own choices make bountiful feasts possible.”

“The Pilgrims’ Real Thanksgiving Lesson,” by Benjamin Powell (San Diego Union-Tribune, 11/22/04)

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Do Bailouts Help the Poor?
Emily Skarbek (11/21/11)

5 Lessons from the European Financial Crisis
Stephanie Freedman (11/17/11)

Central Banking as the New Central Planning
Emily Skarbek (11/17/11)

The Wrath of Keynes
Emily Skarbek (11/16/11)

Should Politicians Rely on Millionaires to Fund Government?
Craig Eyermann (11/16/11)

The Independent Institute’s Spanish-language blog has surpassed 3 million page views! You can find it here.

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