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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 13, Issue 51: December 20, 2011

  1. An Economist’s Guide to Christmas
  2. Bill of Rights Day
  3. U.S. Should Lead by Example
  4. Climate Summit Wrap-up
  5. New Blog Posts

1) An Economist’s Guide to Christmas

Independent Institute Research Fellow Art Carden has done it again! The prolific columnist at Forbes.com, has “ruined” Christmas by shedding economic light on the gift-giving traditions of the holiday season. Carden notes, for example, that gift giving often results in lost economic value—what economists call a “deadweight loss”—as consumers shell out dollars on gifts that the receivers value less than the amount of the purchase price.

Is it better to give than to receive? Perhaps, if economic ignorance is bliss, Carden suggests. Giving charitable organizations your discarded hand-me-downs and canned foods is hardly the best way to go about helping the poor—after all, scarce resources must be spent to collect, sort, and distribute those goods to the people who want them. People who sincerely desire to help a charity would do more good by donating cold, hard cash!

Carden also dispels the misconception that Christmas purchases “help the economy.” In fact, consumption spending per se does not foster sustainable economic growth. “While purchasing a greater assortment of trinkets and baubles might pad retailers’ and manufacturers’ bottom line in the short run, they leave us with fewer unconsumed resources with which to build the economy of tomorrow,” Carden writes. Holiday traditions would be better if people kept basic economic principles in mind.

Ruining Christmas: An Economist’s Guide, by Art Carden (Forbes.com, 12/18/11)

Donate to the Independent Institute. Give before the year’s end, and your gift will be matched by generous donors!

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2) Bill of Rights Day

The 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights is a day worthy of celebration. Unfortunately, those rights have not always been honored at the highest levels of the U.S. government—especially under the rule of John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama. Although Obama promised to reverse the downward direction that civil rights took under his predecessor’s national security policies, he has mostly continued Bush’s bad practices or has expanded them, argues Independent Institute Research Editor Anthony Gregory in the Huffington Post.

“Obama has revived military commissions and the indefinite detention of terror suspects,” Gregory writes. “He has blocked the release of prisoners his own administration determined were not terrorists. He has invoked the Espionage Act more than all other presidents combined, used state secrets to shield officials from accountability for torture, and even targeted an American citizen for execution without due process.”

Congress (through the power of the purse) and the Supreme Court (through the power of judicial review) are supposed to curb the abuses of the executive branch, but in numerous instances they have failed to do so, according to Gregory. This illustrates an important point about the ultimate safeguard of our liberties. “In the end, it is public opinion that most restrains political power—not words on paper, not judges, not politicians’ promises,” Gregory continues. “A population that is not decidedly and passionately against violations of their liberties will see their rights stripped away. If we want to have a Bill of Rights Day worth celebrating, we must demand that officials at all levels respect our freedoms—and not let the government get away with abusing them.”

It’s Up To the Public to Vindicate Bill of Rights Day, by Anthony Gregory (Huffington Post, 12/15/11)

More by Anthony Gregory

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3) U.S. Should Lead by Example

Russia’s parliamentary election was marred by reports of voter fraud and intimidation, but it does little good for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to publically call for a full investigation into the matter. Foreign criticism frequently backfires, as occurred when Beijing cracked down on dissent following public pressure from the United States. The United States should put corrupt regimes on notice privately but not publicly. The reason is that public criticism runs the risk of creating a counterproductive “rally round the flag” effect, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland.

Public criticism of anti-democratic actions also opens up the U.S. government to charges of hypocrisy—a particularly unwelcome blow for a nation that stands as the leading example of a republic founded on liberal principles. Yet, such charges would not be entirely unfounded, given Washington’s support for the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), Dominican Republic (1965), and Chile (1973). Thus, the best course of action for the United States may be simply to lead by example. Repealing the USA PATRIOT Act would be an important step toward living up to reaffirming the principles upon which the American republic was founded, Eland suggests.

“‘American exceptionalism’ does exist, but not in the neoconservative or Wilsonian liberal sense of a superpower aggressively promoting democracy and human rights in foreign countries,” Eland writes. “America is exceptional because it has one of the best domestic political and economic systems the world has ever seen. This genuine form of American exceptionalism is sullied and undermined by the faux version. So let’s get rid of preaching to, meddling in, and even attacking and invading other countries to spread our values and go back to the founders’ vision of leading by example.”

Quit Preaching and Lead by Example, by Ivan Eland (12/14/11)

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

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4) Climate Summit Wrap-up

The Durban Climate Summit was much more about political negotiations than about climate science. In that respect, the editors of Nature magazine are correct, atmospheric physicist S. Fred Singer suggests in his recent comments on its website. In particular, the conference demonstrated the importance that countries place on attempting to gain advantages by setting differential emission limits and on the continuation of climate junkets for the 200 or so delegations that participated.

International wealth redistribution was a key undertone at Durban. The stakes are high.

Durban also illustrated the importance of climate treaties in international wealth redistribution—the transfer, as Singer describes it, of “$100 billion a year from industrialized nations to LDCs (or more precisely, to their kleptocratic rulers), using ‘climate justice’ or ‘climate guilt’ (dependent on who is doing the talking).”

Singer closes by noting two scientific issues that should have been fully explored at the summit. (1) Although not scientifically established, the two-degree C warming that climate modelers predict would mean warmer winter nights in Siberia and Canada—“perhaps -35 deg instead of -40 deg; and little warming in the tropics,” Singer writes. (2) Even strenuous efforts to mitigate carbon dioxide, he concludes, “will have little effect on atmospheric carbon dioxide, let alone on climate.”

The Mask Slips, by S. Fred Singer (Nature.com, 12/17/11)

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

More by S. Fred Singer

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

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

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