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

Volume 14, Issue 5: January 31, 2012

  1. Fostering an Innovation Nation
  2. Iran and the Oil Trade
  3. Where Does the Second Amendment Apply?
  4. Sex and Human Rights
  5. New Blog Posts

1) Fostering an Innovation Nation

Government regulation and federal spending on the warfare/welfare state are holding back the rate of material progress in the United States. To reverse that trend—to become an innovation nation—we must change our spending priorities and lift innovation-stifling regulations. We must put innovation at the center of our national vision, according to Independent Institute Research Director Alex Tabarrok, author of Launching the Innovation Renaissance.

Consider health care. Observers from across the political spectrum agree that in terms of better health, we have little or nothing to show for the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on health care. In contrast, spending on medical research has paid large dividends, Tabarrok argues in The Atlantic. “Medical research spending is far more valuable on the margin than medical care spending,” he writes, “yet because we lack an innovation vision, we endlessly debate how to divide the pie while we overlook potentially huge improvements in human welfare.”

Red tape is another menace to innovation. One problem comes from its cumulative effects. To build an airport, for example, requires meeting a host of environmental, zoning, and aesthetic regulations that vary county by county—which explains why only one major airport (Denver’s) has been built since 1978. Or consider hydro-electric power. To construct a hydro-electric project, builders must meet requirements set by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and numerous state environmental agencies. The opportunity cost of all those dam requirements is staggering: small and eco-friendly hydro-electric projects could create an estimated 30,000 megawatts of power annually—the equivalent of 30 nuclear power plants. Tabarrok concludes by noting that prioritizing innovation by shrinking the warfare/welfare state could also bridge the political conflicts that divide us. “Americans,” he writes, “are an innovative, forward-thinking people and the prospects are good for uniting them on a pro-growth, pro-innovation agenda.”

The Innovation Nation vs. the Warfare-Welfare State, by Alex Tabarrok (The Atlantic, 1/26/12)

Launching the Innovation Renaissance, by Alex Tabarrok

Entrepreneurial Economics: Bright Ideas from the Dismal Science, edited by Alexander T. Tabarrok

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2) Iran and the Oil Trade

Iran has weathered the stiff U.S.-led economic sanctions. Despite restrictions on financial deals between U.S. and Iranian banks, penalties on U.S. companies that assist Iran’s oil industry, and trade prohibitions, Iran has managed to do well. Tehran reports that 2011 was a record year for oil sales, surpassing the $71.6 billion in revenues it received from oil exports in 2010. This should not be surprising. Trade sanctions rarely work. Governments targeted by sanctions typically redirect their exports to other importing countries—to China and India in the case of Iran, explains Ivan Eland in a recent op-ed.

Economic sanctions typically fail to achieve their political goals, too. “In fact, the Iranian government—weakened by the fraudulent elections of 2009—is using the specter of economic hardship resulting from externally imposed sanctions to rally public support,” Eland writes.

Tightening the sanctions would not be welcomed by Tehran, of course. Indeed, Iran’s vice president has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if the U.S.-led trade embargo prevents Iran from shipping its oil exports. However, “U.S. Navy war games have shown that closing the Strait for any length of time would be highly unlikely,” Eland writes in a separate op-ed. “Even if oil flow through the Strait was reduced, more oil could be transferred from the Persian Gulf using the underutilized land pipeline across Saudi Arabia to its port of Yanbu on the Red Sea.” Thus, the United States could obtain oil from the region without recourse to military actions.

Iran Sanctions Won’t Work, by Ivan Eland (The Washington Times, 1/17/12)

U.S. Bombing Unnecessary Because Iran Lacks the Resources to Block the Strait, by Ivan Eland (Jainesville Gazette, 1/26/12)

No War for Oil: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East, by Ivan Eland

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3) Where Does the Second Amendment Apply?

Does the Second Amendment right to “bear arms” apply outside of the home? You would be mistaken if you thought that the Supreme Court has clearly settled the matter. It has not. In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Court decided that the Second Amendment protected an individual right, and in McDonald v. Chicago (2010), it decided that Second Amendment rights could be enforced against state and local governments. However, the issue of whether those rights apply outside the home was not explicitly addressed by the Supreme Court—at least that’s the thinking in the nation’s lower courts.

The Fourth Circuit’s decision United States v. Masciandaro (2011) illustrates how the lower courts view the matter. The panel’s opinion issued two different views on the question. On the one hand, Judge Wilkinson said that the Supreme Court would have to state more explicitly whether the Second Amendment applies outside the home; on the other hand, Judge Niemeyer argued there is a “plausible reading” of Heller that the Second Amendment does apply outside the home. This decision—with its dueling view of where exactly Second Amendment rights apply—is entirely unsatisfactory, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Stephen Halbrook.

“The state courts were well aware of the meaning of the right to ‘bear arms’ long before the Supreme Court decided Heller and McDonald,” Halbrook writes in the Wake Forest Law Review. “Just to cite a decision rendered in a state in the Fourth Circuit, the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1921 invalidated a ban on carrying handguns outside the home.... To the extent that the majority in Masciandaro eschewed ruling on—indeed, even recognizing—the right to ‘bear arms’ pending further explicit guidance from the Supreme Court, the Fourth Circuit missed an opportunity to contribute to this jurisprudence.”

No Right to “Bear Arms”? A Critical Analysis of United States v. Masciandaro, by Stephen P. Halbrook (The Wake Forest Law Review, 12/16/11)

Securing Civil Rights: Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms, by Stephen P. Halbrook

The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms, by Stephen P. Halbrook

That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right, by Stephen P. Halbrook

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4) Sex and Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, helped foster a worldwide concern for the plight of people suffering at the hands of repressive regimes. Human-rights campaigns have led to improvements in the treatment of political dissidents and have helped secure the release of many prisoners of conscience. All this is to the good. But in recent decades, the notion of what constitutes a human-rights violation has been expanded, and this development has, ironically, posed a threat to traditional human rights and liberties, rather than buttressed them, according to political scientist Stephen Baskerville.

In his latest article for The Independent Review, Baskerville argues that the cutting edge of this development involves social policies related to gender relations. Case in point: the 1979 United Nations treaty known as CEDAW—the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Among other provisions, the treaty requires signatory countries to eradicate “any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women at all levels and in all forms” (Article 10c).

“Thus, not simply governments, but private individuals can be designated as human rights violators simply because of how they divide the household labor or otherwise conduct their private lives and personal relationships,” Baskerville writes. If UN monitoring committees succeed in pressuring governments to enforce CEDAW, privacy in the home would suffer a harsh blow.

Sex and the Problem of Human Rights, by Stephen Baskerville (The Independent Review, Winter 2012)

The Independent Review (Winter 2012)

Subscribe now and get two free issues!

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Yet Another Government-Funded ‘Green’ Company Goes Bankrupt
David Theroux (1/26/12)

Crony Capitalism XL
Emily Skarbek (1/24/12)

The Stimulus Bombshell
Craig Eyermann (1/24/12)

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

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