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

Volume 15, Issue 10: March 5, 2013

  1. The Evidence on Guns and Violence
  2. The Federal Flood Insurance Fiasco
  3. Understanding Modern Liberalism
  4. Cuba Embargo Has Run Its Course
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts

The Independent Review: Subscribe or renew today and get a free copy of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Crisis and Levithan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government, by Robert Higgs.


1) The Evidence on Guns and Violence

Support for tighter gun laws is often based on mistaken assumptions. A common one has to do with the alleged impulsiveness of otherwise law-abiding people—in particular, the notion that most shootings are acts of passion that involve guns purchased by non-criminals for home protection. However, a look at empirical studies—evidence, not assumptions—yields a vastly different conclusion. A 2004 study by the National Academy of Sciences, for example, couldn’t identify a single gun law that had lowered violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents. This wasn’t a minor report, but a massive review of 253 journal articles, 99 books, and dozens of government studies.

Other research has found that handguns have been used more often for defensive purposes than for committing crimes. “Annually, three to six times as many victims successfully defend themselves with guns as criminals misuse handguns,” writes attorney, criminologist, and Independent Institute Research Fellow Don B. Kates Jr. A study published in the BYU Journal of Public Law found that firearms were used approximately half a million times per year to stop home invasion burglaries, and in most of those cases no shots were fired: merely brandishing a gun sent the burglars scurrying to safety. These findings are especially comforting because the police rarely arrive in time to stop a crime in progress and are indemnified if they fail to protect law-abiding citizens.

The evidence on crime and firearm ownership has had a powerful effect in some academic circles: it has convinced several researchers to abandon their former advocacy of tighter restrictions on guns. Economist David Mustard explains what shaped his former support for tighter gun laws: “My views on the subject were formed primarily by media accounts of firearms, which unknowingly to me systematically emphasized the costs of firearms while virtually ignoring their benefits,” he wrote in a 2003 article for the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. “It is now over six years since I became convinced otherwise and concluded that shall issue laws—laws that require [gun carry permits] to be granted unless the applicant has a criminal record or a history of significant mental illness—reduce violent crime and have no impact on accidental deaths.”

The Criminology of Firearms, by Don B. Kates Jr. (The Jurist, 2/27/13)

Firearms, Violence, and the Second Amendment

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2) The Federal Flood Insurance Fiasco

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy the federal agency that provides financial assistance for flood victims was bailed out to the tune of $9.7 billion. The agency, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), has long been the recipient of massive bailouts or, what amounts to the same thing, huge government loans that it lacks the means to repay. (It will owe the US Treasury nearly $30 billion after it finishes paying out claims from Hurricane Sandy.) Although its mismanagement and harmfulness are widely acknowledged, there is no political will to get rid of the program: Congress simply re-authorizes it every five years.

The NFIP was not supposed to be a sinkhole for taxpayer dollars. When Congress created the program in 1968, it took steps to minimize the problem of moral hazard—the risk that insuring against bad outcomes will encourage riskier behavior. For example, the enabling legislation included a requirement that only property owners who had purchased federal flood insurance would be eligible for aid. But Congress could not withstand the political temptation to allow the agency to expand coverage beyond prudent levels.

“The requirement to purchase [federal flood] insurance or lose federal aid fell by the wayside as soon as hard-hit areas came crying to Congress,” Independent Institute Research Fellow Eli Lehrer writes in the Weekly Standard. Although the agency’s creation was rationalized on the grounds that the insurance industry didn’t offer private flood insurance at the time, Lehrer, who contributed a chapter about the NFIP for the book Risky Business, notes that Germany and the United Kingdom provide two examples of private flood insurance that works. “While the business isn’t a major profit center for the insurance industry, it, at least, isn’t a taxpayer liability,” he continues. “And building is deterred in the most flood-prone areas.”

Dead in the Water: The Federal Flood Insurance Fiasco, by Eli Lehrer (The Weekly Standard, 1/28/13)

Risky Business: Insurance Markets and Regulation, edited by Lawrence S. Powell

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3) Understanding Modern Liberalism

Ideologies are often complex, but in a sense they’re also easy to understand: if you know an ideology’s key doctrines, you can usually guess correctly how its proponents will view various concrete public-policy measures. For example, if you knew that socialism advocates the government ownership of the means of production, you’d guess correctly if you thought that consistent socialists would support the nationalization of the steel industry; and if you knew that libertarians champion private property, you’d be right if you guessed that consistent libertarians would favor privatization and disfavor government intervention in the economy. Ideologies, in other words, cohere, and this is why it is easy to determine year after year what their proponents will advocate.

But liberalism (modern liberalism, that is, not classical liberalism) is a different beast: knowing what liberals say about fundamental issues would not give you a full-proof tool for predicting their stand on derivative policy issues in, say, the 2016 or 2020 elections. Maybe they’ll favor free trade, or maybe they’ll favor protectionism. Maybe they’ll be absolutists on free speech, or maybe they’ll support speech codes on campus or a fairness doctrine in telecommunications. Liberalism isn’t nearly as predictable as the aforementioned ideologies because technically it’s not an ideology; it’s more of a sociology, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow John C. Goodman.

“[Sociologies] represent a set of ideas that are often incoherent,” Goodman writes in Townhall. “These ideas are likely to come together not because of reason, but because of history or happenstance. Not only do the ideas not cohere, they may be completely contradictory.” Hence the continuing spectacle, in Goodman’s view, of liberals favoring stronger government support for preschool education but opposing certain reforms that would improve K-12 schooling; of liberals calling for job opportunities for the young and economically excluded but favoring minimum wage policies that harm new entrants in the job market; and of liberals favoring massive entitlement spending for the elderly regardless of their net worth and regardless of the harm inflicted on future taxpayers. The contradictions of modern liberalism—and those of modern conservatism—according to Goodman, stem in large part from their apathy toward the realm of fundamental ideas.

What Is Liberalism?, by John C. Goodman (Townhall, 2/23/13)

The Challenge of Liberty: Classical Liberalism Today, edited by Robert Higgs and Carl P. Close

Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, by John C. Goodman

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4) Cuba Embargo Has Run Its Course

Cuba hasn’t posed a security threat to the United States in ages, but this hasn’t made a dent in the status quo: every U.S. president since Eisenhower has supported economic sanctions against the communist outpost. The main reason is that older Cuban-Americans still strongly support the embargo, and they represent an important lobby during election time. The attitude toward it is different among younger Cuban Americans, however, and anti-Castro dissidents in Cuba don’t support it, either.

“My talks with many in Cuba and abroad suggest that most oppose the embargo, and three have co-authored articles with me saying so,” writes Independent Institute Research Fellow William Ratliff. “If these dissidents come under focused government fire in the years ahead, many Americans will feel compelled to intervene even more directly—perhaps militarily—on their behalf.”

Obama’s second term provides an opportunity to adopt sensible reforms regarding Cuba—even if Congress lacks the will to change the status quo. Obama, Ratliff writes, “might begin by resurrecting a 1998-99 proposal—then endorsed by former secretaries of state Kissinger and George Shultz, but killed by President Clinton—for convening a Presidential Bipartisan Commission on Cuba to seriously examine the pros and cons of the policy.... Whatever else we do, we must jettison our quid pro quo approach that holds essential U.S. policy changes hostage to repeated ‘vetoes’ by both Cuban-Americans in the States and Castroites in Havana.”

Cuba’s Tortured Transition, by William Ratliff (Defining Ideas, 1/30/13)

More by William Ratliff

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

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Tanks a Lot
K. Lloyd Billingsley (3/4/13)

Finally!
Craig Eyermann (3/1/13)

Government Greed Gooses Gas Prices
K. Lloyd Billingsley (3/1/13)

A Change in Tune
Craig Eyermann (3/1/13)

Ain’t That a Shame? Part Deux: Mo’ Better Bonuses for Bailed Out Wall Street
K. Lloyd Billingsley (2/27/13)

High-Maintenance Ruling Class
K. Lloyd Billingsley (2/27/13)

Why Sequester Spending Cuts Aren’t Really Scary
Craig Eyermann (2/26/13)

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

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6) Selected News Alerts

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