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

Volume 15, Issue 19: May 7, 2013

  1. Chemical Weapons or Not, the U.S. Should Avoid the Syrian Crisis
  2. The Case for Sweatshops
  3. Private Alternatives to Obamacare
  4. Close Guantánamo Now
  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) Chemical Weapons or Not, the U.S. Should Avoid the Syrian Crisis

Reports that Damascus has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people during the recent uprising have become a leading concern to the American pundit class. Few are openly calling for the deployment of U.S. “boots on the ground” in Syria—at least not yet. The more common proposals are for the United States and its allies to provide weapons to the “democratic” opposition and to set up no-fly zones to protect Syrians from Assad’s air attacks. None of these options would serve American interests, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland.

Consider the notion of heavily arming the Syrian opposition. When Washington helped arm the Afghan mujahedeen in the 1980s, its support helped bring to power the Taliban, a group of zealots who were happy to provide a safe haven for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. If the United States were to arm anti-Assad groups in Syria, it’s likely that those arms would face a similar fate, ending up in the hands of anti-U.S. militants, according to Eland.

Setting up no-fly zones would be no less problematic. If the United States supported the policy with an air attack that happened to hit a chemical weapons storage facility, the results could prove catastrophic. Even the risk of an air strike could spell disaster—by scaring Syrian troops away from their posts at chemical weapons stockpiles and thereby allowing sarin gas and other weaponized toxins to fall into the hands of Islamist terrorists. Moreover, if the Assad regime were able to continuing its brutal suppression, despite the no-fly zones, pressure would build for Washington to send in troops. These and related concerns deserve to elicit a U.S. policy of military restraint, according to Eland. “When no good military options exist,” he writes, “none should be taken.”

Avoid Drumbeat to Escalate in Syria, by Ivan Eland (5/1/13)

No War for Oil: US Dependency and the Middle East, by Ivan Eland

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2) The Case for Sweatshops

Nearly 700 people died from the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh last month. This tragedy and others like it have prompted Nike and other western manufacturers to consider cutting back their operations in that impoverished country. Unfortunately, this response is likely to hurt far more workers than it helps, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Powell.

“If U.S. companies abandon these factories, hundreds of thousands of garment workers could lose their jobs and be thrust into worse alternatives,” writes Powell, whose forthcoming book on the economics of sweatshops will be published by Cambridge University Press. Garment workers whose products are exported in the developed world earn wage rates above the average for Bangladesh, Powell notes. Reducing jobs is therefore not a solution for reducing poverty or avoiding workplace catastrophes—greater economic development is. “Consumers who truly care about the welfare of Bangladeshi workers should encourage companies to source garments from the country, rather than abandon its factories,” Powell continues.

Powell also warns against legal mandates for greater workplace safety, since poor workers typically prefer their compensation in the form of wages rather than more safety. “As part of the research for my book, I surveyed Guatemalan workers in firms where the National Labor Committee had raised red flags and called for improved safety standards,” he writes. “More than 95 percent of the workers we surveyed were unwilling to give up any pay for increased safety.” Pointing this out is in no way meant to belittle concerns about workplace safety. Rather, it helps to remind us of the urgency of economic development.

Sweatshops in Bangladesh Improve the Lives of Their Workers, and Boost Growth, by Benjamin Powell (Forbes, 5/2/13)

Making Poor Nations Rich: Entrepreneurship and the Process of Economic Development, edited by Benjamin Powell

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3) Private Alternatives to Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act was passed on the promise that it would help solve numerous maladies that afflict the U.S. healthcare system. But a huge, new federal program isn’t necessary to solve them. What’s needed is a good dose of private entrepreneurship, as Independent Institute Research Fellow John C. Goodman explains in a recent op-ed for Right Side News.

PinnacleCare, a health advisory firm in Baltimore, exemplifies the solution. When Mike Kelly, a 21-year old bicyclist, collided with an automobile in Durango, Colo., the firm quickly stepped up to the plate. Thanks to a HIPAA waiver he signed a month earlier, it was able to send the doctors his electronic medical records. It also solicited a second medical opinion, and found him a physical therapist after his hospitalization.

“Notice that all of this is happening outside the third-party payer system,” Goodman writes. “In fact, that is why it is happening. With third-party payment, the providers’ incentives will always be to maximize against the payment formulas. Without a third-party payer, entities like Pinnacle have no choice but to try to please the patient.”

Achieving Obamacare Goals without Obamacare, by John C. Goodman (Right Side News, 4/25/13)

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

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4) Close Guantánamo Now

After ten years at Guantánamo, Adnan Latif, a citizen of Yemen, had been cleared for release. Then the Obama administration appealed—and prevailed. Last September, Latif, no longer willing to endure confinement and force-feeding, took his own life. It’s a tragedy that might be repeated, as most of the 166 prisoners remaining at the infamous detention camp are on a hunger strike. In response, President Obama is promising to make renewed efforts to close the prison despite the legal obstacles erected by Congress. But to many his words ring hollow.

According to Independent Institute Research Fellow Anthony Gregory, the same law that supposedly limited the President’s options on Guantánamo also gave him the power to release individual detainees for reasons of national security. If Obama is sincere, according to Gregory, he would use all the powers at his disposal to release them immediately—perhaps employing the power of the presidential pardon, if necessary. He should also pay them generous restitution, financed out of the pockets of officials from the current and previous administrations. Reasons of national security in no way justify the continuation of the current policy: “In short, a huge number of these people were totally innocent—on pilgrimage to conduct business or charity work,” writes Gregory, author of The Power of Habeas Corpus in America: From the King’s Prerogative to the War on Terror.

If the administration believes a few detainees should be prosecuted, they should be bound by the rules of civil procedure. “It’s time for all Americans to stop tolerating these profound, unspeakable atrocities carried out in our names,” Gregory continues. “Free the prisoners. Close Guantánamo. And end the nonsensical Alice-in-Wonderland legal principles and military policies that have so thoroughly twisted the American system into a wannabe impersonator of communist dictatorships.”

Guantánamo: America’s Great Shame, by Anthony Gregory (The Beacon, 5/6/13)

The Power of Habeas Corpus in America: From the King’s Prerogative to the War on Terror, by Anthony Gregory

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Duck, Obamabuse Is Coming
K. Lloyd Billingsley (5/6/13)

Tax Credit Confession
K. Lloyd Billingsley (5/3/13)

The Chicken or the Egg?
Craig Eyermann (5/3/13)

Obamacare Exemptions – “The Rules Don’t Apply to Us”
Cherylyn LeBon (5/2/13)

The $800 per Person Uncertainty Tax
Carl Close (5/1/13)

GovFees.con
K. Lloyd Billingsley (4/30/13)

Coming Soon!
Craig Eyermann (4/30/13)

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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