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

Volume 15, Issue 22: May 29, 2013

  1. Is Immigration Beneficial? Alvaro Vargas Llosa’s Global Crossings
  2. Getting Lost in the Obamacare Maze
  3. Dirty Deeds at the IRS: More Common than You Think
  4. Don’t Rewrite the Anti-Terrorist Resolution—Enforce It
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. News Alerts


1) Is Immigration Beneficial? Alvaro Vargas Llosa’s Global Crossings

Immigration policy has long been a “hot button” issue—and not only in the United States. Unfortunately, too often people’s opinions on this vital topic are clouded by misunderstandings and misinformation. Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa sets the record straight in his brilliant new book, Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America. Drawing on recent academic studies and the author’s first-hand observations from his travels throughout the United States, Latin America, Europe, and North Africa, the book explores the cultural, economic, and political effects of immigration and enables readers to see exactly what’s wrong with current immigration laws and what needs to change.

Do immigrants tend to reduce the job opportunities available to non-immigrants? Vargas Llosa sheds light on this issue by looking at Arizona just before the financial bubble burst. Do immigrants create havoc by resisting cultural assimilation? Vargas Llosa looks at historic trends regarding language adoption, intermarriage, and educational attainment. And how do immigrants affect domestic politics and foreign policy? Again, Vargas Llosa employs his keen powers of observation to explain a trend overlooked by the majority of pundits—the trend toward “transnationalism” and its fascinating implications for the future of the nation-state.

“Immigration,” Vargas Llosa writes, “is not a threat to culture, the economy, or security. And it is not a welfare program, a corporatist entity, a collectivist ideal, a historical indemnity, or an ethnic claim. It is, pure and simple, the right to move, live, work, and die in a different place to that in which one was born—the victory of choice over chance.” Global Crossings shows why immigration has played an important role in the cultural, economic, and even political vitality of nations across the globe—and why it will continue to do so even if policymakers attempt to discourage people from seeking a better life for themselves.

Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Detailed book summary

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2) Getting Lost in the Obamacare Maze

This autumn millions of Americans will see Obamacare perform not so much as the lifeline that its promoters promised, but as another example of government failure: many states will miss the October 1 deadline for getting their health insurance exchanges up and running. The immediate cause is inadequate funding: although the healthcare law set aside $1 billion to help create the 50 state exchanges (plus one for the District of Columbia), the Congressional Budget Office puts the price tag at $5 billion to $10 billion. But inadequate funding is only one problem facing the exchanges, Independent Institute Research Fellow John C. Goodman explains in the Wall Street Journal.

Even if funding requirements posed no barrier, Obamacare would still face the daunting challenge of getting the computer systems of various government agencies integrated into a single computer network in a way that significantly reduces healthcare costs. The federal government is notoriously bad at information technology, and waste and failure in its 10,000 computer systems are the norm. That’s why former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had to scrap long-standing plans to get the Veterans Administration and the Pentagon to share records.

Another problem may be getting people to use the exchanges in a timely manner. Health and Human Services has therefore announced plans to spend $54 million to hire human “navigators” to seek out consumers eligible for insurance subsidies and help them enroll. The agency has also cleared the way for the states to enlist the help of the private sector. To date, 100 private insurance exchanges are in operation—EHealth boasts of 3 million customers who have found insurance through its online marketplace. Yet despite this track record, no state government has bothered to partner with a private exchange. “The government has been true to form under the health-reform law, completely ignoring private exchanges that are up and running,” Goodman writes. The states, it seems, are eager to follow in the footsteps of their big brother in Washington, DC—down the road of government failure.

Navigating the ObamaCare Maze, by John C. Goodman (The Wall Street Journal, 5/20/13)

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

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3) Dirty Deeds at the IRS: More Common than You Think

The recent IRS scandal—the agency’s stonewalling and harassment of Tea Party groups that sought tax-exempt status during the run-up to the 2012 elections—has evoked righteous indignation across the political spectrum. But one emotion it shouldn’t elicit is surprise. The Infernal Revenue Service, as many detractors call it, has long been used as a political weapon. President Nixon turned the IRS against those on his “enemies list,” and under President Kennedy the agency investigated right-wing groups via its Ideological Organizations Project. Even select congressional staffers have benefited from the agency: in 1979, Chicago’s top taxman prevented an audit of an assistant to then-Representative Frank Annunzio, as Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II explains in an op-ed for Investor’s Business Daily.

Such incidents of political misbehavior are not outliers. In 2001, Shughart and two colleagues, Michael Reksulak and Marilyn Young, revealed a disturbing pattern of political activism by the IRS in a peer-reviewed journal article based on data culled from tax returns from all 33 of the agency’s geographic districts from 1992 through 1997. Two patterns were particularly pervasive. Finding #1: The agency was less likely to audit a return, Shughart writes, “if the taxpayer lived in a district that was politically important to the sitting president or was represented by a member of Congress serving on a committee with IRS oversight responsibility.”

Finding #2: “Audit rates were substantially lower in so-called battleground states with large numbers of electoral votes where presidential elections have historically been close,” Shughart continues, “such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.” These patterns suggest that the IRS is happy to deploy the “carrot” of foregoing an audit when doing so serves its political bosses and friends, whether they work on Capitol Hill or at the White House. “No one other than the most naïve observer of American politics should be shocked to find that the IRS, like all bureaucracies, is susceptible to political manipulation,” Shughart concludes. “It’s happened before and will probably happen again.”

IRS Scandal Is Nothing New—It’s Always Been a Political Weapon, by William F. Shughart II (Investor’s Business Daily, 5/23/13)

Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination, edited by William F. Shughart II

Taxation, Forced Labor, and Theft, by Edward Feser (The Independent Review, Fall 2000)

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4) Don’t Rewrite the Anti-Terrorist Resolution—Enforce It

Soon after the al-Qaeda attacks of 9/11, Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the joint resolution that has served as the basis for two presidents to deploy U.S. troops against terrorist targets. As critics of the so-called War on Terror have rightly noted, that declaration is far narrower in scope than the Obama administration and its predecessor have publicly acknowledged: it authorizes the president to target only those broadly involved in the attacks (al-Qaeda) and those who harbored them (Afghanistan’s Taliban). Thus, neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama can cite the AUMF as the legal authority for the government to hunt down, say, members of the Pakistani Taliban or militant Islamists in Yemen.

Should Congress change the law? Some on Capitol Hill would like to do so—either to make it clear that the White House possesses the full legal authority to target “associated forces” not named in the original resolution, or to do the opposite and try to delimit the administration’s military options.

In his latest op-ed, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland joins other civil liberties advocates who fear that changing the law would enshrine perpetual war. “The best that can be hoped for is to retain the existing law, with strict enforcement of its limited authorization,” Eland writes.

Should the Law Governing the War on Terror Be Changed?, by Ivan Eland (5/22/13)

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

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5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

Bush Wasn’t a Conservative and Obama Isn’t a Liberal
Mary Theroux (5/28/13)

Crony Capitalism?
Randall Holcombe (5/28/13)

The Folly of Medicare's One-Ailment-per-Visit Rule
John C. Goodman (5/28/13)

Power Corrupts
Randall Holcombe (5/22/13)

Six Billion Physician Fees
John C. Goodman (5/22/13)

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

GovGunGrab.con
K. Lloyd Billingsley (5/28/13)

Keynesian Economics, R.I.P.
Burt Abrams (5/27/13)

Tesla Loan Payoff No Boost for Stimulus
K. Lloyd Billingsley (5/24/13)

Bonuses for Top 1% Bureaucrats?
Craig Eyermann (5/23/13)

Why “S— Happens” with Government
K. Lloyd Billingsley (5/22/13)

“Customer Service” at the IRS?
K. Lloyd Billingsley (5/20/13)

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

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6) News Alerts

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