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

Volume 6, Issue 52: December 27, 2004

  1. Tsunamis, Infant Mortality, and Risk Perception
  2. Security Is Not Measured by Military Spending
  3. Globalization As a Peace Strategy

1) Tsunamis, Infant Mortality, and Risk Perception

The death toll of Sunday's tsunami won't be known for many days, but at the time of this writing, news organizations have reported estimates of more than 23,000 dead. Approximately two million people have been displaced. The precipitating 8.9 magnitude earthquake, originating off the coast of Sumatra, was the largest since 1964 and the fourth largest of the past century.

Deadly tsunamis are rare in the Indian Ocean, a fact that has been offered to explain why nations in the region did not belong to the decades-old international tsunami warning system. But because tsunamis have menaced islands of the Pacific Ocean regularly, the lack of an early-warning mechanism in countries on the Indian Ocean — some have suggested that even a few phone calls from Indonesia to parts east could have led to the evacuation of thousands — indicates that a failure of imagination may be as much to blame as Mother Nature.

Unfortunately, there has been no failure of imagination with respect to what pundits (and Hollywood film directors) tell us is an even worse disaster still to come: global climate change. That is to say, there has been no failure of them to imagine worst-case scenarios that go beyond the evidence. Policymakers across the globe accept as a given that global warming will elevate sea levels enough to drown coastal towns and whole islands, but they seem to have downplayed tsunamis, water-supply contamination, and other demonstrably real risks.

There's no sure method to keep people focused on life's measurable risks, but this difficulty is greatly exacerbated when policymakers accord disproportionate amounts of prestige and resources to those who hype more remote risks such as global warming, as Michael Crichton suggests in his new best-selling novel, STATE OF FEAR. (Crichton, by the way, recommends two Independent Institute books in the acknowledgments to that novel: A POVERTY OF REASON by Wilfred Beckerman, and HOT TALK, COLD SCIENCE by S. Fred Singer.)

Unfortunately, as devastating as Sunday's tsunami was, the recent mismanagement at UNICEF, the United Nation's Children's Fund, may be an even worse disaster. Under the leadership of James Grant, who directed UNICEF from 1980 to 1995, the lives of an estimated 20 million children were saved, but under the leadership of outgoing executive director Carol Bellamy, UNICEF switched from promoting the essential health needs of children to promoting children's rights — and with disastrous consequences.

UNICEF's so-called "rights-based" approach of recent years has crowded out the agency's earlier, relatively successful focus on growth monitoring, oral rehydration therapy, breastfeeding, and immunization. Consequently, more than 10 million children under the age of five are dying every year, although over 60 percent of the deaths of children in the six countries with the highest infant mortality "were and remain preventable," writes Richard Horton in the British journal THE LANCET (12/11/04).

"In a world of unlimited options and bottomless pockets, there would be no conflict between pursuing children's health and children's rights," writes Independent Institute Research Fellow Wendy McElory. "But UNICEF's new report cries out for increased funding precisely because money is limited and all goals cannot be pursued in tandem." McElroy further notes that setting sound priorities will be even more important if overall funding of the U.N. is tightened in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal.

Perhaps 2005 will be a year for setting priorities based on accurate assessments of real-world risk.

See "UNICEF's 'Rights' Focus Is All Wrong," by Wendy McElroy (12/22/04) http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1443

To purchase LIBERTY FOR WOMEN: Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-first Century, ed. by Wendy McElroy,
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=43

Michael Crichton on Independent Institute books in STATE OF FEAR:
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/#15

To purchase A POVERTY OF REASON: Economic Growth and Sustainable Development, by Wilfred Beckerman
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=26

HOT TALK, COLD SCIENCE: Global Warming's Unfinished Debate, by S. Fred Singer
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=42

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2) Security Is Not Measured by Military Spending

When it comes to military spending, fiscal "conservatives" too often remain silent. But the assumption that the Pentagon is a paragon of efficiency is not only fiscally irresponsible, it can costs lives — as the family of any soldier killed when his unarmored truck hit an improvised explosive device can attest.

Throughout government, incentives, not official intentions, dictate results. Unfortunately, this means that official policy can sometimes easily become "hijacked" when no one has a strong incentive to monitor the decision-making process or results. And defense spending in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is no exception, as Ivan Eland, senior fellow and director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute, explains in his latest op-ed.

"The defense budget is rife with weapon systems that are unneeded, perform poorly, or were designed to fight the now defunct Soviet Union," writes Eland.

The U.S. Navy's Virginia-class submarines, for example, are still under production, although the only potent submarine adversary has withered away with the iron curtain. A similar story can be told of the Air Force's F-22 stealth fighter jet. The Marine's accident-prone V-22 transport aircraft may or may not be able to offer advantages over existing helicopters, but does our experience with past systems justify giving it the benefit of the doubt?

Quoting Eland: "The average taxpayer — whether a hawk, a dove, or somewhere in between — should ask how these white elephants are contributing to countering the main threat — al Qaeda. They don't. They merely provide welfare for constituent industries and unions that are far from poor. In fact, buying these unneeded systems takes money away from less glamorous, but more urgent, security needs-for example, armor for personnel and vehicles.... Merely throwing wads of cash at the politicized security bureaucracies does not ensure that the troops or the nation is protected."

See "Greater Government Spending Has Not enhanced National Security" by Ivan Eland (12/27/04)
http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1444

To purchase THE EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland, see
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=54

To purchase PUTTING “DEFENSE” BACK INTO U.S. DEFENSE POLICY: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World, by Ivan Eland, see
http://www.independent.org/store/book_detail.asp?bookID=19

Center on Peace & Liberty
http://www.independent.org/research/copal/

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3) Globalization As a Peace Strategy

The greatest benefit of free trade is not that it fosters prosperity -- although Adam Smith was certainly correct when he observed that the international division of labor contributes significantly to the wealth of nations. Rather, it is the tendency of free trade to prevent war, according to sociologist Erich Weede (University of Bonn), author of the INDEPENDENT REVIEW article, "The Diffusion of Prosperity and Peace by Globalization" (fall 2004).

Numerous studies show that free trade promotes peace in two ways -- by reducing the incentives to go to war and by promoting prosperity and democracy, which also contribute to peace. If these studies were better known, Weede suggests, many critics of globalization would become supporters.

“If globalization is understood as the spread of capitalism by free trade, foreign investment, and outsourcing, then globalization promises to promote prosperity and peace at the same time,” writes Weede. “Of course, the diffusion of capitalism and peace by globalization takes time and does not solve all urgent problems at once, but it is likely to prevent many security problems from even arising.”

Weede cautions that the trade-peace link may not prevent wars 100 percent of the time, especially if a country has weak property rights and democratic institutions. Nevertheless, he argues, the trade-peace link is very strong; trade between China and Taiwan, for example, seems to have pacified what otherwise might be a truly dangerous relationship.

“The policy implications of the capitalist-peace strategy are simple: promote economic freedom and globalization. If the policy succeeds, one gets more prosperity, more democracy, less civil war, and less interstate war," concludes Weede.

See “The Diffusion of Prosperity and Peace by Globalization,” by Erich Weede (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Fall 2004)
http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?issueID=39&articleID=457

For more on the relationship between peace and commerce, see Prof. Alex Robson's $10,000-prize-winning essay for the 2003 Garvey Fellowship Competition at http://www.independent.org/students/garvey/winners2002-2003.asp. For the other winning essays, see http://www.independent.org/students/garvey/winners2002-2003.asp.

For information on the 2005 Garvey Fellowship Competition (prizes ranging from $1,000 to $10,000), see
http://www.independent.org/students/garvey/.

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