The Lighthouse® is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
Subscribe now, or browse Back Issues.
Volume 8, Issue 22: May 30, 2006
Wal-Mart has often been criticized for benefiting from eminent domain, but it now appears to be its victim. The city council of Hercules, Calif., recently voted to seize land owned by the retail giant in order to make it available to stores more conducive to the "village-like atmosphere" it hopes to foster. Yet the same businesses it hopes to attract forfeited an earlier opportunity to open stores on that property when an earlier owner tried to develop it.
Are city planners better at predicting what kinds of businesses would thrive at a given location than the prospective businesses themselves? That assumption, held by the Hercules city council, illustrates the economic folly of eminent domain, according to Benjamin Powell, director of the Independent Institute's Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation.
"Eminent domain not only violates property rights, it’s also bad economics," writes Powell. "Seizing someone’s private property to give it to another private party actually harms economic development, by switching it to less valuable uses."
In November, California voters will have the opportunity to curb eminent domain by voting for the Protect Our Homes Initiative. "Ironically, by protecting homeowners from Wal-Mart, voters would also be protecting Wal-Mart from Hercules’s central planners," Powell concludes. "The initiative will be beneficial in either case because eminent domain is not good for our economy whether Wal-Mart is the goose or the gander."
See "Eminent Domain Roulette," by Benjamin Powell (INVESTORS BUSINESS DAILY, 5/26/06)
"La ruleta del dominio eminente"
Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation (Benjamin Powell, director)
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva is the national leader best positioned to oppose Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the current battle for the soul of Latin America's left. The battle is comprised of two very different camps of leftists, according to Alvaro Vargas Llosa, director of the Independent Institute's Center on Global Prosperity: "The 'vegetarian' left is somewhat sympathetic to free markets and believes in democracy. The 'carnivorous' left promotes populist, authoritarian regimes. Lula is the natural leader of the vegetarians. Chavez has replaced Castro as the leader of the carnivores."
In the face of Chavez's recent effort to undermine Lula's plan for the economic integration of South America, Lula will have to display stronger leadership than he has so far provided, Vargas Llosa argues. "A few weeks ago, President Lula told me, 'I want to make it clear that I do not have any type of ideological resistance against FTAA" (the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a treaty derided by the hard left). In contrast, Chavez has joined Cuba's Fidel Castro and Bolivia's Evo Morales in a trade pact intended to counter free markets -- a move which constitutes "a slap in the face of Brazil's integrationist plans," writes Vargas Llosa.
"To make matters worse, Chavez has been getting close to Argentina -- a country run by another populist president -- through the purchase of that nation's sovereign bonds, knowing full well that Buenos Aires is in a permanent state of tension with Brazil simply because Brazil has gotten its economy relatively in shape and has a trade surplus with Argentina," Vargas Llosa continues. "Brazil's integration plan is a desirable goal, but the absence of Brazilian leadership means Chavez's plan is the only one standing."
See "Can Lula Stop Chavez?" by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (5/24/06)
THE CHE GUEVARA MYTH AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERTY, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa
LIBERTY FOR LATIN AMERICA: How to Undo Five-Hundred Years of State Oppression, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa
Center on Global Prosperity (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, director)
El Independent: El Blog del Centro Para la Prosperidad Global de The Independent Institute
"On Memorial Day, we should honor those who are buried after dying in the country’s wars, but be a little more skeptical of the U.S. government actions that put them there," writes Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute's Center on Peace & Liberty, in his latest op-ed.
Eland argues that governments have often propagandized about their role in various wars in the hope of shielding their citizens from some of the humiliations of wartime. Eland cites two examples he has seen first-hand: a World War II memorial in Paris that recognizes the French resistance but ignores the allies who liberated France from Nazi occupation -- and a Canadian military fort which was taken by Americans during the War of 1812.
Eland also notes some of the terrible unintended consequences of U.S. intervention in various wars. For example, President Woodrow Wilson, Eland writes, "provided aid to the Russian government as long as they fought in World War I against the Kaiser's Germany. If the Russian government had pulled out of the war earlier, Vladimir Lenin wouldn't have been able to ride the unpopular war to power."
See "On Memorial Day, Honor the War Dead but Question America’s Wars," by Ivan Eland (5/29/06)
THE EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland
THE WAY OUT OF IRAQ: Decentralizing the Iraqi Government, by Ivan Eland
Center on Peace & Liberty (Ivan Eland, director)
As historians often attest, history often repeats itself in recognizable -- and startling -- patterns. Of course, no two historical episodes are exactly alike in every respect, but there are enough ominous parallels to justify George Santayana's famous dictum about the hazards of ignoring the lessons of history.
In his provocative and amusing article, "Discovery of a Terrorist Plot, Then and Now," Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs illustrates this theme by comparing two terrorist plots and their aftermath -- that of 9/11 and that of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a failed plan to assassinate King James I of England.
All the more remarkable is that Higgs exposes the similarities of these episodes simply by replacing a few key words in an account of King James's England with a few words familiar to virtually everyone who has read a newspaper or watched a television news program semi-regularly in the past four-and-a-half years.
See "Discovery of a Terrorist Plot, Then and Now," by Robert Higgs (5/18/06)
To purchase RESURGENCE OF THE WARFARE STATE: The Crisis since 9/11," by Robert Higgs, see
To purchase AGAINST LEVIATHAN: Government Power and a Free Society, by Robert Higgs, see