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Volume 8, Issue 26: June 26, 2006

  1. Open Letter on Immigration: 500+ Economists Sign Recommendation to President Bush and Congress
  2. Among the Syrians
  3. Positive Incentives for Iran
  4. Bureaucracy vs. the Environment: What Should Be Done?

1) Open Letter on Immigration: 500+ Economists Sign Recommendation to President Bush and Congress

“Throughout our history as an immigrant nation, those who were already here have worried about the impact of newcomers. Yet, over time, immigrants have become part of a richer America, richer both economically and culturally. The current debate over immigration is a healthy part of a democratic society, but as economists and other social scientists we are concerned that some of the fundamental economics of immigration are too often obscured by misguided commentary.”

The above is excerpted from the Independent Institute's Open Letter on Immigration, which has been signed by more than 500 economists and other social scientists from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The list of signatories includes five Nobel Laureates -- Thomas C. Schelling (University of Maryland), Robert Lucas (University of Chicago), Daniel McFadden (University of California, Berkeley), Vernon Smith (George Mason University), and James Heckman (University of Chicago).

The Open Letter on Immigration reminds President Bush and all members of Congress of America’s history as an immigrant nation, the overall economic and social benefits of immigration, and the power of immigration to lift the poor out of poverty. The Letter has been mentioned favorably in recent editorials in the NEW YORK TIMES and the WALL STREET JOURNAL -- two newspapers famous for having frequently opposing editorial views -- as well as a diverse array of economists, including former Clinton advisor Brad DeLong and former Bush advisor Greg Mankiw, who often seem to agree on very little.

Why has the Open Letter struck a chord among economists? Alexander Tabarrok, the Independent Institute's director of research, offered the following reason in an op-ed he wrote last month:

"While economists may be known for assuming self-interested behavior wherever they look, economists in their work tend not to distinguish between us and them," Tabarrok writes. "We look instead for policies that at least in principle make everyone better off. Policies that make us better off at the price of making them even worse off are for politicians, not economists.... It's a peculiar kind of ethics that says we should greatly penalize very poor immigrants in order to marginally benefit relatively rich Americans."

See "Open Letter on Immigration"

"Immigration Consensus" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 6/20/06)

"Why Ruin the World's Best Anti-Poverty Program?" by Alexander Tabarrok (TCS DAILY, 5/25/06)

"¿Por qué echar a perder al mejor programa contra la pobreza del mundo?"

For useful references on immigration, see


2) Among the Syrians

Satellite television and the Internet are bringing global news and ideas to Syrians like never before. That President al-Assad's authoritarian regime permits the new telecommunications technology may surprise some -- at least perhaps until one hears the claim that, as one European diplomat in Syria recently told Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa, "one in every five or six people might be an informant."

Also noteworthy is that the new gadgets of modernization have also helped spark a fundamentalist backlash. In his latest op-ed, Vargas Llosa, who directs the Independent Institute's Center on Global Prosperity, recounts several examples of the new fundamentalist backlash that he witnessed on his recent tour of Syria -- ranging from the influence of religious leaders on political leaders, family and local tensions that have pitted "modernists" versus "fundamentalists," and more.

"Fundamentalist Islam has provided an ominous outlet for some in this environment," writes Vargas Llosa. "But there are also some signs of a civil society waiting to emerge. I saw them in the female human rights activist who stood up at a cultural event attended by the minister of information and called the government 'dictatorial.' And in the souks of al-Hamidiyya, where merchants trade frantically. And in the young Syrians who marched down the meandering Recta Via carrying Brazilian flags and yelling 'we won' after a victory by the Brazilian team in the World Cup -- even though they would most likely have trouble pointing to that the country on a map. And in the Bedouin I met in the al-Sham desert in central Syria who saw no contradiction between the satellite dish he has placed outside of his tent and his devotion to the tribe. And in the immigrants from Lebanon, Mauritania and Jordan who translate and create literature because they believe in the power of imagination over censorship."

"Among the Syrians," by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (6/21/06)
"Entre los sirios"

Center on Global Prosperity (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, director)

Don't miss Alvaro Vargas Llosa's superb books:
LIBERTY FOR LATIN AMERICA: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression


El Independent: El Blog del Centro Para la Prosperidad Global de The Independent Institute


3) Positive Incentives for Iran

Senior Fellow Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute's Center on Peace & Liberty, weighs in on the last diplomatic developments regarding Iran.

"The United Nations Security Council has recently sent Iran a package of incentives to encourage that nation to halt its nuclear program," writes Eland in his latest op-ed. The proposals included selling Iran light water nuclear technology, civilian aircraft, and spare parts. Although the United States participated in this initiative and has agreed to directly meet with the Iranians on the nuclear issue -- both positive developments -- it may need to go further if there is to be any hope that Iran will arrest its nuclear activities.

Eland argues that both military options and economic sanctions against Iran are likely to be counterproductive: military strikes would likely spur Iran to work harder to get nuclear developments and economic sanctions would likely be redirected onto the most disenfranchised in Iran. Both would likely alienate pro-Western youth, causing them to rally around the theocratic regime.

See "Give Iran Positive Incentives to Halt Its Nuclear Program," by Ivan Eland (6/26/06)
"Démosle a Irán incentivos positivos para que detenga su programa nuclear"

THE EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland

RESURGENCE OF THE WARFARE STATE: The Crisis Since 9/11, by Robert Higgs

Center on Peace & Liberty (Ivan Eland, director)


4) Bureaucracy vs. the Environment: What Should Be Done?

FIXING THE ENVIRONMENT -- "Bureaucracy vs. the Environment: What Should Be Done?" featuring Michael Shaw, Randy Simmons, and Carl Close (Oakland, Calif., June 28, 2006)

Dissatisfaction with the results of current environmental practices have prompted a growing number of people to look for ways to improve environmental quality that avoid counterproductive command-and-control regulations. Journalist Mark Dowie, for example, reported one aspect of this trend in a recent article about how governments have created millions of "conservation refugees" in developing countries by creating wildlife preserves while trampling on the rights and traditions of indigenous people.

"Younger, enlightened conservationists are now willing to admit that wrecking the lives of 10 million or more poor, powerless people, has been an enormous mistake; not only a moral, social, philosophical and economic mistake, but an ecological one as well," Dowie writes. "They have learned from bitter experience that national parks and protected areas surrounded by angry, hungry people, who describe themselves as 'enemies of conservation,' are generally doomed to fail." ("Problems in Paradise," SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, 11 June 2006)

The lesson -- that good aims don't guarantee good results -- applies widely to other environmental policies. Fortunately, there is a growing body of ideas for promoting environmental amenities that recognize the importance of creating positive incentives, protecting property rights, and fostering effective environmental stewardship, while at the same time recognizing the realities of our often dysfunctional "political ecology."

What can these failures teach us about how best to deal with the realities of political ecology? And how can entrepreneurship be fostered to better protect endangered species, sensitive habitat, and other environmental amenities?

Our upcoming Independent Policy Forum, "Bureaucracy vs. the Environment: What Should Be Done?" (Wed., June 28) will address these and related issues. Environmental entrepreneur MICHAEL SHAW (Founder, The Liberty Garden) will discuss "abundance ecology" versus "sustainable development." Political scientist RANDY SIMMONS (Utah State Univ.) will discuss reform of the Endangered Species Act. And the Independent Institute's CARL CLOSE, co-editor of RE-THINKING GREEN: Alternatives to Environmental Bureaucracy, will discuss key reasons for the failure of many environmental policies, along with the principles of successful approaches.


-- MICHAEL SHAW is the owner and proprietor of Liberty Garden, a native plant oasis located near Santa Cruz, Calif., that he created using a program of seedbank management.
-- RANDY T. SIMMONS is professor of political science at Utah State University, a senior fellow at PERC: The Property and Environment Research Center, and author of two chapters on endangered-species protection in the Independent Institute book, RE-THINKING GREEN.
-- CARL P. CLOSE is academic affairs director at the Independent Institute and co-editor (with Robert Higgs) of RE-THINKING GREEN: Alternatives to Environmental Bureaucracy.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Reception and book signing: 6:30 p.m.
Program: 7:00 - 8:30 p.m.

The Independent Institute Conference Center
100 Swan Way
Oakland, CA 94621-1428
For a map and directions, see

TICKETS: $15 per person ($10 for Independent Institute Members). Special Offer: Admission and a copy of RE-THINKING GREEN: $35 ($30 for members). Reserve tickets by calling (510) 632-1366 or ordering online at

Praise for RE-THINKING GREEN: Alternatives to Environmental Bureaucracy, ed. by Robert Higgs and Carl P. Close:

"This superb book provides provocative, fresh insights into the debate over appropriate public policy regarding the environment."
--GARY LIBECAP, Professor of Economics and Law, University of Arizona

"RE-THINKING GREEN is a splendid book that is very adaptable for teaching. The book is clearly written and interesting, covers the environmental topics that concern us today, and features good science and economic logic."
--ROGER MEINERS, Professor of Economics, University of Texas at Arlington

"Forces us to re-think the accomplishments of environmental policy and the most effective strategies."
--W. KIP VISCUSI, Professor of Law and Economics, Harvard University

"We would all benefit if the arguments in RE-THINKING GREEN are taken seriously by environmentalists and the general public. "
--DANIEL CHIROT, Professor of Sociology, University of Washington

For information about RE-THINKING GREEN, see

For more information about the event "Bureaucracy vs. The Environment: What Should Be Done?," see


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless