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The Lighthouse®

The Lighthouse® is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 16, Issue 26: July 1, 2014

  1. Civil Rights Act Turns 50
  2. Do Private Prisons Make Financial Sense for States?
  3. Let Market Prices Fix Water Shortages
  4. EVENT: Are There Lessons for Us Today from Nazi Gun Control? (Oakland, CA; 7/24/14)
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts

1) Civil Rights Act Turns 50

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964, its proponents insisted the legislation would prohibit discrimination. Senator Hubert Humphrey, the bill’s sponsor, said he would even eat its pages if anyone could find wording in it to the contrary. Yet within months of its becoming law, the Labor Department, the Small Business Administration, and the newly formed Employment Opportunity Commission began to amend their forms and usher in the “check boxing” of America. How did a law that (imperfectly) embodied individualism and nondiscrimination help launch decades of group preferences and affirmative discrimination? Historian and Independent Institute Research Fellow Jonathan Bean takes up this complicated issue in The Beacon.

First, it’s worth emphasizing that the early civil rights movement was strongly individualistic. As far back as Frederick Douglass, Bean notes, opponents of racial justice pointed out the common humanity of every individual. And even a year after the Civil Rights Act was signed, NAACP spokesperson Clarence Mitchell was warning that racial check boxes on civil servant applications would open the door to a new variant of injustice. The civil rights movement overwhelmingly supported individualism, not collective preferences, but the politicians and bureaucrats succumbed to greater pressures—pressures generated by inner city riots and the need to appear proactive when so many government programs had failed to make good on their promise of promoting social progress.

“If policymakers had enforced the Civil Rights Act in good faith, time might have eroded the tendency to view others as members of a group, rather than as individuals,” Bean writes. “Let us restore the Civil Rights Act to its original meaning, even if it is one state at a time.”

50 Years of Mischief: The Triumph and Trashing of the Civil Rights Act, by Jonathan Bean (The Beacon, 6/25/14)

Race and Liberty in Americas: The Essential Reader, edited by Jonathan Bean


2) Do Private Prisons Make Financial Sense for States?

Most states use contract prisons for some of their corrections needs, often in the hope of saving money, but is contracting out really all that worthwhile for states? The current debate about prisons and the private sector has often generated more heat than light. Fortunately, a new study from the Independent Institute answers the question by offering a new and improved method for calculating the fiscal benefits of breaking free of the public-prison monopoly. Authored by two leading experts on public-private partnerships, economists Simon Hakim and Erwin A. Blackstone, “Prison Break: A New Approach to Public Cost and Safety” finds that using contract prisons often results in cost savings two or three times as large as the 5 to 10 percent minimum that some states require. In some cases, the long-run savings is much higher, such as in California (savings of 58.61% at one prison), Oklahoma (up to 36.77%), and Texas (up to 44.95%).

“Our study found that contracting out inmates to private prisons saved state governments money while maintaining performance at least at the same quality as public prisons,” Hakim and Blackstone write. “Indeed, public-private competition and cooperation could even be extended to further these fiscally responsible goals.”

Although thirty states used contract prisons in 2010, Hakim and Blackstone found it helpful to focus on ten: Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. Employing state and federal cost data, as well as interviews with corrections officials, they compare the short-run and long-run avoidable costs of contract prisons with the costs of public prisons. In doing so, they raise the bar for studies on the economics of prisons. Interestingly, they note that states that contract for correctional services tend to employ a variety of alternatives to incarceration, such as sentencing reform, community-based corrections and reentry programs, and that private operators often partner with government agencies to provide such services.

Prison Break: A New Approach to Cost and Safety, by Simon Hakim and Erwin A. Blackstone (Independent Policy Report, 6/30/14)

Changing the Guard: Private Prisons and the Control of Crime, by Alexander T. Tabarrok

To Serve and Protect: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice, by Bruce L. Benson

Self-Governance in San Pedro Prison, by David B. Skarbek (The Independent Review, Spring 2010)


3) Let Market Prices Fix Water Shortages

Much of the western United States is suffering from drought, but scarce rainfall isn’t the sole cause of water shortages. A lot of the blame falls on city agencies, regional authorities, state governments, and federal governments. Why? Because, as Independent Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Powell explains in the Huffington Post, they have encouraged overconsumption of water by keeping prices artificially low. Powell has witnessed this mismanagement first hand: As a resident of drought-stricken Lubbock, Texas, he has seen the folly of water priced as low as $4.31 per 1,000 gallons.

“As a result, local bureaucrats dictate when and how we can water our lawns while federal bureaucrats condemn us to using toilets that barely flush and showers that trickle,” Powell writes. “All of this command-and-control regulation would be unnecessary if prices were allowed to adjust to eliminate water shortages.”

Powell opposes the quantitative rationing of water and argues that raising prices would promote efficient conservation. He also recommends that water managers read a major book published by the Independent Institute in 2012: “As is shown in the superb book, Aquanomics: Water Markets and the Environment, droughts make water scarcer, but by themselves they cannot cause shortages.”

Water: The Price Is Wrong, by Benjamin Powell (The Huffington Post, 6/20/14)

Aquanomics: Water Markets and the Environment, edited by B. Delworth Gardner and Randy T. Simmons


4) EVENT: Are There Lessons for Us Today from Nazi Gun Control? (Oakland, CA; 7/24/14)

On Thursday, July 24, noted firearms attorney and historian Stephen P. Halbrook will appear at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and speak on the explosive findings of his latest book, Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State”, and their potential relevance to today’s heated debates about firearm restrictions.

Drawing on newly discovered secret documents from German archives, Halbrook’s book reveals the hidden history of how the Nazi regime made use of firearms restrictions to repress its political foes and consolidate power. Because the voluminous literature on the rise of Hitler almost never mentions the role of gun control, Halbrook adds considerably to our understanding of that topic—just as his earlier books on U.S. firearms policy contribute greatly to what we know about the Second Amendment’s origins and applicability to state governments via the Fourteenth Amendment.

Along with his research on the history of gun laws, Halbrook’s work as a leading firearms attorney (including winning three cases in the U.S. Supreme Court) makes him uniquely qualified to weigh in on the question: what lessons, if any, does Germany’s experience with gun control offer Americans today?

Stephen P. Halbrook is a research fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the new book, Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and “Enemies of the State”. His other books include The Founders’ Second Amendment, Securing Civil Rights, and That Every Man Be Armed. As a leading Second Amendment attorney, he successfully argued three Supreme Court cases: United States v. Thompson/Center Arms Company (1992), Printz v. United States (1997),and Castillo v. United States (2000).

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Reception and Book Signing: 6:00 p.m.
Program: 7:00 p.m.

Independent Institute Conference Center
100 Swan Way, Oakland, CA 94621-1428
Map and Directions

General Admission: $20 ($15 for Members)
General Admission plus a hardcover copy of the book Gun Control in the Third Reich: $40 ($35 for Members)

MORE INFO: Are There Lessons for Us Today from Nazi Gun Control?, featuring Stephen P. Halbrook (Oakland, CA; 7/24/14)

AUDIO: Halbrook on Operation Freedom Radio with Dr. Dave Janda (6/29/14)


5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Clarity on the Missing Emails
K. Lloyd Billingsley (6/30/14)

Privatize and Specialize the VA
Craig Eyermann (6/29/14)

Tracking Wasteful Government Spending
Craig Eyermann (6/26/14)

Federal Abuse Has No Borders
K. Lloyd Billingsley (6/25/14)

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


6) Selected News Alerts


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless