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The Lighthouse®

The Lighthouse® is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 16, Issue 45: November 11, 2014

  1. Obama’s Iraq Quagmire?
  2. The Case for Victim Justice
  3. Bad Policies Could Cap the U.S. Oil Boom
  4. Untaxed by Obamacare, Digital Healthcare Attracts New Funding
  5. Robert Higgs on Freedom in a Digital World (Portland, Oregon, 11/22/14)
  6. New Blog Posts
  7. Selected News Alerts

1) Obama’s Iraq Quagmire?

What a difference an election makes. In his bid for the Oval Office in 2008, Barack Obama criticized President George W. Bush for attacking Iraq, arguing that the campaign to dethrone Saddam Hussein was a foolish diversion from pursuing sensible foreign-policy objectives. But, with President Obama’s post-election announcement last week that he will be upping the number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq by 1500, to help that troubled country fight the terrorist army calling itself the Islamic State, is the United States ushering in another Iraq war? Yes. And if the president stays on his new, ostensibly “limited” path, he will likely end up getting the United States bogged down in another bloody, costly, open-ended quagmire.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland suggests that sending even an initially limited number of advisors into Iraq puts strong pressure on the United States to eventually send the proverbial “boots on the ground.” Pressure will build both because Iraq’s troops and statesmen are weak, and because the tendency is for U.S. leadership to double down when its military luck turns south, rather than to walk away from the table and give the appearance of weakness. “In these situations,” Eland writes, “once the nation starts down the escalation slope, American prestige is on the line, and when lesser measures don’t work, overwhelming political pressure is brought to bear on the president by the political and foreign-policy elite to escalate the conflict.”

But sending U.S. troops wouldn’t make the war more winnable, because the presence of more foreign soldiers in Iraq would make it easier for the Islamic State to gain sympathizers and recruit more fighters. As General James Dubik has noted, defeating the organization would require winning the hearts and minds of Iraq’s Sunni population—something highly unlikely unless Baghdad quickly welcomes more and more Sunnis into positions of authority. “Then the Sunni tribes would have no incentive to support ISIS and thus would be more likely to turn against it—as they did before,” Eland writes.

Revealed U.S. Strategy to Battle ISIS Is Wanting, by Ivan Eland (Huffington Post, 11/3/14)

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty (Updated Edition), by Ivan Eland

Video: Ivan Eland on Ranking US Presidents (Fox and Friends, 10/26/14)


2) The Case for Victim Justice

For elected officials eager to find a real problem to fix, here’s a big one that’s seldom mentioned during campaign season: American courts and prisons are plagued with injustices and inefficiencies. One of the main culprits is their guiding principle: an emphasis on remedying offenses against the state, instead of infringements against an individual’s right to be secure in his or her person and property. Americans would therefore enjoy more justice at less cost if victims’ rights to restitution were moved for the forefront. Independent Institute Senior Fellow Bruce L. Benson puts forth this bold thesis in his new article in The Independent Review, “Let’s Focus on Victim Justice, Not Criminal Justice”, and he defends this claim with the same rigor and erudition that made his books The Enterprise of Law and To Serve and Protect landmark contributions to the literature on private law enforcement and dispute resolution.

Focusing on “victim justice” would be easier to achieve, Benson argues, if society were to embrace the full-scale privatization (not government “contracting out”) of security services, investigations, pursuit, prosecution, adjudication, and sentencing. “The result would be relatively efficient compared to punishment by imprisonment, which imposes huge costs on taxpayers and wastes large amounts of resources in the form of idle prisoners’ time,” Benson writes.

Moreover, privatizing each step—from crime prevention to restitution collection—would likely reduce crime. First, victims would have stronger incentives to report offenses, knowing that their chances of collecting full restitution were greatly improved. Second, recidivism would likely decline because some offenders needing to work off their debts would learn job skills that are in greater demand than those promoted in today’s prisons.

Let’s Focus on Victim Justice, Not Criminal Justice, by Bruce L. Benson (The Independent Review, Fall 2014)

The Enterprise of Law, by Bruce L. Benson

To Serve and Protect, by Bruce L. Benson

Audio: Bruce Benson on Crime in the U.S. (The Katherine Albrech Show, 10/23/14)

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


3) Bad Policies Could Cap the U.S. Oil Boom

The United States in the midst of an energy boom—a surge in domestic production that has pushed oil prices down by one quarter since June. But the new era of energy abundance could come to an end if the wrong policies are enacted. Such policies could be enacted due to misconceptions about the causes of the oil surge or due to the arrogance of elected officials.

“Mr. President, you didn’t build our globally important energy sector,” writes Independent Institute Research Director William F. Shughart II. “Mrs. Clinton, don’t let anyone tell you that only the public sector is responsible for economic prosperity.”

Shughart notes that the oil boom has come from production on private lands, where regulation is handled by the states, not by the federal government. “While total U.S. oil production has increased dramatically in the past few years, production on federal lands between 2009 and 2013 is down 6 percent,” Shughart writes. “Of course, the physical locations of shale deposits contribute to that trend, but substantial regulatory and permitting hurdles continue to keep many acres of publicly owned lands off limits to exploration and recovery.”

America’s New Role in the Oil Market, by William F. Shughart II (Deseret News, 10/30/14)

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


4) Untaxed by Obamacare, Digital Healthcare Attracts New Funding

Burdened by Obamacare’s excise taxes, investment capital has been fleeing from the healthcare industry. “The collapse in investment in new medical-device businesses, especially, is nothing short of catastrophic,” Independent Institute Senior Fellow John R. Graham writes in Forbes.

The only sector within healthcare that appears to be bucking the trend is digital health. Not since 2011 have venture-capital investments in digital health increased faster, according to one advisory group.

“Perhaps the future of healthcare is simply digital,” Graham continues. “On the other hand, the most obvious difference between traditional sectors and digital health is that the former suffer Obamacare excise taxes and annual fees, and the latter does not.”

Free of Obamacare Taxes, the Future of Health Is Digital, by John R. Graham (Forbes, 10/22/14)

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


5) Robert Higgs on Freedom in a Digital World (Portland, Oregon, 11/22/14)

Attention, Lighthouse friends in the Pacific Northwest: Need recharging after the midterm elections? Then read on.

We’re delighted to announce that Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs—author Delusions of Power, Depression, War, and Cold War, and Crisis and Leviathan—will be speaking at “Freedom in a Digital World,” a one-day conference to be held November 22, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Portland–Lake Oswego, Oregon. Hosted by Freedom Seminars, the event co-stars Jeffrey Tucker.

Higgs is scheduled to give two talks: “How to Produce a Sluggish Recovery” and “The Logical of Crisis and Leviathan, and Why It Still Holds.” Tucker is also slated to give two talks: “How Incentives Created Science” and “The Dream of an Uncontrolled World.” Both speakers are insightful and entertaining, so secure your tickets early to ensure admission!

Freedom in a Digital World (Portland–Lake Oswego, Oregon, 11/22/14)

About Freedom Seminars


6) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Government Pension Surge Drives Tax Increases
K. Lloyd Billingsley (11/3/14)

The Bureaucrats’ Secret Buying Spree
Craig Eyermann (11/1/14)

Bay Bridge Escapes Criminal Investigation
K. Lloyd Billingsley (10/29/14)

The Hidden Deficit
Craig Eyermann (10/28/14)

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


7) Selected News Alerts


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless