The Power of Independent Thinking


Stay Connected
Get the latest updates straight to your inbox.

The Lighthouse®

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

Volume 9, Issue 29: July 16, 2007

  1. Russia and the NATO Expansion
  2. Hong Kong’s Wisdom
  3. Higgs and Gregory on War and Empire
  4. Vedder and Jacobs Debate Wal-Mart

1) Russia and the NATO Expansion

Russia’s suspension of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty—which limits the number of Russian tanks and heavy artillery on its western and southern borders—is the latest dizzying turn in the rollercoaster of U.S.-Russia relations. Although many view the post-Soviet bellicosity of Russia as a recent and unforeseen phenomena, its origins can be traced to the predictable uneasiness it has felt since the expansion of NATO, first in 1999 (with the admission of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic) and later in 2004 (with the addition of Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania).

At the time of those expansions, few in the West seriously considered the consequences of a nuclear-armed Russia, flush with oil revenues, run by a strong ruler—and feeling increasingly encircled by a foreign military alliance. Yet, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland, it is precisely the expansion of NATO—a violation of the Two Plus Four Treaty signed by Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush in 1990—that is at the root of the current tensions. With Western talk of admitting Ukraine to NATO and building anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, it is becoming increasingly more imaginable that the United States will someday be drawn into a military conflagration in Eastern Europe, in defense of a new NATO ally, argues Eland in his latest op-ed.

“U.S. politicians would do well to cancel the planned deployment of missile defenses in the former Eastern Bloc, and to end the NATO expansion,” writes Eland. “Neither is needed for U.S. security, and these plans will only exacerbate tensions with a nuclear-armed and increasingly hostile Russia.”

“Payback for NATO Expansion,” by Ivan Eland (7/16/07) Spanish Translation

Ivan Eland’s Center on Peace & Liberty                        

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


2) Hong Kong’s Wisdom

Despite more than a decade of political, judicial and economic meddling by the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong has demonstrated admirable resilience. Residents of the “New Territories”—as the former British colony is called—have hampered large-scale encroachments by the central government, yet they have managed to avoid triggering a Tiananmen-style crackdown. While Beijing has abridged the authority of Hong Kong’s legislature, overturned a court ruling in favor of universal suffrage, and blocked the sale of Hong Kong’s largest telecom company to foreign investors, the central government seems reluctant to intrude as harshly as its official communist ideology might suggest.

“The strength of the institutions that protect property rights and civil liberties in Hong Kong is such that only a full-scale armed intervention could destroy them at this point—something Beijing wants to avoid because of the obvious costs involved,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa in his latest syndicated column. Hong Kong’s remarkable resilience, including its rapid recovery from the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s and, more recently, from the SARS epidemic, suggests a brighter future ahead.

“If things continue as they are for another 10 years, it is hard to see how Hong Kong’s aspirations will remain unrealized,” writes Vargas Llosa. “Its citizens have been able to preserve their system against all odds. Many of China’s rulers are aging and the new generations of communist leaders will probably be less determined to prevent the political opening of Hong Kong than the citizens of Hong Kong are determined to be fully free.”

“Hong Kong’s Wisdom,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (7/11/07) Spanish Translation

Also see Alvaro Vargas Llosa’s books:

Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression

The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty

Center on Global Prosperity (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Director)

Spanish Website and Spanish Blog


3) Higgs and Gregory on War and Empire

“Randolph Bourne’s statement ‘war is the health of the state’ has become a cliché not simply because it is pithy, but above all because it expresses a vitally important truth,” Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs told an audience at a conference, “Restoring the Republic: Foreign Policy & Civil Liberties,” held last month by the Future of Freedom Foundation.

The state, according to Higgs, is the most destructive institution human beings have ever devised, and nothing promotes its growth as much as war. Wars not only impose huge financial costs, they also leave institutional legacies that enhance government power at the expense of the people’s liberties.

“Perhaps most important, war has effects on the dominant ideology that work in favor of long-lasting government power and the permanent reduction of public liberties,” Higgs continued. “In this way, government war measures change the very characters of once-free people, by breaking down their will to be free and their determination to resist tyranny.”

Addressing the same conference, Independent Institute Research Analyst Anthony Gregory discussed the shifting rationales for U.S. foreign-policy interventionism. “We hear different arguments for foreign intervention, generally falling under the categories of nationalist and internationalist, but many of them rely on a little of both,” said Gregory, who examined such issues as the Iraq war and the foreign-policy establishment, American interventionism before 9/11, Wilsonianism in the post-9/11 world, civil liberties during wartime, and the prospects for freedom in the United States.

“Regardless of [political] labels, let us stand for peace and liberty,” Gregory said in his conclusion. “The next aggressive war, the next power grab, the next president who tries to use an emergency to overturn ancient liberties and replace them with ancient evils—whether he be a Republican or she be a Democrat—whether the propaganda wears the cape of humanitarianism or the cloak of national security—I hope as many of us as possible are still together, opposing the march toward human tragedy and pointing the way toward a brighter, freer, and more peaceful tomorrow.”

“War and Leviathan: The Trick that Works Every Time,” by Robert Higgs (7/13/07)

“The Shifting Rationales for Empire,” by Anthony Gregory (7/13/07)

Purchase Neither Liberty nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government, by Robert Higgs.

Center on Peace & Liberty


4) Vedder and Jacobs Debate Wal-Mart

Is Wal-Mart good or bad for America? In their May 8 debate about the world’s largest retailer, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Richard Vedder (co-author, The Wal-Mart Revolution) and Ken Jacobs (Chair, U.C. Berkeley Labor Center) left little doubt that the answer hinges both on empirical economic issues and on one’s ethical assumptions.

Vedder began by addressing the common criticisms made against Wal-Mart. The retail giant doesn’t destroy jobs, he said; on balance it creates them: one year after a Wal-Mart store has opened in a community, employment is higher than before. Also, Wal-Mart pays wages and health benefits comparable to those paid by similar stores, he said. While some businesses must close after a new Wal-Mart store has opened, it is important to keep in mind that it is consumers’ choices—as reflected their spending decisions--that determines which firms flourish and which founder, he argued.

Ken Jacobs took issue with almost every claim made by Vedder. Wal-Mart, according to Jacobs, pays lower wages and fewer health benefits than other large retailers. Jacobs defended “living wage” ordinances and restrictions on the opening of Wal-Mart stores. “[Some] communities will decide they will accept big-box retailers if they meet certain community standards,” said Jacobs. “Others will decide to keep them out altogether. And that’s the beauty of democracy in America.”

“Is Wal-Mart Good or Bad for America? A Debate,” featuring Richard Vedder and Ken Jacobs (5/8/07) Transcript and Audio

Purchase Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America, by Robert Vedder and Lowell Gallaway.


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless