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The Lighthouse®

The Lighthouse® is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 9, Issue 30: July 23, 2007

  1. The Politics of Corn Prices
  2. Milton Friedman, Economist and Friend of Liberty
  3. New Study Examines Wrongful Convictions
  4. Seminar Teaches Students the Economics, Heritage, and Challenge of Liberty: August 6-10

1) The Politics of Corn Prices

Like rice in China and wheat in the Middle East, corn in the Americas has long played a central role in that region’s economies and cultures. Thus, when the recent surge in the price of corn in Latin America began last year, critics began to pounce on the event as though it were a market assault on Latin American identity. But according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa, the corn price spike may have more to do with government intervention in the economy—namely, environmentally inspired subsidies for ethanol and protectionist tariffs on imported corn—than with the workings of a pure free market.

“Latin America is discovering a contradiction between promoting alternative energy and keeping food cheap,” writes Vargas Llosa in his latest syndicated column. “Some countries such as Brazil have a vested interest in producing ethanol because they grow lots of sugar cane. Mexicans for their part have a vested interest in keeping things as they used to be because they eat tortillas and their country is a major oil producer. And there are those, such as the Central American nations, that have contradictory interests—they would like to replace carbon fuels with ethanol because they currently depend on crude oil imports, but they want the price of corn to remain low because, as Rigoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan Nobel Prize laureate, is fond of saying, corn ‘is part of our dignity.’”

Ironically, the environmentally motivated push for ethanol derived from sugar cane has unintended negative consequences for much of Brazil’s environment: “When we hear environmentalists complain about the loss of the rain forest,” Vargas Llosa continues, “we should bear in mind that much of it has to do with a business interest paradoxically generated by ‘green’ activism in rich countries.”

“Corny Politics,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (7/18/07) 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


2) Milton Friedman, Economist and Friend of Liberty

Milton Friedman will long be remembered as an influential public intellectual and devoted friend of liberty. But had he never appeared on television, co-authored the influential bestseller Free to Choose, or written a long-running column in Newsweek, the late Nobel laureate would still have left a towering legacy—albeit one limited to the ivory tower, explains Julio H. Cole in the latest issue of The Independent Review.

Although Friedman’s interests in rigorously grasping the world around him were evident early on, until he completed his undergraduate education he was uncertain whether he would accept a scholarship offer for graduate study in economics or in applied mathematics. In fact, it was a widely used statistical technique Friedman developed (later called the “Friedman test”) that was the subject of one of his earliest professional publications, written when he was 25 years old.

Friedman’s interests in methodology continued, and his 1953 essay “The Methodology of Positive Economics” is “arguably his best-known work among professional economists, as well as one of his most controversial,” writes Cole.

After summarizing Friedman’s contributions to monetary economics, Cole examines Friedman’s career as a public intellectual and concludes with a personal reminiscence. A key reason for Friedman’s success both in academic and public life—beyond his sheer brilliance—was an intellectual curiosity coupled with an eagerness to engage with a wide range of people, Cole suggests.

“I will always remember his gracious generosity, his encouragement, and his willingness to devote part of his valuable time to a young, budding academic. His kindness meant the world to me,” concludes Cole.

“Milton Friedman, 1912–2006,” by Julio Cole (The Independent Review, Summer 2007)

More on Milton Friedman

Subscribe to The Independent Review.


3) New Study Examines Wrongful Convictions

A forthcoming study of the 200 cases in which American prisoners were later exonerated by DNA evidence ranks the causes of wrongful conviction. According to a news report published in today’s New York Times, the study’s author, University of Virginia Law Professor Brandon Garrett, attributes the leading cause to erroneous identification by eyewitnesses, followed by the faulty analysis of forensic evidence such as blood, semen or hair samples. Unfortunately, although wrongful convictions due to bad analysis are expected to become less common—because DNA testing has become common—some of the underlying structural causes of bad verdicts are likely to remain, as Paul Craig Roberts explained in the spring 2003 issue of The Independent Review.

“Wrongful conviction is on the rise because the protections against it have been eroded by the pursuit of devils—drug dealers, child molesters, environmental polluters, white-collar criminals, and terrorists—all of whom must be rounded up at all cost,” wrote Roberts.

Two steps toward significantly reducing the number of wrongful convictions, according to Roberts, include the elimination of plea bargaining, which enables prosecutors to supplement weak evidence with psychological pressure, and publicizing instances of wrongful conviction: “Innocence projects and law professors who find injustice a burden on the conscience can work to reestablish the inculcation of the ethic in law school, an ethic so well expressed by [U.S. Supreme Court Justices] George Sutherland (Berger v. U.S. 1935) and Robert Jackson (1940), that the prosecutor’s duty is to see that justice is done, not to win convictions.”

“The Causes of Wrongful Conviction,” by Paul Craig Roberts (The Independent Review, Spring 2003)

The Tyranny of Good Intentions, by Paul Craig Roberts and Lawrence M. Stratton

Order back issues of The Independent Review.


4) Seminar Teaches Students the Economics, Heritage, and Challenge of Liberty: August 6-10

What are natural rights and the rule of law? How do free markets operate? How can we best improve our schools, health care, environment, and transportation? What are “public goods”? How does technology affect the case for regulation? What causes inflation and recession?

Few students have the opportunity to explore the basic ethical and economic principles of open markets and free societies—principles that not only help students imagine an ideal social order, but also principles that help students understand, appreciate, and prepare for the world they will soon enter.

To help high-school and college-age students better understand these topics, the Independent Institute sponsors annual student seminars on The Challenge of Liberty. The next session will be held August 6-10, at the Independent Institute Conference Center in Oakland, Calif.

From the five-day series of lectures, readings, film and multimedia presentations, and small-group discussions, students learn what economics is, how it affects their lives, and how it can help them achieve better lives for themselves, their communities, and the world at large.

Guest speakers include José Yulo on the ethics of liberty, James Ahiakpor on economic development, Greg Rehmke on immigration, Fred Foldvary on environmental regulation, Edward Lopez on government failure, Anthony Gregory on peace and national security, and Carl Close on inflation.

August 6-10
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tuition: $195. Scholarships are available but limited.
The Independent Institute
100 Swan Way
Oakland, CA 94621

More information

Student review: “The Challenge of Liberty: A Fresh Perspective,” by Katarina Koncokova (Hawaii Reporter, 7/19/2007)


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