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Volume 10, Issue 1: January 7, 2008

  1. The 2008 Sir John M. Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest
  2. Deconstructing Iran’s Ahmadinejad
  3. The Meek Need Mineral Rights
  4. Voltaire on the Origin of Religious Tolerance

1) The 2008 Sir John M. Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest

Top Essays to Be Awarded $2,500 (Students) or $10,000 (Untenured Faculty)

The Independent Institute is pleased to announce the 2008 Sir John M. Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest. Cash prizes will be awarded to outstanding college students—and untenured “junior” faculty—from around the world through a competitive essay contest. The essay topics change annually. This year’s topic pertains to property rights and human rights:

UCLA economics professor Armen Alchian once wrote, “For decades social critics in the United States and throughout the Western world have complained that ‘property’ rights too often take precedence over ‘human’ rights, with the result that people are treated unequally and have unequal opportunities. Inequality exists in any society. But the purported conflict between property rights and human rights is a mirage—property rights are human rights.” (Source: “Property Rights,” in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics)

Are property rights human rights? How are they related? What are their similarities and differences? If property rights are human rights, why have they enjoyed fewer legal protections and intellectual champions than other human rights?

A panel of three judges will look for the best essays related to the topic—original essays distinguished by their clarity, rigor, and eloquence. The essays need not be technical or demonstrate hyper-specialized scholarship, but they should be serious in content, tone, and style. Held annually, the Sir John M. Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest (a continuation of the Olive W. Garvey Fellowship Competition) was created to encourage and reward scholarship pertaining to the meaning and significance of economic and personal liberties.

STUDENT DIVISION: College students up to the age of 35:
First Prize: $2,500
Second Prize: $1,500
Third prize: $1,000

FACULTY DIVISION: Junior faculty members up to the age of 35 and not yet tenured:
First Prize: $10,000
Second Prize: $5,000
Third Prize: $1,500

ELIGIBILITY: 1) Student Division: Any student 35 years or younger enrolled at a recognized college or university anywhere in the world. 2) Junior Faculty Division: Untenured college or university teachers, Assistant Professor or higher, 35 years or younger.

LENGTH: Student essays must be 1,500 to 5,000 words long. Teacher essays must be 5,000 to 8,000 words long.

DEADLINE: May 1, 2008

More information, including complete eligibility requirements, a suggested reading list and examples of past winning essays


2) Deconstructing Iran’s Ahmadinejad

According last month’s news reports, the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Whether or not Iran has done so, U.S. policy toward Iran will likely become an increasingly important issue in the U.S. presidential race. What is one to make of Iran?

In a recent issue of Asia Times, Independent Institute Research Fellow David Isenberg reviewed the important new book, The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran. Co-authored by an Israeli investigative journalist Yossi Melman and Iranian born Middle East analyst Meir Javedanfar, the book discusses the history of Iran’s nuclear program (e.g., regarding the U.S. provision of weapons grade uranium to Iran from the late 1960s to 1979 after the Islamic Revolution). It also provides an invaluable context for making sense of Iranian politics in general and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—the sphinx of the book’s title—in particular.

“Given Iran’s leading role in the global oil trade and the global impact any military attack on Iran would have, dispassionate, accurate analysis of Iran’s nuclear program, in terms of technical, political, economic, social and cultural aspects is critical,” writes Isenberg. “We’ve not seen much of it here in the West, even less in terms of books. But finally we have one that promises to be the go-to book for the next few years.”

“Beyond the Bombast,” by David Isenberg (Asia Times, 1/5/08)

“Living with a Nuclear Iran and North Korea?” A panel discussion featuring Charles V. Peña, Ivan Eland, Trita Parsi, and Doug Bandow (Washington, D.C., 6/21/07)


3) The Meek Need Mineral Rights

“The meek shall inherit the Earth, but not its mineral rights,” oil billionaire J. Paul Getty once quipped. In an insightful article for Energy Tribune, investment writer Robert Bryce explains that Getty’s remark is as true today as it was decades ago. That’s because, according to Bryce, “the U.S. is the only country on the planet that allows individuals to own mineral rights.” Furthermore, “about 80 percent of the world’s known oil reserves are under the control of national oil companies and of the ten biggest reserve holders…only one allows individuals to own equity,” Bryce continues.

A reader of the Independent Institute book Making Poor Nations Rich, Bryce notes the connection between private-property rights and prosperity: “The book’s overriding thesis, according to editor Benjamin Powell, an economics professor at Suffolk University, is that ‘Economic freedom and private-property rights are essential for promoting the productive entrepreneurship that leads to economic growth.’”

“That is surely true,” Bryce continues. “But that statement’s seldom-spoken corollary is that when it comes to oil development and oil supply, government control of mineral rights leads to kleptocracy and underdevelopment of resources…. If the meek ever inherit those rights, widespread prosperity—and cheaper oil—will surely follow.”

“The Meek Need Mineral Rights,” by Robert Bryce (Asia Times, 12/26/07)

Making Poor Nations Rich: Entrepreneurship and the Process of Economic Development, edited by Benjamin Powell.

Re-Thinking Green: Alternatives to Environmental Bureaucracy, edited by Robert Higgs and Carl P. Close.


4) Voltaire on the Origin of Religious Tolerance

“If there were only one religion in England, there would be danger of tyranny; if there were two, they would cut each other’s throats; but there are thirty, and they live happily together in peace.” –Voltaire (1733)

Francois-Marie Arouet (1694-1798)—better known by his nom de plume Voltaire—helped launch the French Enlightenment when he published his Letters Concerning the English Nation. Written while living in self-imposed exile in England (he had pledged to stay away from Paris as a condition of his release from a jail term for insulting an aristocrat), Voltaire noted—and celebrated—the climate of religious tolerance that prevailed in the “nation of shop keepers,” as some of his countrymen had dismissively called their rivals across the channel. What’s more, according to Voltaire, religious diversity was tolerated in England precisely because it had become a nation of shopkeepers, explains Independent Institute Research Fellow Wendy McElroy is a new essay.

“A key difference between England and France lay in the English system of commerce and in the comparatively high regard in which the English held their merchants,” writes McElroy. Christians, Jews, and Muslims could be found working peacefully side by side at the London stock exchange, Voltaire noted, and they carried their acceptance of others far beyond the doors of that institution. Meanwhile, France’s leaders enforced religious conformity, rationalizing it on the grounds that mandating common values was necessary to prevent sectarian strife.

Voltaire’s argument against enforced conformity has deep implications for the centralized policies of all governments. McElroy continues: “Those citizens who reject homogeneity in religion are naturally led to question the wisdom of many other government institutions, e.g. public schooling, which are often justified by the declared need for common values. The freedom of individuals to decide for themselves what is valuable could easily lead them to demand the right to live according to those values and to teach them to their children. It could lead to an unraveling of centralized control.”

“The Origin of Religious Tolerance: Voltaire,” by Wendy McElroy (1/7/08)

Also see:

“Moral Capital and Commercial Society,” by Suri Ratnapala (The Independent Review, Fall 2003)

“Freedom of Religion and Public Schooling,” by James Otteson (The Independent Review, Spring 2000)

Freedom, Feminism, and the State, edited by Wendy McElroy

Liberty for Women, edited by Wendy McElroy


  • Catalyst
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