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 6, Issue 5: February 2, 2004

  1. WMD Threats Overblown, Eland Argues
  2. Corporate Profits and Slave Reparations
  3. Superstore Bans Harm Consumers and Communities

1) WMD Threats Overblown, Eland Argues
The resignation of U.S. weapons inspector David Kay, over the failure to find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (because they were probably destroyed in the 1990s, he said), illustrates the pivotal role that WMDs have played lately in U.S. national security policy.

However, not only was the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction off the mark, WMDs in general "are overrated as a threat to America," according to Ivan Eland, Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute.

"Despite all the government hoopla surrounding weapons of mass destruction prior to and subsequent to September 11, the threat has been hyped," writes Eland in his latest op-ed.

"Weapons of mass destruction" are not created equal. In fact, chemical weapons should not even be classified as WMDs because they can contaminate a much smaller area than can biological and nuclear weapons; they are better suited for defense than offense. Biological weapons can contaminate a larger area (weather permitting), but, writes Eland, "weaponizing biological agents takes a great deal of scientific expertise" -- expertise that Japanese terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo couldn't buy. Both chemical and biological weapons agents "can be incinerated by heat from the explosive impact" of a delivery missile.

As for nuclear weapons, they require "a large infrastructure, scientists, engineers and strictly controlled fissile material (plutonium or enriched uranium)," writes Eland. "Terrorists are probably not capable of building even a crude nuclear weapon."

Accordingly, the United States should rely not on counterproductive pre-emptive wars to defend America, but on deterrence. America's nuclear arsenal deterred the Soviet Union and Maoist China and is deterring North Korea.

"Deterrence has worked in the past and will most likely work in the future because the remaining destitute 'rogue' states have home addresses that could be wiped off the map -- albeit with massive casualties -- with thousands of U.S. nuclear warheads. Moreover, even though those nations disagree with intrusive U.S. foreign policy in their regions, they have no incentive to give such costly weapons to unpredictable terrorist groups."

See "Weapons of Mass Destruction Are Overrated as a Threat to America," by Ivan Eland (1/28/04)

Center on Peace & Liberty

War on Terrorism

PUTTING "DEFENSE" BACK INTO U.S. DEFENSE POLICY: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World, by Ivan Eland


2) Corporate Profits and Slave Reparations
The slavery reparations movement was dealt a major blow last week when a U.S. district court judge "dismissed a lawsuit seeking a consolidated lawsuit seeking reparations from corporate American for its role in the perpetuation of slavery in the United States," writes Independent Institute Research Fellow William J. Watkins.

The lawsuit named several banks and insurance companies whose predecessors allegedly contributed to the injury of slaves by doing business with slave owners.

The dismissal was highly warranted, according to Watkins, and the defendants were correct to raise four particular objections, with which the court agreed: "(1) Plaintiffs had no standing to bring suit against them, (2) Plaintiffs’ claims were non-justiciable political questions left to the representative branches of government, (3) Plaintiffs failed to state a proper claim, and (4) Plaintiff’s claims were time-barred."

Watkins' analysis suggests that the federal courts still retain a degree of integrity absent in legislative bodies.

See "Corporate Profits and Slave Reparations," by William J. Watkins (2/2/04)

Also see, "Can a Reparations Package Be a Bill of Attainder?" by Mathew Manweller (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Spring 2002)


3) Superstore Bans Harm Consumers and Communities
Will bargain shopping be the next victim of panicky politicians? Heavy lobbying by established interest groups has prompted many economic development bureaucrats to discourage the construction of new superstores. Oakland, for example, would not issue a permit for Wal-Mart to build a new store unless it agreed not to sell groceries. Later this month the battle will move south as the Los Angeles City Council votes on whether to keep Wal-Mart from entering city limits.

"If the ordinance passes in February, as expected, it will deprive poor neighborhoods of convenient, low-price shopping and entry-level jobs," writes economist and Independent Institute Research Fellow Shirley V. Svorny in an op-ed that appeared Friday in the LOS ANGELES TIMES. "Poor communities would remain saddled with ineffective revitalization efforts rather than the market-driven redevelopment that would follow the opening of a Wal-Mart."

City councils may claim that in the long run their communities are hampered by superstores, like Wal-Mart, when their rivals have trouble competing, but Svorny views this argument as weak.

"Those who oppose the growth of superstores cite studies finding that for every job Wal-Mart creates, two are destroyed. This sounds dire, but it is misleading. Jobs are lost every day as employment adjusts to changes in technology and consumer preferences. The retail industry isn't the first industry to develop ways to use labor more efficiently. But this does not mean permanent unemployment. History tells us that the result would not be growing regional unemployment but a shift in jobs toward businesses that are expanding."

City coffers would also suffer from a ban, according to Svorny. "In California, the retail sales tax is one of the few sources of revenue that politicians may use for discretionary spending. Cities wine and dine potential retail establishments, offering them enticements to locate within their borders. Yet in cities such as Los Angeles, Oakland and West Covina, and in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, the powers that be are working hard to keep them out."

See "Banning Wal-Mart May Prove Costly," by Shirley V. Svorny (LOS ANGELES TIMES, 1/30/04)

For more on urban policy issues, don't miss the Feb. 4th Independent Policy Forum, "THE VOLUNTARY CITY: Restoring Urban Life in Crisis Times," at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. Urban policy experts Peter Gordon, Fred Foldvary and Daniel Klein will explain how private and community-based entrepreneurship can provide superior social services, urban infrastructure, and community governance.


Peter Gordon is Professor of Policy, Planning, and Development, University of Southern California. An authority on urban planning, urban transportation and urban economics, Prof. Gordon is co-editor of the on-line journal PLANNING AND MARKETS and co-editor of the Independent Institute book, THE VOLUNTARY CITY: Choice, Community and Civil Society.

Fred Foldvary is Professor of Economics, Santa Clara University; contributing author, THE VOLUNTARY CITY: Choice, Community and Civil Society.

Daniel Klein is Professor of Economics, Santa Clara University; contributing author, THE VOLUNTARY CITY: Choice, Community and Civil Society

Wednesday, February 4, 2004
Reception and book signing: 7:00 p.m.
Program: 7:30 - 9:00 p.m.

The Independent Institute Conference Center
100 Swan Way
Oakland, CA 94621-1428
For a map and directions, see

TICKETS: $32 Special Admission: Includes copy of THE VOLUNTARY CITY. (25% off cover price!) Admission without a book is $15 per person (or $10 for Independent Institute Members). Reserve tickets by calling (510) 632-1366.

Praise for the featured book, THE VOLUNTARY CITY: Choice, Community, and Civil Society, edited by David T. Beito, Peter Gordon and Alexander Tabarrok (co-published by University of Michigan Press and The Independent Institute):

"The exciting and pioneering book, THE VOLUNTARY CITY, sketches out a provocative vision for communities based on civil cooperation and entrepreneurship. Drawing upon a fascinating history of city innovations, the book shows why the de-bureaucratization of urban life is crucial to fostering thriving markets, vibrant neighbors and educational excellence."
-- Jerry Brown, Mayor, City of Oakland; former Governor, State of California

"THE VOLUNTARY CITY explores the fascinating history of bottom-up approaches to the challenges of urban living. It provides refreshing counterpoint to the dominant urbanologist tradition, which stresses the indispensability of government engineering of basic city institutions."
-- Robert Ellickson, Walter E. Meyer Professor of Property and Urban Law, Yale University

"Those of us concerned with the role of government, particularly on the local level, have a great deal to learn from THE VOLUNTARY CITY. The central questions about how we can best build community and provide for a better quality of life -- and whether these objectives are best accomplished inside or outside of government -- are addressed here in a way that will stimulate a crucial dialogue."
-- Ross C. Anderson, Mayor, City of Salt Lake City, Utah

More information about this event.


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless