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The Lighthouse®

The Lighthouse® is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 10, Issue 44: November 3, 2008

  1. The Case against Voter Registration Drives
  2. Obamanomics versus Economic Literacy
  3. NATO Expansion Puts United States on Collision Course with Russia
  4. Desperate for Funds, Argentina’s Rulers Seize Private Pensions
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) The Case against Voter Registration Drives

Recent polls show that three times as many Americans of voting age can name two of Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs (77 percent) as can name two U.S. Supreme Court Justices (24 percent). The statistics are only somewhat better when one asks them to name the Three Stooges (73 percent) versus the three branches of the federal government (42 percent).

No one says such ignorance is a good thing, but mass voter registration drives, such as those organized by Rock the Vote and, compound the trouble by ensuring that more ill-informed and intellectually lazy citizens will have a say in how the rest of us are governed, laments Independent Institute Adjunct Fellow William J. Watkins in a recent op-ed.

“If Rock the Vote and really wanted to contribute to solving the problems facing our country, they would focus less on numbers and more on knowledge,” writes Watkins. “Unfortunately, the registration movement teaches citizens that an uneducated vote is better than no vote at all. Such a lesson is pernicious and could have lasting effects on the electorate.”

“Don’t Rock the Vote, Baby!” by William J. Watkins, Jr. (Washington Times, 10/30/08)

Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy, by William J. Watkins, Jr.


2) Obamanomics versus Economic Literacy

Recent op-eds summarized in The Lighthouse have criticized Sen. John McCain’s campaign pledges. In his latest op-ed, Independent Institute Adjunct Fellow Art Carden takes Sen. Barack Obama to task. “Unfortunately, many of his economic policy proposals would move us in exactly the wrong direction,” writes Carden, who teaches economics at Rhodes College.

Obama’s promised renegotiation of trade treaties, Carden argues, may help unionized Americans but would harm consumers and foreign workers by raising the prices of imports. In addition, Obama’s promotion of “green” jobs would waste scarce resources, including labor that would otherwise go toward producing products more favored in the marketplace. Furthermore, Carden fears that Obama’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage would make it less attractive for employers to hire low-skilled job seekers.

“Both Senator Obama and Senator McCain have offered numerous proposals that are almost audacious in their economic illiteracy,” continues Carden. “As president, Senator Obama would do well to reexamine the economics of the changes he is proposing. Especially in a turbulent economy, many of his proposals exemplify exactly the kind of change we don’t need.”

“Economic Illiteracy Is Not the Change We Need,” by Art Carden (10/29/08)

More by Art Carden


3) NATO Expansion Puts United States on Collision Course with Russia

Russia plans to increase military spending by 26 percent in 2009, putting its total defense budget at $50 billion—the highest level since the implosion of the Soviet Union. A large portion of that sum, however, will be siphoned off by corruption and inefficiency: some estimates say that 40 percent of Russia’s defense budget goes to waste, fraud, and abuse. For Americans, of course, the key question is whether a more militarized Russia poses a threat to the United States.

“It does only because the United States has defined its security as requiring intrusions into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence,” according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty. “By expanding NATO into Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the United States has guaranteed the security of these allied countries against a nuclear-armed power, in the worst case, by sacrificing its cities in a nuclear war.”

The United States put the two countries on a collision course, argues Eland, when it broke its verbal pledge to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev not to expand NATO after he allowed Germany to reunite under the NATO security umbrella. Surrounding the Russian bear with NATO allies on its western flank, and with U.S. troops in Soviet Central Asia to its south, does not serve U.S. vital interests and is seen as provocative. “Denying Russia the sphere of influence in nearby areas traditionally enjoyed by great powers,” concludes Eland, “will only lead to unnecessary U.S.-Russian tension and possibly even cataclysmic war.”

“Is a ‘Resurgent’ Russia a Threat to the United States?” by Ivan Eland (11/3/08)

The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed (Updated Edition), by Ivan Eland

Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy, by Ivan Eland


4) Desperate for Funds, Argentina’s Rulers Seize Private Pensions

Taking her cue from the U.S. bailout abomination, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina has nationalized her country’s private pension funds, worth approximately $30 billion. The funds were hardly a poster child for unregulated capitalism—by law, 60 percent of their portfolios held government bonds. Yet Argentina’s rapidly maturing debt invited desperate measures—even though the value of its $10 billion debt has been eroded by a 30 percent inflation rate.

The deeper cause of Argentina’s crisis is the Kirchners’ populist profligacy. As Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa explains in his latest column for the Washington Post Writers Group, the Kirchners increased public spending 200 percent and salaries 40 percent in the last four years, suppressed market interest rates, imposed price controls, and hampered private investment and wealth creation.

Writes Vargas Llosa: “The delicious irony here is that even Juan Domingo Peron, the legendary populist whom the Kirchners regard as a national hero, declared in the 1970s that ‘nationalizing private pensions is theft.’ He was talking about his own heirs.”

“Cristina’s Plunder,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (10/29/08) Spanish Translation

Lessons from the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, edited by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Attend the conference, “Lessons from the Poor: The Power of Entrepreneurship,” featuring Alvaro Vargas Llosa, former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga, William Easterly, William Ratliff, George B. N. Ayittey, Fredrik Erixon, Gabriel Gasave, Daniel Cordova, Martin Simonetta, and Thompson Ayodele (Washington, D.C., 11/13/08)


5) This Week in The Beacon

Below are the past week’s offerings from The Beacon, the web log of the Independent Institute. Feel free to post your comments to the blog.


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless