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Volume 10, Issue 45: November 10, 2008

  1. The Obama Coalition
  2. Obama and Foreign Policy
  3. How Not to Fight Terrorism on Subways
  4. Is Marx Winning?
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) The Obama Coalition

Supporters of Barack Obama may expect the forty-fourth president of the United States to enact a program as expansive and “transformative” as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, but Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa shares his doubts about that prospect in his latest syndicated column for the Washington Post Writers Group.

First, Vargas Llosa argues, the Obama coalition comprises constituents who are not necessarily enamored of Big Government. Many middle-class African-Americans, for example, have little connection with Lyndon Johnson’s minority-oriented welfare programs. Similarly, some Latinos who voted for Obama are conservatives who became alienated by xenophobic elements within the Republican Party and thus may not be loyal Obama supporters on numerous other issues. In addition, many Obama voters were undecided until financial-market turmoil worsened in the weeks leading up to the election; if Obama can’t quickly provide them with economic security, they too might jump ship. Second, according to Vargas Llosa, the rapid growth of federal spending during the Bush administration—which resulted in a doubling of the national debt and a fiscal deficit approaching $500 billion—will (or at least should) exert strong fiscal pressures on Obama to back away from some of his promises for new spending programs.

“Obama will need to bear all of this in mind in the years ahead as he comes under pressure from some factions of the Democratic Party hoping to translate his mandate into a Rooseveltian expansion of government,” writes Vargas Llosa. “Such an expansion would severely undermine America’s ability to compete in the global marketplace, and the impressive coalition that he has put together would not last his administration.”

“The Obama Coalition,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (11/5/08) 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)


2) Obama and Foreign Policy

Although Barack Obama distinguished his presidential run early on by calling for the rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, he tempered his position as Election Day neared. This, along with Obama’s choice of “muscular liberals” among his foreign-policy advisors, suggests that advocates of a much less interventionist U.S. foreign policy may be in for a disappointment, argues Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty.

“Obama should pay attention to his instincts—not his advisors—and take advantage of the lull in violence [in Iraq] to get out while the gettin’s good,” writes Eland in his latest op-ed.

Eland also advises Obama to avoid confrontation with Russia on matters of vital concern to that country, such as proposed deployment of missile defense near Russia’s borders. (Unfortunately, Moscow has not made it easy for Obama to scale back without appearing to appease it.)

Despite these developments, Eland sees an opportunity for reduced military interventionism during Obama’s presidency—one created by a slowing economy. He writes: “More restrained and affordable foreign and defense policies would be politically saleable to the nation in times of economic peril. ‘Yes, we can’ (retract the empire).”

“Good Bye, Neo Conservatives. Hello to Their Liberal Brethren?” by Ivan Eland (11/10/08)

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


3) How Not to Fight Terrorism on Subways

Last month, transportation authorities in Washington, D.C., announced a new “counter-terrorism” policy destined to violate constitutional rights while doing probably nothing to reduce the threat of terrorists bombing Metro railway stations: it will search people at random, in apparent violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Given the huge size of the Metro system in terms of riders and entrances, the policy “amounts to finding-a-needle-in-the-haystack operation with odds that are only slightly better than winning a million dollars in D.C.’s Powerball lottery,” writes Charles Peña, Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty.

But as the IRA noted after failing to assassinate Margaret Thatcher, terrorists need only succeed once, whereas law enforcement must succeed every time. Such odds make defeating acts of terrorism practically futile, according to Peña. Thus, he argues, policymakers are better off pursuing an approach based on resiliency, that is, of improving the ability of our transportation infrastructure to recover quickly from a terrorist attack. “This is exactly the approach the Israeli government has taken in response to the threat of suicide bombers on buses,” writes Peña.

Washington, D.C. Is a Fourth Amendment–Free Zone,” by Charles Peña (10/29/08)

Nuclear Nonproliferation in the Post-9/11 World, by Charles Peña

More by Charles Peña


4) Is Marx Winning?

Forget the “end of history” that was prophesied as the Soviets lost the Cold War. Instead, look at what has happened of late in the United States: the federal government has bailed out mortgage lenders, Big Insurance, money-market funds, commercial-paper sellers, depositors in belly-up banks, automobile manufacturers, lapsed residential loan borrowers, and even the U.S. Treasury itself (via the Federal Reserve’s money-making powers). It’s enough to prompt Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs to wonder whether Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels might have been prophetic after all.

Don’t laugh. As Higgs explains in his latest op-ed, all ten of their strategic goals for “the most advanced countries” seem ever closer to becoming realized. Just compare their list in The Communist Manifesto with what has happened already—or appears likely to happen in the not-too-distant future. The Federal Reserve Bank’s accretion of power, a result of the recent bailout abomination, is but the latest example of a process underway for well over a century.

“So, here we stand, having come close enough to communism for government work,” writes Higgs. “It is a mistake, however, to call it communism or socialism, because a major part of its genius is its preservation of the form of private property rights, even as the substance of such rights is progressively gutted. Properly speaking, our system is, and long has been, economic fascism. ‘It’s a free country,’ the Red State voters keep yelping. But it’s not. In truth, it never was. But a hundred years ago, it came a great deal closer to being free than it does now.”

“Are We There Yet, Are We There Yet? Let’s Check Marx and Engel’s List,” by Robert Higgs (11/10/08)

Depression, War, and Cold War: Studies in Political Economy, by Robert Higgs

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

The Challenge of Liberty: Classical Liberalism Today, edited by Robert Higgs and Carl P. Close


5) This Week in The Beacon

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


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless