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The Lighthouse®

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Volume 17, Issue 14: April 7, 2015

  1. Childhood Poverty and Government Failure
  2. Campus Sexual Assaults and ‘The Hunting Ground’
  3. U.S.-Iran Agreement May Offer Relief in Middle East, but Perhaps Not for U.S. Taxpayers
  4. Patent Trolls vs. the Innovation Act
  5. Job Opening: Vice President of Development
  6. New Blog Posts
  7. Selected News Alerts

1) Childhood Poverty and Government Failure

Reducing childhood poverty is a noble goal, but policymakers often try to pursue it by passing statutes that make little difference—or actually worsen the problem. Consider legislative measures to lift so-called Maximum Family Grant rules, which stipulate that poor mothers on public assistance cannot receive more cash aid if they have additional children. After Illinois, Nebraska, and Maryland lifted such limits, childhood poverty didn’t decline—it began to rise. Meanwhile, state policymakers seem oblivious to the need for lifting state-imposed restrictions that prevent the poor from lifting themselves out of poverty.

“Today it is far, far harder for a poor young woman to have access to a quality education, a good entry-level job, or to be able to start her own enterprise than for her to set up a new household in welfare,” Independent Institute Senior Vice President Mary L. G. Theroux said recently at a California Senate subcommittee hearing on the state’s Maximum Family Grant rule. Indeed, the problem she alludes to is largely the result of bad decisions by lawmakers.

The Golden State, once known as a land of opportunity, now requires state licenses for 62 occupations, including florist and makeup artist, costing on average $300 and requiring an average of 549 days in additional education and on-the-job experience. In addition, the state teachers’ union has worked overtime to keep California far from the cutting edge on public-education reform, including school choice programs that have improved educational outcomes (at low cost to taxpayers) in Arizona and Oklahoma. As Theroux said, “If the California State Senate truly wants to see fewer children in poverty, the policy implications are clear: allowing true school choice, including providing parents and teachers the option of establishing or taking over and running their own schools; and eliminating economic barriers, including burdensome regulations, taxation, licensing and zoning restrictions that protect established economic interests and are anti-job and anti-small enterprise.”

Childhood Poverty, Government Failures, and the Need for Economic Liberty, by Mary L. G. Theroux (3/26/15)

Video: Mary L. G. Theroux Testifies at California State Senate's Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services (3/26/15)

Audio: Mary Theroux on Repeal of the "Maximum Family Grant" Welfare Rule (KPPC Radio, 2/23/15)


2) Campus Sexual Assaults and ‘The Hunting Ground’

Even before Rolling Stone ran its discredited (and now retracted) article last November about an alleged rape incident at a University of Virginia fraternity house, sexual assault on college campuses was a trending topic. This was due in no small part to Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, two student activists and rape survivors featured in “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary released in late February to critical acclaim and lackluster box-office receipts. Three Independent Institute research fellows weigh in on the film and related issues. Sam Staley calls sexual assault on college campuses “a fundamental failure of civil society and a compelling indictment of the ability of formal institutions to address it.” Moreover, he applauds Clark and Pino, calling them “individualist heroines” for pursing their quest to (in his words) “restore personal dignity, in the face of institutional intransigence.”

When it comes to dealing with sexual assault, too many university administrations lack accountability and transparency, according to Staley. Unfortunately, although “The Hunting Ground” touches on this critical problem, it does so only superficially, according to Staley, causing it to sink into the quicksand of wishful thinking. “A core question,” he writes, “is whether colleges and universities—many of whom have substituted formal institutional mechanisms for voluntary, community-based approaches—understand this [potentially transformative] approach and are willing to support efforts to change the culture to protect individual freedom, liberty, and dignity.”

Independent Institute Research Fellow Randall Holcombe (who, like Staley, teaches at Florida State University, a school featured in “The Hunting Ground”) argues that institutions of higher learning are poorly equipped to handle accusations of student-on-student sexual assault. The cause of justice, he argues, would be better served through traditional law enforcement, not campus cops and administrators. Research Fellow Wendy McElroy (who has argued the same point elsewhere) notes that despite a low draw at the box office, the producers of “The Hunting Ground” stand to make a mint as they license screenings at campuses across North America. In addition, McElroy questions the filmmakers’ recommended choice for viewer donations: NEO Philanthropy. This foundation provides grants to organizations that promote immigration reform and increased voter participation, but there’s no evidence that it has given a dime to groups that target sexual assault. “If donations [from the film’s viewers and producers] are going to a transformative grantmaker with priorities other than preventing rape on campus,” McElroy writes, “then ‘The Hunting Ground’ appears to exploit that issue and to do so for profit.”

‘The Hunting Ground,’ Sexual Assault, and the Failure of Civil Society, Sam Staley (The Beacon, 3/30/2015)

University Responsibility for Sexual Assault, by Randall Holcombe (The Beacon, 2/27/15)

‘The Hunting Ground’: Reaping Profit from Rape Hysteria, by Wendy McElroy (The Daily Bell, 3/27/15)


3) U.S.-Iran Agreement May Offer Relief in Middle East, but Perhaps Not for U.S. Taxpayers

President Obama’s new agreement with Iran, which lifts U.S. sanctions on the Shi’ite regime in exchange for rigorous inspections of its nuclear facilities, may merit praise, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland. In his latest column for the Huffington Post, Eland argues that in reaching the accord the White House has taken a big step in the right direction, although it stumbled (and is still stumbling) along the way.

Washington and Tehran hammered out a nuclear inspections framework that is better, i.e., more anti-weaponization and pro-transparency, than most analysts had expected, according to Eland. But if Iran were to break it and obtain a nuclear weapon, its missile system would still lack the capability of dropping it on the United States. And potentially vulnerable lands, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and parts of Europe, are wealthy enough to pursue their own nuclear defense without having to rely on a U.S. security umbrella.

Unfortunately for the U.S. taxpayer, the White House isn’t scaling back its security commitments. In addition, in order to buy international support for the nuclear agreement, President Obama may go to the American public and ask for more money to dole out as military assistance to allies within reach of Iran’s missiles. Moreover, international opposition to a U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement may be fierce because the deal could begin a power realignment that shakes up the status quo in the Middle East. In other words, improved nuclear security in the Middle East won’t be free.

Obama’s Nuclear Agreement with Iran Is a Good One, but Issues Remain (The Huffington Post, 4/6/2015)

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, by Ivan Eland


4) Patent Trolls vs. the Innovation Act

The U.S. Patent system is a mess that slows economic growth, and Congress is finally considering legislation to fix it. The Innovation Act (H.R. 9) would make it harder for plaintiffs to file frivolous lawsuits, but it faces opposition from ill-informed lawmakers, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow William J. Watkins, Jr.

“Unfortunately, conservative opponents of the bill seem clueless about the damage so-called non-practicing entities—better known as patent trolls—inflict on us economically,” Waktins writes in The Hill.

From 1990 through 2010, bogus legal claims initiated by patent trolls cost the U.S. economy more than half a trillion dollars. Preventing this waste and injustice is essential for reviving American innovation and progress. The Innovation Act helps but doesn’t go far enough. Because the lifecycle of computer software is so short, Watkins urges Congress to cut the patent life of software to five years (it’s currently 20 years). This would discourage patent trolls from acquiring older patents on technologically obsolete software in the hope that they can use those rights as the basis for lawsuits. In addition, Watkins calls for stricter standards for issuing patents. The European Patent Office doesn’t recognize intellectual property rights in scientific theories, computer programs, or business plans. Neither should the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Conservatives Wrong to Oppose Patent Reform, by William J. Watkins, Jr. (The Hill, 4/3/2015)

Patent Trolls: Predatory Litigation and the Smothering of Innovation, by William J. Watkins, Jr.


5) Job Opening: Vice President of Development

The Independent Institute is seeking an experienced, successful Development professional to lead our fundraising program. The candidate must understand and be committed to the principles of individual liberty and free societies. For more information, please see the job listing on the Independent Institute’s website. Please DO NOT reply to The Lighthouse email address. Instead send your inquiries to Senior Vice President Mary Theroux at: [email protected].


6) New Blog Posts

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Financial Repression
Craig Eyermann (4/3/15)

A Simple Model for U.S. Spending Restraint
Craig Eyermann (3/31/15)

You can find the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language website here and blog here.


7) Selected News Alerts


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless