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The Lighthouse®

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Volume 11, Issue 3: January 19, 2009

  1. Welcome to Washington
  2. What Jimmy Carter Can Teach Barack Obama
  3. Argentina’s Coin Shortage—and Its Cure
  4. Remembering Martin Luther King’s Forebearers
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) Welcome to Washington

Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa, who moved to Washington, D.C., a few years ago, dispels for its most famous new resident -- and for the thousands of tourists visiting his presidential inauguration -- a few common misconceptions he himself once held about life in the nation’s capital.

Is Washington a cultural bubble? Far from it. Cosmopolitan Washington seduces even fierce nationalists with its rich variety of international culinary, artistic, and shopping temptations. Is its centrally planned layout, courtesy of French designer Pierre L’Enfant, a stifling eyesore? Not really. With its long avenues and open spaces, the city’s layout, writes Vargas Llosa, “helps to dilute the effect of the bureaucracy on the local population.” But surely Washington is the city of secrets, isn’t it? Hardly. Listen closely and you’ll learn numerous “open secrets” about what Washington bureaucrats really think of the federal government.

“I have never heard a libertarian speak about the futility of most government departments,” Vargas Llosa writes, “the way American and foreign officials often do in restaurants or bars on Capitol Hill, on K Street – the center of the lobbying industry – in Georgetown or even at the Fish Warf.”

“Welcome to Washington,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (1/14/09) Spanish Translation 

Lessons from the Poor: The Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, ed. by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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


2) What Jimmy Carter Can Teach Barack Obama

Last week, at the request of President-elect Obama, President Bush convened a mini-summit at the White House with all living former presidents. The resulting photo captured a broad range of leadership styles going back to the 1970s: Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and, of course, the outgoing president. At one moment, Carter stood apart from the others, a symbolically appropriate gesture even if it was unintended, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland suggests in his latest op-ed.

On both domestic policy and foreign policy, “Carter is the most underrated modern president,” writes Eland, author of Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty. “While not perfect, Carter – in keeping with the original vision of the nation’s founders – exhibited more restraint militarily than the rest. . . . On the domestic front, Carter did make some mistakes, but he also inherited stagflation caused by the Vietnam War and past presidents’ poor economic policies. At first, he made it worse but then nominated Paul Volker as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.”

Volker’s tighter monetary policies tamed inflation and some of Carter’s other appointments helped usher in an era of deregulation – which together set the stage for economic growth under future presidents. “Obama should invite Carter to a one-on-one session in the Oval Office and learn from the modern master at practicing the founders’ preferred policy of military restraint,” Eland continues. “Obama might also learn that domestic benefits might accrue from eliminating U.S. overextension abroad – for example, improvement in the nation’s finances and economy.”

“Who Should Obama Look to for Advice? Jimmy Carter,” by Ivan Eland (1/17/09)

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

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


3) Argentina’s Coin Shortage—and Its Cure

Argentina is in the grips of a coin shortage, and the most promising remedy is for its leaders to do what Great Britain’s did during its coin shortage in the early days of the Industrial Revolution: end the government’s monopoly on coinage and let the private sector produce coins. Independent Institute Research Fellow George Selgin explains why in a recent op-ed appearing in the Wall Street Journal.

“If Argentina wants to end the shortage, it ought, not only to tolerate private coinage, but to sanction it,” writes Selgin, whose recent book Good Money describes how button makers saved the British economy from stagnation by producing coins that competed against those issued by the Royal Mint.

“It can do so, while eliminating any risk that such coinage would be abused, through very simple legislation,” Selgin continues. “It should allow any private firm to issue distinctly marked coins, perhaps subject to some minimal capital requirements, while making it clear that no one need ever accept any privately issued coins, even as change for purchases.”

“Argentina Is Short on Cash—Literally,” by George Selgin (The Wall Street Journal, 1/5/09)

Good Money: Birmingham Button Makers, the Royal Mint, and the Beginnings of Modern Coinage, 1775–1821, by George Selgin


4) Remembering Martin Luther King’s Forebearers

In many ways, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., achieved what he set out to do – to open doors to those shut out from white society, to inspire the oppressed to rise above, to shame the guilty, and to spark social progress so that people would one day be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Tomorrow’s inauguration is perhaps the clearest evidence yet that King’s dream was no fleeting fancy.

King, of course, stood on the shoulders of a host of earlier men and women who sought to put the American Dream within the grasp of all and thereby complete the project, announced in 1776, of securing the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In the forthcoming Independent Institute book Race and Liberty in America, Jonathan Bean argues that understanding the civil-rights movement requires delving deep into American political thought and examining, not the traditions of liberalism or conservatism, but rather the heritage of classical liberalism. A comprehensive and vital resource for scholars and students of civil rights and civil liberties, Race and Liberty in America draws on a wealth of primary sources to chart the evolution of civil rights in U.S. History.

Race and Liberty in America, edited by Jonathan Bean

“Is White Guilt Destroying the Promise of Civil Rights?” Shelby Steele’s presentation to the Independent Policy Forum (5/9/06).

“Losing the Race? Black Progress, Freedom and Independence,” John McWhorter's presentation to the Independent Policy Forum (3/20/01).

“Truth and Propaganda in Politically Correct America,” Larry Elder's presentation to the Independent Policy Forum (8/14/01).

“Race Preferences: Pro and Con,” a debate between William Bagley and Ward Connerly, Independent Policy Forum (4/25/00).


5) This Week in The Beacon

Below are the past week's offerings from The Beacon, the web log of the Independent Institute. Please leave your comments on the blog.


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless