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Volume 11, Issue 11: March 16, 2009

  1. California’s Budget Follies
  2. Different Politicians, Same Chicanery
  3. Rethinking Drug Prohibition
  4. This Week in The Beacon
  5. Contest to Reward Outstanding Essays on Virtue, Freedom, and Civil Society

1) California’s Budget Follies

California lawmakers shirked their responsibilities when they ended the state budget deadlock last month with a combination of spending cuts, tax increases, and new borrowing capacity. That action was irresponsible, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart, because it leaves alone the underlying problem that created the budgetary shortfall, just as previous quick fixes did nothing to ward off the latest mess.

“The fact of the matter is that government cannot promote prosperity by taxing and borrowing its way to a balanced budget,” writes Shughart in a recent op-ed. “Rather than threatening to fire teachers, throw thousands of children off the welfare rolls, and put prisoners back on the street, priority should have been assigned to reducing spending on nonessential public services that the state’s taxpayers no longer can afford.”

Shughart also points out the absurdity of closing the state budget gap in part through the use of federal “stimulus” funds that will put the nation deeper in the red. “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should be held to the promises on which he was elected,” Shughart continues. “Returning government to its core competencies, cutting taxes across the board, and lightening the regulatory burden is the proven recipe for economic growth.”

“Bad Business, as Usual,” by William F. Shughart II (Los Angeles Business Journal, 3/9/09)

Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination, by William F. Shughart II


2) Different Politicians, Same Chicanery

Crisis begets opportunity. Just as the Bush administration’s foreign-policy team saw the 9/11 terrorist attacks as presenting an opportunity for it to reconfigure the Middle East in a manner it had favored before the attacks, so the Obama administration apparently sees the current financial and economic mess as an opportunity to fund programs it would have favored even if the mortgage meltdown had not occurred and economic growth had continued abated. Similarly, neither administration can admit to inconsistencies in federal policies.

But it isn’t difficult to find such opportunistic lapses in judgment from either camp, argues Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland in his latest op-ed. Eland finds duplicity in U.S. policies vis-à-vis its negotiations with Islamic fundamentalists, its softening support for democracy in Afghanistan, its aiding of both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

“Hypocrisy in government is nothing new and is certainly not more prevalent in one party or the other,” writes Eland. “There just seems to be a lot of it around lately.”

“Hypocrisy in Government,” by Ivan Eland (3/16/09)

Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, by Ivan Eland

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

EVENT: “What President Obama Can Learn from His Predecessors,” featuring Ivan Eland and Andrew Rutten (Oakland, Calif., 4/7/09)


3) Rethinking Drug Prohibition

Officials in the international war on drugs had their work cut out for them last week as they convened in Vienna to collaborate on strategies for victory—or whatever outcome that could reasonably be called successful. Over the past decade, according to a recent study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, opium and cannabis production have doubled while cocaine production has increased slightly. In addition, the former presidents of Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia recently issued a report condemning the drug war as a counterproductive failure. In Mexico alone, the drug war has resulted in the killing of ten thousand people on either side—and often on the sidelines—of the battle between the state and the drug cartels; it has also brought corruption to the office of attorney general.

These and related persistent problems should prompt policymakers to consider the merits of drug decriminalization, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

“Today we regard the Opium Wars of the 19th century—by which the British retaliated against China for clamping down on opium imports—as crazy,” Vargas Llosa writes in his latest column. “One and a half centuries from now, people will read in total amazement that so much blood and treasure was wasted in the failed pursuit of a private vice that a relatively small percentage of the world population was not ready to give up.”

“Time to Decriminalize It?” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (3/11/09) Spanish Translation

“The Drug War vs. American Civilization,” by Anthony Gregory (3/6/09)

“The Secret of Worldwide Drug Prohibition: The Varieties and Uses of Drug Prohibition,” by Harry G. Levine (The Independent Review, Fall 2002)

Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition, by Jeffery A. Miron


4) This Week in The Beacon

Here are the past week’s offerings from The Beacon, the web log of the Independent Institute:


5) Contest to Reward Outstanding Essays on Virtue, Freedom, and Civil Society

The Sir John M. Templeton Fellowships Essay Contest, an international competition open to college students and untenured college teachers under 36 years old, is asking this year’s contestants to examine the relationship between freedom, virtue, and civil society. Cash prizes will be awarded for outstanding essays on the following topic:

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”
Benjamin Franklin
Which virtues contribute the most toward achieving freedom, and how can the institutions of civil society encourage the exercise of those virtues?

Junior Faculty Division
First Prize: $10,000
Second Prize: $5,000
Third Prize: $1,500

Student Division
First Prize: $2,500
Second Prize: $1,500
Third Prize: $1,000

In addition to the cash prizes, winners will receive assistance in getting their articles published and two-year subscriptions to The Independent Review. The deadline is May 1, 2009.

More information about the 2009 Templeton Essay Contest, including guidelines, bibliography, and winning essays from previous years.


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