The Power of Independent Thinking


Stay Connected
Get the latest updates straight to your inbox.

The Lighthouse®

The Lighthouse® is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
Subscribe now, or browse Back Issues.

Volume 11, Issue 45: November 9, 2009

  1. The Berlin Wall: Twenty Years Later
  2. Whether It’s Bridges or Health Care, Government Repairs Come Up Short
  3. A Third Option for Afghanistan
  4. World War I and the Nationalization of Private Life
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) The Berlin Wall: Twenty Years Later

The fall of the Berlin Wall, twenty years ago today, was not inevitable. Nor was the collapse of the Soviet Union. The failure of central economic planning does not explain those remarkable events because if it did, communist policies would not still govern the everyday lives of millions in Cuba, North Korea, Laos, and Cambodia. (China and Vietnam have at least introduced aspects of markets, with notable success.)

The liberation of Central and Eastern Europe in 1989—and related events two years later in the Soviet Union—could not have happened without one essential ingredient: people choosing freedom. “History did not make them; they made history,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

The mantra of “inevitability” masks the heroism of ordinary people and a handful of leaders who defied reactionary hardliners, often at great personal risk. It also plays down the distorted view that many intellectuals had held about the Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc allies before the collapse of the wall. Writes Vargas Llosa: “If much of the world’s intelligentsia thought that socialism’s triumph was unstoppable before it was stopped, their peers today conveniently dismiss the importance of those events as ‘predictable’ in order to concentrate the mind on the true enemy—capitalism.”

“20 Years On,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (11/4/09) Spanish Translation

“Why Did the East Germans Rebel?” by Susanne Lohmann (The Independent Review, Fall 1997)

“Explaining Revolutions from Below: East Germany in 1989,” by Karl-Dieter Opp (The Independent Review, Summer 1998)

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

The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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


2) Whether It’s Bridges or Health Care, Government Repairs Come Up Short

Bridges and health care—could two things be any more different? Yet when both are guided by political decision-making without meaningful accountability, their similarities become all too real. Mary L. G. Theroux, Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute, draws the parallels in a new op-ed for the San Francisco Examiner.

Post-earthquake repairs of the San Francisco Bay Bridge have suffered long delays, huge cost overruns, and hazardous malfunctions. (Instead of costing $1.1 billion, the new and improved eastern bridge span will cost at least $6.3 billion and will open no earlier than 24 years after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Gabriel Roth.) The repairs should have been timely, on-budget, and reliable, Theroux explains, but a political committee decided to make the bridge’s visual aesthetics a higher priority.

“Promises to pay for the bridge’s cost overruns—of which there remains no end in sight—with ‘cost-saving measures’ came to naught, just as those currently being made by health care overhaul proponents surely will,” writes Theroux. “If we allow health care to go the way of the Band-Aid plan, we shouldn’t be surprised when the outcome resembles the bridge—a flawed design with skyrocketing costs and dwindling benefits.”

“Bay Bridge Holds a Lesson for Health Care Reform,” by Mary L. G. Theroux (San Francisco Examiner, 11/9/09)

“Past Time to Privatize Bridge Replace,” by Gabriel Roth (San Francisco Business Times, 11/6/09)

“Government Is Responsible for the Sorry State of Our Roads and Bridges,” by William F. Shughart II (11/9/09)

American Health Care: Government, Market Processes, and the Public Interest, edited by Roger Feldman

Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads, edited by Gabriel Roth


3) A Third Option for Afghanistan

President Obama is reportedly weighing two alternative strategies for the war in Afghanistan: sending another 40,000 soldiers (Gen. McChrystal’s recommendation) or keeping troop levels the same but shifting the emphasis toward fighting al-Qaeda. Both options are flawed, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Charles Peña. For starters, McChrystal’s recommendation would still leave troop levels far below those that past experience (as well as the U.S. counterinsurgency manual) suggests is needed to defeat insurgents.

The Biden strategy, in contrast, “would make more sense than a full-blown countersinurgency,” writes Peña. However, local threats from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan are not synonymous with an al-Qaeda threat to the United States. Both strategies are flawed, according to Peña, because they involve continued U.S. military occupation—what Peña calls “a prescription for long-term failure, even if it results in tactical success.”

Peña offers a third option: calculated withdrawal from Afghanistan. “Ultimately, America’s strategic interest is best served by seeing that the Afghan government not support or grant sanctuary to al-Qaeda, even if that government is not able to completely eradicate the group,” continues Pena. “The presence of U.S. and NATO troops on Afghan soil breeds resentment among both the warlords and the population, making it easier to recruit insurgents and target the occupier.”

“Get Out of Afghanistan,” by Charles V. Peña (11/4/09) Spanish Translation

Winning the Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism, by Charles V. Peña


4) World War I and the Nationalization of Private Life

More than 10 million soldiers died in World War I. Civilian deaths are harder to determine, but many millions died of mass murder, forced migration, execution in reprisal or for spying, accidental killing, and starvation (including perhaps 700,000 Germans who died of malnutrition). The war also took a heavy toll on its survivors and on European civilization itself, explains historian T. Hunt Tooley in the cover article of the fall issue of The Independent Review.

For three centuries, individualism and constitutionalism had spread across Europe, but in the years just prior to World War I, Europeans increasingly defined themselves by national and class membership. The war accelerated this collectivist backlash.

Governments of the belligerent nations participated by curtailing civilians’ liberties and propagandizing against private property and private life itself. For the inhabitants of Vauquois and a hundred other French villages, the nationalization of private life meant forced wartime relocation and the permanent loss of their communities. After the war, millions of others saw their wealth confiscated by the hidden “inflation tax” and the institutions of civil society undermined by the encroachments of the welfare state.

“The upshot of the Great War was a sea change in all relations of the individual to the state and therefore a sea change in all relations between and among individuals, families, churches, and nonstate groups,” writes Tooley. The nationalization of private life, Tooley contends, did not end with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles but continues to the present day.

“Some Costs of the Great War: Nationalizing Private Life,” by T. Hunt Tooley (The Independent Review, Fall 2009)

Subscribe to The Independent Review. Special Internet Offer: Sign up on-line for a paid subscription of $28.95 and receive the next six issues for the price of four.


5) This Week in The Beacon

Visit the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language blog, El Independent. Below are the past week’s offerings from our English-language blog, The Beacon.


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless