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Volume 12, Issue 7: February 15, 2010

  1. Tea Parties Worth Toasting When They Protest All Foes of Liberty
  2. Each FDA Failure Is Used to Augment the Agency’s Powers
  3. Liberty versus “Patriotism”
  4. When Dictatorship Ends, Generals Can Help Transition to Democracy
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) Tea Parties Worth Toasting When They Protest All Foes of Liberty

The Boston Tea Party was launched with the hope of keeping a new tax from setting a precedent for the imposition of other taxes. Following English tradition, the Bostonian protesters believed that publicly displaying their displeasure—and thereby getting their views on record—was an essential tool for discouraging ill-considered policies. Today’s Tea Party activists seem to share their forebears’ worries about bad precedent, but according to Independent Institute Research Fellow William J. Watkins, they are a bit late to the party.

“The Tea Party was correct to take aim at the bailout legislation, but one wonders where the Tea Party leadership was when Bush created harmful precedents by pushing for a new Medicare prescription drug benefit and the No Child Left Behind Act,” writes Watkins in a widely published recent op-ed.

Just as the colonial protestors opposed the expansion of the British central government—whether it was headed by the Tory George Grenville or the Whig William Pitt—so today’s tea partiers should also remain non-partisan in their protests, and argue against violations of liberty no matter who is at fault. Concludes Watkins: “What we should take from the Tea Party’s recent convention is that the principles of individual liberty and limited government must remain inviolable no matter what party is in the White House. Otherwise, dangerous precedents will be set that are difficult to undo.”

“Tea Party Movement Knows No Party Allegiance,” by William J. Watkins, Jr. (San Francisco Examiner, 2/11/10)

Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy, by William J. Watkins, Jr.


2) Each FDA Failure Is Used to Augment the Agency’s Powers

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has requested a $4.03 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2011—a 23 percent increase over the current year. A new report from the Independent Institute—“Medical Disasters and the Growth of the FDA,” by historian Ronald Hamowy—traces the rise of the agency during the past century. Remarkably, the reforms that passed after the three health scares that were most crucial to the agency’s growth would have not prevented those crises from occurring, according to Hamowy.

Each of these crises enabled the FDA to strengthen its grip on pharmaceutical companies and other medical innovators, “even though it likely meant that fewer new drugs would be developed,” writes Hamowy.

Although the FDA was consistently ineffective at averting disaster, local authorities and private companies were immediately responsive to each situation, Hamowy argues. By revealing the agency’s preoccupation with its own self-interest, Hamowy suggests that the FDA may be too mired in bureaucratic inefficiency and the distractions of politicking to reliably ensure the safety and quality of the products that it has sought to monitor.

Press Release

“Medical Disasters and the Growth of the FDA,” by Ronald Hamowy (2/10/10) Economic studies of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, edited by Daniel B. Klein and Alexander Tabarrok.

Hazardous to Our Health? FDA Regulation of Health Care Products, edited by Robert Higgs


3) Liberty versus “Patriotism”

In 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Stolen Valor Act, a measure that criminalizes the wearing of any unearned military medal and authorizes the imprisonment of violators for up to one year. Dozens of people have been jailed for breaking this law, even though they may not have profited one penny from wearing the medal, and the Act is now being challenged as a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.

Critics of the Stolen Valor Act have got it right and its supporters are in the wrong, according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty. Moreover, the thinking behind passage of the Act is fundamentally at odds with that of the nation’s Founders, who were careful to distinguish between patriotism (a sense of responsibility to fellow citizens) and nationalism (a devotion to the nation-state). Alas, this crucial distinction was lost during the 19th century, argues Eland, author of Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty.

“Liberty, for which our military men and women are supposed to be fighting, should trump nationalism, faux patriotism, and militarism,” writes Eland. “In fact, all of these things probably harm the U.S. military more than a wannabe hero making false claims about earning a martial medal. All of these maladies, usually promoted by guilt-ridden expedient civilians, usually get military people killed in unnecessary wars—certainly more disrespect to the nation’s armed forces than faking a few medals.”

“Liberty Versus ‘Patriotism,’” by Ivan Eland (2/10/10) Spanish Translation

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

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

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


4) When Dictatorship Ends, Generals Can Help Transition to Democracy

The irony of dictatorships is that when democracy emerges from their ashes, it is sometimes the ex-dictator’s top generals who, metaphorically speaking, pound the nails in the coffin of the dictator and make it possible for civilians to keep the military away from the helm of power. This was the case with the successful democratic transitions of Spain, Portugal and Greece many decades ago, and with those of Chile and Argentina more recently, as Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa explains in his latest column.

Now, General Otto Guibovich is doing the same in Peru. By helping the campaign to honor the thousands of innocent bystanders murdered by the Fujimori dictatorship during its lawless war against the “Shining Path” terrorists of the 1980s and 1990s, the general is trying to lift the clouds that have cast a long shadow over Peru. But he is not without foes. Fujimori’s defenders in politics and the media would like the country to return to authoritarianism, and they rightly see Guibovich as a roadblock in their path.

“The Peruvian army seems to have in Gen. Guibovich someone who understands that the greatest war a soldier must win is that of civilization if the words ‘homeland,’ ‘honor’ and ‘glory’ are to be charged with meaning,” concludes Vargas Llosa.

“The General’s Gesture,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (2/10/10) Spanish Translation

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

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

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


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