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The Lighthouse®

The Lighthouse® is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 12, Issue 19: May 10, 2010

  1. Human Rights: Then and Now
  2. Crony Capitalism—Not Laissez-Faire—to Blame for Economic Malaise
  3. Iraq’s Stability Requires a Multi-Ethnic Summit, Argues Eland
  4. The New Holy Wars Wins Eric Hoffer Award Grand Prize
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) Human Rights: Then and Now

During the Cold War, oppressed political dissidents around the world often had an easier time getting human-rights groups to advocate for their freedom. Today, however, it seems that dissidents often fail to garner the international spotlight they previously held. The reasons are manifold—ranging from the politicization of human rights to economic globalization to moral relativism, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

Vargas Llosa reports about his recent trip to a forum, held in Oslo by the Human Rights Foundation, to keep alive the voices of the politically oppressed, including Cambodian genocide survivor Sophal Ear, who seeks the prosecution of those responsible for the “killing fields”; Iranian author Marina Nemat, who was jailed at 16 for criticizing Ayatollah Khomeini and who laments of forced marriages in her native country; and Chechen activist Lidia Yusupova, who explains that Islamic terrorism had nothing to do with massacre of Chenchens by Russian troops.

“I asked [legendary Soviet dissident Vladimir] Bukovsky about the differences between the cause of human rights in the Cold War era and today,” writes Vargas Llosa. “His simple reply is good beyond Russia: ‘None of them change the fact that this cause is one and only one, no matter what period or what ideology.’”

“License to Oppress,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (5/5/10) Spanish Translation

Also see:

“U.S. Money Aids World’s Worst Dictators,” by Benjamin Powell and Matt E. Ryan (2/13/06)

“With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies? Aiding the World’s Worst Dictators,” by Christopher J. Coyne and Matt E. Ryan (The Independent Review, Summer 2009)

The Che Guevara Myth, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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

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


2) Crony Capitalism—Not Laissez-Faire—to Blame for Economic Malaise

Blaming “capitalism” for the financial market meltdown and the ensuing economic recession, as so many pundits have done lately, is completely wrong-headed: rather, “it is crony capitalism that is responsible for most of our current economic difficulties,” writes Independent Institute Research Fellow Dominick T. Armentano in a new op-ed. Unlike under genuine capitalism, where the role of government is limited to property-rights protection, under crony capitalism the government employs various regulations, taxes, and subsidies to encourage the outcomes desired by politicians and bureaucrats.

Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s encouragement of excessive mortgage lending to stimulate home purchases by those who couldn’t otherwise afford a house is a prime example of crony capitalism, Armentano argues. Most important, he writes, “in crony capitalism private firms that are considered ‘too big to fail’ could be bailed out by government; and a central bank (the Federal Reserve) would exist to ‘print money’ (unrelated to any gold reserve) and regulate the supply of credit in the economy.”

Economist Bruce Yandle, co-editor of the Independent Institute book Regulation and the Reagan Era, gives a helpful lesson on the dangers of “crony capitalism” with regard to the banking industry: in an article for the May issue of The Freeman he likens the bank bailouts to his own feeble attempt to encourage his teenage sons to conserve gasoline while giving them a weekly allowance for gas. Eventually, Yandle saw what he was doing wrong and changed his ways, resulting in his sons acting more responsibly in their fuel consumption. “There is talk about financial institution reform,” he writes, “but so far, I’ve heard no conversation about letting the boys buy their own gasoline.”

“Crony Capitalism Is NOT Capitalism,” by Dominick T. Armentano (5/10/10)

“Mr. Obama and the Bankers: ‘Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,’” by Bruce Yandle (The Freeman, 5/1/10)

EVENT: For more lessons about today’s economy, see “Understanding Today’s Economy: A Summer Seminar Preview for Teens and Their Parents (Oakland, CA, 5/20/10).


3) Iraq’s Stability Requires a Multi-Ethnic Summit, Argues Eland

Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish region in Iraq, is pressing for greater decentralization of Iraq and expanded Kurdish control over oil reserves. Under Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, the Kurds could call for a national referendum on their demands. Such a referendum, in turn, could result in violence between Kurds, Arab Sunnis and Shi’ia—unless a multi-ethnic conclave is created and resolves these and other issues, according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty.

“The United States should use any remaining influence to avoid the impending train wreck, but only by sponsoring and mediating—not meddling in—the Iraqi conclave,” writes Eland in his latest weekly op-ed. “The Iraqis must reach their own settlement; but the impending U.S. troop withdrawal, current political stalemate, Sunni disillusionment with the electoral process, and increased Kurdish demands may very well make all groups much more receptive to a decentralized solution—provided the U.S. acts merely as a neutral facilitator.”

Eland goes on to list several considerations that Iraqis may wish to address in a conclave, including increased Kurdish and Shi’ite autonomy over oil reserves in their territories; gerrymandering or territorial swaps to harmonize the interests of Kurds and Sunnis; the decentralization of security and justice functions; and the establishment of an economic confederation to guarantee a common market throughout Iraq.

“Iraq: Controlled Devolution or Uncontrolled Disintegration,” by Ivan Eland (5/5/10) Spanish Translation

VIDEO: Ivan Eland on political unrest in Kyrgystan (Russia Today, 4/7/10)

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

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


4) The New Holy Wars Wins Eric Hoffer Award Grand Prize

The Lighthouse is pleased to note that The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion, by Robert H. Nelson, co-published by the Independent Institute and Penn State University, has been chosen to receive the Eric Hoffer Award Grand Prize.

The Eric Hoffer Award is given each year “to honor freethinking writers and independent books of exceptional merit,” according to the award website. The US Review of Books, which focuses on the works of small publishers, states: “The Eric Hoffer grand prize is the highest distinction awarded each year.” The prize is named after Eric Hoffer (1902-1983), the “longshoreman philosopher” and author of The True Believer, and was created with the permission of the Eric Hoffer Estate.

Nelson’s book argues that the deepest religious conflicts in the American public arena today—the New Holy Wars—are crusades fought between two secular religions: economic religion and environmental religion. Economic religion exerted greater influence over public policy for most of the twentieth century, but in recent decades the clout of environmental religion has grown rapidly. Efforts to reconcile economic religion and environmental religion are doomed to fail, according to Nelson, so long as they uphold fundamentally opposing values.

Purchase The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion, by Robert H. Nelson.

Read a detailed summary of the book.

Press Release

CONFERENCE: 4th International Conference on Climate Change: Reconsidering the Science and Economics (Chicago, 5/16-18). This conference “will call attention to new scientific research on the causes and consequences of climate change, and to economic analysis of the cost and effectiveness of proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Sponsored by the Heartland Institute.


5) This Week in The Beacon

If you haven’t done so yet, please check out our Spanish-language blog, El Independent. Here now are the past week’s offerings from our English-language blog, The Beacon:


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless