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Volume 12, Issue 24: June 14, 2010

  1. The Gulf Oil Spill Evokes Religious Reactions
  2. Official Unemployment Statistics Mask Phony Government Jobs
  3. The Gaza Ghetto
  4. The Independent Review—Summer Issue Now Available
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) The Gulf Oil Spill Evokes Religious Reactions

With its ongoing threat to wildlife and to segments of the Gulf Coast economy, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has prompted reactions of horror. The reasons stem partly from news coverage, replete with images of oil-soaked pelicans, but a deeper psychological factor is also at work, according to Robert H. Nelson, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute.

“Unforeseen environmental upheavals such as large oil spills produce emotions closely associated with religious experiences,” writes Nelson in a new op-ed. “Large oil spills, symbolically involving human beings tampering with primitive nature in search of more and more energy to power our modern economies, heighten such fears even among people who reject the Bible.”

Such reactions risk provoking panicky and counterproductive responses, as occurred after the Exxon Valdez oil spill when clams and other organisms were harmed during an overzealous cleanup campaign, Nelson argues. “The reality is that we cannot avoid our basic dependence on oil and other energy sources,” he continues. “American energy policy must therefore be grounded in hard analysis of needs and circumstances, rather than surrogate religious experiences. We don’t shut down the airlines after every crash; we should think the same way about drilling for oil and gas in complicated marine environments.”

“God and Oil Spills,” by Robert H. Nelson (The Miami Herald, 6/9/10)

The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion versus Environmental Religion in Contemporary America, by Robert H. Nelson


2) Official Unemployment Statistics Mask Phony Government Jobs

Statistics should be beyond reproach. Too often, however, the reality falls far short of that ideal. Consider the jobless rate. In the days of President Franklin Roosevelt, the federal government reported the number of unemployed workers far more honestly, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart. That’s because workers who were supported by public largesse were not counted among the employed.

“People at that time recognized that someone who holds a job only because Congress has appropriated money for the position is not creating wealth but is merely the recipient of an income transfer,” writes Shughart in his latest op-ed. “Those who at the time derided the WPA as ‘We Piddle Around’ recognized the wasteful consequences of public profligacy.”

Today’s official unemployment statistics, in contrast, are deceptive: they treat temporary census workers, contractors receiving government “stimulus” grants, workers hired for “green” government jobs, and the like as if their jobs were self-supporting and sustainable. That’s a useful trick if you’re trying to mask the ineffectiveness of a flawed jobs policy. But if you were to remove those gimmicky government jobs and count only real ones in the private sector, “the unemployment rate would be much higher than 10 percent,” Shughart concludes.

“Obama: Not as Honest as FDR,” by William F. Shughart II (Washington Times, 6/8/10)

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

Out of Work, by Lowell E. Gallaway and Richard K. Vedder


3) The Gaza Ghetto

Bombed, bulldozed, and bullet-ridden, Gaza looks like a war zone, and the blockade is taking a heavy toll: three-thousand businesses have closed due to Israeli fears of arms trafficking, reports Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Varga Llosa, who has just returned from a fact-finding visit to the region.

“Israel allows only enough aid to maintain subsistence conditions,” Vargas Llosa writes. “The list is subject to strict rules: Cinnamon is permitted, but not cilantro. Fishermen cannot venture beyond three nautical miles. As one of them explained at the port, ‘the few fish that can be caught in this small area are mostly contaminated.’”

The people of Gaza also feel growing pressure from their own rulers. “Hamas’ surveillance is oppressive,” Vargas Llosa continues. “The black uniforms of its security apparatus are as conspicuous as its green flags, and its grip has been strengthened by the blockade. Yet dissatisfaction is in the air. It is whispered, not proclaimed. ‘Women are most affected,’ explains a man in his 40s. ‘They voted for Hamas but now regret it; the government has legitimized husbands having several wives.’”

“The Gaza Ghetto,” by Alvaro Varga Llosa (6/9/10) Spanish Translation

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

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


4) The Independent Review—Summer Issue Now Available

The Summer 2010 issue of The Independent Review is hot off the press. Here are some of the questions it examines:

  • What does the state seek to maximize?
  • Why did F. A. Hayek think that constitutions were insufficient to safeguard individual liberty? Read the article.
  • Why is public infrastructure often in worse condition than its private counterpart?
  • How can classical liberalism solve the crisis of bioethics? Read the article.
  • How should political-economic systems be classified?
  • Which trends indicate whether or not Russia will wage a new cold war? Read the article.
  • What assumptions about knowledge predispose some social scientists to favor the rule of supposed experts?
  • What’s wrong with corporate social responsibility?
  • What kind of central bank would be consistent with the rule of law?
  • Why do the common law and the civil law lead to different economic outcomes? Read the review.
  • What were Dean Acheson’s leading contributions to U.S. foreign policy? Read the review.
  • Which two problems shaped the Southern Confederacy’s vision the most? Read the review.
  • Why did civil-rights activist T. R. M. Howard incur the wrath of both J. Edgar Hoover and Thurgood Marshall? Read the review.
  • What role did corporate leaders play in the racial integration of the American workplace? Read the review.

The Independent Review (Summer 2010)

Special offer for first-time subscribers: Subscribe today to The Independent Review and receive TWO complimentary issues—the next six issues for the price of four!


5) This Week in The Beacon

Here now are the past week’s offerings from our English-language blog, The Beacon:


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless