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Volume 17, Issue 36: September 9, 2015

  1. The Prying Eyes of Big Government
  2. GOP Rivals Compete on Alternatives to Obamacare
  3. U.S. Policy and the Syrian Refugee Crisis
  4. Obamacare Tanning Tax Has Lost Its Glow
  5. Job Opening: Communications Coordinator
  6. New Blog Posts
  7. Selected News Alerts

1) The Prying Eyes of Big Government

Americans may be undecided about whether they want more government surveillance or less. However, Alexis Smith, the protagonist of our satirical Love Gov video series, shows no signs of ambivalence when she confronts government spying in Episode 5, “Keeping a Close Eye on Privacy.”

Alexis’s revelation about Scott “Gov” Govinski is admittedly a special situation. Still, it’s remarkable that so many Americans in real life change their minds about government spying. Consider the following. According to a 2014 survey by Pew Research Center, “A majority of Americans (54%) disapprove of the U.S. government’s collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts.” In contrast, a poll taken in late May 2015 by CNN/ORC “finds that 61% of Americans think the [USA Patriot Act] ought to be renewed, including majorities across party lines, while 36% say it should not be reinstated.” Will the real American public please stand up?

Perhaps public opinion about government surveillance is fluid because so many believe the issue is far removed from their lives. Such a belief, however, is mistaken. The issue raises vital questions: Do we wish to live in, and do we wish for our descendants to live in, a surveillance state that casts aside the Fourth Amendment’s injunction against general warrants? Or do we believe that a polity willing to sacrifice liberty for security will end up with neither? We at Independent Institute know our answer. Please join us to support freedom from government spying.

Video: Love Gov: From First Date to Mandate

Stop the Surveillance State, by Anthony Gregory (2/10/14)

Civil Liberties and Security in an Age of Terrorism, featuring Mary Theroux, Robert Higgs, and Anthony Gregory (7/18/13)


2) GOP Rivals Compete on Alternatives to Obamacare

Republicans in Congress haven’t offered a single credible alternative to Obamacare in the five and a half years since its passage, but some GOP presidential hopefuls are rushing to make up for lost time. Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman takes a look at a few of the proposals.

Marco Rubio hasn’t put forward a full-fledged healthcare proposal, but Goodman endorses two ideas that Florida’s junior senator offered up in an op-ed published last month in Politico: (1) uniform tax relief for health insurance, regardless of whether it was obtained through one’s work, purchased directly from a private insurer, or bought through an exchange; and (2) a fixed-sum tax credit as the form that tax relief should take. “Carefully presented, the Rubio approach should not be seen as partisan,” Goodman writes. “It should be viewed as good public policy and should command support from across the ideological spectrum.”

Goodman also recently examined the health-policy ideas of Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal. The Wisconsin governor’s proposal, Goodman says, is the first nearly comprehensive plan by a GOP presidential office seeker: it includes scrapping the federal mandates; offering a fixed-sum tax credit that would vary only by age; putting $1,000 into the Health Savings Account of every American who has one; and returning Medicaid to the states by means of a block grant. But Goodman notes that Walker’s plan fails to spell out how all this is to be financed. Unlike Walker, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal proposes income-tax deductions for health insurance, rather than tax credits, and would shift much federal healthcare spending to the states, which would use that money to cover the healthcare needs of those too poor to qualify for the tax deductions. Jindal has criticized Walker’s plan, claiming it would make Americans more dependent on federal dollars, but Goodman calls this charge “the kind of rhetoric that divides Republicans on an issue where they desperately need to be uniting.”

Why Bobby Jindal Is Wrong about Scott Walker’s Health Plan, by John C. Goodman (Forbes, 8/20/15)

Scott Walker’s Health Plan: Good, but Could Be Better, by John C. Goodman (Forbes, 8/18/15)

Health Plan: Rubio Gets It Right, by John C. Goodman (Forbes, 8/18/15)

A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, by John C. Goodman

Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, by John C. Goodman


3) U.S. Policy and the Syrian Refugee Crisis

The American press and television news networks are awash in stories and images about the Mediterranean refugee crisis. The most dangerous international passage, in terms of the number of lives lost, is reportedly the sea route from Libya to Italy. In terms of the sheer number of people fleeing their country, however, the current leader isn’t Libya. It’s probably Syria, with 4 million displaced abroad since 2011. In his latest column for the Huffington Post, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland looks at U.S. policy and the Syrian refugee crisis.

As many Americans were coming to believe that President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq was a mistake, pundits frequently opined that this sea change would portend a less interventionist foreign policy. After members of ISIS were shown beheading Americans, however, the chorus calling for U.S. military action in Syria grew larger and louder, including among members of Congress. Nevertheless, the nation’s politicians, even including those who have called for U.S. intervention in Syria, have been unwilling to push for raising the number of Syrian immigrants taken in by the United States. Last year, “the United States took in only 132 of the four million refugees from the Syrian civil war, and only about 2,000 will be allowed in 2015 if the policy is not changed,” Eland writes.

While some have warned that taking in Syrian refugees would give terrorists more opportunities to sneak into the United States, Eland argues that such a risk is vastly overblown. Moreover, one cause of the exodus from Syria—the growth of ISIS—is partly a by-product of U.S. intervention in Iraq, a reckless and counterproductive campaign that America’s Founding Fathers would have abhorred. “Thus, unfortunately, the U.S. response to the Syrian civil war and resulting refugee crisis may be a warning to us about the decay of our own original principles and traditions: avoiding unneeded foreign wars while being a beacon of liberty and prosperity to the world,” Eland concludes.

U.S. Response to Syrian Civil War and Refugee Crisis Is Telling, by Ivan Eland (The Huffington Posts, 9/8/15)

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

No War for Oil: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East, by Ivan Eland


4) Obamacare Tanning Tax Has Lost Its Glow

Among Obamacare’s many provisions is a tax that a congressional committee projected would raise $1 billion in revenues during its first four years: a 10 percent surtax on sessions at the tanning salon. Instead, the tax has generated only $362 million, a tad more than one-third of the anticipated loot. In a new piece for National Review, Independent Institute Senior Fellow and Research Director William F. Shughart II attributes the shortfall to human behavior.

The shortfall occurred because Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) failed to do one thing: it failed to properly account for the toll that the tanning tax would take on salons and their customers. Rather than pay one-tenth more for a tanning session, many consumers switched to a less expensive alternative—buying sunlamps for home use, applying fake tans from a bottle, or opting for natural sunlight.

Moreover, the tax has cost the tanning salon industry dearly. Nearly half of its (almost exclusively female) workforce had to leave their jobs, according to one trade group. Also, the reduction in the number of salons has meant that owners who closed shop are no longer paying income or payroll taxes. “This is another example of Washington’s know-it-all bureaucrats getting it all wrong,” Shughart writes. “The misnamed Affordable Care Act, which becomes less affordable every day, is the poster child for bad policymaking. It needs to be dismantled—one piece at a time, if necessary. Repealing the tanning tax is a good place to start.”

Obamacare’s Tanning Tax Causes a Slow Burn, by William F. Shughart II (National Review, 8/1/15)

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


5) Job Opening: Communications Coordinator

Independent Institute is currently seeking a Communications Coordinator to support the work of our Marketing and Communications Department. This entry-level position is ideal for someone who wants to learn the fundamentals of think tank publicity and publications marketing. For details, please visit our Employment Opportunities page.


6) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

You can find the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language website here and blog here.


7) Selected News Alerts


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless