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 18, Issue 31: August 2, 2016

  1. New Book Exposes the Rise of Government Spying in America
  2. The War on Drugs Fails in Afghanistan
  3. Restoring the American Family
  4. Will Europe Leave the European Union?
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts

1) New Book Exposes the Rise of Government Spying in America

Many Americans were shocked to learn of the breadth and depth of ongoing U.S. electronic surveillance programs after government contractor Edward Snowden leaked top-secret files from the National Security Agency to members of the press in 2013. Hadn’t Congress, the courts, and the Obama administration put an end to warrantless mass surveillance of ordinary Americans? Apparently not. But how did the United States become a home for Big Brother—and what would it take to shove him out the door? These questions are the focus of American Surveillance: Intelligence, Privacy, and the Fourth Amendment, a new book by Independent Institute Research Fellow Anthony Gregory. Several books about government spying have been written, but as early readers of American Surveillance have testified, few authors have even attempted to do what Gregory has done: weave together the diverse strands that make up the story, by delving into U.S. history, intelligence studies, constitutional jurisprudence, and other fields, and on this basis, tell us where we are headed.

American Surveillance begins with a panoramic view of government spying in America, from the nation’s founding to the post-9/11 era. The cast of characters includes the likes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ralph H. Van Deman, J. Edgar Hoover, Allen Dulles, Alger Hiss, Thurgood Marshall, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Frank Church, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, Barack Obama, Michael Hayden, and scores of other figures, many known to the public and others who have managed to stay hidden in the shadows. Especially pivotal to the rise of the surveillance state, Gregory explains, is the Fourth Amendment, which Americans often mistakenly believe would guarantee their privacy from warrantless “search and seizure” if only it were consistently honored. In reality, Fourth Amendment privacy protections are only “a mirage,” to use Gregory’s term.

The courts have admitted numerous exceptions to privacy protections, especially where national security is claimed to be at stake. Moreover, technological innovations have multiplied the number of ways in which federal and local governments (and even non-government actors) can gather information that you might have suspected was either off limits or beyond the reach of snoopers. Thus, the only way to ensure that the surveillance beast is put in a secure cage may be to make privacy a dominant cultural value in American society. The consequences of the culture’s prevailing attitudes cannot be overstated. “I can only surmise that what is at stake is the kind of civilization we have,” Gregory concludes. Few people will be as equipped to promote a privacy ethos—and to push back against a culture of perdition and paranoia—as readers of American Surveillance.

American Surveillance: Intelligence, Privacy, and the Fourth Amendment, by Anthony Gregory

Politics and American Surveillance, by Anthony Gregory (The Beacon, 7/29/16)

The Power of Habeas Corpus in America: From the King’s Prerogative to the War on Terror, by Anthony Gregory


2) The War on Drugs Fails in Afghanistan

When the U.S. military launched Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001, the Bush administration claimed the invasion would help plant democratic institutions in beleaguered Afghanistan. To date, that endeavor has borne little fruit, but a different American export did manage to take root and grow: chaos resulting from the war on drugs. These results support the hypothesis that drug prohibition is generally counterproductive wherever it is imposed. The U.S.-led drug eradication effort in Afghanistan was supposed to support the war on terror, but instead it has strengthened the Taliban insurgency and undermined other U.S. goals, explain Christopher J. Coyne, Abigail R. Hall Blanco, and Scott Burns in their article for the Summer 2016 issue of The Independent Review.

The clearest sign that the War on Drugs has failed can be gleaned from a few statistics: Afghanistan grew three times as many opium poppies in 2013 as in 2002, according to the United Nations. Today the troubled nation produces 80 percent of the world’s illicit opium. Coyne, Hall Blanco, and Burns offer several examples of problems with the war on drugs in Afghanistan. Some may leave readers scratching their heads in disbelief. Soon after the U.S. invasion, for instance, the American military paid local warlords to help defeat the Taliban—the warlords, in turn, offered protection services to opium growers.

Soon the Taliban itself became a protection organization for opium growers, as the war on drugs turned hundreds of thousands of Afghan farmers into criminals with incentives to align with them. Moreover, according to one four-star U.S. general in his testimony before Congress, corruption in Afghanistan has created worse problems than the Taliban. Local officials paid to fight drugs in many cases have plowed the money into opium cultivation elsewhere in the country. And during harvest season, opium-growing regions have been especially violent. Hostile fatalities of U.S./coalition personnel often surged due to links between the Afghan drug trade and the Taliban-led insurgency.

The War on Drugs in Afghanistan: Another Failed Experiment with Interdiction, by Christopher J. Coyne, Abigail R. Hall Blanco, and Scott Burns (The Independent Review, Summer 2016)

Subscribe to The Independent Review and get a FREE book!

Order the Summer 2016 issue


3) Restoring the American Family

The American family has been in decline for decades. What are the root causes, and what can reverse the trend? Pundits and scholars lately have cast new light on the issue, including conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks, social scientists at the Brookings Institution, and economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Independent Institute President David J. Theroux now joins in the discussion, most recently in an op-ed for the Catholic World Report.

Taking his lead from a long line of natural-law thinkers from Saint Paul to John Locke to C. S. Lewis, Theroux underscores the imperative of a social order that embraces moral absolutes rather than the “ethics” of relativism. America’s social pathologies, he writes, are a “mounting calamity” that “has proceeded as the traditional moral values of individual liberty, personal responsibility, family, and community have been eclipsed by the secular, moral relativism of utilitarianism in claiming that ‘the end justifies the means.’”

Individual choices—the units of moral behavior—are not made in a vacuum, however. Institutions matter. They matter in part because they create incentives and constraints that make a person’s moral struggle either easier to bear or more difficult to endure. As Theroux notes, there is growing recognition that the institution of the welfare state has contributed to the incentive component of the ills of the American family. Thus, the restoration of its health will require the replacement of the welfare state with depoliticized and robust institutions of civil society, along with the rejection of moral relativism. A wave of privatization and deregulation would also help tremendously, by creating an economy rich in opportunities that encourage and reward individual initiative and social cooperation. “In short,” Theroux concludes, “the cultural foundations of the ‘progressive’ leviathan must be abandoned to restore liberty, personal responsibility, the family, and community.”

Reversing the Flight from the Family, by David J. Theroux (The Catholic World Report, 7/28/16)

Help the Family: Privatize and Depoliticize, by David J. Theroux (WND, 12/7/12)


4) Will Europe Leave the European Union?

The welfare state is a plague that knows no boundaries. In Europe, the welfare state—with its growth, its perverse incentives, and its economic and human costs—is central to the continent’s most troubling political development: the rise of populist nationalism. In a recent op-ed for the Washington Times, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa argues that unless major reforms to the welfare state are enacted, a rising nationalism will induce many European nations to follow Britain’s lead and exit from the European Union.

The Brexit need not foreshadow the economic decline of the United Kingdom. If the Brits maintain free trade with the European Union—as Norway and Switzerland have done even without the benefit of membership—the Brits may see little if any meaningful slowdown. But if Britain’s exit proves to be contagious, it’s hard to imagine that a country in the throes of a nationalistic fervor would strive to cut free-trade deals. No one should confuse France’s Marine Le Pen with Adam Smith.

But the Brexit needn’t prove to be contagious—not if the European Union hears its message. “What is needed is nothing short of fundamental reform of the overextended European welfare state,” Vargas Llosa writes. “Then and only then will the vast majority of Europeans feel empowered, rather than threatened, by globalization, immigration and free trade. If that doesn’t happen, the British vote may be a harbinger of things to come.”

Europe’s Challenge After Brexit, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (The Washington Times, 7/19/16)

Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa


6) Selected News Alerts

Back to Top

  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless