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Volume 18, Issue 33: August 16, 2016

  1. Jason Bourne on Mass Surveillance and Cronyism
  2. Green Energy Harms the Poor
  3. Most Republicans Quiet on Obamacare Replacement?
  4. Love Gov Episode 4: House Poor
  5. Independent Updates

1) Jason Bourne on Mass Surveillance and Cronyism

It may not be great cinema on par with Alfred Hitchcock’s best thrillers, but the latest installment in the Jason Bourne movie franchise has new and important things to say—especially about government surveillance and the hazards of public-private cronyism. Thus, while it’s no substitute for reading the eye-opening new Independent Institute book, American Surveillance, by Anthony Gregory, the newest action-thriller starring Matt Damon is worth the price of admission and a bucket of popcorn.

In his latest movie review for The Beacon, Independent Institute Research Fellow Sam Staley notes that the screenwriters of Jason Bourne could have taken the easy way out, by repeating the Hollywood trope of intelligence agencies that spy on people directly, using their government operatives and equipment. Instead, they took a more creative route: They depicted a CIA director who wants to outsource mass surveillance, by pressuring the CEO of a social media company to give the agency access to customers’ data. Adding to the conflict of this subplot: the corporate chief resists—on the grounds that complying with privacy violations would be bad for business and violate his principles. Adding another twist: The spymaster reminds the tech executive that, in Staley’s words, “Those same principles weren’t in play when the CIA helped his company get off the ground and grow.”

It’s rare for filmmakers to depict the complexities of public-private partnerships—what many people call “crony capitalism.” It’s rarer still for them to depict the downside of such Faustian bargains with the state. Thus, Jason Bourne is plowing new ground, by rendering such a timely and critical topic in a blockbuster that grossed $60 million dollars in its opening weekend—not counting box-office receipts from overseas. “This, I believe, is a good omen for civil liberties and individual freedom,” Staley concludes.

Privacy Rights, Cronyism, and Jason Bourne, by Sam Staley (The Beacon, 8/1/16)

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


2) Green Energy Harms the Poor

Wind and solar power have soaked up billions of dollars in public subsidies, but this hasn’t made much of a dent in most households’ energy budgets. In fact, the push for renewable energy has made electricity less affordable, not more. That’s because it comes with more regulatory “sticks” as well as taxpayer-funded “carrots.”

Government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency have increasingly piled on regulation upon regulation to hinder coal power, which generates one-third of U.S. energy, but also to hobble cleaner natural gas. One result is to make energy more expensive than it would be otherwise. This problem, according to Independent Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II, is especially costly for low-income Americans, who now spend about 20 percent of their household budget on energy costs, instead of the affordability threshold of 6 percent. That 14 percent gap costs an estimated $40 billion per year.

“The clean energy mantra is so loud that it often drowns out the feeble cry of energy poverty,” Shughart and co-author Michael Jensen, a researcher at Utah State University’s Institute for Political Economy, write in a recent op-ed. “Maintaining, or even lowering, energy costs must be as important a consideration in U.S. energy policy as any efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Unfortunately, federal bureaucrats and many politicians seem more eager to fight against cheap energy than for it.

How Green Energy Hurts the Poor, by William F. Shughart II and Michael Jensen (The Detroit News, 7/5/16)

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

Audio: The Trust Costs of Green Energy, featuring Randy T Simmons (WSVA Radio, 4/23/15)

Nature Unbound: Bureaucracy vs. the Environment, by Randy T Simmons, Ryan M. Yonk, and Kenneth J. Sim

Video: Nature Unbound: Bureaucracy vs. the Environment, featuring Ryan M. Yonk


3) Most Republicans Quiet on Obamacare Replacement?

More than six years after Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, the party that voted unanimously against the controversial legislation has yet to agree on a detailed plan for its replacement. Congressional Republicans have voted 60 times to “repeal” Obamacare, but they haven’t even held hearings on the many problems caused by the president’s health reform law.

“Having a hearing wouldn’t just put Democrats on the spot,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman. “It would put Republicans in the potentially embarrassing bind of having to explain how they would solve these very same problems.”

Goodman has long advocated the creation of a uniform tax deduction for buying health insurance. Along with a few other reform measures, this, he believes, would solve the bulk of Obamacare’s problems—and conquer other healthcare challenges, such as the need to ensure coverage for the 20 million people who would be left without insurance if the 2010 health law were repealed but not replaced. Goodman offers the way forward in his books Priceless and A Better Choice. They’ve even inspired recent healthcare legislation, by Sen. Bill Cassidy and Rep. Pete Sessions. In a world in which political substance was more important than mere posturing, Congress would jump at the opportunity to examine common-sense reforms.

Do Republicans Really Want to Repeal Obamacare? Maybe Not, by John C. Goodman (Forbes, 8/4/16)

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

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

Paul Ryan’s Health Plan, a New Alternative to Obamacare, Draws from Independent Institute Book (Independent Institute, 6/27/16)


4) Love Gov Episode 4: House Poor

Love Gov: From First Date to Mandate

Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis, Edited by Randall G. Holcombe and Benjamin W. Powell

The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society Edited by David Beito, Peter Gordon and Alexander Tabarrok


5) Independent Updates

The Beacon: New Blog Posts

MyGovCost: New Blog Posts

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