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Volume 18, Issue 50: December 13, 2016

  1. Identity Politics and Its Discontents
  2. Obama’s Unconstitutional Wars
  3. Cuba after Castro
  4. Pope Francis and Economics: A Symposium
  5. Independent Updates

1) Identity Politics and Its Discontents

What was the presidential election all about? Judging by pre-election coverage on TV network news, November 8 had surprisingly little to do with the candidates’ conflicting visions about healthcare, immigration, trade, jobs, or war and peace. After all, the networks spent only 32 minutes reporting on national policy issues. True, the networks are not the only game in town; other news sources have gained market share. But their neglect of substantive policy differences between Trump and Clinton does suggest other matters played an important role.

According to Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman, the underlying concern of the election was identity politics. In its most fundamental sense, “it is based on convincing people that they have been victims, that they have grievances and that people outside their group are responsible for their suffering,” he writes at Goodman is not alone in holding this view. Writing in The Beacon, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs argues that the election mostly boiled down to “a battle between two groups that identified with glaringly different cultural assumptions and values. In effect, the election was above all a referendum on political correctness.” In this regard, Trump didn’t create a backlash against political correctness; he simply rode the wave.

Political correctness—the politics of collective victimhood and grievance—has strong roots in cultural Marxism, according to the esteemed political scientist Angelo M. Codevilla. Since Communism, and egalitarian ideologies of every stripe, are “a revolt against nature” (as Murray Rothbard put it in one essay), maintaining a blindness to nature’s realities ranks high in the pantheon of egalitarian virtues. Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) provided the conceptual scaffolding that supports modern egalitarians’ embrace of political correctness, according to Codevilla, but Gramsci also issued a caveat that today’s P.C. set has ignored at its peril: Don’t pick fights with ordinary people; they’re too unruly. As Goodman put it his piece for, “This type of politics necessarily creates its own backlash.” In this respect, the Trump victory is proof that political correctness contains the seeds of its own destruction.

Ideology, Identity Politics, and Politico-Cultural Conflict, by Robert Higgs (The Beacon, 11/30/16)

The Rise of Political Correctness, by Angelo M. Codevilla (Claremont Review of Books, Fall 2016)

Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature, by Murray N. Rothbard

What Was the Election All About?, by John C. Goodman (, 11/12/16)

The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and Political Intolerance on Campus, by David O. Sacks and Peter A. Thiel


2) Obama’s Unconstitutional Wars

When Barack Obama became President of the United States, he groaned about the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan he inherited from his predecessor. Now, nearly eight years later, he is paying the “favor” forward: He’s leaving Donald J. Trump to deal not only with unfinished business in those two countries, but also the U.S. armed engagement in Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Obama is also giving Trump the same legal-sounding cover that George W. Bush successfully exploited during his expansive Global War on Terror. He’s claiming his military campaigns are legitimate under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, the resolution Congress gave Bush to pursue the perpetrators and accomplices of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, even though many of today’s enemies didn’t arise until years after 2001. In doing so, Obama is not only stretching Congress’s resolution well beyond its meaning, but he’s also ignoring the U.S. Constitution, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland.

Constitutionally speaking, there are only two valid options for our president: Either he waits to dispatch the military only after Congress formally declares war—or he orders the troops, bomber pilots, and drone controllers to disengage and come home. “The latter solution would be preferred,” Eland writes, “because those counterproductive foibles are making the threat from Islamist terrorism more virulent with each U.S. military intervention—but even the former option would at least put the wars on a much sounder constitutional footing.”

Presidential War Is Unconstitutional, by Ivan Eland (Huffington Post, 11/28/16)

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, by Ivan Eland


3) Cuba after Castro

The death of Fidel Castro ends a wretched chapter in the history of Cuba. The next chapter, however, will start with more of the same: political oppression and economic deprivation. That’s because Raul Castro has no intention of allowing rivals to Communist Party Rule, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

Raul has seen Fidel’s legacy up close—he helped to guide it. He has seen former allies drop the Cuban model for their political systems. (Venezuela is the sole exception.) And he has seen Cuba’s economy decline since losing its patron, the Soviet Union. But Raul is all about maintaining political control. He hopes “to copy the Vietnamese formula (state capitalism and one-party rule),” Vargas Llosa writes.

Raul has taken steps to ensure that Communist Party rule outlives its charismatic deceased leader. He maintains control of the party and the military; his son-in-law heads the most powerful economic entity in the country; and his nephew heads counterintelligence. Therefore, Vargas Llosa writes, “anyone who thinks [Fidel Castro’s death] is the beginning of a meaningful political transition is sorely mistaken.” Cuba’s future after Raul Castro departs remains uncertain, but it’s unlikely to be a fast, smooth transition to civil rights, political pluralism, and a market economy.

Cuba, What Next?, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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


4) Pope Francis and Economics: A Symposium

As leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis (born Jorge Mario Bergoglio) is one of the most influential people alive. Well-known for emphasizing service to the poor, he has called for an open dialogue about capitalism, economic progress, and the destiny of what he calls “our common ground.” The new issue of The Independent Review joins the conversation, featuring a symposium on the pontiff’s economic ideas, as presented in his speeches and encyclicals. The pope’s views on the market economy are deeply at odds with those of many economists, including more than a few who share his faith, but what accounts for these differences?

Wake Forest University economics professor Robert M. Whaples, our journal’s meticulous managing editor, kicks off the discussion by delving into those differences, especially as they relate to the poor and the rich. Several differences, he argues, involve matters of economic fact and causation, and therefore in principle can be resolved by appeals for everyone to consider the same body of evidence. Although the clash over conflicting values is a chasm far more difficult to bridge, fruitful dialogue is the goal of this symposium.

“Pope Francis has a much lower opinion of capitalism and market economies than most economists,” Whaples writes. The pontiff’s failure to fully acknowledge capitalism’s strengths constitutes a blind spot. “Perhaps the most baffling of these blind spots is his contention that levels of poverty—absolute poverty—are not diminishing around the world,” Whaples writes. Moreover, according to Whaples, the pontiff overlooks “the vast improvement in the quality of the environment in many places throughout the world.” If you happen to have friends in the Vatican, perhaps you’ll consider sending them a gift subscription to The Independent Review.

The Economics of Pope Francis: An Introduction, by Robert M. Whaples (The Independent Review, Winter 2017)


5) Independent Updates

The Beacon: New Blog Posts
MyGovCost: New Blog Posts
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