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The Lighthouse®

The Lighthouse® is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 19, Issue 6: February 7, 2017

  1. The Case for Judge Neil Gorsuch
  2. Replace Obamacare, Don’t “Repair” It
  3. Will Trump’s Foreign Policies Live Up to His Rhetoric?
  4. Venezuela’s Root Economic Problem: Socialism
  5. Independent Updates

1) The Case for Judge Neil Gorsuch

It is with some justice that Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called Neil Gorsuch, the president’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, outside the “legal mainstream.” Given the murkiness of that water, however, this is not a bad thing. According to Independent Institute Research Fellow William J. Watkins, Jr., author of Crossroads for Libertyand Reclaiming the American Revolution, it is precisely because Judge Gorsuch does not subscribe to the ruling legal orthodoxy that sitting him on the Court is a simple, open-and-shut case.

A judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Neil Gorsuch holds a judicial philosophy that is distinctly (and oddly) in the minority: He strives to interpret provisions of the U.S. Constitution according to their original public meaning. This is anathema to many in the legal mainstream. Influential legal thinker Ronald Dworkin, for example, implores judges to make their decisions by striking some sort of “balance” among competing core principles. In practice, this approach opens the floodgates to subjectivity. Judges who, in Watkins’s words, “employ a creative interpretation of the law that eschews original intent” end up making laws and crafting social policy—in other words, imposing their own values. It is the rightful job of the judiciary, however, to interpret laws and the Constitution objectively, not to treat them like a de facto Rorschach inkblot on which they can impose their own meaning.

“As a man outside the legal mainstream, Neil Gorsuch is a needed addition to a Supreme Court that is too often engrossed with its power and authority,” Watkins writes. “Confirmation will be a fight, but this herculean battle will be well worth the effort.”

Neil Gorsuch: A Judge Stronger than Hercules, by William J. Watkins, Jr. (The Hill, 2/6/17)

The Neil Gorsuch Nomination: Does a Protestant Seat Matter?, by William J. Watkins, Jr. (The Beacon, 2/5/17)

Crossroads for Liberty: Recovering the Anti-Federalist Values of America’s First Constitution, by William J. Watkins Jr.

Reclaiming the American Revolution: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy, by William J. Watkins Jr.


2) Replace Obamacare, Don’t “Repair” It

Rumor has it that many Republicans in Congress are rethinking “repeal and replace” in favor of “repair.” This is both unnecessary and unsound. According to Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman, GOP lawmakers can replace Obamacare without leaving anyone behind. All they need to do is to enact legislation such as the proposal that Senator Bill Cassidy introduced in the Senate and that he and Representative Pete Sessions introduced in both houses of Congress.

“The Sessions/Cassidy proposal in particular is designed to encourage employers to help their employees get health insurance,” Goodman writes in Forbes. It does this through five main features: a refundable tax credit, access to group insurance, access to limited-benefit insurance, a reliable safety net, and reform of the individual market.

“Interestingly, a model for reform is the small-business section of the CURES Act, which passed with huge bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress,” Goodman writes. “One way to think about the Sessions/Cassidy legislation is to see that it will extend these same features to the rest of the healthcare system.”

How Republicans Can Keep Donald Trump’s Promises on Healthcare, by John C. Goodman (Forbes, 1/25/17)

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

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


3) Will Trump’s Foreign Policies Live Up to His Rhetoric?

Donald Trump’s inaugural address often looked bleak—the talk about inner-city “carnage” broke an unwritten rule that says a new president’s first appearance before the nation must sound like a Miss America speech—but in the realm of foreign policy Trump’s talk offered light. Such is the theme of the latest op-ed by Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland. The defense and foreign policy analyst has worked for a few decades in Washington, DC, so it pays to consider his views.

“After George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq for no good reason and Barack Obama’s military overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, which also resulted in chaos and an increase in terrorism, U.S. re-adoption of its long abandoned foreign policy of being a ‘shining city on a hill,’ if put into practice, would be a refreshing return to the founders’ vision,” Eland writes in the Huffington Post.

Returning to that vision implies that the United States should rethink its overseas commitments, including its role in NATO. According to Eland, the alliance’s response to terrorism is a leading indicator that it is the wrong organization for the times. It is, in a word, “obsolete.” Eland writes: “Trump’s inaugural address demonstrated that shaking things up was not just campaign rhetoric. Doing so in America’s failed security policy is long overdue.” Trump’s Inaugural Address Shows He Is Serious about Shaking Up Security Policy, by Ivan Eland (Huffington Post, 2/3/17)

NATO Is Obsolete, by Ivan Eland (US News & World Report, 1/24/17)

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


4) Venezuela’s Root Economic Problem: Socialism

As recently as 2007, left-leaning intellectuals such as Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz were praising Venezuela’s socialistic policies for creating “impressive” growth. Today? Not so much. Oil prices have collapsed, and Venezuela has become an economic basket case. The collapse of global oil prices has been disastrous for Venezuela, but its underlying problem—the reason why it hasn’t weathered the petroleum bust—is its socialism. Independent Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Powell, who recently visited the Venezuela-Colombia border, explains.

“Thousands of Venezuelans crossed the two bridges joining these countries on foot each day to buy essentials in Colombia that are unavailable in Venezuela,” Powell writes. The government in Caracas isn’t pleased. A government agency has demanded that retailers cut their prices by up to 30 percent, and has even sized millions of toys from a distributor so it could score points for redistributing toys to the poor in time for Christmas. In so doing, “it also destroyed the incentive for any company to attempt to provide toys next holiday season,” Powell writes.

Price controls and outright government theft are obvious cases of excessive intervention in response to economic turmoil. But they are also a cause—the root cause. For evidence, Powell cites a recent study showing that even during Venezuela’s oil boom—the glory days of President Hugo Chavez—the nation was badly underperforming compared to other Latin American nations with oil, with per capita income $2,500 to $3,500 below what it could have achieved had it adopted policies similar to non-socialist oil producers in the region. The situation is desperate, but need not be permanent, Powell concludes: “If Venezuela follows [Argentina and Brazil], it could resuscitate its economy and eventually return to prosperity.”

Socialism, Not Oil, Is the Cause of Venezuela’s Problems, by Benjamin Powell (, 1/19/17)

Making Poor Nations Rich: Entrepreneurship and the Process of Economic Development, edited by Benjamin Powell

The Economics of Immigration: Market-Based Approaches, Social Science, and Public Policy, edited by Benjamin Powell


5) Independent Updates
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