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The Lighthouse®

The Lighthouse® is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 19, Issue 12: March 21, 2017

  1. Hamilton: The Musical, the Man, the Myth
  2. New Bridges
  3. The Real Immigration Problem
  4. Skinny Budget Myths and Realities
  5. Whither Antitrust? Let’s Hope
  6. Independent Updates

1) Hamilton: The Musical, the Man, the Myth

Hamilton: An American Musical, the smash-hit Broadway show, tells an entertaining and compelling tale about the first Treasury secretary of the United States. It’s a great esthetic achievement by most accounts, having won seven Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. But how true to life is Hamilton? The Spring 2017 issue of The Independent Review features a symposium about the musical, its relationship to the historical Hamilton, and the potential implications for American political discourse. (Our new issue also has four excellent unrelated articles and ten book reviews; the latter are available free on our website, including four web-exclusive reviews.)

The key theme is best expressed by symposium editor and contributor Matthew E. Brown, when he argues that despite Hamilton’s novel artistry and casting, the musical largely follows our culture’s tradition of mythmaking about the American Founders, interpreting them as symbols that reflect contemporary concerns more than historical reality. For example, as Phillip W. Magness explains, whereas the musical uses Alexander Hamilton to celebrate immigrants, the real Hamilton held unsavory views about nationality and birth status that are contrary to what composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda intended for his stage protagonist to illustrate.

The divergence prompts Kenneth Owen to ask, Can great art also be great history? The question is especially relevant here, because Hamilton: An American Musical excels as an uplifting morality tale but strays far from historical accuracy. The real Hamilton is not a good hero for our age, either socially or politically, argues Billy G. Smith. Nor did the nation’s first Treasury secretary “invent” our financial system, let alone American capitalism itself, explains Edward Peter Stringham. The symposium ends on a light-hearted note, with Robert E. Wright’s playful, historically accurate rejoinder to the musical—in rap verse. Hip-hop revisionism, anyone?

The Independent Review (Spring 2017)

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


2) New Bridges

You are invited to a very special symposium and luncheon on the post-election prospects for liberty and prosperity in a divided America, and how we can advance freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and security for all.

Featuring speakers Patrick Byrne, William J. Watkins, Jr., Robert P. Murphy, and Lawrence J. McQuillan

Purchase tickets


3) The Real Immigration Problem

The Washington Post has raised an interesting question: Might President Trump surprise the nation and decide to use his skills in “the art of the deal” to make immigration reform happen? To do so, according to Independent Senior Fellow Benjamin Powell, he must first distance himself from false claims he’s made about immigration. That fake news includes statements about immigrants having higher rates of incarceration than native-born residents (they don’t), higher rates of terrorism (ditto), and greater net consumption of public funds (wrong again—they pay more in taxes than they take out via public services).

The falsehood with the most traction, however, may be about immigration and the fortunes of America’s struggling middle class. Economists who study the issue almost unanimously disagree with Trump’s claim that immigrants reduce the earnings of middle-class households. They disagree with each other only about the impact of immigration on native-born workers who didn’t complete high school. (Have immigrants reduced their wages by some amount closer to 7 percent, by less, or not at all?)

Only with those falsehoods cleared away, Powell concludes, could President Trump focus on the real immigration problem: how best to clear a path to citizenship for the 11 million foreign-born residents who are in the United States illegally.

Here’s the Real ‘Immigration Problem’ Trump Should Be Tackling, by Benjamin Powell (, 3/16/17)

The Economics of Immigration, edited by Benjamin Powell


4) Skinny Budget Myths and Realities

No, President Trump has not proposed nixing Meals on Wheels—USA Today and Mother Jones have debunked that myth—but his “skinny budget” (so named because it’s not the full proposal) does take a swipe at federal arts funding and public broadcasting—which last year received about $742 million in federal funding. To put this in perspective: If Uncle Sam earned a salary of $50,000, then his annual contribution to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities combined would be less than $10, according to the Washington Post.

Independent Institute Research Fellow Craig Eyermann proposes that if those projects are actually defunded and you make more than fifty grand, then increase your personal spending on the arts by more than one Hamilton, and you’ll see them blossom, and probably much more to your liking. This prediction, he argues, is supported by experience during the 1990s, when one dollar in cuts to federal arts funding was met with a rise of 80 cents to one dollar in extra arts funding by the private sector.

Whatever the outcome of such relatively small federal spending reductions, from a long-term view the real news about President Trump’s skinny budget is that overall it’s anything but slim. As Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland notes, the new administration is changing federal spending priorities, but it’s doing nothing significant to reduce the $20 trillion national debt. In fact, by announcing that he won’t try to cut Social Security and Medicare, President Trump has shown he isn’t willing to fire a single shot in the war for national solvency and intergenerational fairness. Eland writes: “The only difference between President Trump and those other two big-spending Republican chief executives [Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush] is that Trump hasn’t even really bothered to mouth the rhetoric of ‘small government.’”

The Hysterical Reaction to the Skinny Budget, by Craig Eyermann (MyGovNews & Blog, 3/20/17)

Federal Cuts to the Arts No Big Deal, by Craig Eyermann (MyGovNews & Blog, 3/6/17)

Here We Go Again: Yet Another Debt-Expanding Republican Administration, by Ivan Eland (The Hill, 3/6/17)

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


5) Whither Antitrust? Let’s Hope

It’s by no means clear how the Trump administration will deal with enforcement of federal antitrust laws. For one thing, while populism is, historically speaking, associated with prosecution of Big Business (in rhetoric if not in deed), Trump’s brand of populism is unusual in its unpredictability. The president has already walked back campaign promises to “drain the swamp” in areas ranging from healthcare reform to foreign policy.

The administration has acted to curb the growth of regulation, but this doesn’t necessarily signal a retrenchment in antitrust. As Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart II explains, economists who are skeptical of government regulation, particularly those trained in the University of Chicago tradition, typically fail to focus their skeptical lens on antitrust policymaking and enforcement. Their failure is a blindness to the political nature of antitrust, and to the proven risk of antitrust policy becoming “captured” by the special interests whose behavior it is supposed to restrict.

In contrast, Shughart and his coauthors have “documented the political pressures brought to bear on antitrust law enforcers, including those of congressional oversight committees and the competitors of antitrust defendants, that shape enforcement outcomes at every stage of the process.... The antitrust authorities, no less than regulatory authorities, are vulnerable to capture by the collective interests of groups having the most salient stakes in antitrust law enforcement outcomes.” The practical import is this: If President Trump is to make good on his promise to “drain the swamp,” he must drain the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice. To do anything else would be to perpetuate corporate cronyism that harms the free market, rivalrous competition, and the interests of consumers.

Antitrust, Regulation, and the “Chicago School,” by William F. Shughart II (, 3/20/17)

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

Antitrust and Monopoly: Anatomy of a Policy Failure, by Dominick T. Armentano


6) Independent Updates
The Beacon: New Blog Posts
MyGovCost: New Blog Posts
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