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 19, Issue 27: July 4, 2017

  1. The Declaration of Independence: Principles for the Ages
  2. Two Cheers for the Supreme Court?
  3. The Dangerous Politics of GOP Health Reform
  4. Tax Reform: A Double-Edged Sword
  5. Independent Updates

1) The Declaration of Independence: Principles for the Ages

Are the truths of the Declaration of Independence enduring? Are they even truths at all? The importance of such questions cannot be overstated: A brief for a new, independent nation—a call to revolution—it was also a manifesto for an emerging political philosophy: natural-rights liberalism. Nowhere was this philosophy, which claimed enduring validity for people everywhere, better summed up than in these words from the Declaration’s second paragraph:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

“The Declaration of Independence is almost certainly the most powerful piece of political rhetoric ever penned,” wrote the late Ronald Hamowy (1937-2012), a renowned historian of liberty and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, in what is perhaps the best short, scholarly history of America’s founding document. “Although written for a specific historical purpose,” he continued, “it nevertheless enunciates a political philosophy that transcends the particularities of time and place and offers a general theory of rights and of the legitimacy of resistance against established authority.” Almost as much as the Declaration itself, Dr. Hamowy’s masterful exposition rewards the reader for repeated study. Lucky for us. The Fourth of July should be celebrated with intellectual fireworks—before they are banned, too.

The Declaration of Independence, by Ronald Hamowy (4/21/01)


2) Two Cheers for the Supreme Court?

Is the Supreme Court heading toward a more literal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution—even without help from Neil Gorsuch to tip the balance? It turns out that Justice Gorsuch, President Trump’s pick for the vacancy left by the passing of Antonin Scalia, did not play a decisive role in two (more or less) conservative rulings the Court handed down last month. In the First Amendment case of Matal v. Tam, free speech was the apparent victor, although Gorsuch sat out the case because he hadn’t been confirmed when it was argued last January. By a vote of 8-0, the Court decided that the Patent and Trademark Office under the leadership of Joseph Matal had wrongly denied vocalist Simon Shiao Tam a trademark for the name of his Asian-American rock band, The Slants, due ostensibly to public complaints of the name’s offensiveness.

Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa concurs with the outcome of Matal, citing John Stuart Mill’s argument that “offensiveness” is not a valid argument against free speech. “In the band’s case, it’s even more absurd to take offense since the name actually ridicules the stereotype by wearing it as a badge of honor,” Vargas Llosa writes.

Judge Gorsuch also played an inconsequential role in deciding Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, despite the contrary expectations of many left-leaning pundits. The Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church, finding that its preschool had just as much legal right to participate in Missouri’s playground-upgrade program as did any secular school. Whether or not this victory for religious liberty actually qualifies as a conservative outcome is disputable, however. Reprising the themes of a previous blog post, his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, and his follow-up blog post, Independent Institute Research Fellow William J. Watkins Jr. writes in The Beacon, “In a country with a functional federal system, a case like this should be adjudicated in state court.” Feeling like a worker in the Soviet Union awarded an extra monthly ration card, Watkins writes that, whatever the intention of the gesture, “I’ll still be a citizen of a corrupt and centralized regime.”

Two Free Speech Wins, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (, 6/26/17)

SCOTUS and Trinity Lutheran: Should We Celebrate?, by William J. Watkins Jr. (The Beacon, 6/28/17)

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


3) The Dangerous Politics of GOP Health Reform

If the Republican Congress and the White House fail to replace Obamacare—rather than merely tweak it—the failure will be one of political weakness as well as a refusal to seriously consider truly innovative healthcare policies. In scores of articles and books over the years, Independent Institute Senior Fellow John C. Goodman has exhaustively analyzed healthcare policy—to death, we’re tempted to say. In a recent piece at Forbes, however, he diagnoses the underlying political problem of GOP healthcare legislation thus far—namely, the Republicans’ failure to crib from the Democrats’ successful playbook in the run-up to the passage of Obamacare in 2010.

Goodman writes, “Here are some [politically strategic] rules that Democrats almost always follow, but Republicans have been ignoring: Create visible benefits and hidden costs.... Cut sweetheart deals for essential support.... Make sure the beneficiaries outnumber the people who will bear the cost.... Give more benefits to the people who are more likely to vote.... Make the case by connecting cause and effect—especially for people who vote.” (His op-ed, by the way, offers illuminating examples for each of these steps.)

To date, neither the House nor Senate Republicans have displayed the shrewd political acumen—what Independent Institute Adjunct Fellow Charlotte Twight calls the “political-transaction-cost” strategy—that characterized former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s successful coalition-building that led to President Obama’s signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The GOP’s strategic deficiency is systemic, Goodman laments, and could well doom not only genuine healthcare reform, but also much-needed tax reform.

What Democrats Can Teach Republicans about Health Reform, by John C. Goodman (Forbes, 6/27/17)

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

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


4) Tax Reform: A Double-Edged Sword

For a glimpse of how treacherous national tax reform can be—just a glance—Independent Institute Senior Fellow William F. Shughart, in a recent piece for Real Clear Markets, urges readers to look at Alaska’s travails in changing its tax system. The right kind of tax reform is essential, but ill-considered reforms can kill the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg.

Alaska is awash in oil—and government spending—but it’s drowning in debt. With a $3 billion deficit this year, policymakers have looked at enacting what one state legislator calls “a massive tax increase” on the revenue source responsible for about 90 cents of every dollar in state-government income: oil. Such a massive tax hike would be a Faustian bargain, because the state’s energy industry last year employed an estimated 103,875 workers and paid $6 billion in wages.

“The debate underway today in Alaska shows just how important the nuts and bolts of the reform process are, and how vital it is that significant tax policy shifts be handled thoughtfully,” Shughart writes. Tax reform is more fraught with peril at the federal level than at the state level, so it’s especially critical that tax reformers in Congress tread with care.

National Tax Reform Should Look to Alaska for Landmines, by William F. Shughart II (Real Clear Markets, 6/22/17)

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


5) Independent Updates
The Beacon: New Blog Posts MyGovCost: New Blog Posts Featured Video
News Alert


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless