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 32: August 8, 2017

  1. Your Future with Social Security
  2. Trump and the Generals
  3. Water, Rights, and Environmental Bureaucracy
  4. Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  5. Yeonmi Park and the Future of Liberty
  6. Independent Updates

1) Your Future with Social Security

Are your future Social Security dollars secure? It’s a critical question for most U.S. workers (including eligible non-citizens who’ve paid into the system), yet despite its importance the news media seldom report on the topic, even when the Social Security Administration Trustees issue veiled warnings. For those who lack the time, patience, and stomach to digest all 261 pages of the Trustees’ latest annual report, Independent Institute Research Fellow Craig Eyermann, creator of the Government Cost Calculator at, gets to the bottom line.

Sent to Congress on July 13, the seventy-seventh Trustees’ report contains a few facts every American should know. The first, Eyermann explains, relates to the size of current expenditures: Last year Social Security paid out an average benefit of about $15,114 to 61 million people, for a grand total of $922 billion. The number is too large for most of us to get our heads around. Eyermann therefore offers a second fact, one that reveals the consequences of the anticipated stream of revenues and spending: Under its current assumptions, the Trustees expect the Social Security trust funds to run out of money by 2034.

“From that point on, Social Security can only pay out benefits from the money it takes from the paychecks of working Americans,” writes Eyermann. Unless something big occurs, he warns, Social Security beneficiaries will see their benefits fall by 23 percent. What is the “something big” that could prevent a cut? A hike in payroll taxes to 18 percent would do the trick.

Decoding the Future for Social Security, by Craig Eyermann (MyGovCost News & Blog, 7/28/17)

Privatizing Social Security the Right Way, by Laurence J Kotlikoff (The Independent Review, Summer 2000)

The Anatomy of Social Security and Medicare, by Edgar K. Browning (The Independent Review, Summer 2008)


2) Trump and the Generals

The latest scuttlebutt in Washington is that President Trump is about to shake up his national security team. If so, what does this spell for U.S. foreign policy? The tea leaves are a bit hard to read, but President Trump’s defense posture has generally been more hawkish than many of his supporters expected during the run-up to last November’s election. Back then, Trump criticized the wars of Obama and Bush, and blasted “the generals” as well (that is, before naming U.S. Marine Corp general James “Mad Dog” Mattis to his team). But as Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland notes in an op-ed for U.S. News & World Report, actions over the past several months raise the question of whether Trump can fulfill his foreign-policy promises, given the decision-making role he has given the military leadership.

“Trump has virtually turned over decisions on war to his secretary of defense—who is a former general, as is his national security adviser and his new White House chief of staff—apparently to escape blame if some military action goes haywire,” Eland writes. Delegating such decision-making to the generals is enormously risky. As French Statesman Georges Clemenceau once remarked, war is too serious a matter to entrust to the military.

Most of all, Trump’s empowerment of military leaders may increase the likelihood that the United States will become more deeply enmeshed in military campaigns that do not promote genuine U.S. security. That’s because their skills primarily involve fighting wars, as opposed to determining the best interests of ordinary Americans. “Trump should think about that before dipping his toe back into all these nonstrategic backwater nations – but he can’t,” Eland continues. “Not only is he absent a coherent strategy to ‘win’ in any of these perpetual foreign hell holes, but he also doesn’t have an overarching national vision for what an effective U.S. role in the world should be.”

Too Important for Trump’s Generals, by Ivan Eland (U.S. News & World Report, 7/31/17)

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


3) Water, Rights, and Environmental Bureaucracy

The human environment includes more than “nature”: it also includes the rich network of individuals and institutions that ordinary people interact with daily. Hence, it’s fitting that Independent Institute Policy Fellow K. Lloyd Billingsley examines the endangerment of private-property rights—a core institution in a thriving human ecosystem—in a recent piece at MyGovCost News & Blog that he’s written for National Water Quality Month.

Private-property rights, Billingsley explains, are center to a new battle that pits the California State Water Resources Control Board against the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Whereas the feds, under the leadership of Trump appointee Scott Pruitt, seek to roll back Obama-era regulations that expand the definition of protected wetlands, state officials are fighting for even tighter government controls.

Several lessons about predatory politics and environmental bureaucracy are relevant here, many of which are examined in the Independent Institute books Aquanomics ,Re-Thinking Green, and most recently Nature Unbound. But one of the most fundamental lessons involves bureaucratic mission creep. As Billingsley notes, California’s Water Board is supposed to, according to its website, “ensure the highest reasonable quality for waters of the state, while allocating those waters to achieve the optimum balance of beneficial uses.” Had the enabling legislation that created the state agency defined what is meant by “highest reasonable quality,” “optimal balance,” and “beneficial uses,” the entire conflict, which will likely end up lasting several years, would have been avoided.

California Waterboards Property Rights, by K. Lloyd Billingsley (MyGovCost News & Blog, 8/1/17)

Cross-Currents in California Water: A Case Study of Bureaucracy versus Tradable, Private Water Rights, by K. Lloyd Billingsley (Independent Institute Briefing, 7/18/16)


4) Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki

On August 6 and 9, 1945, the United States detonated two atomic bombs over Japan--"Fat Man" and "Little Boy" they were called. The first (and so far, only) martial use of nuclear weapons ended World War II in the Pacific, razing the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In her latest piece for The Beacon, Independent Institute Research Fellow Abigail R. Hall talks about the bombings and the questions they raise, going back to her own childhood.

Such questions sometimes come unexpectedly, from children too innocent to understand that they’ve walked into a landmine of controversy, and the questions reach adults too poorly informed to offer historically accurate answers. Hall recounts exactly such an episode, when as a first-grader she discovered a book about the aftermath of Hiroshima in the big-kids section of her school library.

“When I was taught about the events at the conclusion of WWII later in school, there was little to no mention of the civilian deaths, the nefarious impacts of radiation, or the fact that the Japanese were ready to surrender prior to the bombings,” Hall writes. “These lessons stood in stark contrast to the story of Mii [the young Japanese girl in the Hiroshima book] I had read years before. In vibrant color and pithy language, it had taught me to remember what is often forgotten—or intentionally neglected—that war is nasty, brutal, and destructive at its core. Those who bear the consequences are not always those in uniform, on warships, or in tanks, but seven-year-old girls.”

Atomic Bombs: What My Momma (Never) Told Me, by Abigail R. Hall (The Beacon, 8/4/17)

American Conservatives Are the Forgotten Critics of the Atomic Bombing of Japan, by Barton Bernstein (San Jose Mercury News, 8/2/14)

Is a Dystopian World Closer Than We Think? Thoughts from Hiroshima, by Sam Staley (The Beacon, 6/4/06)

August 9, 1945, a Date that Will Live in Infamy, by Robert Higgs (The Beacon, 8/9/08)


5) Yeonmi Park and the Future of Liberty

No one ever predicted that Titanic, James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster film, would light a political fire. But for one persecuted family on the Korean peninsula, it did just that. According to North Korean defector and human-rights activists Yeonmi Park, the movie gave her a glimpse of a sparkling life beyond her country’s borders—not a life of sinking ocean liners, but a life in which taking a vacation cruise is within the realm of possibility. It gave her encouragement to escape from tyranny, but freedom was not guaranteed. Her family’s attempted flight from the brutal rule of Kim Jong-Il set in motion an ordeal every bit as harrowing as those experienced by passengers who survived the real Titanic. Yet she endured—and succeeded.

Yeonmi Park will share her message of human dignity, struggle, and freedom on September 22, at Independent Institute’s 30th Anniversary Gala for the Future of Liberty.

Please join us at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco as we celebrate Park, and other champions of human empowerment and liberty: high-tech venture capitalist Timothy C. Draper and Nobel Laureate economist Vernon L. Smith. With bestselling author and political humorist P. J. O’Rourke as our Master of Ceremonies, the Gala is sure to entertain as well as inspire. Please join us!

A Gala for the Future of Liberty, September 22, The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco


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


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless