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 14, Issue 13: March 27, 2012

  1. Economic Fascism and the Presidency
  2. NYPD Spy Program Violates Rights
  3. C. S. Lewis versus Statism
  4. The World’s First Paleo-Libertarians
  5. New Blog Posts

1) Economic Fascism and the Presidency

On Friday, March 16, President Obama signed an executive order on national defense that amends and updates the executive branch’s sweeping powers over energy, transportation, human resources, and raw materials. “It shows plainly that private control of economic life in the United States, to the extent that it survives, exists solely at the president’s pleasure and sufferance,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs. “Whenever he chooses to put into effect a full-fledged operational fascist economy, controlled from his office, he has the statutory power to do so; all he has to do is to murmur the words ‘national defense’ and give the order.”

Obama’s executive order sets no new precedent, Higgs notes. It’s just the latest in a string of edicts authorizing central economic planning that dates back at least to the Defense Production Act of 1950, a wartime statute that was never repealed after its passage during the Korean War. It’s also a classic example of how wars create new government powers that don’t go away after peace resumes.

Readers interested in learning about the economic fascism embodied in the Defense Production Act should consult Higgs’s authoritative history and analysis of the growth of the U.S. government, Crisis and Leviathan—or even Wikipedia. “I recommend that you do so if you are among those who imagine that the current administration has just concocted a new plan to take over the U.S. economy and has sneaked it into effect by issuance of an unheralded executive order,” Higgs concludes.

The Specter of Centrally Planned Economic Fascism Continues to Hover over the United States, Robert Higgs (The Beacon, 3/19/12)

Why Did People Wait More than Sixty Years to Get Upset?, Robert Higgs (The Beacon, 3/21/12)

Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government, by Robert Higgs

Depression, War, and Cold War: Challenging the Myths of Conflict and Prosperity, by Robert Higgs


2) NYPD Spy Program Violates Rights

The NYPD’s Muslim surveillance program—now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice—is an open-and-shut case of a violation of constitutional protections; and the courts should not allow law enforcement to get away with this abomination, according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty.

“The New York City police conducted widespread warrantless spying and created police files on Muslim individuals, businesses, mosques, and campus groups without any probable cause that crimes had been committed,” Eland writes in his latest op-ed. “The timeworn excuse for bad police behavior—that if people, in this case Muslims, aren’t doing anything wrong, they shouldn’t mind the government snooping into their business—just doesn’t fly.”

Eland notes that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution admits no exception for “national security.” Moreover, the amendment requires that search warrants be issued only upon probable cause that a crime has been committed, and that they name the specific individuals and places being targeted. Eland also notes that widespread spying on the Muslim community is counterproductive because it undermines the public trust necessary to elicit reports of suspicious behavior to the police. There is no inherent conflict between upholding constitutional rights and making people secure, “but you would never know it hearing the fearmongering by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Police Department in defending this atrocious, authoritarian, and un-American domestic spying,” Eland concludes.

NYPD Should Leave Muslims Alone, by Ivan Eland (3/21/12)

No War for Oil: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East, by Ivan Eland


3) C. S. Lewis versus Statism

In a lengthy online interview, Independent Institute President and Founder David J. Theroux discusses C. S. Lewis’s deep-seated antipathy to statism. Theroux begins by defining statism and showing its incompatibility with individual liberty. “Statism,” he writes, “holds that government is the only source of morality and law, individuals have no sovereign rights, and the rule of law is replaced by arbitrary rule of an elite, unchecked by natural law, religion, common law, or tradition.” Lewis, Theroux explains, saw statism as antithetical to political equality, free and virtuous individuals and communities, and divine natural law.

Lewis opposed all forms of statism, including the welfare state, whose citizens he characterized as “willing slaves.” He believed it robbed civilized man of his deeply ingrained desire to “live his life in his own way, to call his house his castle, to enjoy the fruits of his own labour, to educate his children as his conscience directs, to save for their prosperity after his death.” Theroux explains that unlike progressives, who favor using predatory government to interfere with the peaceful pursuits of innocent people, Lewis was skeptical of government power as such; he had little hope in electoral politics.

Although Lewis opposed statism, he did favor the establishment of a government—but only for the purpose of limiting centralized political power, Theroux explains. “As the form of government most consistent with his study of natural law and the nature of man, Lewis settled on ‘democracy’ (not majoritarianism, but self-government as in Alexis de Tocqueville’s book Democracy in America), considering it the least bad political structure.”

C. S. Lewis and the State: An Interview with David Theroux (To the Source, 3/16/12)

C. S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism, by David J. Theroux (Culture and Civilization, 8/23/10)

Secular Theocracy: The Foundations and Folly of Modern Tyranny, by David J. Theroux (To the Source, 1/11/12)


4) The World’s First Paleo-Libertarians

Are human beings better suited for individualism or collectivism? The question seems highly relevant to issues of political economy, but it’s one that very few advocates of individual liberty have sought to answer by looking at the anthropological record. This neglect is unfortunate, economist Thomas Mayor suggests, because the evidence indicates that for millennia before the agricultural revolution, man lived in a state of political autonomy and economic freedom, and acted basically as a self-interested individualist (“Hunter-Gatherers: The Original Libertarians,” The Independent Review, Spring 2012).

For evidence of individualism among ancient hunter-gatherers, Mayor cites the customs of existing primitive societies. The Yanomamo of the northern Amazon, for example, show a high level of individual autonomy in decision-making. Their nuclear family is sovereign on matters that affect it alone, and there is no centralized mechanism to coerce compliance on matters that affect others; families can choose to cooperate with each other or leave the band. Mayor also argues that individual hunter-gatherers were free to enjoy the fruits of their own labor. They maintained the custom of “food sharing”—the offering of surplus food to those in need—not through coercion, but through reciprocity. Nonreciprocators—those who took food but never offered any when they had enough to spare—were unlikely to be tolerated. The importance of reciprocity helps explain why existing hunter-gatherers are known for their generosity: their gifts, Mayor explains, serve as premiums paid for “hunger insurance.”

If individualism characterized human societies for so long, why did people lose their basic freedoms when settled agriculture became the dominant mode of production? Liberty receded because living in immobile settlements made individuals more vulnerable to predation. “The potential loss of [cleared land and stored crops],” Mayor writes, “provided powerful warlords with the necessary leverage to dominate settled agricultural communities, establish the first states, restrict individual autonomy, and abolish the individual’s right to his own production.”

Hunter-Gatherers: The Original Libertarians, by Thomas Mayor (The Independent Review, Spring 2012)

The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, by James C. Scott, reviewed by Thomas J. Thompson (The Independent Review, Summer 2011)

Subscribe to The Independent Review. New individual subscribers are eligible to receive two free extra issues.


5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

Make the Falklands/Malvinas a Free Zone
Alvaro Vargas Llosa (3/26/12)

Liberating The Hunger Games
Sam Staley (3/24/12)

From Sputnik to the War on Terror, U.S. Education as a ‘National Security Crisis’
Mary Theroux (3/24/12)

ObamaCare at Two
Mary Theroux (3/23/12)

There Is No Iranian Nuclear Threat
Anthony Gregory (3/23/12)

Film for Compulsory Sterilization from the 1930s (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s Reference)
David Beito (3/23/12)

Some Thoughts on Trayvon Martin’s Death
Anthony Gregory (3/22/12)

‘The Current Models Have Nothing to Say’
Robert Higgs (3/22/12)

The Wheels of Justice Turn Slowly in Trayvon Martin Case
Randall Holcombe (3/22/12)

Why Did People Wait More than Sixty Years to Get Upset?
Robert Higgs (3/21/12)

You Call This a War? I’ll Show You a War
Anthony Gregory (3/20/12)

Violence Against Women Act Sanctions Rights Violations
Mary Theroux (3/19/12)

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

You can find the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language blog here.


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless