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Volume 14, Issue 23: June 5, 2012

  1. The Power and Vitality of Living Economics
  2. Federal Law Enforcement Is Going to Pot
  3. Why Aren’t Obamacare Risk Pools More Popular?
  4. Don’t Make Syria the Next Iraq
  5. New Blog Posts

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1) The Power and Vitality of Living Economics

Economics provides a powerful framework for understanding what goes on in the marketplace, the voting booth, the family, the community, and every other sphere of social activity. Its greatest teachers—from before Adam Smith on down to the present—have always impressed upon the public their discipline’s explanatory powers and importance for human well-being. In the new book Living Economics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Independent Institute Research Fellow Peter J. Boettke contributes to this tradition by discussing the ideas of some of the most important economists of the past century—famous and not so famous “worldly philosophers” whose innovative theories shed light on pressing issues such as inflation and unemployment, capitalism and socialism, competition and entrepreneurship, law and politics, and customs and civil society.

These economists—including Hans Sennhoz, Murray Rothbard, Kenneth Boulding, Warren Samuels, James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, Vincent and Elinor Ostrom, Don Lavoie, Thomas Mayer, F. A. Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises—also inspired Boettke’s passion for economics. In addition to illuminating their ideas, Boettke explains how the conduct of economists, both in classrooms and in scholarly journals written for their peers, enhances or diminishes the influence of economic thinking on the world of practical affairs. His diagnosis of the current maladies of the economics profession is especially valuable. He concludes by urging his colleagues to return to their discipline’s original mission: to make sense of human action and communicate the findings to a public sorely in need of cogent counsel.

Scholarly and yet highly accessible, Living Economics enables readers to see far across the human landscape by standing on the shoulders of giants in the economics profession, as Boettke and his occasional chapter co-authors—Christopher Coyne, Steve Horwitz, Peter Leeson, David L. Prychitko, and Frederic Sautet—eagerly acknowledge. Its sparkling insights make it worthwhile reading for economics teachers, students, and anyone interested in exploring the frontiers of the economic way of thinking and their potential impact on the world.

Living Economics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, by Peter J. Boettke

Preface by Peter J. Boettke

Video: Peter Boettke on Teaching and Communicating Economic Ideas (5/14/12)

“Loaded with content well worth reading and carefully arrayed gems from history of thought, Peter Boettke’s Living Economics is literally his personal statement about living with and living through economics. But be careful as you read. Boettke’s love affair with economics is contagious. You will find yourself cheering for more.” —Bruce Yandle, Professor of Economics Emeritus, Clemson University


2) Federal Law Enforcement Is Going to Pot

Like his predecessor George W. Bush, Barack Obama ran for office pledging to end the federal crackdowns on marijuana but while in the Oval Office has instead increased the number. There have been 170 SWAT raids of medical marijuana dispensaries since October 2009. The raids demonstrate the worth of campaign promises (no news there), but they also fly in the face of public opinion: 56 percent want pot to be treated like alcohol or tobacco and 74 percent (including two-thirds of registered Republicans) want the feds to respect state laws that allow medical marijuana, according to recent polls. It’s about time that the nation’s leaders heeded public opinion, Independent Institute Research Editor Anthony Gregory argues in his latest piece for the Huffington Post.

“Characterizing drug problems as a civil justice issue has been an unmitigated failure, except for serving law-enforcement special interests, growing the bureaucracy, and deepening the pockets of drug kingpins who profit off this madness,” writes Gregory. “No result of legal cannabis could be as bad as what we have now.”

The case for criminalizing marijuana always rested on flimsy grounds, Gregory argues. According to the therapeutic index, the lethality of marijuana is so small as to be almost undetectable: it’s estimated to be one hundred to four thousand times less lethal than alcohol. Caffeine is more lethal. This isn’t to say that smoking pot has no bad side effects, but those problems are best dealt with through community institutions, not police powers. Writes Gregory: “My prediction is that if marijuana were legal, most of the hysteria would subside, as would much of the romanticism surrounding its use.”

Is It the Beginning of the End for the War on Pot?, by Anthony Gregory (Huffington Post, 5/31/12)

Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition, by Jeffrey Miron

“In Drug War Crimes, Miron offers a powerful economic analysis detailing the irrationality of using the criminal law to prohibit drugs. He offers an equally powerful explanation of the terrible human harm caused by the drug war and advances the only practical alternative to the present failed policies.”—Joseph D. McNamara, former Chief of Police of San Jose, Calif. and Kansas City, Missouri; Research Fellow, Hoover Institution


3) Why Aren’t Obamacare Risk Pools More Popular?

One argument for passing the federal healthcare overhaul was to provide access to healthcare for those whose pre-existing conditions kept them from buying private insurance. As of December 31, 2011, only 49,000 people had bought insurance through the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, the risk pools created by the Affordable Care Act. Independent Institute Research Fellow John C. Goodman invites us to consider the number of uninsureds with pre-existing conditions in relation to the magnitude of the new healthcare law.

“Think about that,” Goodman writes. “We are in the process of nationalizing the entire health care system. The federal government is going to tell 300 million Americans what kind of health insurance they must have. We are going to create 159 new regulatory agencies and spend close to $1.8 trillion over the next 10 years getting it done. Yet the primary reason for doing all of this—according to [Paul] Krugman—is to solve the problem of 49,000 people!”

Although the number of enrollees in the government-sponsored risk pools has risen in 2012, Goodman’s point stands: if the magnitude of the problem of pre-existing conditions were as large as is commonly believed, then one would expect far more to have signed up. Moreover, Goodman argues, the new law will likely raise costs, reduce quality, and reduce access to healthcare for our most vulnerable populations. More people will be insured, but there won’t be more doctors to deliver health services. Writes Goodman: “That implies a huge rationing problem, and anyone who is in a health plan that pays doctors and hospitals less than what others are paying will be pushed to the rear of the waiting lines.”

Lying about Health Reform, by John C. Goodman (Townhall, 5/24/12)

Out of Ideas, by John C. Goodman (Townhall, 5/19/12)

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

Priceless is an important contribution to a market-friendly approach to reforming health care.”—Martin S. Feldstein, George F. Baker Professor of Economics, Harvard University


4) Don’t Make Syria the Next Iraq

President Obama faces growing pressure to mount U.S. air strikes against the regime of Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad. So far, the White House has resisted, though it has provided the opposition with communications equipment. Unfortunately, such non-lethal aid could be the slippery slope that culminates in U.S. military intervention, perhaps after the November presidential election has passed. Launching U.S. air strikes—or worse, sending boots on the ground—should be avoided at all costs, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland. One reason is that the Assad regime is a more formidable opponent than, say, Libya, whose military under Moammmar Gadhafi was weak. Also, Syria is a less cohesive country than Libya, which could lead to further difficulties in stabilizing it after Assad is gone.

“If U.S. ground forces were used, a repeat of Iraq could occur: a protracted guerrilla insurgency plus a civil war among a population with similar ethno-sectarian fractures—with al-Qaeda as one of the participants,” Eland writes.

Ever since the Blackhawk fiasco in Somalia in 1993, U.S. leaders have favored using air power to pummel military opponents, while relegating ground forces to the role of back-up player. But this hasn’t always worked out as planned, as the prolonged campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown. Yet air strikes remain a tempting way for the White House to show the public that it is “doing something” while minimizing harm to U.S. troops. But the risk of escalation—and all the blood and treasure this would entail—is always a serious risk. Thus, “the United States should stay on the sidelines and let regional powers, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, take the lead in dealing with the Syrian mess,” Eland concludes.

Hands Off Syria, by Ivan Eland (5/30/12)

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

“Ivan Eland has produced a devastating indictment of the ‘oil rationale’ for the intrusive, counterproductive U.S. military presence in the Middle East. No War for Oil should help debunk the most prominent justification for that misguided policy.” —Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato Institute


5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

See For Greater Glory
David Theroux (6/4/12)

Axioms of Political Geometry
Robert Higgs (6/4/12)

Peaceful Scottish Secession in the Works
Melancton Smith (6/4/12)

The Right to Drink a Supersized Coke
Anthony Gregory (5/31/12)

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

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


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