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 32: August 7, 2012

  1. The Truth about Guns
  2. Following the Pentagon Weapons Trail
  3. Storm over Berlin
  4. How to Avoid a Municipal Bankruptcy
  5. New Blog Posts

1) The Truth about Guns

The recent mass killings in Colorado and Wisconsin have brought renewed discussion about firearms, much of it heated and misinformed. In his latest op-ed, Independent Institute Research Fellow John C. Goodman sheds light on the subject by answering seven questions: Are some guns more dangerous than others? Should we be especially worried about assault weapons? What are assault weapons? What about machine guns? Are guns useful for self-defense? Do more guns cause more crime? What does the international evidence show?

Goodman’s op-ed is highly condensed and worth reading in its entirety. Here we will share just a couple ideas from the piece. Regarding so-called assault weapons, which used to be banned by federal law, Goodman notes that what sets them apart from non-assault firearms is their appearance—they look like military weapons—not their firepower or destructive capacity; shotguns are more lethal. That’s the first tidbit.

The second tidbit involves the defensive use of firearms. Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck estimates that “guns are used between 800,000 and 2.5 million times every year in self-defense,” Goodman writes. “And since 1997, two of eight school shootings were both stopped by citizens with guns (before police even arrived at the scene).”

The Truth about Guns, by John C. Goodman (Townhall, 8/4/12)

Gun Control: Separating Fact from Myth, featuring Gary Kleck and David B. Kopel (Independent Policy Forum, 11/15/00)

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


2) Following the Pentagon Weapons Trail

Ever since Watergate, it’s been a commonplace that good investigative journalism requires a reporter to “follow the money”—because uncovering the money trail can reveal truths that might otherwise remain hidden. An equivalent adage for the practice of military intelligence might be to “follow the weapons.” For despite what military leaders tell the public about their intentions, their real plans may be inferred more accurately by looking at changes in weapons stockpiles. We emphasize the word may: no one should adopt the adage uncritically, because of the possibility of tactical deception and the huge geographical reach of some weapons systems. But applying the adage with discretion can be highly instructive.

According to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty, the increase of pre-positioned U.S. weapons and equipment in the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia suggests that the Pentagon intends to augment its defense of Persian Gulf oil. The efforts to protect gulf oil include stationing heavy combat brigades and infantry brigades and battalions in three countries in that region and at sea. The U.S. military is also storing army equipment in Japan and South Korea, due to rising concerns about an ascendant China. “Thus, despite the current financial crisis in Washington, the military’s actions indicate that it still has grandiose ideas about what the future U.S. role in the world will be,” Eland writes. “However, even this Cold War Lite policy is fiscally unsustainable.”

And it is economically unjustifiable. According to Eland, the United States would save more money by cutting back its forces in the Persian Gulf and paying higher prices for oil if, let’s say, Iran were to carry out its threat to blockade the Strait of Hormuz. “In short, surprisingly without endangering U.S. security, the American military could pull back its forward forces and pre-positioned weapons stockpiles allocated for the three primary regions in which the U.S. is still planning for war,” Eland concludes.

US Pivot to Asia Promises More of the Same, by Ivan Eland (7/31/12)

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


3) Storm over Berlin

The rough economic seas that have deluged Greece, Portugal, and Ireland are coming close to flooding the European Union’s leading financial rescuer, Germany. Moody’s, the credit-rating company, has threatened to downgrade that country’s Triple-A rating. Such a potentiality may become reality if Spain’s economy continues to tank. The reason? The European Financial Stability Fund has only half of the 300 billion euros that Spain needs to pay debt holders in the next three years. True, an additional 500 billion euros sits in the European Stability Mechanism. But if Spain needs a bailout, Italy will likely need one too, and the rescue funds can’t cover the debts of both countries. As Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa notes, the financial climate has put intense political pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Not surprisingly, Merkel is sensitive to her countrymen’s increasing indignation at the sense that the rest of the world is ganging up on them,” Vargas Llosa writes. “Many in her own party as well as her liberal coalition partners are fiercely opposed to continuing to open the wallet.”

The German economy may already be feeling the strain. A manufacturing purchasing index published recently supports the notion that Europe’s leading rescuer needs a vacation from rescuing. The turmoil heading in Germany’s direction, Vargas Llosa suggests, is “a poignant reminder that in certain circumstances the lifeguard can also drown.”

The Drowning Lifeguard?, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (The Beacon, 7/30/12)

Lessons from the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, edited by Alvaro Vargas Llosa


4) How to Avoid a Municipal Bankruptcy

You may not have heard of Sandy Springs, Georgia. But with a population of 94,000, it’s the fifth largest city in the Peach State—and its balance sheet is the envy of municipalities across the country. As the California cities of Stockton, Vallejo, and San Bernardino work their way through bankruptcy and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, tries to avoid a similar fate, Sandy Springs has enjoyed large budget surpluses and even grown its building reserve fund to $21 million. As Independent Institute Research Fellow Peter Gordon explains, the success of the young city—its residents voted for incorporation in 2005—stems from following two strategies: outsourcing and privatization.

“Not every American city can be a Sandy Springs, but others should try,” Gordon writes. “Without deep reforms, more bankruptcies are virtually certain.”

Georgia’s constitution requires every city to provide its own police and fire protection. Except for these services, however, Sandy Springs contracts out for the provision of virtually every other traditional municipal activity. The resulting savings have allowed it to do more with less. For example, the city has “paved more roads than Fulton County had in the previous 20 years, and opened several new parks,” Gordon explains. “As the residents of Sandy Springs, Ga., can attest, cities can provide residents with all necessary services at an affordable price: if they break away from the old public employment model.”

Lesson in Contrasts: Stockton, San Bernardino and Sandy Springs, by Peter Gordon (The Sacramento Bee, 7/25/12)

The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society, edited by David Beito, Peter Gordon, and Alexander Tabarrok


5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Projecting the Per Capita Cost of ObamaCare
Craig Eyermann (8/3/12)

Subsidy Nation
Burt Abrams (8/3/12)

Free-spending Government Miracle Workers a Bust on Results
Lloyd Billingsley (8/1/12)

The Mid-Year Budget Update
Craig Eyermann (7/31/12)

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


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless