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Volume 15, Issue 16: April 16, 2013

  1. Tax Freedom Day Is Almost Here
  2. What to Do about North Korea?
  3. Thatcher and Her Foes
  4. California’s Toxic Policy-Making
  5. New Blog Posts
  6. Selected News Alerts

The Independent Review: Subscribe or renew today and get a free copy of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Crisis and Levithan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government, by Robert Higgs.

1) Tax Freedom Day Is Almost Here

As taxpayers rush to meet today’s deadline with the Internal Revenue Service, there’s another date they should keep in mind: April 18 is Tax Freedom Day, the day that the nation will have earned all of the money needed to pay its 2013 tax obligations—an estimated $4.22 trillion dollars! In his latest op-ed for the Huffington Post, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Powell helps us makes sense of this staggering sum by breaking it into subcomponents.

“On average, Americans will work 40 days just to pay their income taxes, another 25 days for payroll taxes, 15 days for excise taxes, and 12 days for property taxes,” Powell writes. Of course, Tax Freedom Day would be pushed back much further if we also accounted for the federal deficit—a potential future tax burden.

How much would federal spending need to be reduced in order to eliminate the deficit? Based on current revenues, it would need to fall to about the same level as was spent during President Clinton’s last year in the Oval Office. Powell writes: “That is hardly a return to an era of ‘small government.’ Though, if I had my druthers, I’d like to see National Tax Freedom Day in January.”

Happy Tax Freedom Day?, by Benjamin Powell (The Huffington Post, 4/12/13)—What Is Washington’s Spending Costing You?


2) What to Do about North Korea?

It’s hard to know what Kim Jong-un is thinking. On the one hand, the belligerent rhetoric coming from North Korea’s new dictator may be a risky ploy to extort money from the United States, a well-tested strategy from his late father’s playbook. On the other hand, Kim’s deficiencies, including his sheltered upbringing, may be so severe that he actually believes in his regime’s invincibility. In either case, he is playing with fire. How should the United States respond?

According to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ivan Eland, the best response is to treat the North Korean regime as one would treat a child who acts up to get attention: ignore it. A show of military force—including practically buzzing the country with American B-2 and B-52 bombers and F-22 fighter jets, as the United States has done—runs the risk of escalating the matter into a major war. Such an outcome, it should go without saying, would not serve the public’s interests.

In addition to military restraint, Eland makes other recommendations. First, the United States should refrain from discouraging private citizens from traveling to North Korea. “Such contacts do not officially sanction any North Korean policies or their importance, but keep the door open to dialogue through such intermediaries and information about the regime that they might bring,” he writes. Second, Eland urges the United States to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation by lifting economic sanctions on North Korea and thereby reducing its incentive to sell nuclear technology and missiles to rogue states and terrorist groups.

North Korea Is Like a Misbehaving Child—Ignore It, by Ivan Eland (4/9/13)

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


3) Thatcher and Her Foes

Margaret Thatcher’s death prompted a flurry of comments across the globe. Two Independent Institute scholars entered the fray. Writing the day after her April 8 passing, Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa noted that some classical liberals objected to the Iron Lady’s “excessive conservatism,” whereas some conservatives considered her too libertarian. Regardless of how she is viewed, however, observers from across the spectrum ought to agree on a few generalizations about her and her legacy.

For starters, according to Vargas Llosa, all should recognize that Thatcher opened up the political right, making it more meritocratic and less of an old boys’ club. Second, she should be remembered for her extraordinary passion for ideas. “Thatcher was not an ideological animal, but a political animal with ideas,” Vargas Llosa writes. “We can debate whether she went as far as she could in applying hers, but there is no debating her love of ideas.”

In contrast, Thatcher’s political enemies avoid espousing principles, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow John C. Goodman. Instead, they seem to believe in only two basic things. What are they, according to Goodman? “First, government should have virtually unrestricted authority to intervene in the economic sphere.... Second, people should be able (and even encouraged) to form special interest groups to pressure government for the express purpose of taking from Peter to benefit Paul.” Such an unprincipled orientation, Goodman argues, helps explain the nihilistic glee expressed by some of Thatcher’s foes after her death.

Thatcher’s Enemies, by John C. Goodman (Townhall, 4/12/13)

Goodbye, Maggie, Alvaro Vargas Llosa (The Beacon, 4/9/13)

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

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

Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa


4) California’s Toxic Policy-Making

In 1986, California voters passed Proposition 65, a measure intended to reduce the public’s exposure to toxic chemicals. Like many well-intended laws, it has created a process driven less by science than by sensationalism. Last month, for example, saw the end of a contentious period of public comment about whether to put BPA, a substance used in packaging, on the Prop. 65 blacklist. Now the state regulators will try to craft policy based on this information—or, as the case may be, misinformation. Unfortunately, California’s regulatory bureaucrats are more likely to favor politics over science.

But putting BPA on the blacklist will do nothing to improve public health, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Ryan M. Yonk, because the substance is not toxic at the levels that ordinary consumers are exposed to. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has even acknowledged this in its most recent assessment of BPA. Unfortunately, peer-reviewed studies count for little under Prop. 65 and the hyper-politicized activism it inspires.

“There are, of course, circumstances when government must act to protect us against unseen hazards,” Yonk writes. “But blacklisting relatively harmless chemicals like BPA has a different effect: It makes us wonder whether the government is motivated by safety concerns, or politics.”

In California, Leading the Wrong Way on BPA, by Ryan M. Yonk (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/11/13)

Bootleggers, Baptists, and Political Entrepreneurs: Key Players in the Rational Game and Morality Play of Regulatory Politics, by Randy T. Simmons, Diana W. Thomas, and Ryan M. Yonk (The Independent Review, Winter 2011)

Special Offer: Subscribe or renew now and receive a free copy of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government, by Robert Higgs!


5) New Blog Posts

From The Beacon:

From MyGovCost News & Blog:

Obamacare Lawsuits—Open the Floodgates...
Cherylyn LeBon (4/15/13)

K. Lloyd Billingsley (4/10/13)

To Whom Does the U.S. Government Owe the Most Money?
Craig Eyermann (4/9/13)

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


6) Selected News Alerts


  • Catalyst
  • Beyond Homeless