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Volume 7, Issue 17: April 25, 2005

  1. To "Rightsize" Local Government, Downsize the Bureaucracy
  2. Hiding Losses in the War on Terrorism
  3. Freedom, Democracy, and Integrity

1) To "Rightsize" Local Government, Downsize the Bureaucracy

Los Angeles residents have attempted over the years to redraw the city's boundaries, revise subcity governments or boroughs, and establish neighborhood councils -- all in the hope of creating governance structures more responsive than those that currently rule over them.

In 1999 voters approved a charter reform that has led to the creation of more than eighty neighborhood councils. But because these counsels have no independent authority, many local residents are still frustrated by what they see as city hall's lack of responsiveness to their concerns. In 2002 residents of San Fernando Valley and Hollywood campaigned to allow their localities to secede from Los Angeles, but although most voters residing in those areas supported the measures, voters across the city voted against secession.

Many cities across the country face a similar problem of "rightsizing" municipal government -- that is, of adjusting the scale of municipal authority so that it can better achieve the desired performance. The root of the problem -- and its solution -- has everything to do with the incentives that government officials face, according to Ronald Oakerson and Shirley V. Svorny, in an article they wrote in the spring 2005 issue of THE INDEPENDENT REVEW.

"Large cities suffer for the most part from collective inaction on a plethora of local collective problems. This neglect occurs because officials who operate at an extremely large scale have little incentive to deal with problems that people who operate at a smaller scale find important," write Oakerson and Svorny.

Oakerson and Svorny explain several principles for devolving municipal authority so that local governments can become more responsive to local communities. These principles include encouraging civic participation, allowing residents to redefine service-provider boundaries to adapt better to changing conditions, fostering voluntary intergovernmental associations for the continued discussion of rightsizing, and harmonizing spending with municipal services, i.e., reducing cross-subsidies.

Because of limits in the economies of scale in the production of most municipal services, rightsizing government is strongly correlated with downsizing, Oakerson and Svorny also suggest: "Downsizing government would benefit poor communities in two ways. First, it would improve oversight and local controls. Second, it would make clear what services are provided. Wealthier areas of Los Angeles -- such as Bel-Air, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, and Westwood -- might be more inclined to send money downtown if they thought poor neighborhoods actually would benefit and that the money would not be consumed by city hall."

See "Rightsizing Los Angeles Government," by Ronald Oakerson and Shirley V. Svorny (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Spring 2005)

Governments have not always had territorial monopolies on the creation and enforcement of law. One important exception to the identification of government with territory -- functional, overlapping, competing jurisdictions (FOCJs) -- could play a greater role in the future, as Bruno S. Frey explains in "A Utopia? Government Without Territorial Monopoly" (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Spring 2001)

Also by Shirley V. Svory: "Banning Wal-Mart May Prove Costly" (LOS ANGELES TIMES, 1/30/04)

For information about THE VOLUNTARY CITY: Choice, Community, and Civil Society, edited by David T. Beito, Peter Gordon, and Alexander Tabarrok; Foreword by Paul Johnson, see


2) Hiding Losses in the War on Terrorism

How is the United States doing in the fight against terrorism? Unfortunately, you'll no longer be able to answer this question by consulting the State Department's annual "Patterns of Terrorism" report. The report is being discontinued -- for political reasons, apparently.

About 625 terrorist attacks worldwide occurred in 2004 -- the largest number since 1985. But because that number is hard to reconcile with the claim that the U.S. is winning the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), officials high up at the State Department have pressured analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center to downsize their numbers by adopting a different methodology, according to Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst and State Department terrorism expert. The analysts have stood tall in the presence of strong political pressure, however, so State Department leaders thought it best simply to discontinue the publication of the report.

"No matter what else George W. Bush does in office, historians will define his presidency primarily by his GWOT, initiated after the terrorist attacks of September 11. Yet the Bush administration is trying to hide important data that might very well lead historians and the American public to conclude that the GWOT has been disastrous for U.S. and global security."

Eland argues that the White House's response to 9/11 -- namely, its broad GWOT at the expense of a "vigorous and effective covert war against the perpetrators of the attacks" and the Iraq war -- have been highly counterproductive.

Although the news media have become less inhibited about reporting the failures of the Iraq war -- including the possibility of political pressures on intelligence analysts prior to the invasion -- "the searing effect of 9/11 still makes the press leery of criticizing similar administration pressure on intelligence analysts to hide the apparent failure of the GWOT," writes Eland.

"If the U.S. news media weren't so timid about covering such explosive facts, perhaps the American public would just say 'no' to government policies that endanger Americans and other people everywhere," Eland concludes.

See "Evidence that the U.S. May Be Losing the Global War on Terror," by Ivan Eland (4/25/05)

To purchase THE EMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland, see

To purchase PUTTING "DEFENSE" BACK IN U.S. DEFENSE POLICY, by Ivan Eland, see

"The Way Out of Iraq: Decentralizing the Iraqi Government," by Ivan Eland

Center on Peace & Liberty


3) Freedom, Democracy, and Integrity

Once upon a time, a worldly collection of bickering statesmen founded a country based on the principle of individual rights. Although their political platforms were not entirely consistent with their principles, they recognized that individuals must be protected from their government and -- by extension -- from each other. Among other institutions, they created a constitution intended to minimize the harm that voters and their elected representatives could inflict.

Tibor Machan, a political philosopher and Independent Institute research fellow, had occasion to recall the importance of the Founders' enthusiasm for a constitutional republic -- and hostility toward democracy -- at a panel discussion at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law entitled "Is America Post-Democratic?"

Whereas the other panelists "pretty much took it as a given that democracy is simply a swell thing, the more of it the better," Machan argued "that democracy is of merit only when severely constrained" and "is at most appropriate for the small role of selecting administrators of a just legal order and, perhaps, in the initial institution of a constitutional system of individual rights."

Audience reaction was mixed. "As expected, no one on the panel and the audience appeared to agree with any of this, although to my surprise several law students did come up to me afterwards to ask me very friendly questions about my position."

Drawing a wider inference, Machan noted that the unpopularity of individual rights is precisely the reason why we must go to great lengths to protect them: "The idea that each person is, by virtue of the very nature of his or her humanity, a sovereign being, a self-ruler not to be ruled against his or her will by anyone else is not only true but also the most radical idea in all of political history. So why expect that it would be all that popular anyway? It takes time for such a novel, outrageous idea to catch on, if it ever fully will."

See "Being Among the Few Who Are Right," by Tibor Machan

To purchase PRIVATE RIGHTS AND PUBLIC ILLUSIONS, by Tibor Machan, see


  • Catalyst
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