IN-DEPTH | Ron Paul, Flatland, and the left–right long con: Beyond the Nolan Chart

Note: The first half of what follows is a revised version of, Is the left–right spectrum in flatland? A better way to graph Ron Paul (13 January 2012). It is followed by a new critique of the personal/economic dichotomy and the Nolan Chart, which is built on it. Minor copy revisions were made on 24 January 2014.

The Ron Paul campaigns badly strained the interpretive power of the conventional left–right political spectrum. The San Francisco Chronicle took a stab at placing Paul somewhere along it (Is Ron Paul left of Obama, or a throwback to Ike?). Even the Paul campaign itself at times engaged in nomination-trail rhetoric to establish which candidate was “more conservative,” which is generally understood to mean more to “the right.” This tactic may help win some votes, but is it accurate?

What if we could graph the core positions of the Paul campaign without trying to squeeze them into the usual left–right spectrum? What if that spectrum itself is analogous to the imagined world in the 1884 novel Flatland? In Flatland, two-dimensional beings live as flat geometric shapes within a plane. One day, residents are shocked by a three-dimensional being who, while passing through their plane, seems to appear out of thin air, change shape, and then vanish again without a trace.

Back in our world, how might we locate an entire additional dimension of political spectrum? It is made to seem as though the whole range of possible opinion must exist somewhere along one line. Such a line is only one-dimensional; it does not even allow us the Flatlanders’ relatively generous two.

What if we add a second dimension? Imagine looking down at two lines that form a cross on the ground. The usual political scale stretches out to your left and your right, but a second scale crosses over that one. The “front” is closer to you (a living human person, as it so happens) and the “back” is farthest away from you (in the realm of abstractions that are supposed to trump the value of real human persons, as it so happens).

Now what if the whole left–right scale could have some thickness, making it more of a band rather than a line. This whole band could then be seen to move along the front–back scale over time. This could be used to represent a gradual movement of a whole political culture, even as the relative positions of left and right to each other remained. I will label this new scale with subjective percentages to illustrate relative positions and directions of movement over time. The precise numbers will not be as important as the relative positions they indicate, yet it may be clearest to begin from the farthest extremes as ideal types.

Far-out definitions

Let us say that all the way at 100% in the back of this new scale is totalitarianism. This is the idea that the state can and should do to and with individual people and variously defined groups whatever it pleases. The historical “far right” fascists and “far left” communists had different flavors of totalitarianism in common. Adherents to such views thought that their own favorite party should rule over any individual or traditional civic or community interest. In this sense, the familiar litany of 20th-century dictatorial leaders such as Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, stood side-by-side on the front–back scale. This is not to ignore their many differences; it is only to say that when viewed along this scale, their differences were incidental and their commonalities overwhelming.

Now let us say that all the way in the front of this new scale at 0% is philosophical anarchism. This is the idea that the state has no justifiable place within human societies at all. This body of thought also comes in a range of distinctive “left” and “right” versions with regard to the ideal rules and institutions for a statefree society, such as mutualist and private-law models. Fewer people are familiar with such distinctions, but here is a breif hint at the range of viewpoints possible here. Toward the left, mutualists emphasize such institutions as cooperatives, labor-unit trading associations, and an occupancy theory of land ownership (the illegitimacy of absentee ownership). At the other end, “private law” philosophies refer not to each person having a law unto themselves, but to the quite opposite idea of upholding legal principles that are equally applicable to all people in their capacity as “private” persons, allowing no special exceptions to general rules for “public” agents, such as those special exceptions to general rules that are made under “public law.”

This raises a puzzle for the usual left–right spectrum. It is able to combine left totalitarians and left anarchists at one end and right totalitarians and right anarchists at the other, a major case of lumping together quite opposite views. Imagine Stalin and a peasant freely trading units of labor time. Sounds dodgy. Imagine national socialists promoting a set of universal social norms that apply equally to all human beings everywhere regardless of grouping and classification. Sounds even more unlikely. Something about this scale, taken alone, therefore seems far too simplistic. A naive observer of the left–right scale alone might be forgiven for assuming that the two sets of “opposite” anarchists and “opposite” totalitarians, while they might disagree on many issues, might be at least as likely to find common ground with one another as with their alleged neighbors.

Some readers may by now have thought of the well-known “Nolan Chart,” which may at first seem similar to the model proposed here. However, the Nolan Chart is actually different in important ways, the implications of which we will explore below.

An example: Applying the front–back scale to American history

Where might 1770s American revolutionaries appear on the front–back scale? Some were probably around 0–10%, depending on which ones. They were rebelling against perceived overreaches of monarchy and mercantilism and wanted to replace them with somewhere between nothing and as little as possible, that is, with a novel “limited” state that was supposed to differ substantially from monarchism.

As usual, there was a division between the “left” and the “right,” in this case between the revolutionaries and the loyalists. This difference was largely over the question of what the proper natural order of society was. What represented the true natural order of society? Was it familiar monarchy or some novel form of self-government? It can be hard for us to imagine today that at that time, it was monarchy that appeared to be the self-evident natural order and self-government the seemed to be a reckless new social experiment.

Both revolutionaries and loyalists generally viewed society as a kind of natural order, a few that is closer to the front of our proposed new scale. This contrasts with central planners deciding how society should be, and then using the police powers of a state to engineer it that way, closer to the totalitarian end of this scale.

After the revolution, some, particularly the Hamiltonian Federalists, were still in favor of a powerful state, just one that they would run instead of some distant monarch. Few today, even in the Ron Paul camp, seem to recall that many Jeffersonians already viewed the Constitution of 1787 as a dangerous step toward perpetually growing government, one that clashed with the revolutionary ideals of 1776 and had already most likely been a net victory for big-government Hamiltonians. As it has turned out, the entire American political culture has been moving toward greater state power since soon after the revolution, and judging from the impressive scale of the current US Federal government, which that constitution set up, the anti-Federalist Jeffersonians were correct.

US history using the left/right scale can be viewed as having progressed in a zig-zagging pattern between “left” and “right,” represented by various parties in different epochs. However, this simple, one-dimensional story tends to obscure a pervasive undercurrent in which left, right, and center all move “back” together along a second dimension—in the direction of a more powerful central state in all areas.

It has often been observed that the modern US Federal government’s effective powers vastly exceed those that most monarchs would have dared even imagine. Modern powers to tax, borrow, and inflate are immense and business and life are hyper-regulated. In other words, the entire left–right scale, as a band, has been moving along the front–back scale toward the back for a long time.

Where is this band now? Centered around 65%? More? Each observer might suggest a different subjective number, but it has moved far from its former positions and the “consensus” direction of movement remains toward more central state power.

Where on this front–back scale should one place “legalized” extralegal military detention or assassination? What about raids on small-scale farmers selling to eager customers in search of more healthful products? What about detention without charge based on the failure of snoops to understand modern English idiom in the tweets they scan?

The original French “left–right” model was focused on the question of change. Should the familiar old ways be preserved or should something new be done? Included in the “left” were the great French economists Bastiat and de Molinari, who wanted to largely or completely eliminate the powers of the state to let civil society and economy function properly. They did not want to transfer those same or greater powers to some other form of coercive organization. Their main goal was to eliminate those powers, not reassign them. Left-wing “change” originally meant reducing the powers of the state and the cronyocracy.

A preference for change versus a preference for the status quo is a highly contextual distinction. Change what? How? In what direction? The original left–right concept itself is relational; it emerged in a particular historical context. In today’s context, however, the model applies quite differently. In fact, the presumed direction of desirable “change” now seems to mean exactly the opposite of what it once did.

Things are not better at the “right” end. The idea that the modern right wants smaller government is a faint ghost from the “Old Right,” whose ideas survive in mainstream politics as mere words devoid of effective content. The modern right generally wants the central government to be bigger and stronger in somewhat different places than the modern left does. However, both major parties have long been united in the big picture on ratcheting up government; they just differ at times on exactly how, where, and for the benefit of which blend of special interests.

From the perspective of any quite different position along the front–back scale, the major parties have become increasingly indistinguishable in practice on the most important issues, issues such as war versus peace, police-state versus republic, and technocratic central planning and cronyocracy versus authentic economic liberty.

How to graph Ron Paul

Whatever one’s opinion of Ron Paul, it is widely agreed that he is focused on making serious changes to status quo policies. Relative to him, then, all of the other candidates, the sitting president included, are broadly in favor of the status quo. Moreover, the “status quo” itself is not static; it is a moving pattern of massive state growth. Most of the talk of “cuts” in Washington refers to reductions in the rate of growth. Thus, Paul, who is from the “right” according to conventional wisdom, is far “left” on a “change versus status quo” scale applied to today’s context. The change he wants, however, is in the opposite direction from the one usually presumed – away from centralized state interference in people’s lives. Graphing that requires another dimension.

By stepping back from the permutations of the left–right scale, we can more clearly view Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns as appealing to issues better defined along the front–back scale. Paul himself opened his 2008 The Revolution: A Manifesto by deconstructing the false alternatives the modern left–right scale sets up. In contrast, his unique location among modern politicians on our proposed front–back scale better explains his broad crossover appeal on certain key issues.

Imagine the whole left–right scale nowadays as a band crossing over the front–back scale at somewhere around 65% central state power. The real Ron Paul would be effectively invisible to anyone looking only along the usual scale from left to right. Conversely, he might stand out in the eyes of others for exactly the same reason. He is the only candidate who is substantially off of the left–right band as it is currently positioned along the front–back scale. He therefore appears either 1) completely unfathomable, as the three-dimensional character was to the two-dimensional Flatlanders, or 2) as the only intriguing alternative to the various flat shapes within our usual political flatland.

Mainstream candidates of both parties argue about how and where to grow state power. Meanwhile, Ron Paul is saying that we should be moving that whole state power meter, left, right, and center, in the other direction along the front–back axis.

There are always left and right camps on each major issue and in each historical context. One side might lean more or less toward the front or back, tilting the angle of the whole crossing band one way or the other. Nevertheless, a monocular focus on the left–right scale obscures the long-term movement of the entire political culture toward greater central state power and away from individual liberty and civil society institutions.

We are supposed to be enchanted by the theater of differences between the heads of a two-headed beast. We are not supposed to notice that the whole two-headed beast has been lumbering in the direction of ever-expanding powers for itself and special privileges for its camp followers of all parties. That makes it encouraging that more and more people, especially among the young, are beginning to notice. Could this be a sign that the illusion-holding power of the one-dimensional left–right scale is weakening?

The three-dimensional visitor to two-dimensional Flatland was not a beast, but the two-headed bipartisan leviathan is. Ron Paul is the only candidate who is working to turn that whole beast around and walk it back toward its cage.

The personal/political dichotomy and the Nolan Chart

We have examined the implications of adding a new dimension to the political spectrum, one that crosses the left–right spectrum and runs from front to back between the political ideal types of philosophical anarchism and totalitarianism.

The Nolan Chart was also an effort to add dimensionality to political interpretation to help people question and see beyond the left–right spectrum. David Nolan developed it in the early 1970s and it forms the basis of the well-known “World’s Smallest Political Quiz.”[i] The Nolan Chart divides the world into “personal” and “economic” realms to illustrate a seemingly paradoxical preference of the left for more freedom in “personal” areas and less in “economic” ones, with the inverse set of preferences on the right, which allegedly prefers economic freedom and enforced social control. Libertarians are depicted in another corner preferring freedom in both personal and economic areas, while totalitarians (or communitarians in one variation) are placed in the opposite corner, insisting that some other set of political considerations should take precedence over liberties.

The Nolan Chart was a substantial improvement over left–right reductionism. It allowed space for possibilities that are invisible along the left–right spectrum, namely libertarianism. Simply conflating libertarianism with “the right” is deeply confused and tends to lend an undeserved laissez-faire credibility to the fundamentally authoritarian right. This perspective also suggests that the main risk of the Ron Paul movement attempting to work within the Republican Party is that, as is often the case, vote-catching words can be assimilated into the conventional party while their meanings are ignored.

The concept of a scale that runs from total state control to no state control at first appears the same as in our proposed model. The important difference is that the Nolan Chart uses two distinct scales of freedom, each one qualified. This turns out to be an important difference that reveals some of the Nolan Chart’s weaknesses and shows how a still deeper layer of illusion is embedded in the conventional left–right spectrum.

Source: Wikipedia CommonUses and possible origins of the personal/economic dichotomy

The Nolan Chart’s most important weakness is that it accepts the conventional division of the world into personal and economic realms. This may seem uncontroversial at first, but as we examine this division step by step, and from various angles, the separation between personal and economic realms, used as a political assessment tool, may begin to look more and more flimsy, to the point that it may seem to fall apart altogether.

First of all, it may be that separating personal and economic categories is in part a legacy of certain economists’ attempts to create an artificial, reductionist model of “economic man.” Such a creature fit into mathematical and deterministic models much better than pesky living people. An “economic” calculating machine devoid of “personal” idiosyncrasies was just what advocates of such models needed if they were to make them seem relevant.

In contrast, Ludwig von Mises argued that real economics:

…deals with the real actions of real men. Its theorems refer neither to ideal nor to perfect men, neither to the phantom of a fabulous economic man (homo oeconomicus) nor to the statistical notion of an average man (homme moyen). Man with all his weaknesses and limitations, every man as he lives and acts, is the subject matter of catallactics. Every human action is a theme of praxeology (Mises [1949] 646–47).

A second perspective is that the personal/economic dichotomy may have arisen out of differing streams of rhetoric used by advocates of political control over people. Different threads of coercion-justifying rhetoric have different historical and philosophical origins, some of which are more “economic” and some more “personal.”

Listing up the various elements of life into categories is itself an artifact of a bureaucratic view of life. It results from habits of “seeing like a state,” in the memorable phrase of Yale Professor of Agrarian Studies James C. Scott. State administrators are eager to divide out and prioritize attention on those parts of the real world that are “legible and hence appropriable by the state” (Scott 2009, 39). Thus, what the state and statists view as “economic” will tend to involve those aspects of social life that are easiest for the state to regiment, monitor, and measure from the outside and, most importantly, tax. The production of grain was historically a worldwide favorite of states in this regard. From field to storage, it is visible, trackable, measureable, divisible, and therefore most readily taxable.

On the other hand, interest in using the state for social control of the “personal” realm may be associated more with the mashing up of law and religion. For example, in considering the impact of the 16th century German Reformation on the Western legal tradition, the late Harvard legal scholar Harold J. Berman argued that, “What has traditionally been called a process of secularization of the spiritual law of the church must thus also be viewed as a process of spiritualization of the secular law of the state” (2003, 64). Secular law was increasingly infused with the quasi-religious objective of attempting to make people “better” by using police powers to force them to perform certain lists of duties that religious bureaucrats defined as “moral.” This basic approach of attempting to use the state’s coercive powers to press-gang others into joining in a pursuit of moralized objectives may be traced right up to the assumptions underpinning a host of forcible modern wealth-transfer bureaucracies.

This latter, more “personal,” coercive dynamic today coexists with the more general interest of states in categorizing and directing “economic” activity into those channels that can most easily be recognized, measured, and exploited. Nevertheless, control and freedom are not so easily separated, not in theory or in practice, especially when viewed over the longer term.

Is that personal or economic?

But surely, you might say, we can set aside such theoretical considerations and try to list some categories for “personal” versus “economic” areas of life that everyone can agree on.

Very well. We might start with some typical subjects of political discourse: employment, education, housing, religion, marriage, and food. Consider each one in turn.

Is it clear which area is personal and which economic? Perhaps this should be examined more closely.

With greater “economic” independence of decision-making, a given person may enjoy greater freedom of “personal” action. So is such freedom definable as economic or as personal?

One might imagine a guaranteed “personal freedom” under some constitution or another. Does one still have such freedom when it no longer extends to whatever that particular state has most recently decided to reclassify as an “economic” area of life? Surely your “freedom of expression” on the Internet is subject to certain “economic” regulations of the medium or the “economic” products and services you use to access it, is it not?

Or it may be that your “personal” freedom from yesterday is actually covered by “interstate commerce” today. Or maybe it has some bearing on “national security.” Either way, the practical message may well be, “Sorry folks, that was yesterday’s freedom. This is today.”

What about one’s ability to open, relocate, expand, or contract one’s own business? What about one’s choice of place of work and of co-workers, one’s place or type of residence, what foods one can or cannot eat or sell, or where, how, and when oneself or one’s children are educated?

Those are all “economic” matters in some ways. But are they not also each very personal? Clearly, they impact large portions of the days and hours of one’s life and the quality and content of one’s experiences. They can also all impact issues of employment, saving, retirement, income, and expense, which of course makes them all…What? impersonal?

But surely we can all agree that marriage is completely personal! Well, marriage within modern states is in effect a bureaucratically defined legal status that has a direct bearing on tax rates, exemptions, and insurance coverage. It surely has major impacts on the financial affairs of all those involved, impacting bank accounts, housing, transportation, inheritance, the distributions of child-rearing expenses, etc. So then marriage is actually “economic” rather than “personal”?

Will the seemingly solid personal/economic division really go down that easily? Maybe we should give it one more chance. Surely we can define it objectively for all people this way: the “economic” has something to do with the use of money. The economic is the monetary.

All right, then, let us try this one out. What are some quintessentially “personal” areas within conventional political discourse? How about vice? This is one of those personal areas that the right is famous for wanting to use the police state to control, including areas such as prostitution and substance use.

People acting within such realms almost invariably employ, well…money, for transactions. One might suppose that actors in these sectors also use money for at least some degree of budgeting and cost accounting. So the money = “economic” attempt at a definition soon begins to break down once again.

Out of the paradox

One secret to unraveling this puzzle is that both the personal and economic categories themselves are subjectively defined. They make the most sense when viewed from the perspective of a person considering his own decisions in a given context. They depend for their meaning and application on how each issue is being viewed, who is looking, and why the viewer is asking. The question of whether an issue is personal or economic is itself an individual matter. Who wants to know?

For example, if Anna decides to take a particular job, she might think to herself that she is mainly doing it to advance her career in an interesting work environment, which would make her decision lean more toward the “personal” side of things. However, she might also decide to take the same job mainly for its income potential, which might make her think of her decision as more of an “economic” one. From a rigorous economic-theory perspective, observers cannot determine this distinction from the outside one way or another, as it has to do with how the acting person is conceptualizing what they are doing in terms of ends and means.

It would also not suffice to ask the regional economics czar or the head of the Bureau of Personal Satisfaction assigned to the territory in which Anna lives. In any case, those two bureaucracies would not be likely to agree even with one another. After all, the classification of her action might impact their respective budget appeals next year in different directions. As for Anna’s decision, only she can really know what her decision was mainly about. She might never even tell us the truth about why she took the job, depriving us of any chance to effectively use our neat little bureaucratic categorization scheme into “personal” and “economic” statistics.

The personal/economic distinction referenced in the Nolan Chart and other political charting models, while at first seeming intuitive and clear, thus turns out to look increasingly arbitrary and malleable the more closely we examine it. Moreover, the distinction depends on categories that help define the same conventional left–right spectrum that we have been attempting to build a pathway for transcending.


To the extent that the personal/economic distinction might be meaningful at all, it is also important to recognize that when the state controls either alleged “half” of freedom, it already has the leverage to control the other half. Those who use or threaten state-orchestrated violence to control others in the “economic” realm also gain discretion over them in the “personal” realm, and vice versa. This is not to say that authorities with discretion to direct violence to control the lives of others will actually do so in any particular way at any given time. Each state, for example, remains somewhat different from the others in its current style and practices. The key is that they can.

The personal/economic distinction functions within statist discourse to help sell state control, but different packages are available to appeal to different sets of preferences. The “left” version says that you can have your freedom in the personal realm so long as the state has the discretion to tell you (mainly tell other people, of course) what to do in the economic realm. The “right” version is the mirror image. You can have your freedom in the economic realm so long as the state has the discretion to tell you (mainly tell other people, of course) what to do in the personal realm.

Each seductive package appears to make sense right up until the moment it is too late. That is the moment when the creature you have been supporting tells you what to do in an area over which you had preferred to retain personal control. The secret power of this distinction is its “confuse and exploit” effectiveness against entire populations of individuals, each of whom is willing to buy into some attractive, customized variant of this deceptive pact with the devil, and pay for it—with other people’s liberty.

All of these packages, however, are long-term scams, or “long cons.” Neither variant of half-freedom is meaningful if you cannot act in disagreement with the authorities who control “the other half.” Whichever half of liberty has been ceded is held in reserve and can always be used to undermine the half that supposedly remains. The key is that with any such scheme of divided liberty, you are left with no reliable foundation from which to disagree—and act on such disagreement—without facing the threat of officially meted-out fines, confiscation, imprisonment, or death.

Citizen A, for example, might be arrested and imprisoned for a “personal offense” such as sampling some forbidden substance. While in prison, she will not be able to exercise her “economic” freedom by continuing to work at the company she started. Meanwhile, Citizen B’s “economic offense” of creating a popular website that offends powerful incumbent economic interests with strong lobbying operations might likewise land him in the lock-up, from which his “personal” life will be out of reach.

Say you want to start a food co-op with your neighboring farmers and friends. This is an exercise of “economic” action in support of “personal” food freedom. However, this risks running afoul of the government’s bipartisan system of food regulation and its lobbyist-driven support for certain kinds of politically favored industrial products that are marketed for human consumption. Having been duly raided and warned, you would probably be arrested if you persisted too far. Before long, both your “personal” and “economic” freedoms might be narrowed down to the choice of eating the agro-congressional complex’s mystery-grain GMO prison chow or going on hunger strike.

Differently labeled frogs in the same pot

The overall preference for state control over civil and individual freedom in all areas has been rising – left, right, and center. Meanwhile, all the little frogs divided into their left, right, and center teams, are focused on their differences along the left–right spectrum. What none of them seems to notice as they croak back and forth is that the water temperature in the pot they are all floating in together is rising.

The image of the entire left–right spectrum as a band shifting along the front–back axis over time makes even more sense if the division of the world into “personal” and “economic” realms is illusory. All freedoms, or their absence, are ultimately interdependent and, in the big picture, tend to rise and fall together.

The fake division of the world into personal and economic realms has proven an effective mechanism for helping to divide and control every one of those hapless simmering frogs. Even the venerable Nolan Chart, while it went a long way toward expanding political perspectives, did not manage to fully transcend that division. Taking a fresh look at the Ron Paul movement in these terms may help us all enhance the dimensionality of individual acts of political interpretation.


Berman, Harold J. 2003. Law and Revolution II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Mises, Ludwig von. 1998 [1949]. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. The Scholar’s Edition. Auburn, Alabama: Mises Institute.

Scott, James C. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press.


[i] There have been many alternative charting attempts over the years since the Nolan Chart. I recently discovered that the Political Compass Organization had already proposed a two-axis model with even more visual similarity to the one discussed here. Looking further, however, it seems that that chart’s labeling and the underlying assumptions suggested in its diagnostic test still end up differing considerably from the model I suggest. I base this quick assessment on the chart’s labeling, the actual questions on the accompanying test, and the somewhat surprising result I obtained from taking it (hardly where I would have placed my views on it by looking at the definitions).

Is the left–right spectrum in flatland? A better way to graph Ron Paul

The rising prominence of the Ron Paul campaign is straining the interpretive power of the conventional left–right political spectrum. The San Francisco Chronicle recently took a stab at placing Paul somewhere along it (Is Ron Paul left of Obama, or a throwback to Ike?). In an online discussion spurred by an Economist article about the political spectrum and libertarian ideas (The problems of purity), I commented that, "The scale itself, left, right, and middle, is entirely within flatland." This stirred some puzzlement. 

What if there is a way to graph the core positions of the Paul campaign that goes beyond trying to squeeze them into the usual left–right spectrum? Could the spectrum itself be analogous to the imagined world in the classic 1884 novel Flatland? What if at least one whole dimension is missing from conventional discourse?

In the novel, two-dimensional beings live within a geometric plane. They are awed by a three-dimensional being who seems to appear one day out of thin air, change shapes, and then vanish from their midst. How might we locate an additional dimension in the political spectrum when it seems as though the whole range of opinion must exist only along one line? Such a line does not even allow us the Flatlanders' relatively generous two dimensions.

So let us imagine a second scale that crosses over the modern left–right scale from front to back. The whole left–right scale could then move as a band along this second scale over time. I will label this new scale with percentages as an expedient to illustrate relative positions and directions of movement.

Let us say that all the way at 95%–100% in the "back" of this scale is totalitarianism, the idea that the state can do to/with citizens and non-citizens whatever "it" pleases. Notice how the historical "far right" fascists and "far left" communists had different flavors of totalitarianism in common. They had different areas of emphasis, but agreed that the state/party was supreme over any individual or traditional community interest. For simplicity, say that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were all standing side-by-side way out there around 95%–100% on our imagined front–back scale. When viewed along this dimension, their differences were incidental, their commonalities overwhelming.

Now let us say that all the way in the "front" of the same scale at 0%–5% is (philosophical) anarchism, the idea that the state as such (depending on exactly what is meant by "state") has no properly justifiable place within civilized human societies. Interestingly, there are also distinct "left" and "right" versions of this body of thought, though fewer people are familiar with those distinctions.

This raises a puzzle. If the left–right scale can join seemingly opposite left totalitarians and left anarchists together all the way down at one end and seemingly opposite right totalitarians and right anarchists all the way down at the other, it would seem to suggest that something about that scale is a little odd. It seems to lack some...dimensions. A naive observer might be forgiven for assuming that the two sets of anarchists and the two sets of totalitarians, despite being on opposite ends of the left–right scale, might be at least as likely to find common ground with their opposite numbers as with their supposed neighbors in debating how either their imagined ideal total states or totally statefree societies, respectively, ought to look.

If we view the sweep of US history starting from the revolutionary period, many of the various 1770s American revolutionaries were probably around 0–10% on this front–back scale, depending on which ones you talked to. They were rebelling against perceived overreaches of monarchy and mercantilism (at 30%?) and wanted to replace them with somewhere between nothing and as little as possible, or with a novel "limited" state organization that was supposed to differ significantly from monarchy. Yet there were also some 25%-ers among the Hamiltonian Federalists, and indeed, many Jeffersonians already viewed the Constitution of 1787 as a dangerous step in the direction of unlimited government, which clashed with the original revolutionary ideals of 1776.

As US history has progressed since then, there has been cyclical zig-zagging between "left" and "right," but there has also been a pervasive undercurrent in which left, right, and center all move "back" in the direction of a more powerful central state in all areas. The modern US Federal government's effective powers vastly exceed those that most monarchs would have even dared dream of. Modern powers to tax, inflate, and borrow are immense, the US presidency has steadily amassed new and expanded powers, and myridad aspects of life and business are hyper-regulated. The whole left–right scale has been moving along the front–back scale toward the back for a long time.

Where is it now? At 65%? More? Everyone might place a different subjective number on it, but in relative terms, it has moved far indeed from its former positions, and in the big picture, the overwhelming "consensus" direction of movement remains toward more central state power. Looking just at 2011–2012, where on this front–back scale should one place "legalized" extralegal military detention or assassination? Where should one place armed raids on small-scale farmers selling raw milk to eager customers in search of more healthful products?

The original French left–right scale was focused on the question of change. Should the familiar old ways be preserved or should something new be done? Included in the "left" were the great French economists Bastiat and de Molinari, who wanted to largely or completely eliminate the powers of the state in many areas in order to let civil society and economy function properly. They did not want to transfer those same or even greater powers to some other form of mass-coercive organization. Their main goal was to eliminate those powers to intervene and invade people's lives, not reassign them. "Change" meant reducing the powers of the state and the cronyocracy.

Only shadowy suggestions of that spirit have survived in the modern left. What is the party of "change" now? Allegedly "left" Barack Obama was voted in on an anti-war, pro-civil-liberties ticket with the word "change" featured on his campaign materials. After taking office, however, he appears to have carried forward and expanded some of the worst policies of his predecessor. Whatever one's opinion of Ron Paul, it is widely agreed that he is focused on making serious changes to core status quo policies. If the classical "change" versus "status quo" definition of the left–right spectrum holds up, Paul must be further "left" than any of the other candidates. Yet many think of him as being well to the "right."

The primary question debated along the modern left–right scale is quite different than the kind of debate suggested by the original French one. There is no longer any fundamental question of reducing the total net power of the state. The idea that the modern right wants smaller government is a ghost from the quite distinct "Old Right," and survives today mainly as empty rhetoric. The modern right wants the government to be bigger in different places than the modern left does. Both major parties have long been united on ratcheting up big government; they just differ at times on precisely how and where and for the benefit of which exact blend of special interests. From the perspective of anyone in a different position along our suggested front–back scale, the major parties have been increasingly coming to be indistinguishable from one another on the biggest issues, and by the biggest issues I mean war versus peace and police-state versus republic.

How to graph Ron Paul

Using this model, we can view Ron Paul's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns as primarily addressing issues along this front–back scale. This scale is much more important in understanding the core of his campaign message than struggling to place it somewhere on the left–right scale. Paul himself opened his 2008 The Revolution: A Manifesto by deconstructing the false alternatives the modern left–right scale sets up. In contrast, his unique location among modern politicians on the front–back scale better explains his broadening crossover appeal.

Imagine the whole left–right line being configured nowadays such that it crosses over the front–back line at somewhere around 65%–75% state power. Ron Paul would be effectively invisible to anyone looking only along the usual scale from left to right. Conversely, he might stand out to others for exactly the same reason. He is the only candidate substantially off of the conventional left–right scale as it is now positioned along the front–back scale. He thus appears either completely unfathomable (is that why some media people so awkwardly try to ignore his prominent existence in poll results?) or as an intriguing alternative.

In this proposed two-dimensional view, the mainstream candidates of both parties can be seen arguing with each other about how and where to grow state power even further based on their "left–right" differences. Meanwhile, Ron Paul is saying that we should be moving that whole power meter, left, right, and center, in the other direction along the front–back axis.

This view reveals that the American political culture has been moving steadily in the direction of greater state power since soon after the revolution. The American revolutionaries and loyalists were divided over what the natural order of society was, monarchy or some form of self-government. The idea of central planners fundamentally deciding how society should be and then using the police powers of the central state to try to engineer it that way would only mature later as statist ideology evolved. There have always been left and right camps, and one side might lean more or less toward the front or back, tilting the angle of the crossbar one way or the other. Nevertheless, a monocular focus on the left–right scale alone obscures the long-term movement of the entire political culture toward greater central state power and away from individual liberty and civil society institutions.

We are supposed to be enchanted by the theater of differences between the heads of a two-headed beast. We are not supposed to notice that the whole two-headed beast has been lumbering in the direction of ever-expanding powers for itself and special privileges for its camp followers of all parties.

From that perspective, it is encouraging that more and more people, especially among the young, are beginning to notice. Could this be a sign that the illusion-holding power of the one-dimensional left–right scale is weakening?

The three-dimensional visitor to two-dimensional Flatland was not a beast, but the two-headed, two-armed, bipartisan leviathan is. Ron Paul is the only candidate who is working to turn that whole beast around and walk it back in the direction of its cage.

"Enemies of liberty" more accurately located

Congressman Ron Paul writes:

"Proponents of reinstating the draft claim it is needed to protect liberty from enemies abroad. But what about the enemies of liberty right here at home? I am convinced that there are more threats to American liberty within the 10 mile radius of my office on Capitol Hill than there are on the rest of the globe. If we would get our troops off of foreign soil, those perceived enemies of our liberty abroad are much more likely to stand down and let us be. We have more than enough troops to mind our own business and defend ourselves. It is only for world domination that we have a troop shortage."

—From "On Reinstating the Draft"

IN-DEPTH | President Obama's inaugural address—analysis and commentary


First impression: This is an outstanding example of a speech, with many inspiring messages and positive statements. The negatives consist almost entirely of eloquent repetitions of popular fallacies of economic theory and history. We will be forced, then, to leave the overall good feelings aside and examine the content.


I will begin with a summary of key positives and negatives. When I use the words “standard” and “conventional,” below it indicates my impression that these are errors that are not particular to Mr. Obama, but rather ones he shares with a vastly misguided contemporary intellectual consensus.


  • General tone of friendship and cooperation with other nations
  • Inspiring references to values of honesty, responsibility, and hard work
  • References to positive values illustrated by standard images of US history
  • Tone and style appeared to match content; no obvious contradictions between content and presentation


  • Standard failure to understand the meaning of large sections of the Constitution
  • Confusion between values as expressed in private, voluntary, or entrepreneurial actions with the values of collective state action expressed through coercively orchestrated government programs.
  • The use of the bait-and-switch to rhetorically draw on the good name of the former, and then quickly shift to advocating the latter.
  • Standard failure to understand the inherent self-defeating effects of government programs (the hubris that government programs actually can accomplish whatever technocrats decide they want to see)
  • Implication that those who “sacrificed” in the past thereby justified all of the causes for which they killed and were killed in military adventures, the pure justice of which should in no cases be questioned.

Next, I reproduce the full text of the speech and comment on particular passages. In the course of this discussion, I offer links to relevant books.

My fellow citizens:


I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and co-operation he has shown throughout this transition.

The 10th word of the speech is "us". This subtly begins to establish the discourse of collective action orchestrated through coercive bureaucracy, and starts establishing the mythology that whatever the administration does in the future will be somehow what you and I “do” ourselves.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

While one wants to sympathize with and be inspired by the young President at this point in the speech, this last statement is almost physically painful to people who are able to understand what the Constitution actually says. The founding document has been so thoroughly violated by the Federal Government, the “interpretations” of the Supreme Court, and the outright usurpations of the Office of the President as to be in force virtually in name only.


Antidotes to such delusions include Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty and Who Killed the Constitution? The Fate of American Liberty from World War I to George W. Bush.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.


That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are all great examples of what is wrong. The solutions to these issues are clear. However, the solutions the administration plans to implement do not address the actual causes of these problems and the proposed programs are likely to make each problem worse than it otherwise might have been.


The root of the economic problem is the system of fractional reserve banking, government-orchestrated central planning of money and credit, and cartelization of the banking system. The definitive treatment of this issue is Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles. Shorter treatments include What Has Government Done to Our Money?/Case for a 100 Percent Gold Dollar and The Ethics of Money Production.

As for war, the United States has spent decades, in stark violation of the Constitution and its principles, occupying and otherwise meddling with the countries in which these networks mentioned have developed. See The Revolution: A Manifesto on this issue (as well as good comments on healthcare and many other issues). For educational issues, a good foundation is the classic Education and the State.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

This is a well-founded fear in view of the state of contemporary economic literacy and the direction of most policy trends. The only question is whether people can manage to continue to prosper in some measure even in the face of massive taxation, inflation, war, strangling regulation, and all the rest that the state does to keep us down.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.


On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

Worn-out dogmas is a perfect description of the absurd and ancient economic theories underlying the entire economic program being proposed by the new administration, which is in large part a continuation of the policies of the previous administration with some tweaking. This starts with the idea that “spending” can in any way create prosperity. This is probably one of the oldest and most enduring pieces of non-sense in the history of economic thought. Incredibly, even today, you can read plenty of such material in newspapers each week from prominent "economists."

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.


In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

These are nice references. Interestingly, however, when eliciting emotional images of positive values, the speaker refers to people operating on their own initiative in the private sector. We see repeated use of such images in the bait-and-switch style rhetoric that ensues.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and travelled across oceans in search of a new life.


For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and ploughed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Notice the smooth switch from positive, private-sector, individual values and actions to government-orchestrated wars. We start with people migrating to a new country—a country where, at the time, government was far less intrusive and the tax burden far lower than in those countries from which the immigrants left. We end with instances of mass warfare and destruction by military machines that were in all cases staffed at least partly through blatantly unconstitutional programs of involuntary servitude (the draft and much more), and financed through involuntary collection of wealth through taxation, debt, and inflation.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

Did they see America this way? Is that why they worked hard? The speaker makes a massive empirical historical claim about the motivations of millions of people with the apparent aim of eliciting a certain type of emotion—a collective pride. But is the actual claim true or misleading? What did great, great granddad actually think about what he was doing?


Most migrants migrate because in their opinion at the time, they expect their life and sometimes the lives of their offspring to be better than would have been the case in the country from which they depart. They can leave for any blend of reasons, including perceived income potential, greater religious freedom, ease of starting a business, more space, lower taxes, fewer regulations to hamper productive business, and even better climate. These are all personal reasons, which have little to do with the various collectivist schemes and visions of politicians. See for example the fascinating and sweeping global historical work of Thomas Sowell in Migrations and Cultures: A World View and the four other volumes by him in the series of which it is a part.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year.


Our capacity remains undiminished.

These are very nice statements, and true. The “real economy” is not, indeed, the main issue. The issue is the fractional reserve banking system with central planning of money supply and interest rates. It is this system that undermines the efforts of all of us to plan and save. Our savings are depleted by constant currency depreciation due to inflationism. Our long-term business plans are thwarted due to malinvestments made during bubble periods on the basis of false economic signals created by government manipulations of money and credit and the fractional-reserve practices of the government-cartelized banking system.


There is no cause of major recurring economic cycles of boom and bust other than artificial credit expansion unbacked by real savings. The cause is always the same and the result is always the same, even though mainstream economists, like befuddled witch doctors during a plague, seem entirely unable to explain what is happening.

But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.


For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.

Here is some nice inspiration. Notice that it is based on images of personal work and dedication and metaphors of the bold business venture. But then the bait-and-switch comes through: it soon becomes clear that “we” is not you and I working productively to generate goods and services that other people may value enough to buy, but rather "we" is the coercively financed bureaucratic administration of the state and whatever it will actually do with the money it extracts from hapless citizens.

We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost.

I can see a positive note here, in that we are rebelling a bit against a certain primitive anti-scientific irrationalism in the previous administration. However, the negatives quickly prevail. This statement represents the classic hubris of the technocrat, which is to imagine that the state can “do things” with technology through "policy" that will prove economically advantageous for real people as a whole.


However, the only power and capability the state has is to take wealth from some people and give to others. It cannot produce anything. It can only distort and redistribute. It can only advantage some at the expense of others. The issue is always economics; technology is secondary. There is no mechanism by which the state can make economically intelligent decisions about what technologies to adopt, or how, when, where, and to what extend to employ them. This is precisely the error of central planning exposed by Ludwig von Mises most thoroughly in his classic book Socialism.

We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.


Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short.

For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

Yet again comes the ever more striking bait-and-switch. Just as before, this method raises positive emotive pictures of what are fundamentally private, individual and entrepreneurial values of hard work, innovation, and creation of better ways of doing things. It switches imperceptibly to the false implication that such values can somehow by applied collectively or encouraged through bureaucratically orchestrated and coercively financed activities. This is sheer delusion.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

Well put. Unfortunately, in almost every case, government programs harm us, and this emphatically includes harming the very groups that the policies are advertised to help. Perhaps here would be the place to read Henry Hazlitt’s wonderfully accessible classic Economics in One Lesson. This little book demolishes in clear and simple terms one interventionist fallacy after another by showing how government interventions billed has helping people actually harm the very people targeted for “help,” while certainly also harming the rest of us at the same time.

Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

This is just an outstanding sentiment. If only reality were not so unforgiving. Unfortunately, such assessments of "success" are often made by the same bureaucrats and special interests who run these programs. They do not tend to produce reports advocating the termination of their own departments and pet programs. As history has repeatedly shown, this leads to no end of intellectual deception to produce indications of “policy success” and to suppress or systematically ignore evidence of “failure” or of costs outweighing benefits (to the iffy extent that costs and benefits can be calculated at all in the context of bureaucratic operations).


Humans do not tend to do well when they are institutionally the judges in their own cases. This is one reason why the most reliable mechanism for weeding out what works from what doesn’t is to allow people who want to use services to purchase them (including purchasing them voluntarily on behalf of others), and preserving for each the freedom to choose not to pay for any service or product. What kind of a system is that? The freedom to buy or not to buy things with your own money? What shall we call this most effective mechanism for promoting the truly useful and helpful and discouraging the less useful and the less helpful?

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

Ah, the market. However, this "spinning out of control" is not what the market has done. It is rather precisely what the government-cartelized fractional reserve banking system with central planning of money supply and interest rates has done. It is this latter decidedly non-market system that is responsible for economic crises, and which must be eliminated. One of the few fields in which there has emphatically been no semblance of a pure market system is the field of money and banking, which kings and emperors started taking over and manipulating for their own profit centuries ago. Recurring economic booms and crises are due directly to this entire category of inherently corrupt practices and institutions. It is therefore by no means the “market” that has spun out of control; it is precisely the state’s self-financing interventions in money and banking that are the source of both economic cycles and the permanent ongoing devaluation of currencies.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.


As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Outstanding statements and messages—setting a positive and firm tone.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.


We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater co-operation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.

With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

Nicely put in general. However, as for the warming planet: anthropogenic (man-made) global warming is for the most part a hoax from top to bottom. It is not coincidentally a hoax that is largely fueled by government-funded research. Any research supporting the expansion of state power is naturally quite popular with state institutions and attracts funding and fame, and research that does not support expansions of state power—not so much. Many, many climate scientists do not support the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis and argue that the evidence is much stronger for other interpretations of the evidence. This rarely makes headlines, though.


A nice solid antidote to conventional global warming theology in one book is a review of the scientific evidence regarding climate change research, Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years. In a nutshell, 1) many claims of global warming are systematically exaggerated through biased selection and exclusion of evidence and other flawed data-gathering mechanisms, 2) computerized climate prediction models are largely bogus and fail repeatedly and utterly to predict reality, 3) extremely strong physical geological evidence of numerous overlapping types going back millions of years show a solar-induced warming and cooling cycle of approximately 1,500 years, the continuation of which on trend explains the modest actual global warming that has been scientifically observed, and 4) on balance, global warming is better for the environment of living organisms, including weather stability, than global cooling is.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

Nice sentiments; well expressed.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.


To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

The leading changeable causes of poverty are the absence of secure property rights and legal predictability, combined with stifling economic regulations that render productive entrepreneurial activity and trade virtually impossible. Addressing these conditions is the best way to help. Creating them in the advanced countries is the best way to hobble them, as we are seeing. Extracting money from (still) rich-country citizens through taxation and shipping it to prop up corrupt regimes, helping them buy weapons with which to kill their political opponents (so-called foreign aid) is counterproductive. The most helpful policy for developed countries to take with regard to emerging and poor economies is to lift any and all tariffs and all restrictions on trade, in particular, and possibly also on migration. Free trade and interchange with all; entangling alliances with none is the foundational foreign policy of the United States (though one that was not long practiced due to the influence of Hamiltonians, et. al. See Hamilton's Curse: How Jefferson's Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution--and what it Means for America Today).

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

This is an emotional and hallowed topic, rendering it virtually immune to intelligent discussion and honest historical analysis. Many of these people were inducted involuntarily into foreign military adventures that did not actually further the interests and security of the United States. The country’s deceitfully engineered and propaganda-fueled entry into World War I prolonged and worsened a classic European war that was almost over at the time of the US intervention. This widening and extension of the war set up the conditions for a dishonest one-sided post-war economic exploitation of Germany, principally by Britain, which helped set up the disastrous economic conditions and hyperinflation that formed the desperate backdrop to the democratic election of Hitler and the delayed continuation of World War I, which we call World War II.


Read, for example, the collection of essays, The Costs of War: America's Pyrrhic Victories, to get started on the long road to understanding just how deeply we are deceived by glorifying histories of the state’s wars.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job, which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Here we go again with the bait-and-switch. These inspiring images are mainly of privately conducted, voluntary actions that the state did not coerce out of its citizens. It is indeed a tribute to the people that they are able to function and succeed at all in the face of all the destruction, distortion, and unfathomably massive taxation and micromanagement that the state inflicts.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new.

The challenges are in no way new. The largest one is just the latest manifestation of ancient problems that date in protean form from the early flirting with fractional reserve banking practices in 14th century Florence. As for the "instruments" now proposed, they are merely the latest variations of policies based on ancient economic superstitions—fallacies that owe their survivability not to their truth, but to their utility in promoting the interests of the state, its favored special interests, and its lapdog “economists” and journalists, at the expense of everyone else.

But those values upon which our success depends - honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true.

This was a nice moment of the speech in emotional terms. There was some honest recognition of real values from the past—a legacy. If we could only include on this list of values: not taking other people’s money (taxation) and not micromanaging what they can do on threat of imprisonment (regulation), we would be much further along. These latter items don’t fit with the values of fair play, tolerance, or honesty.

They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.


This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

Notice the non-specificity of the “duties” now. I assume that the duties may include continuing to hand over more or less half of our incomes to the state or go to jail. Other duties may include facing additional strangling regulations on workplaces and the operation of productive enterprises, living with the criminalization of the production of incandescent light bulbs, going off to the next state-aggrandizing and new-enemy-manufacturing war of the week, or watching our sons, daughters, and friends do so. What “we” the citizens will actually do is fund a multitude of programs, transfers, and invasions, almost all of which are deeply misguided, wasteful, and blatantly unconstitutional.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.


This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

This definitely represents concrete progress. This was a cultural transformation conducted over years. It would have happened much sooner without the state and its enforcement of legally mandated discrimination, and to this day laws that enable bigoted employers to practice arbitrary discrimination without themselves suffering what would otherwise be the natural economic losses that would stem from it. See Walter Block’s new Labor Economics from a Free Market Perspective.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:


"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive ... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

The American revolutionaries fought against the imposition of various piddly taxes of a few percent on a few selected items! They fought against the arbitrary power of an unchecked executive (who was, at the time, called a "King" rather than a "President").


The modern American executive branch, headed now by Mr. Obama himself, has unimaginably vaster powers to tax, regulate, imprison, and kill than King George III would ever have begun to imagine or fathom. The Declaration of Independence provides a list of grievances that are truly small-time whining compared to the comparable modern list of the usurpations and abuses of the United States Federal government.

The only responsible course for a holder of this office who wishes to protect the Constitution and the ideals of the American revolutionaries would be to immediately begin issuing executive orders reversing virtually all assumptions of power taken by past presidents and dismantling most executive branch departments. Congressman Ron Paul laid out precisely such a course in his 2008 campaign for president.

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.



I found this speech honestly inspiring on a personal level. My role, what I can do, is contribute to economic and historical education in this world. False economic ideas lead well-meaning people to do harm that they do not understand they are doing through their fanciful reliance on the coercive instrument of the state to attempt to “manage” the rest of us.


Avoid and scurry: FactChecker's Ron Paul smear distracts from the real issues

The February 12, 2008 article on Ron Paul by Joe Miller, entitled "Wrong Paul," given prominent link placement on Newsweek online, demonstrates the extent to which the mainstream media is desperate to avoid any discussion of Paul's actual message. Miller felt compelled to write an article on Paul, but in doing so, apparently had to struggle valiantly to find evidence of concepts and claims he thought suitable for belittling, while ignoring entirely the core messages of the campaign, along with most of the details behind the core messages. Avoid and scurry.

Whatever the validity of the claims in the article, it misses the entire forest and most of the trees to examine bug legs on the forest floor for signs of dirt. This calls into question for me the level of intellectual honesty involved in the creation of such a piece of writing.

I have yet to investigate some of the claims, though regarding the most substantive-looking one, I read some time ago the original article by Robert Higgs restating the actual annual impact of total defense spending upward to nearly $1trn, and found it convincing. For an excellent case study, read Higg's article, and then read Miller's account of it, and see which you find more informative.

Interestingly enough, Higgs is an economist and historian who is the leading expert on the history and mechanisms of government growth through crises, including wars. I suppose Miller did not realize this when he failed to mention even the name of Robert Higgs, let alone his expertise on the topic at hand. An odd move indeed for a "fact-checker."

While Miller discounts the idea of including, for example, the Department of Homeland Security, under "defense" spending, Higgs writes, "Since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, many observers probably would agree that its budget ought to be included in any complete accounting of defense costs. After all, the homeland is what most of us want the government to defend in the first place."

And of course a share of interest on the national debt proportional to historical spending on "defense" versus other government spending should be included in the total cost of "defense" spending. What's the alternative to that? Imagine a company that claims to be doing well, but conveniently omits from its accounts the impact of massive amounts of money it borrowed to set up and run its business. Or imagine a guy who claims to have a healthy net worth, but who conveniently fails to include his massive credit card debts on his self-deceptive balance sheet, and the associated interest payments. That's fraud.

Miller's article with its prominent Newsweek placement, symbolizes for me a lack of willingness in the mainstream media to engage in or report on content-based discussion of the real issues, and a strong preference for anything that can distract from the content. Could the author instead dare to actually state the main issues Paul's campaign represents, the claims he makes about war, fiat money, bloated taxation, and the mechanisms by which the state expands and intrudes by amplifying and leveraging fear in the populace? If countering and critique are the author's aim, could he try to counter core claims rather than peripheral claims? Counter them with better content, by locating and reporting on better understandings of the core issues? Those core issues are barely acknowledged, let alone addressed.

Judging from comparisons such as between Higg's original article and the quality of Miller's take on it, perhaps such content-based capabilities are lacking. That would explain why one might resort to raising as many distractions as possible to the content with which one is unable to deal, to ignore and deflect the real issues the Paul campaign raises. These ignored issues are the same ones that are not supposed to be raised too clearly into public awareness (such as by gracing the pages of Newsweek in an honest, recognizable form), else too many people might start thinking about them, investigating, learning, and finally...understanding.

That is scary stuff for entrenched special interests of all kinds. Watch them scurry.