Thursday, May 16, 2019

Why do we live under a monopoly?

The World Wide Web gives us eyes.  With these eyes we can see past the usual gatekeepers and read commentaries exposing government for its never-ending egregious actions. We see in these articles a hint of the nightmare world of 1984, with a suggestion that we could end up there if we do nothing but read. 

But I find one thing wrong with these accounts: For all their insights, there is rarely a mention of government’s inherent criminality.  Instead, the authors elaborate on the latest government atrocities and leave it at that, with an occasional comment that if we returned to our constitutional roots none of this would happen.

But we were once at our constitutional roots and these things are happening.  It is the roots that are flawed.  As Lysander Spooner wrote in 1870, 
But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.
Thus, for example, we read about the FED’s current monetary stance, whether it’s good or bad for the economy.  Have we lost the concept of monetary freedom?  That in a free world there would be no FED and no monetary policy?  That the easily-inflatable digits forced on us as a medium of exchange serves the interests of a privileged elite at our expense?  That the FED’s inflationary prowess has augmented the funding of foreign “adventures” that leave endless wreckage and death in their wake, while stuffing the bank accounts of warmongers?  That it’s equated saving with self-immolation?  That the counterfeiting FED is made possible by a government that’s criminal by design?

Flawed from the start

Governments as they exist are built on a criminal framework: a legal monopoly on violence over the territory they claim to rule.  Such institutions are called states.  Governments and states are not necessarily the same, but today’s governments are states.  They are not free market entities.  We cannot deal with a state under which we live as we might deal with a private company.  If Apple’s iPhone upsets me, I can go to Samsung; if not Samsung, LG or Huawei.  If they all upset me, I can do without a smartphone.  I have choices.  If the state’s institutionalized thief upsets me, tough; if I resist the only outcomes are fines, prison or death.  States are the antithesis of civilization.  

Why do we put up with them?  Answer: Because they make us put up with them.  We need to put up an intelligent fight.  

Murray Rothbard and Albert Jay Nock, among others, offered us insights on how states operate.  The State, in Rothbard’s succinct summation,
provides a legal, orderly, systematic channel for the predation of private property; it renders certain, secure, and relatively "peaceful" the lifeline of the parasitic caste in society.  [Anatomy of the State]
Nock tells us that
Taking the State wherever found, striking into its history at any point, one sees no way to differentiate the activities of its founders, administrators and beneficiaries from those of a professional-criminal class.  [Our Enemy, the State]
The claim that the Constitutional Convention was an exception, that the founders of the federal government had no criminal intent, has been turned upside down with the research of historian Leonard L. Richards.  See his Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle for details.  In reviewing the book Gary North said Shays’s Rebellion “is the most important falsified event in American history” and that Richards’ “thesis [as of 2002] has not yet moved into the textbooks.  It should.” 

Libertarian writers should call out the state whenever news of its atrocities or underhanded deals reaches us.  Don’t just tell us the Deep State is painting the Middle East red and threatening the world with nuclear annihilation, and is about to set another recession on us due to its monetary manipulations.  Point out that this is what happens when an organization assigns itself a legal monopoly on violence, with or without a constitution.  Otherwise the myth will persist that the state is fundamentally a benign organization promoting the welfare of all people, and that it is only certain rogues that are giving it a bad name.  

In his essay The Criminality of the State, Nock urges a similar approach.  Writing in 1939 for the American Mercury, Nock said that state atrocities are outrageous but we shouldn’t be surprised when they happen.  Yet most people are surprised.  
The history of the State being what it is, and its testimony being as invariable and eloquent as it is, I am obliged to say that the naive tone of surprise wherewith our people complain of these matters strikes me as a pretty sad reflection on their intelligence.  Suppose someone were impolite enough to ask them the gruff question, "Well, what do you expect?" — what rational answer could they give? I know of none.
Polite or impolite, that is just the question which ought to be put every time a story of State villainy appears in the news. It ought to be thrown at our public day after day, from every newspaper, periodical, lecture platform, and radio station in the land; and it ought to be backed up by a simple appeal to history, a simple invitation to look at the record. . . .  
In this way, perhaps, our people might get into their heads some glimmering of the fact that the State's criminality is nothing new and nothing to be wondered at. It began when the first predatory group of men clustered together and formed the State, and it will continue as long as the State exists in the world, because the State is fundamentally an anti-social institution, fundamentally criminal.
It’s true that a weak state is far preferable to a more powerful one, and that Americans once had a government that pretty much left them free.  But given the nature of the state, it was not destined to last.  We need a government based on market incentives, not one built on a legal monopoly. 

For a primer on how society would function at a far better level without a state, see Robert P. Murphy’s excellent Chaos Theory.

George Ford Smith is the author of several books, including The Flight of the Barbarous Relic (novel) and The Fall of Tyranny, The Rise of Liberty.  He is also a filmmaker with three movies to his credit on Amazon Prime Video.  His most recent production is A Christmas to Remember.  He hopes someday to direct a film version of his novel.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

What will you do on Election Day?

If you plan to vote in the next presidential election, you can stop reading.  This article isn’t for you.  

As a voter, you’ve been sold on the idea that elections are a critical element of a free society — that if we didn’t have elections, the government would consider us slaves, would treat us as roadkill.  If we didn’t have elections the government could take the bread we earn and use it any way it pleases.   

As a voter you’re showing your preference for who should fill the slots in the monopoly power that rules you — not all the slots, of course, not even a majority, but a few at least.  As a voter you accept this monopoly as a brute fact of life, like the air you breathe.  You not only accept it but regard it with awe because without it there would be anarchy, which you’ve been told means chaos, the antithesis of civilization.  You firmly believe that no matter how low government gets, anarchy is always a rung lower.  

This is why there is no “None of the above” on the ballot — rather lice than nothing.  You cringe with horror at the thought of unfilled government positions or government “shutdowns.”  

As a voter you might be someone who hopes to get something from government you couldn’t get otherwise; as a voter you feel a sense of importance because you see politicians exhausting themselves trying to get your vote.  And after you cast your ballot you even get to wear an “I voted” sticker as a way of showing your participation in democracy, unlike the dregs who shirk their responsibility.

As a voter you know that government’s overwhelming firepower is the key to your goals.  Government guns can save your job or move you up a notch in the food chain.  But it requires votes to make it happen.

So, voter -- you champion of freedom and civilization and good will among men, who supports to the dire end the government that educated you because you can’t live without it -- you are hereby advised to find something else to read. 

What can no-accounts do?

For the rest of us, our choice has been to stay away from the polls on Election Day, as a majority have done in the past.  

But why do nothing when the process you're boycotting is stealing your life away?  Why not take some action?

If you showed up in Washington D.C. on Election Day carrying a sign that said “Don’t Vote” or “Bureaucrats Go Home” you would be ignored, at best.  If you and a million others showed up carrying signs you might get some attention.

But what would prompt so many to discomfort themselves in a protest about government itself?  

Perhaps they recognize that every evil they experience or witness in the world today involves government to a significant degree.  Wars?  A government specialty — Wars R Us, highly lucrative for the well-connected, possibly a death sentence for the ones who do the fighting.  Economic recessions?  Made possible by its monopoly counterfeiter the Federal Reserve and government restrictions on trade and employment and competition.  Government criminalizes competition not only with itself but for whatever gang or corporation can win its favor.   Taxes, no-accounts understand, are a politically correct name for government theft, which at the federal level runs into the trillions.  

Perhaps they’re curious about why people question whether free-market billionaires should exist when a thief that tops them by orders of magnitude is never questioned. 

Perhaps they recognize that government policies criminalize or hinder their ability to get the best health care or education.  Perhaps they want to shrug off an organization that spies on them and makes traveling feel like a criminal activity.  

Perhaps they wonder why so much attention is paid to whether an election was influenced while almost no one talks about government’s coming default.

Perhaps they’re sick of having to tolerate government lies.  Maybe they’re tired of seeing government agents rewarded for gross incompetence.  

Perhaps they recognize that government is an outlier in a free society.  All our transactions are made with others voluntarily, except when the “other” is government.  

Perhaps they believe that a return to small government is not the answer, but a new kind of government based on market incentives.

What services do we need that cannot be done through voluntary means, they want to know?  Why is this question not even raised?

Why do we surrender our sovereignty at gunpoint and call it patriotism?

I say these are good reasons to march on Election Day and for the days that follow.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Letter to a High School Senior

My neighbor asked me to write a senior letter for her daughter, Brittany, who is about to graduate from high school.  I had never heard of a senior letter before.  Here is what I was given:
A memorable Collins Hill tradition is the delivery, and reading, of senior letters during the senior breakfast (during Senior Week).  Senior letters are written by friends, family, and faculty members and turned in prior to the breakfast.  Typically these letters provide congratulatory remarks, words of encouragement, and advice for the future.

With this as a guideline here is what I wrote:

Dear Brittany,

Life is a succession of milestones, and as a senior about to graduate you have achieved one of the most important goals in your life.  Year after year you have listened to the lectures, done the assignments, and passed the tests, and your graduation is a testimonial to your work ethic and intelligence.  You have shown what it takes to make a distant event a reality.  Think about the day-after-day effort you made to show up at school and put in the work required to keep yourself headed for graduation day.  And in doing so you have created memories with self-travelers who were doing the same.  

I encourage you to think about the changes you have made to your life.  When you first started school many years ago, you could not read or write proficiently or perhaps not at all; you knew little about the history of the world; the various sciences were either unknown to you or mere curiosities; and your mathematical competence was in its infancy.  You likely had dreams about what you wanted to be when you grew up, and you might’ve replaced those dreams with others as you developed as a person.  

There was something else growing with you.  Information technology development has been like a fast ride into the science fiction pages of Asimov, Heinlein, or Bradbury, and it is a journey that is advancing at an exponential pace.  When your parents were born, computers cost in the millions and occupied large air-conditioned rooms; today, they are 100 million times more powerful, fit in your pocket, and cost only hundreds of dollars.  And they’re far more reliable.   What this means for you will depend on what you do with it.  But the potential impact on your life cannot be exaggerated.   

To clarify and emphasize, if a technology is improving at a linear rate, in 30 years it will be 30 times better.  If a technology is improving at an exponential rate, say doubling every year, then in 30 years the technology will be a billion times better.  

Though there is disagreement among experts about the rate of improvement, there is a consensus that the rate is exponential.  

This is the world you will be part of, Brittany.  I encourage you to embrace it and use it for positive ends.   

Congratulations, graduate, on all you have accomplished!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Honest money would destroy today's world

Honest money is a widely-accepted medium of exchange that arises solely from voluntary market exchanges and maintains its value solely from voluntary market exchanges.  People once settled on gold and silver coins as their preferred money, but we have long since been prohibited from using them.   An employer who pays his employees by mutual consent in gold or silver coins is subject to prosecution from the guilty-until-proven-innocent IRS.

It would take a powerful criminal organization to prevent a nation of 320 million people from exercising their freedom to choose their own money, but that’s what has happened.  Ironically, most people don’t consider this organization as criminal at all, but rather as necessary for the preservation and growth of civilization.  

How the devil did this come about?

Two ways: government chicanery and their subjects’ ignorance and complicity.  

Honest money imposes limits on government, but governments don’t like limits.  They are always looking for ways to bamboozle their subjects into acquiring more power.  One way is to take charge of the money their people use — for their own good, of course.  This means monopolizing the supply while jailing others caught competing with them.  

The purpose of controlling the supply is to increase it as much and as easily as possible.   Paper and digital money make this a breeze when honest money is outlawed.  Gold, as Guido Hülsmann wrote in his masterpiece, has a built-in insurance policy against political inflation.  

The population that goes along with this scheme has been groomed to accept it.  The people’s government teachers repeat what they’re told, and they’re told the gold standard brought the world economy to its knees in the 1930s until gold was outlawed domestically as money.  

With money thereafter easily inflatable, government had the resources to employ economists who would rebut skeptics, confuse the public, and support government spending policies.  The population has become attached to its policies through social programs and rah-rah foreign adventures where American troops save American families from whoever lives over there.

The government-created central bank has, as expected, proven invaluable in building a virtually opaque wall around its policies, providing a quid pro quo with its mother.  If Keynes said one thing that was true, it was his comment about inflation disrupting capitalism so much that “the process of wealth-getting degenerates into a gamble and a lottery,” a process that is incomprehensible to most people.

And not only incomprehensible, but of no interest to them, either, since they’ve heard that government spews free lunches simply by voting for the right politicians

Today we are so far from the idea of honest money that it’s difficult to discuss the term publicly.  “What’s dishonest about the US dollar?” one might ask, forgetting or not knowing that inflation is a technique of defrauding dollar holders by reducing its buying power, and that before being saddled with a monopoly counterfeiter in 1913, the US economy somehow managed to pull through from 1870-1900 while experiencing dollar deflation.  Unlike today, people got richer simply by hanging on to their cash.  

Government has countless dependents, both foreign and domestic.  No one’s going to rock the boat and pass judgment on its monetary piracy. No one, that is, except a few radicals who publish something like this.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Cancer Cartel and Alternative Treatments

“It is scarcely possible to touch on any subject, that will not suggest an allusion to some corruption in governments.” — Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Note 24 
“Men have been taught that it is a virtue to swim with the current. But the creator is the man who goes against the current.” — Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, 1943
Whether the man who swims against the current is a creator or a fool depends, of course, on whether he’s headed for undiscovered truth or a plunge over the falls.  What’s important and almost never allowed is the freedom to let the man swim.  

Thomas Edison had a good thing going with his invention of the incandescent light bulb and his own direct current electricity system, but a 28-year-old immigrant he hired off the boat in 1884 showed him a much more efficient way to transmit electricity over long distances, using alternating current.  Edison dismissed Nikola Tesla’s idea as impractical and refused to compensate him for his discovery, having promised him a $50,000 bonus then reneging on it, claiming he was only joking.  Tesla resigned, found odd jobs that included digging ditches at $2 a day, and finally sold his ideas to Edison rival George Westinghouse, who in 1893 provided AC current to light the World’s Fair in Chicago.  

Previously, during what is known as the War of the Currents, Edison had staged numerous public displays of the lethal power of AC, electrocuting stray dogs and once even a circus elephant before a large crowd on Coney Island, hoping to scare the public away from AC.  Edison even lobbied Congress to have AC banned on the grounds that it was a public hazard.  Tesla, though, fought back with demonstrations of his own, as well as a landmark lecture in 1888.

Today, alternating current delivers electricity to homes and businesses, though direct current is staging a comeback of sorts with High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC).  

I invite you to imagine the consequences if Edison had succeeded in getting the state to ban AC.  

Corruption of the Cancer Industry

We may cringe at the thought of the iconic Thomas Edison killing stray dogs to protect his investments, but how do we view the human lives lost to cancer when the iconic medical establishment prohibits treatments that could have saved them?

On December 23, 1971 President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, diverting $1.6 billion in taxpayer wealth to the NCI to conduct a “War on Cancer,” thus launching another government crusade.  ($1.6 billion in 1971 is equivalent to $10.13 billion in 2019.)  It was a big deal at the White House when Nixon signed it, with heavy media coverage.  Even Nixon enemy Senator Ted Kennedy was optimistic about sending the federal behemoth out to slay the cancer monster.

There was even talk about eradicating cancer by the bicentennial in 1976. 

Forty-seven years later we find that cancer is still a leading cause of death in most regions of the world.  According to the National Cancer Institute, “In 2012, there were 14.1 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths worldwide. . . The number of new cancer cases per year is expected to rise to 23.6 million by 2030.”  Apparently, the experts don’t expect an effective means of prevention for the foreseeable future.   

Again, according to the NCI (as of December, 2015), only about 5% of cancers are hereditary, “which means many cancers may be preventable.” NCI’s recommendations for reducing your risk of developing cancer include such novel measures as: Eat well, be active, don’t smoke or use tobacco, and lastly “get screened and talk with your doctor about your risk.”

It can’t be prevented, which is why cases will rise, but it can be prevented if you do the right things. . . which you probably won’t do.  Or maybe you would do them if you knew what they were.  “Eating well” is rather vague, isn’t it?  Your doctor may be different, but mine reads my blood specs and if anything is at all suspect I get referred to a specialist.  And the specialist is not paid to lecture me on nutrition or exercise.

Furthermore, the NCI reports that “rates for new cancer of any site cases have been falling on average 1.1% each year over the last 10 years. Death rates have been falling on average 1.5% each year over 2006-2015.”  Meanwhile, the percent of cancer patients surviving five years or more has risen slightly from 1975-2015.

These statistics acquire a green tinge when considering the billions of taxpayer dollars shoveled at the NCI, the multi-billion-dollar uptake of the big pharmaceuticals and the many millions collected through donations and celebrity "fight cancer" events.  

Government Steps Up

The war on cancer is a government boondoggle taking cover behind a moral crusade.  Government wars on poverty, drugs, alcohol, illiteracy, illegal immigration, and terror stand as monumental successes but only from the state’s perspective, for fostering its expansion.  In terms of their stated goals, they have done what any first-year student of economics could have predicted: made matters worse. 

Thirty-eight years after he stood behind President Nixon at the signing ceremony Ted Kennedy succumbed to brain cancer, under care of the best oncologists money could buy.  Forty-seven years after government got heavily into cancer research, we’re told it will still be around 11 years from now, and probably much longer.  Then there was this, posted in 2009, when President Obama applied the SOP of throwing more money at the problem:
In the US, according to a gloomy analysis in The New York Times, cancer death rates have fallen just 5 per cent since the 1950s, compared with a 64 per cent fall in heart disease mortality and a 74 per cent decline in the death rate for stroke.
Many thousands of people depend on the cancer industry for their jobs.  An actual cure would force most of those people into a new line of work.  Patentable drugs for treating cancer without curing it has become a lucrative revenue source for the big pharmaceuticals.   

Amid the staged war on cancer is a cutthroat political war on unapproved cancer treatments.  Any physician treating a cancer patient in any manner other than the big three of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation (cut, drug, or burn) can count on being harassed by the government, especially the FDA.  Not only do they face criminal prosecution, but physicians using alternative treatments will be smeared as frauds, conmen or quacks.  

By 1952, Dr. Ernst T. Krebs, Jr. had developed the theory that cancer was a deficiency disease — that something essential was missing from modern diets.  The missing nutrient, he claimed, was a nitriloside found in over 1,200 edible plants around the world. 

Krebs understood cancer as a chronic, metabolic disease, meaning it does not pass away on its own and is not transmittable to others.  According to Krebs, there has never been a chronic, metabolic disease that was prevented or cured by drugs, surgery, or mechanical manipulation of the body.  The cure or prevention always came from adequate nutrition.  (Source, pp. 56-57)

In his research Krebs (along with others, including his father) did impressive work on the thesis that all expressions of cancer are characterized by biological uniformity.  Those curious about the quality of his research or his integrity are invited to study his 1950 paper, The Unitarian or Trophoblastic Thesis of Cancer.  Yet, the Wikipedia entry for Krebs characterizes him as an “American conman, who promoted various substances as alternative cures for cancer, including pangamic acid and amygdalin.”  

Krebs promoted amygdalin in its modified form, Laetrile, as a cancer cure, but according to Wikipedia “studies have found it to be ineffective.”  Not merely ineffective but a “canonical example of quackery.”  To organized medicine “quackery” is another name for competition.

The Big Cover-Up

Notwithstanding the disinformation about Laetrile, people with cancer were drawn to it because of claims from Laetrile patients that it worked.  (See Laetrile Case Histories for details.)  In 1972 the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City (MSKCC), the embodiment of conventional medicine, decided to bury Laetrile once and for all, and had it tested under direction of Dr. Kanematsu Sugiura, their most experienced and reputable researcher.  People who knew Sugiura readily acknowledged that “he was the very picture of a careful and scrupulous scientist. . . . He would not tell even a white lie in order to save a friend from embarrassment.”  [Source]

The board of MSKCC, whose leading members represented corporations that would lose a lot of money if the “cancer war” turned against them, viewed Sugiura’s testing in a less-scientific light.  

When Sugiura’s final report was published on June 13, 1973, it was a win for Laetrile.  Sugiura found that Laetrile:
1. Inhibited metastasis in mice  
2. Improved their general health 
3. Inhibited growth of small tumors 
4. Provided pain relief 
5. Acted as cancer prevention
Two biochemists at SK, Dr. Elizabeth Stockert and Dr. Lloyd Schloen, confirmed Sugiura’s results.  Schloen added proteolytic enzymes to his Laetrile injections (commonly done by Laetrile doctors) and reported a 100% cure rate among his Swiss albino mice.  [Source, p. 43]

Needless to say, these findings did not please the MSKCC board.  Subsequent tests confirmed Sugiura’s findings, but eventually, by altering the manner in which the testing was done, the SK board found deliverance.  The findings showed no difference between treated mice and controls.  Laetrile, therefore, was ineffective and SK announced it as such in a major press conference held in June 1977.  

Sugiura, who stood quietly in the shadows at the press conference, was asked by reporters if he stood by his results.  His reply: “I stick.”

Ralph Moss, the Assistant Director of PR at SK, recognized the cover-up and held a press conference of his own six months later in which he blew the whistle on what had really happened at SK.  He was fired shortly thereafter.  He has since written books about the corrupted findings, including “Doctored Results: The Suppression of Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research” and “The Cancer Industry: The Classic Exposé of the Cancer Establishment.”  There is also a movie about the cover-up, Second Opinion: Laetrile At Sloan-Kettering, released in 2014. 

Unfortunately, Moss blamed the “profit system” for the cover-up.  There would be an open field for profits and losses if Congress hadn’t been for sale.  On a free market, and with a government not possessed of the power to confer favors, there would be no favors to buy.  The butcher, the brewer, and the baker (along with most everyone who works for a living) will always be seeking a profit — where profit is understood in the subjective sense as the difference between the value of the costs incurred and the goal attained (Source).  

On a free market, Laetrile and other cancer treatments would compete in the open with the medical establishments’ regimens.  May the best one win, the winner to be chosen by the patients, not the politicians.

When we someday eliminate the political means for achieving profit, “profit” will lose its undeserved stigma.  And the numerous cartels that favor their members at the public’s expense will be a dark memory.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this article should be interpreted as encouraging anyone to take Laetrile/amygdalin or any other purported cancer treatment.  If you suspect or know you have cancer, you are urged to seek treatment from qualified medical professionals.  

George Ford Smith is the author of eight books, including The Flight of the Barbarous RelicEyes of Fire: Thomas Paine and the American Revolution, and The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of Liberty.  He is also a filmmaker whose latest work is a five-minute documentary about the Christmas Truce of 1914, A Christmas to Remember.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Nikola Tesla Demonstrates AC Power

In the late 1800s Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse engaged in what became known as the War of the Currencies, here referring to the question of which was better for power generation, direct current or alternating current.  Edison was heavily invested in DC, whereas Westinghouse was looking at the more efficient AC for transmitting power over long distances, which the young inventor Nikola Tesla had developed while briefly working for Edison.

Edison tried to turn the public against AC with demonstrations of its killing power, using stray dogs and even a circus elephant as its victims.  Exactly how Tesla responded to the challenge of proving the safety of AC is unclear but is emphatically dramatized in the movie, The Secret of Nikola Tesla, an excerpt from which is shown below.

For more information on Tesla please see Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Our Hell-Raising Founding Father

“… if the journalistic credos of speaking truth to power, comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable have a godhead, that would have to be Paine, whose writing was so provocative and so uncompromising that he faced the gibbet and the blade everywhere he published—in England, and in France, and in the United Colonies.” — Craig Nelson
Thomas Pain (later changed to Paine) was born on January 29, 1737 in Thetford, England, his 40-year-old Anglican mother the daughter of a popular local lawyer, his 29-year-old Quaker father a destitute master craftsman staymaker.  In Thetford the Pains lived within sight of the local hanging ground called Gallows Hill.  Paine biographer Craig Nelson tells us:
The most popular entertainment of the age was the thrill of the hangman’s noose, with executions the only public holidays for workers besides Christmas and Easter, thus allowing apprentices, servants, and the working poor to mull the consequence of villainy.
In eighteenth century England “villainy” among the politically powerless included some 200 crimes punishable by death.  Steal a box of tea or a handkerchief and you could be facing the hangman’s noose, even if you were starving.
As was true in England as a whole, 5 percent of Pain’s neighbors were aristocrats and gentry (doctors, lawyers, and landowning yeomen and clergy), while 95 percent were rural paupers trying to survive the enclosure movement, when common folk were suddenly forbidden to graze their herds, hunt, or forage on 3.4 million acres of now private grounds.
Though baptized as an Anglican, Thomas Pain would often accompany his father to the local Quaker meetinghouse, adjacent to which were “the cage, pillory, and stocks for the condemned overflow of Thetford prison.” Thus, the prayer and testimony of the Quaker gathering would be mixed with “bellowing wails, screams for mercy, and the taunts of locals having a grand old time tormenting the criminals on public display next door.”

Thomas began grammar school at age six and quit at age 12 to begin an apprenticeship in staymaking.  Seven years later (1756) the Seven Years' War was underway, with the English and its allies fighting the French and their supporters.  Pain left home and joined the crew of a privateer warship that succeeded in capturing “the treasure of eight enemy vessels in as many months,” providing him with a handsome commission for his service.  

While most successful privateers spent their winnings on women and clothes, Pain bought a pair of globes and began attending philosophical lectures in London. 
Historians have long wondered exactly how this lower-class rarely-do-well became the most popular author of the eighteenth century and famed citizen of the world. He did it, we now know, in a signature American fashion—a rigorous course of self-improvement leading to personal reinvention—inspired by one of the most remarkable transformations of thought in world history. Thomas Pain would spend only a few years in London, but they would make of him a central figure in the creation of the modern world.
Pain later married but his wife and child died during childbirth.  He married again but following a financial collapse he and his second wife Elizabeth Ollive agreed to a separation, though they were never divorced.  Pain’s bankruptcy came during his stint as an excise taxman when he abandoned his post in Lewes and went to London to petition Parliament for better pay for excise tax collectors.  There he distributed copies of his pamphlet The Case of the Officers of Excise, which though compelling in many ways stood in contradistinction to his later essays against government and especially its taxes.  It was largely ignored. “Between the public’s loathing of the Excise and the government’s interest in paying its employees as little as possible, this noble campaign was a fool’s errand,” Nelson writes.

When he returned to his post in Lewes, Pain was fired and arrested for debt.  He sold assets in a business he and his wife ran to pay his creditors, and Elizabeth went home to live with her parents.  Neither one ever remarried, and both lived into their seventies, dying only eight months apart.  
When Pain in later life learned that the Ollives were having financial troubles, he would anonymously send Elizabeth money, and when Elizabeth had the opportunity to pocket a tidy sum by agreeing to take part in the British government’s drive to vilify her ex-husband, she would categorically refuse.
With personal bankruptcy, loss of his job, and the breakup of his marriage, Pain, age 37, had reached the nadir of his life.  
He did not know it at the time, but this seemingly unconquerable mountain of failure would force him to risk all, to take a very great leap of faith that would lead to his immortality.
Or as another biographer said about him with memorable flair: “When the British fired Thomas Paine, it cost him his marriage, but it cost the British their American colonies.”

Shortly after and with Ben Franklin’s blessing, Paine ventured to America, began writing, and achieved everlasting fame and notoriety.  His 1776 pamphlet Common Sense set the colonists on fire for independence.  According to Wikipedia, “In proportion to the population of the colonies at that time (2.5 million), it had the largest sale and circulation of any book published in American history.  As of 2006, it remains the all-time best selling American title, and is still in print today.”

He followed Common Sense with a series of essays called The American Crisis that attempted to raise American spirits during the war. 
THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
Returning to England after the war to find a builder for an iron bridge he had designed, he wrote Rights of Man, in two parts, as a rebuttal of Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmond Burke.  “Like Hamilton, Burke believed that only the nation’s elite should be involved in the affairs of state, which in his mind meant not just the rich and the landed but chivalric nobles, and clearly not common tradesmen,” Nelson explains.

In Rights, Paine points out that government by elites or anyone is unnecessary:
For upwards of two years from the commencement of the American War, and to a longer period in several of the American States, there were no established forms of government. The old governments had been abolished, and the country was too much occupied in defence to employ its attention in establishing new governments; yet during this interval order and harmony were preserved as inviolate as in any country in Europe. There is a natural aptness in man, and more so in society, because it embraces a greater variety of abilities and resource, to accommodate itself to whatever situation it is in. The instant formal government is abolished, society begins to act: a general association takes place, and common interest produces common security.
Later as a condemned prisoner under Robespierre, he penned the first volume of his The Age of Reason in which he presented his deistic view of the Bible and organized religion:  
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, bythe Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. 
All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian
or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to
terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
He died all but forgotten at age 72, on the morning of June 8, 1809, in Greenwich Village, New York City, after suffering from a long, devastating illness.     

As an afterword, Paine published his final installment of The Crisis on April 19, 1783, coinciding with the firing of the first shots in Lexington eight years earlier, saying that "The times that tried men's souls are over.”

No, they are never over.

George Ford Smith is the author of eight books, including The Flight of the Barbarous Relic, Eyes of Fire: Thomas Paine and the American Revolution, and The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of Liberty.  He is also a filmmaker whose latest work is a five-minute documentary about the Christmas Truce of 1914, A Christmas to Remember.

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