Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Better than the alternative?

As people age we sometimes hear them say it beats the alternative, which is usually left unsaid.  It’s an old joke technology aims to eliminate by treating aging as a disease and curing it.  

But there’s another sense in which the alternative is assumed to be far worse than the present condition.  I’m referring to the type of government almost all people live under, which is the nation state.  As bad as states might be — we’ve all been taught — it certainly beats the alternative, anarchy.  


Headlines have never been favorable to the state as a form of government.  In the days when states couldn’t threaten humanity with total extinction it was common for writers like Thomas Paine, Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Alfred Jay Nock, H. L. Mencken and others to lampoon them mercilessly, even if their criticisms amounted to little more than entertainment.  The public for the most part expects others to make changes in government when the need arises and registers their preference at the polls.  Ruling elites know this of course and have rigged the system of state governance, whatever form it takes, to ensure significant change never happens.  See Brexit.

Here in the US as elsewhere, the quarrels between the political parties are mostly for our entertainment.  Neither party would ever seriously consider doing away with the income tax or the federal reserve, for example.  Doing so would starve the state, and our bipartisan overseers won’t allow it.  Even worse, thanks to government schools and a corrupt media, most people see nothing wrong in principle with government theft.

It is alleged that the state represents order, whereas the absence of the state releases all the evils of which man is capable, producing dog-eat-dog chaos.  Since states have become our schoolteachers the idea of government without the state is simply not discussed.

According to most dictionaries, synonyms for anarchy include lawlessness, disruption, turmoil, disorganization, and disintegration.  Such terms also describe countries being bombed back to the stone age, such as those in the Middle East where “righteous” states have intervened to eradicate evil or “defend the freedom” of their clueless citizens thousands of miles away.  

The synonyms also depict the current state of Venezuela, where a human rights organization “detailed cases of sexual violence, censorships, personal insecurity, limits on political rights, food shortage, malnutrition and inadequate health service -- all amid hyperinflation and high levels of corruption and impunity.”  

Venezuela has stolen the spotlight from Zimbabwe, which in recent years had prices doubling every 24.7 hours, thanks to the state’s printing press.  According to CNNMoney, “About the only thing Venezuela has in abundance is chaos.”

Is it possible states create the conditions associated with anarchy?  

The US war in Iraq from 2003-2011 cost $1.06 trillion.  Since the invasion was based on lies and without a declaration of war, every Iraqi life lost amounts to murder.   But to the government and media the war was a mistake, nothing more, like getting off at the wrong exit.  From 2012-2014 another $7.8 billion was paid to “contractors” who stayed in Iraq.  From 2015-2016 the US spent $38.7 billion fighting militants its original invasion made possible.  

The devastated city of Mosul claims it needs $100 billion to rehabilitate it.  Baghdad wants the same.  No one is coming forth with money.  The US has already spent $60 billion over nine years for Iraqi reconstruction, $8 billion of which was wasted through corruption and mismanagement.  

And none of the money it spent was the state’s to begin with.  It was loot stolen from hapless Americans.  Any reasonable account of the cost should also include the infringements on liberty that monsters such as the DHS and Patriot Act impose.

Given what the US state and its coalition partners have done to Iraq, to Iraqis, to American military personnel, to the cultural climate of peace and liberty that makes prosperity possible, it’s hard to imagine a stateless America would be even worse.   

Keep in mind that it wasn’t anarchy that produced the massive death and devastation of the two world wars, or the numerous illegal regime change operations carried out by US intelligence agents.  Neither Stalin, Hitler, nor Mao are remembered as anarchists, though Mao, the number one murderer, gets off with having only made a “mistake” in some quarters.  It wasn’t anarchists who built atomic bombs.  It wasn’t anarchists who dropped them on civilian populations.  Nor is President Trump considered an anarchist for declaring he might hit North Korea with nuclear weapons if it doesn’t behave. 

Father Abraham, Wilson, and FDR are not renown for their anarchist views.  Through the state they had the means to go to war while forcing others to do the killing and dying.  Through the state they had the propaganda tools and the arms to keep most of the public compliant.  Through the state they had the means to steal wealth from their citizens to pay for it.  Even today, with their crimes detailed online, they remain among the “great” in American history because of an insouciant public that has been indoctrinated from an early age.

Better than the alternative?  

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Digital School Days

The biggest trend I see for the future is the meltdown of governments at all levels combined with a decentralizing, individual-empowering exponential growth in technology.  States, in other words, will self-destruct while people get smarter, stronger, healthier, and freer — they will get a lot smarter, a lot stronger, a lot healthier and from this, freedom from the state will be a natural evolution.

There will be efforts to resurrect states but the attempts will fail.   Too many people will recognize the futility of trying to secure their well-being under a monopoly form of government — a government that threatens violence against nonviolent individuals such as taxpayers.  As social organizations, states are headed for extinction while technology, in spite of its downsides, will be our liberator. 

The warnings we hear from Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Bill Joy, Julian Assange, and others about AI’s threats shouldn’t be dismissed, but never forget: The one organization that makes any intelligence an existential threat is the State.  The most obvious example is the cartel arrangement banking achieved with the Federal Reserve Act and the incalculable wreckage the Fed has made possible.  As long as Google, Facebook, and other tech giants are kept separate from the State their power is subject to competition and other free market forces.  For more details, see The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of Liberty

The evidence for this dual-trend is bountiful, though it isn’t always obvious.  When it is obvious, I like to call attention to it.

Which brings me to my grandson’s recent snow day off.

He’s in the seventh grade of a government middle school with relatively small class sizes.  He’s with us, his grandparents, when he’s not in school and his first-string supporters (his mom and her partner) have to work, which means we see him quite often.  This in itself is wonderful.  Like most kids he’s quite comfortable with technology.

When his mom dropped him off that snowy morning he went straight to the couch and pulled out his iPhone.  I fixed him his morning drink and went off to do some work of my own, then came back to see if he needed anything.   

Right away I knew something was off.  There were no hysterics coming from his phone, yet he was focused intently on it.   What I heard sounded like a man giving a lecture.  Then I heard music, but not his music.  His music was Spiderbait’s Black Betty.  This was Pachelbel’s Canon in D.

He was watching a Tedx Talk given by Notre Dame student Jackson Jhin.  The subject: What makes popular music popular?  Jhin discussed how predictability and variability, along with repetition, distinguished noise from music.  During his talk he took Canon and made it noise, and took the sound of a coconut hitting the ground and made it into music.  Very instructive and entertaining.  

The bigger picture: My grandson was doing his classes from home, on an iPhone, while sitting on a couch and taking occasional sips of coffee-milk.  His teachers were conducting school over the Web.  Most of his classes required little typing and could be done from a smartphone.  He did his science class from a laptop only because he could get it done faster that way.

He and the rest of the middle school were homeschooling.  He finished everything by mid-morning rather than late afternoon.  There were no school buses, parent drop-offs, parent pickups, sitting at desks in classrooms, none of the usual distractions that hurt academic performance.  No wondering what, or if, he ate during the day and whether he got enough exercise.

He was learning through instructional videos that were often entertaining and which could be played again if needed.  I found it overwhelmingly appealing.

I asked him: “Wouldn’t you like to do this every day?”

He said, paraphrasing, “Definitely.  What I would really like is take only those classes I would need for my career.”

“Which is still architecture, right?”

“Yeah.  So I would be taking engineering and math, and nothing else.  What I think would be an ideal educational program would be to devote the first five or six years of school to the broad basics, then concentrate on courses that are needed for your field.  If you wanted to expand your interests you could do it on your own.”

“I like your idea,” I said.  

I have a daughter who finished high school as a homeschooler, and with the time saved she worked in Mexican restaurants where she learned to speak Spanish fluently.  Hispanic friends tell me she speaks without an accent, too.  Her language ability is proving to be a big asset in her medical career.

It isn’t AI that is threatening the human race but the wasteful schooling kids are getting.  The benefits of homeschooling are so enormous that it’s a virtual certainty it will be the gold standard of education in the near future.  

Classrooms of the future

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Born on the Tenth of January

If Tom Cruise was Born on the Fourth of July, then he can thank Thomas Paine, who it can be said was born on January 10, 1776 with the publication of his incendiary essay, Common Sense, that argued for independence from England.  He priced it cheaply (two shillings), argued passionately, and wrote in a direct style so that readers could understand him. 
It was sold and distributed widely and read aloud at taverns and meeting places. 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. [Wikipedia]
Common Sense relieved the political constipation of the Second Continental Congress, which was stalled between reconciliation and independence.  The 77-page pamphlet blasphemed the English king as a royal brute and obliterated the arguments opposing independence.  Further, it presented the issues in a tone of utmost gravity:
The cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected . . .
The stakes were high.  Paine was calling on Americans to save the world, not only through arms but by repudiating their saintly icon, George III, who in truth was nothing but a “crowned ruffian,” as all monarchs were.   John Locke had argued that states exist to protect man’s natural rights; Paine argued that they were instead born in “naked conquest and plunder.” [Conceived in Liberty, IV]   Independence would also free America from Europe’s wars and quarrels, whereas the current colonial alliance would “set us at variance with nations . . . against whom we have neither anger nor complaint.”

Common Sense swept through all 13 colonies and established strong support for secession, enough, at least, to kick Congress into action.  John Adams, who hated Paine, later conceded that “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”   Murray Rothbard concluded that “Paine had, at a single blow, become the voice of the American Revolution and the greatest single force in propelling it to completion and independence.”  [Conceived in Liberty, IV]  “So gripping was Paine’s prose,” writes Jill Lepore in The New Yorker, “and so vast was its reach, that [John] Adams once complained to Jefferson, ‘History is to ascribe the American Revolution to Thomas Paine.’”

But of course almost no one does.  He is listed as one of the less significant founders, when he’s listed at all.  When Benjamin Franklin died in 1790 at age 84, some 20,000 people attended his funeral.  When Paine died in 1809 at age 72, six people paid their respects, none of whom were dignitaries.

A mostly self-educated man, Paine went on to be the 18th century’s bestselling author, and one of the most reviled.  He mercilessly pummeled the hypocrisy and abuses of government elites and their distain for commoners.  As he wrote in a footnote to Rights of Man, “It is scarcely possible to touch on any subject, that will not suggest an allusion to some corruption in governments.” 

Rights of Man II condemned English law and politics, for which he was tried in absentia for seditious libel while living in France and, ironically, arguing in the French Assembly for sparing the life of Louis XVI.  During his trial the Crown’s prosecutor accused Paine of being a traitor and a drunken roisterer who had vilified Parliament and king.  Among the evidence he cited was a letter Paine had written to the attorney general in which he stated, “the Government of England is [the greatest] perfection of fraud and corruption that ever took place since governments began.“

For four hours his defense argued that Paine was innocent by virtue of freedom of the press.  It carried no weight with the Crown’s handpicked jury — all wealthy, plump, and respectable men filled with icy hostility toward the defendant.

Paine on Religion

One book, The Age of Reason — the first part written while he awaited execution in a French prison but was spared by a bureaucratic blunder — has served to relegate him unjustly to academic obscurity.  In presenting his case for deism, he attacks organized religion, especially Christianity and the Bible.  He rejects the creeds of all churches, and he rejects the national institutions of all churches, for they were no more “than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

What really bothered his critics was the manner in which Age was written.  “By presenting [his arguments] in an engaging and irreverent style, he made deism appealing and accessible to a mass audience.”  [Wikipedia] The low price of his pamphlet ensured a vibrant market, and the British government feared it might spark a revolution among the downtrodden.  Printers were prosecuted for publishing or distributing it.  

Among the educated his views were not regarded as radical.  John Adams, for example, had privately written that the Bible was "full of whole cartloads of trumpery." James Madison said the fruits of Christianity were “pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity.… Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”  

In 1787 Jefferson had advised his nephew, Peter Carr, to "Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.”

Adams, Madison. and Jefferson it should be remembered are forever entrenched as American founders.

For Paine the word of God is not found in any written work, but in nature, which he referred to as the Creation:  “The Creation speaks a universal language, independently of human speech or human language, multiplied and various as they be. It is an ever-existing original, which every man can read. It cannot be forged; it cannot be counterfeited; it cannot be lost; it cannot be altered; it cannot be suppressed. It does not depend upon the will of man whether it shall be published or not; it publishes itself from one end of the earth to the other.”

Paine’s Integrity 

There are elements in Paine’s political writings that appeal to statists of varying degrees.  Was he merely a pen for hire?  For the most part, at least, I would say no.  Yet, though he bashed government throughout his writings, he was one of the first, in 1783, to call for a stronger central government.  As I wrote earlier, “[H]is idea of strengthening the Articles of Confederation was to ‘add a Continental legislature to Congress, to be elected by the several States.’ When he was asked to propose his suggestion in a newspaper article, he declined, saying he ‘did not think the country was quite wrong enough to be put right.’”

His solidarity with liberty came in 1786 with his essay on paper money.  “When an assembly undertakes to issue paper as money, the whole system of safety and certainty is overturned, and property set afloat. Paper notes given and taken between individuals as a promise of payment is one thing, but paper issued by an assembly as money is another thing.  It is like putting an apparition in the place of a man; it vanishes with looking at it, and nothing remains but the air.”  He went on to enumerate many of the evils of paper money.

There are excellent biographies of Thomas Paine, one my favorites being Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations by Craig Nelson.  It has the page-turning quality of a good novel and is now available on Kindle. 

I’ve also published a script about Paine, Eyes of Fire: Thomas Paine and the American Revolution.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Smile, the future is coming

I’m sure there will be some shocking events in 2018, but I have no idea what they will be.  There are too many wildcards in the mix, with one big one taking center stage: States.  

The civilized world, such as it was, took a nosedive after the Sarajevo assassinations in 1914 ignited the political tinderbox in Europe.   To pay for the massive slaughter that followed, states abandoned gold and turned to inflationary finance and borrowing, in addition to heavy taxation. Very importantly, as Rothbard notes, World War I also served as the excuse for 
a "war collectivism," a totally planned economy run largely by big-business interests through the instrumentality of the central government, which served as the model, the precedent, and the inspiration for state-corporate capitalism for the remainder of the 20th century.
For the big shots running things, the war required issuing outrageous lies, suppressing dissent, and everything else except actual combat.  The nightmare of trench fighting they forced upon American men.  “You die over there while we get richer over here,” Wilson and his gang were in effect saying to the conscripts, while peddling “Liberty” Bonds.   Yet, as humanitarian episodes throughout the war made eminently clear, especially the Christmas Truce of 1914, the soldiers were mostly eager to fraternize not kill one another.  Ironically, they might’ve written war’s last chapter had they refused orders to continue the killing, thereby fulfilling the prophecy of H. G. Wells that it would be “the war that will end war.” 

But when peace stands in the way of big profits, the banker/state alliance usually wins.  Quoting Ferdinand Lundberg from America’s Sixty Families, G. Edward Griffin writes in his masterpiece, The Creature from Jekyll Island, that
the total wartime expenditure of the United States government from April 6, 1917, to October 31, 1919, when the last contingent of troops returned from Europe, was $35,413,000, 000. Net corporation profits for the period January 1, 1916, to July, 1921, when wartime industrial activity was finally liquidated, were $38,000,000,000, or approximately the amount of the war expenditures. More than two-thirds of these corporation profits were taken by precisely those enterprises which the Pujo Committee had found to be under the control of the "Money Trust.” [ A handful of Wall Street banks, primarily those in the Morgan ambit]
The point of bringing all this up is that states are powerful organizations that sell their services (various forms of coercion) to the highest bidders.  If the price is right laws will be passed, relaxed, or ignored.  If a war is needed to get the public behind some scheme, a Lusitania will sink, a Twin Tower will collapse, with some targeted enemy taking the blame.  

Rothbard had it right — states are criminal gangs writ large. 

There are times when I picture the state as analogous to the loose cannon that broke free from its fastenings and menaced the lives of the warship crew in Victor Hugo’s novel, Ninety-three.  The crew at least recognized the threat of a ten thousand pound cannon on the loose that “leaps like a panther, has the weight of an elephant, the agility of a mouse,” whose “terrible vitality is fed by the ship, the waves, the wind. . .”  I can’t imagine a crew feeling reverence for such a monster.

Failsafe projections

None of us feel comfortable without some idea of what lies ahead, so allow me to offer a few projections that require no crystal ball to make.  I can predict with a high degree of confidence that:

1.  Most people will not take any interest in the origin and nature of money.
2.  Most people will not seek to understand the role of money in a market economy.
3.  Most people will not take any interest in central banking or the American state’s central bank, the Federal Reserve.
4.  If questioned, most people will agree with the “experts” that a central bank is absolutely necessary to manage the economy, otherwise we would fall prey to financial crises or depressions.
5.  Most people will continue to believe rising prices are a natural outcome of a market economy, with the puzzling exception of digital gadgets.
6.  Most people will continue to believe economic and foreign interventionism is a Good Thing, if executed by politicians of their preferred political party.
7.  Most people will continue to believe in government-provided free lunches.
8.  Most people will continue to believe in the government’s number one free lunch, public education, which like all government free lunches needs more funding.
9.  Most people will continue to believe that victims of U.S. invasions hate us for our freedoms.
10.  Most people will continue to believe we need the state, however corrupt and burdensome, because otherwise we would have chaos and the strong would dominate the weak.

And finally, I remain optimistic about the future of the world, and so should you.  Why?  The coming government default and the exponential pace of technology.  It will be a seemingly autonomous process of shifting power from the state to the individual, and it’s already well underway.  For a detailed discussion, see my little book, The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of Liberty.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

You’re the Fed chairman — now what?

What follows is shameless self-promotion.

In 2008 I self-published The Flight of the Barbarous Relic, a novel about a renegade Fed chairman named Preston Mathews.  On a stormy Halloween night Mathews does a Friedman helicopter drop from the cockpit of his biplane over the fictitious town of Morrisville, Virginia, then flies to his nearby farm and plows his two-winger into the ground at the foot of his barn.  For months Mathews had spent weekends painting a mural on his barn that depicted the federal reserve note as a tool of piracy.  He had kept the mural cloaked when he wasn’t working on it.  

The government, headed by President Gage and his chief henchman Hawkins, announces Mathews’ death as a tragic accident.  They praise him publicly for his work as Fed chairman while ushering in a full-blooded Keynesian as a temp replacement.  

But there are problems with the government’s narrative.  Pictures are showing up on the web, one of which shows the crash site with the mural clearly illuminated by the flames of the burning plane.  And the mural — what was the Jolly Roger doing on the dollar instead of Washington’s face?  Is that a message or the work of vandals?  Another picture shows Mathews beaming a smile while standing next to his plane, with the words “barbarous relic” spray-painted on the rear of the gold-colored fuselage.  And it finally emerged that some crackpot in a biplane flew through lightning and showered Morrisville with hundred dollar bills shortly before the crash.  And though Mathews is officially dead, there are leaks about the absence of any remains.  

As the underground narrative picks up speed the government struggles to discredit it every way possible.   

My goal was to reach readers who would never, ever pick up a monograph depicting the federal reserve for what it is, a government-licensed counterfeiting monopoly.  But they might get caught up in an intriguing story and maybe learn a thing or two.  

Readers can sample the opening of the book through Amazon’s Look Inside feature.   Below is an excerpt from Chapter 8.

* * * 

Treasury Secretary Benjamin Levy didn’t like his job.  He didn’t mind so much heading up the collection of tributes to the government because it was a dirty job and someone had to do it.  Government, he believed, was a necessary evil that could only be funded by some form of systematic theft, such as overt taxation.  But God, how he loathed the politics! . . . . 

Gage had picked Levy on Hawkins’ recommendation, and Hawkins liked Levy for his military background, his name, and the fact that he was physically fit and slim.  Levy, at 54, was in fact a fitness center spectacle.  At five-foot eight and 155 pounds, he could pump out 100 repetitions of a 100-pound bench press at the Treasury’s gym, shower, then swim a mile in the Olympic pool alternating between the Australian crawl and the racing backstroke.

On the day after the latest Dow Drop, Levy met with three senior officials from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and decided afterward he was in desperate need to shoot something.  The meeting had not gone well.  His subordinates had presented spineless non sequiturs about how Mathews acquired $100,000 in hundred dollar bills for his Trick or Treat flight over Morrisville.  

Their spokesperson was a short middle aged man named Riley who spoke so quietly Levy had to strain to hear him.  He was perfect for the job because he always spoke that way, and Levy could never accuse him of being suppliant, though that’s how he came across.  He remembered being in a room reading a report once while Riley and a clerk were in an adjacent office with the door open.  It was comical.  He could hear the clerk fine and Riley not at all.  The clerk would ask a question then moments later ask a follow-up question with no intervening answer, at least not one Levy could detect.  It was as if the clerk were talking to himself.

Along with the others, Riley had at hand a bottle of water, a perennial element of every meeting Levy held.  Riley clung to his for support.  “At this point in our investigation,” he said in his barely audible style, “it appears he took the money without our knowledge and without proper authorization.”  He cleared his throat.

Levy couldn’t help smile.  “So, Preston Mathews robbed the B.E.P?”

Riley glanced for support at his two colleagues, cleared his throat again, and turned back to Levy.  “We don’t have enough information to rest comfortably with that conclusion.  We can neither affirm nor—“

“—Are we in the habit of leaving money lying around?”

“Ah, no, sir, we’re not. . .  Our security procedures are unsurpassed.  This is the first blemish on our record.”

“The first what?”


“But you’re reasonably sure the money left when he did.”

“As far as we can tell, yes.”  Levy felt an urge to throw something at him, to see if he would at least raise his voice in protest.

“So tell me: How does one man EVER walk out of the B.E.P. with a hundred thousand dollars?”

Riley cleared his throat and took a sip of water.  His voice rose a bit in volume.  “One man doesn’t, sir, unless he’s the Fed chairman.”

“The Fed chairman . . . ?”

“He’s next to God.” 

Hawkins called and invited himself along before Levy could escape.  As far as their secretaries and the rest of the world were concerned, Hawkins and Levy were taking a little afternoon R & R at Levy’s West Virginia ranch near White Sulphur Springs, hunting wild turkey.  But Levy had no interest in shooting birds.  He had his maintenance workers nail together some boards and prop them up to resemble the side of a barn.  At Levy’s direction, one of them slapped some paint on the wood to approximate a U.S. dollar with a Jolly Roger in the center.  They then hauled it to the bottom of a small rise near the edge of some woods, and Levy proceeded to blast it to bits with his Winchester 12-gauge shotgun. 

Hawkins declined to join him and stood back watching while drawing slowly on a Cuban Robusto, amused at the way the gun kicked the rawboned shooter with each trigger squeeze.  When the shooting ended they retired to Levy’s den around a pool table, where Levy accepted Hawkins’ offer of a Robusto and poured them some JD No. 7 on the rocks.

Levy dragged pensively on his cigar and blew the smoke out.  “So, you want me to attack Morrisville, Virginia,” he said.

“Just show up with some guns.  A little gathering for the evening news.”

“What’s wrong with garnishing their taxes?”

“Nothing, of course.  But we also need a little show.”

“Flex some muscle.”

“You got it.”

Levy flicked his cigar at an ashtray.  “You’re feeding the enemy.”

“No, we’re restoring public confidence.”

“The public wasn’t confident, they were intimidated.  They’re still that way.  Showing up with troops when none are needed will convey weakness.  You have nothing to gain by squashing Morrisville.”

“General, there’s a fire burning.  We need to squelch it.”

“It’s a campfire.  It’ll burn itself out.”

Hawkins moved closer to Levy.  “Mathews had a plan.  We don’t know exactly what it was, but we’re pretty sure it’s not finished.  He apparently has confederates, and his dramatic exit has won him more than a few sympathizers.  A quiet announcement about garnishing Morrisville’s taxes will soothe the public’s resentment, but they need reminding about who’s in charge.  They need to see power.  The markets have to see power.  They have to know we damn well mean business.”

“Is Gage behind it?”

“One hundred percent.  Along with every bank and investment house on Wall Street.”

Levy sighed.  “I’ve put on shows before.  I could always make a speech, bring along a goon squad.”

“They need to feel the heel, Ben.  All people do, whether they’re a free people like ours or the other kind.”

“Feel the heel.”  Levy smirked.

“What’s so funny?”

“Oh, nothing.  Just thinking about my purpose in life.  The older you get, the more you like to think you had one.  I became a military man to defend freedom.  Now I’m the damn Treasury secretary . . .”

“So what’s the problem?  You’re defending your country in a different way.”

“I was wondering what I’m defending it against.”

“Has the JD affected your brain?  You just spent a half-hour blowing his damn dollar to bits.”

“I needed to hit something.  I’m not sure I picked the right target.”

“Ben, listen: You’re defending the country against crucifixion on a cross of gold.  The yellow metal almost put us out of business in the 1930s.  We don’t want to repeat a mistake of that magnitude.  There is not a single reputable economist who supports a gold standard.  It’s dangerous, it’s a threat to prosperity.  It will reduce a modern economy to ashes -- that’s the real symbolism in Mathews’ crack up.  You’ve got to stand up for the way things work now.  And that takes a show of muscle.”

Levy flicked an ash that wasn’t there and shook his head slowly, confused.

“Look, Ben, the people need to see us as more than paper shufflers and lawmakers.  We can’t defend civilization with words alone.  We need guns.  We need rugged men willing and able to use those guns.  And the people need to see these guys.  If we don’t have the guts to get tough we might as well turn the country over to the fascists.”

“You don’t feel at all hypocritical?”

“Hell, no.  Why should I?”

“Jesus, Tom.  Mathews did for Morrisville what he’s been doing for the whole of government and the big banks.  That doesn’t  bother you?” 

“No, for Christ’s sake!  The government’s held to different standards.  Everyone knows it and accepts it.  Government is force.  Our methods, therefore, are expedient.  We give up lucrative careers in the private sector to keep this country together, by any means possible.  I’m not bothered by anything we have to do or say.  Don’t get Jeffersonian on me.”

“I wasn’t.”

“You were about to.  Talk about hypocrites, the author of the Declaration of Independence was a goddamn slaveholder.  But we took our cue from Honest Abe.  With the smart use of force we’re setting the world free.  A few people get roughed up along the way, maybe, but what the hell.  That’s a lesson all the great presidents learned, and all the others didn’t.”

“Government is force.  How stupid of me to forget.”

“Well, we don’t post it on billboards.  People like to think they’re acting on their own volition.”  Hawkins sighed.  “So, General, can we count on your help?”

“Sure, hell.  I’m a soldier.  I do what my superiors tell me, whether I like it or not.”

Better than the alternative?

As people age we sometimes hear them say it beats the alternative, which is usually left unsaid.   It’s an old joke technology aims to elim...