Wednesday, December 30, 2009

State function

Ludwig von Mises: "All that good government can do to improve the material well-being of the masses is to establish and to preserve an institutional setting in which there are no obstacles to the progressive accumulation of new capital and its utilization for the improvement of technical methods of production." - Planning for Freedom

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Origin of revolutions

"The beginning of a revolution is in reality the end of a belief" Gustave LeBon

Monday, December 21, 2009

Natural corruption

Upton Sinclair:
It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The price of liberty

"God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it." ~ Daniel Webster (1834)

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." ~ Wendell Phillips (1811–1884)

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." ~ Benjamin Franklin

"Those who have been once intoxicated with power and have derived any kind of emolument from it can never willingly abandon it." ~ Edmund Burke

"Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people." ~ John Adams

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. ... God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion; what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?  Let them take arms." ~ Thomas Jefferson, 1787

Thursday, December 3, 2009


"Mathematics may be compared to a mill of exquisite workmanship, which grinds you stuff of any degree of fineness; but, nevertheless, what you get out depends on what you put in."
Thomas Huxley (1825–1895)

Friday, November 27, 2009

The obvious is hard to see

"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle."
~ George Orwell


It is a cliché that if we do not study the past we are condemned to repeat it. Almost equally certain, however, is that if there are lessons to be learned from an historical episode, the political class will draw all the wrong ones — and often deliberately so.
Far from viewing the past as a potential source of wisdom and insight, political regimes have a habit of employing history as an ideological weapon, to be distorted and manipulated in the service of present-day ambitions. That's what Winston Churchill meant when he described the history of the Soviet Union as "unpredictable."
Tom Woods

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pink Floyd: Time

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

Tired of lying in the sunshine
Staying home to watch the rain
And you are young and life is long
And there is time to kill today
And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun

And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

~ Pink Floyd – Time

Friday, November 20, 2009

The realm of irrationality

"Die Unvernunft einer Sache ist kein Grund gegen ihr Dasein, vielmehr eine Bedingung desselben."
Friedrich Nietzsche

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Yes, we can

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."
George W. Bush II

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lew Rockwell on government

"Government is the institution that builds and manages the roads on which tens of thousands of people die every year. Government is the institution that starts the wars that have killed tens of millions of people. They not only send people to be killed in foreign lands, but actively recruit the youth into this "job," bribing them with free education that they can enjoy if they happen to emerge alive and not brain-damaged at the end of their indentured servitude. Government is the institution prepared to beat you and shock you with electricity, and put you in a dirty cage, if you do not comply with its arbitrary demands"
Lew Rockwell

Quotes on liberty and government

The Bob Higgs collection of quotes

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Futility of regret

Ludwig von Mises:  
"Nothing is more useless than complaining over errors that can no longer be rectified, nothing more vain than regret." - Nation, State, and Economy

Beware of the cult of popularity

"Students of social science must fear popular approval; evil is with them when all men speak well of them. If there is any set of opinions by the advocacy of which a newspaper can increase its sales, then the student . . . is bound to dwell on the limitations and defects and errors, if any, in that set of opinions; and never to advocate them unconditionally even in an ad hoc discussion. It is almost impossible for a student to be a true patriot and have the reputation of being one at the same time."
Alfred Marshall

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Don't look back

"It's always good to know what went down before you, because if you know the past, you can control the future." - Bob Dylan

Friday, October 9, 2009

Academic life

“Generally speaking, we can observe that the scientists in any particular institutional and political setting move as a flock, reserving their controversies and particular originalities for matters that do not call into question the fundamental system of biases they share.”
—Gunnar Myrdal, Objectivity in Social Research

“Perhaps we avoid studying our institutional lives because such work is not valued by our colleagues. The academy is, after all, a club, and members are expected to be discreet. Like any exclusive club, the academic world fears public scrutiny. Research is in the public domain. Outsiders might use what the research reveals against the academy.”
—Richard Wisniewski, “The Averted Gaze”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

If you can keep it

Franklin was a writer, scientist and soldier who became one of the founding fathers of the United States. "In Philadelphia in 1781, when the constitution was being put together, he was an observer. He didn't want to have any part of it, and as he was leaving the Constitution Hall in Philadelphia a couple of old ladies said, 'Ah, Mr Franklin, what is going to happen?' He told them: 'Well, you're going to get a Republic, if you can keep it. But every constitution of this sort has failed since the beginning of time due to the corruption of the people.'"

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bloody finance

“The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the larger centers has owned the Government ever since the days of Andrew Jackson — and I am not wholly excepting the Administration of W.W. (Woodrow Wilson). The country is going through a repetition of Jackson's fight with the Bank of the United States — only on a far bigger and broader basis.” - Franklin Roosevelt, letter to Col. Edward Mandell House (21 November 1933); as quoted in F.D.R.: His Personal Letters, 1928-1945, edited by Elliott Roosevelt (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1950), pg. 373.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Who's to be trusted?

"In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious. Because he has felt, that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner. The steady habit of correcting and completing his own opinion by collating it with those of others, so far from causing doubt and hesitation in carrying it into practice, is the only stable foundation for a just reliance on it: for, being cognisant of all that can, at least obviously, be said against him, and having taken up his position against all gainsayers—knowing that he has sought for objections and difficulties, instead of avoiding them, and has shut out no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter—he has a right to think his judgment better than that of any person, or any multitude, who have not gone through a similar process.

-         JS Mill, On Liberty Ch. 2, Paragraph 7 (http://www. library/Mill/ mlLbty2.html# Chapter 2)

Friday, October 2, 2009

On writing

"People talk about thinking, but for my part I never think except when I sit down to write.”
attributed to Montaigne

Thursday, October 1, 2009


"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." - George Orwell, 1984.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

When things come falling apart

"Improbable things happen; and probable things fail to happen."

-- Howard Marks, chairman of Oaktree, at Grant’s Fall 2009 Investment Conference

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Verdade e verdades

Irving Kristol

"There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."[5][7]

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


H. L. Mencken:
The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues, and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else…Their purpose, in brief, is to make docile and patriotic citizens, to pile up majorities, and to make John Doe and Richard Doe as nearly alike, in their everyday reactions and ways of thinking, as possible.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The fate of the State

"...for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." (Matt. 26:52)

The price of liberty

"God hath vouchsafed man liberty only on condition of eternal vigilance; which condition if he break it, servitude is the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."
John Curran, Irish statesman

Jim Rogers' advice to his daughter

- Conduct your own research and trust your own judgment.
- Focus on what you yourself love.
- Be persistent.
- Broaden your horizons and see as much of the world as you can.
- The most important thing you can learn is how to think and question everything you hear.
- Study and learn from history.
- Master more than one language – and make sure one of them is Mandarin.
- Don't panic.
- Take care of yourself and don't neglect the sunscreen.
- Remember that boys need girls more than girls need boys.

Jim Rogers:
A Gift to My Children: A Father's Lessons for Life and Investing

The art of speculation

“Opportunities are always there, but the opportunist is lacking.”
-- Dickson Watts, Speculation as a Fine Art and Thoughts on Life

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tu ne cede malis

Ludwig von Mises: "How one carries on in the face of unavoidable catastrophe is a matter of temperament. In high school, as was custom, I had chosen a verse by Virgil to be my motto: Tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito. Do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it. I recalled these words during the darkest hours of the war. Again and again I had met with situations from which rational deliberation found no means of escape; but then the unexpected intervened, and with it came salvation. I would not lose courage even now. I wanted to do everything an economist could do. I would not tire in saying what I knew to be true." - Notes and Recollections

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine: In Memoriam

2009-06-09 | “Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best stage, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one.”
Thomas Paine

“To establish any mode to abolish war, however advantageous it might be to Nations, would be to take from such Government the most lucrative of its branches.”
Thomas Paine

“He who is the author of a war lets loose the whole contagion of hell and opens a vein that bleeds a nation to death.”
Thomas Paine

“I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.”
Thomas Paine

Monday, May 18, 2009

Early and late

"Being early like being too late is not much different from being wrong when it comes to love or to business."
Antony Mueller
“Cognizance of the relation between a cause and its effect is the first step toward man’s orientation in the world and is the intellectual condition of any successful activity.” The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, p.20


"Whosoever shall come to us with the sword shall perish by it. Upon this stood and stands the land of Russia". St Prince Alexander Nevsky, in the 13th century

Economists' error

"The economist knows that a single error in his field may do more harm than almost all the sciences taken together can do good--even more, that a mistake in the choice of a social order, quite apart from the immediate effect, may profoundly affect the prospects for generations."
F. A. v. Hayek

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Politics of Obedience

"The fundamental political question is why do people obey a government. The answer is that they tend to enslave themselves, to let themselves be governed by tyrants. Freedom from servitude comes not from violent action, but from the refusal to serve. Tyrants fall when the people withdraw their support."
Étienne de la Boétie
"[Roman] Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, "Long live the King!" The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them. A man might one day be presented with a sesterce and gorge himself at the public feast, lauding Tiberius and Nero for handsome liberality, who on the morrow, would be forced to abandon his property to their avarice, his children to their lust, his very blood to the cruelty of these magnificent emperors, without offering any more resistance than a stone or a tree stump. The mob has always behaved in this way – eagerly open to bribes that cannot be honorably accepted, and dissolutely callous to degradation and insult that cannot be honorably endured."
Étienne de la Boétie

Rothbard on money

"To save our economy from destruction and from the eventual holocaust of run away inflation, we the people must take the money-supply function back from the government. Money is far too important to be left in the hands of bankers and of Establishment economists and financiers. To accomplish this goal, money must be returned to the market economy, with all monetary functions performed within the structure of the rights of private property and of the free-market economy."
Murray Rothbard
"The lies the government and media tell are amplifications of the lies we tell ourselves. To stop being conned, stop conning yourself."
James Wolcott

Friday, May 15, 2009

The learning of not to know

Friedrich A. Hayek (1988, 76):
"The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little
they really know about what they imagine they can design."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Heroes and other mortals

"There are two broad theories concerning the great men of history. One says that history is made by great men. The other says great men are made by history. But we think they’re both wrong. In our book, great men don’t really exist. They are merely invented by the historians. History needs heroes. Sometimes tragic heroes… sometimes comic… the historians take what they’ve got to work with and set them spinning. But if you look at their leading characters closely, they look little different from the rest of us… just fellow passengers on the big bus."
Bill Bonner

Friday, May 1, 2009

Laissez-faire banking

RF: Describe free banking. How does it differ from the sort of system we have in the United States today?
Selgin: I use the term to mean laissez-faire banking — banking without any special government regulations or restrictions. Like free trade, it’s an ideal concept. It doesn’t refer to any specific or actual banking system, although some, like Scotland’s in the early 19th century, came close.
My own ideal version of free banking would have no special requirements for note issuance. Private banks would be able to issue their own notes on the same basis as they create demand deposits. They would also be free to open branches and invest in all kinds of securities. Finally, there wouldn’t be any sort of implicit or explicit government guarantees, like deposit insurance.

Full text:

Monday, April 27, 2009


"What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, April 3, 2009

The choice

"When you let people do whatever they want, you get Woodstock; when you let governments do whatever they want, you get Auschwitz."
-- Doug Newman

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The pillars of prosperity

"The three pillars on which prosperity is built are sound money, fiscal restraint and free trade." Antony Mueller

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Inflation, war and permanent ruin

“The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists.”
Ernest Hemingway

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ten famously inaccurate quotes

Posted by Daniel Finkelstein at:

"Never said it: 10 famously inaccurate quotes

Following my post on Voltaire and his failure to say "I disagree with what you have to say but I defend to the death your right to say it" here are ten other famous characters who didn't say the things most often associated with them.
Sherlock Holmes: Elementary, my dear Watson
Except for the fact that it's not. The most notorious resident of Baker St never actually used these words in the original books. Not that that's stopped his onscreen counterparts.
Edmund Burke: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
And nothing is precisely what the statesman had to do with this phrase. Blame Bartlett's Familiar Quotations for the first mistaken attribution. The words do not appear in any of Burke's papers.
Benjamin Franklin: Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes
Franklin may have repeated this quote but, unlike so many of witticisms, he didn't come up with it. According to one source, Christopher Bullock was the first to make this point. In 1716 he wrote, "Tis impossible to be sure of anything but Death and Taxes."
G.K. Chesterton: When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing - they believe in anything
But they shouldn't believe that Chesterton actually said this. The redoubtable Oliver Kamm is on a mission to clear up the mystery.
John Maynard Keynes: When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?
Keynes may be the man of the moment but take care when you're using this phrase. Samuel Brittan is among those who believe that Keynes never said it, dismissing it as a 'banal misattribution.' The phrase in question, Brittan insists, was probably, "When I change my mind I say so, what do you do?"
Casablanca: Play it again Sam
As time goes by, more and more people believe that Ingrid Bergman used this phrase in Casablanca. Only she didn't. Just watch.
Vladimir Lenin: Useful idiots
The catchphrase may have entered the political lexicon of the Soviet Union but there's no indication that it came from Lenin. The Library of Congress itself is on record saying that there's no trace of it in any of Lenin's works.
Jim Callaghan: Crisis, what crisis?
Credit the Sun with this one. Their pointed headline may have summed up the general mood at the time but it also saddled Callaghan with something he'd never actually said.
Plato: Only the dead have seen the end of war.
This phrase famously opens the movie Black Hawk Down but, despite the epigram, it has nothing to do with Plato. Instead George Santayana penned it in his 1924 Soliloquies in England. General Douglas MacArthur is responsible for misleading the entire West Point cadet corps by quoting it in his farewell address of 1962.
Winston Churchill: Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you somone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you with someone with no brains.
No-one can accuse Churchill of stinting us on the good quotation front. But this famous phrase, which comes in several variations, was not one of his originals. The debate over who first came up with it still rages. George Bernard Shaw? Disraeli? Otto von Bismarck? Your answers on a postcard.
Posted by Daniel Finkelstein on March 18, 2009 at 02:46 PM in Miscellaneous
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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Keynesian economics

"... Time after weary time, it is the mainstream and Keynesian economists (who ridicule and ignore Austrian economics as unscientific) whose predictions are utterly refuted by the events of history. Yet they continue to propound their eternal nonsense and use government coercion to force their bankrupt ideology on everyone else. As Paul Feyerabend said, "I have no objection to incompetence but I do object when incompetence is accompanied by boredom and self-righteousness." --

The myth of laissez-faire

George Reisman sets the record straight:
"... Laissez-faire capitalism has a definite meaning... Laissez-faire capitalism is a politico-economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and in which the powers of the state are limited to the protection of the individual's rights against the initiation of physical force. This protection applies to the initiation of physical force by other private individuals, by foreign governments, and, most importantly, by the individual's own government. This last is accomplished by such means as a written constitution, a system of division of powers and checks and balances, an explicit bill of rights, and eternal vigilance on the part of a citizenry with the right to keep and bear arms. Under laissez-faire capitalism, the state consists essentially just of a police force, law courts, and a national defense establishment, which deter and combat those who initiate the use of physical force. And nothing more.
The utter absurdity of statements claiming that the present political-economic environment of the United States in some sense represents laissez-faire capitalism becomes as glaringly obvious as anything can be when one keeps in mind the extremely limited role of government under laissez-faire and then considers the following facts about the present-day United States..."
Continue reading:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


"There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns....there are also unknown unknowns."
Former US secretary of defense Ronald Rumsfeld

Popular delusions and the madness of crowds

"The masses have never thirsted after truth. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim."
~ Gustave Le Bon

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cheops Obama

"... According to Herodotus, Cheops achieved full employment by enlisting nearly the entire population to build his legendary pyramid – but this was done by depleting the treasury so thoroughly that the ruler had to sell his own daughter into slavery to raise the funds for some forgettable and long-effaced bit of decorative filigree.
The same ancient historian observes that for centuries after Cheops died, the Egyptians refused so much as to utter his name (or that of his equally despicable brother, Chefren), so reviled had he become on account of his tyrannical profligacy..." Will Grigg

Monday, March 2, 2009

Warren Buffett on financial models

“Constructed by a nerdy-sounding priesthood using esoteric terms such as beta, gamma, sigma and the like, these models tend to look impressive. Too often, though, investors forget to examine the assumptions behind the symbols. Our advice: beware of geeks bearing formulas.”
Warren Buffett

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Jacques Rueff on bankruptcy

"Bankruptcy is not merely a moral device or way to achieve equity; it is primarily and especially the condition for the efficiency of the price mechanism, of the economic system which is usually called capitalism. The system would collapse without it, deprived of the sole compulsion which obliges the individual to bring his otherwise unimpeded activities into conformity with the conditions necessary for the survival of the system"

Thursday, January 29, 2009

"The study of philosophy is conducted along two lines, one concerned with action, the other with pure thought—hence they may be called practical and speculative philosophy, the former dealing with the conduct of life and the establishment of moral standards, the latter concerned with the theory of causation and the nature of absolute truth. Socrates is the type of excellence in practical wisdom, while Pythagoras concentrated on the contemplative, for which he was equipped by his intellectual power."
—Augustine, City of God, VIII, c . 4.