Ignorance Is Dangerous
by Harry Browne
January 17, 2002
Recently, in an
article pointing out that less government would lead to less crime, I
In 1943, there were 44 murders in New York City. In 1995, with
roughly the same population, New York City had 1,499 murders —
and this was celebrated as an improvement.
I was surprised to receive at least a half-dozen emails from people
complaining that this was a misleading factoid. They said the statement
ignored factors such as population growth (even though the population was
roughly unchanged) or economic conditions.
But the complainers miss the point. I wanted readers to realize that
there was once an America they know very little about. People born since
the 1950s — before the Drug War, gun
laws, and the Great Society — have
little knowledge of the more peaceful, more widely prosperous, and more
civil society that once was.
And most Americans know little about today's events outside our
borders. The TV networks don't seem to publicize anything that doesn't
advance the government's interest.
As for history, most people know little more than the one-liners they
heard in high school.
In short, when Americans ponder such weighty matters as the War on
Terrorism or other government programs, they often form important opinions
from simplistic history stories, government press releases, and TV News.
The Other World of Knowledge
There's a whole world of knowledge to which most Americans have never
For example, did you know that . . .?
It was only half-way through the Civil War
became a significant factor. The major issue provoking the South
to secede was the
tariffs that benefited Northern manufacturers and forced Southern
farmers to pay high prices for manufactured goods.
Child labor began dying out around 1900 as
expanding technology made workers more productive —
enabling families to survive without their children having to work.
But the first important child-labor law wasn't passed until 1938.
For almost all of America's first 120
years, there was no federal income tax —
and few people complained that the government didn't have enough
For those same 120 years, there was no
Federal Reserve System — and the
federal government printed no paper money (except for Lincoln's
Civil War "Greenbacks"). Consumer prices gradually dropped
by a third between 1800 and 1913 —
and banking crises were occasional and mild. But with the Federal
Reserve in charge, prices rose 1,800% by 2000 and the country suffered
its worst-ever banking crisis in 1933.
If America had stayed out of World War I,
there probably wouldn't have been a World War II. Without the U.S.
to tip the balance of power in 1917, the European nations would have
reached an armistice that probably would have precluded the Communist
takeover in Russia, kept the Kaiser in power in Germany, kept German
territory intact, and left no grievances for Hitler to exploit in the
(Winston Churchill said:
"America should have minded her own business and stayed out of the
World War. If you hadn't entered the war the Allies would have made
peace with Germany in the Spring of 1917. Had we made peace then there
would have been no collapse in Russia followed by Communism, and Germany
would not have signed the Versailles Treaty, which has enthroned Nazism in
Germany. If America had stayed out of the war, all these 'isms'
wouldn't today be sweeping the continent in Europe and breaking down
parliamentary government, and if England had made peace early in 1917, it
would have saved over one million British, French, and American and other
The crime rate dropped by nearly 50% during
the Great Depression — despite
terrible economic conditions. The chief cause of the improvement was
the end of Alcohol Prohibition in 1933. (Think how much safer your
city could be today if Drug Prohibition ended.)
Pearl Harbor wasn't an
"unprovoked" attack by the Japanese. During the year before,
Roosevelt pressured the Japanese to withdraw from China, East
Asia, and Indochina —imposing
economic sanctions and confiscating Japanese assets in the U.S. When
the Japanese realized war was inevitable, they decided to begin by
destroying the U.S. Pacific fleet.
Almost every important American general or
admiral said dropping the
atomic bomb wasn't necessary to end World War II. The Japanese
knew the war was lost and were already trying to surrender —
but Roosevelt and Truman insisted on "unconditional
surrender" and wouldn't agree to the Emperor remaining in power
(even though he did remain in power after all). Well over
100,000 people died to no purpose.
Because consumers wanted safer ways to
smoke, in the 1960s tobacco companies offered filtered, low-tar, and
low-nicotine cigarettes — and
advertised the safer ingredients. But then the government prohibited
such advertising — removing any
incentive for tobacco companies to make their products safer.
Also in the 1960s, pharmaceutical
companies developed beta blockers that kept blood flowing to and from
the heart. But the FDA held these products off the U.S. market for six
long years — although there were
no reported problems in countries where the drugs were already
available. The delay caused an estimated 60,000 people to die
prematurely from heart attacks.
Prior to the 1970s anyone could carry a
loaded gun onto a commercial air flight. There were no metal detectors
and no security guards. And I don't recall a single report of a gun
being misused on an airplane.
The U.S. Air Force has been bombing Iraq
several times every month for the past ten years, causing the deaths
of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens.
The U.S. has blockaded Iraq —
keeping food and medicines from reaching Iraqi citizens —
causing a half-million Iraqis to die, according to the United Nations.
In 1997 then UN
Ambassador Madeline Albright said, "We think
the price is worth it."
- The Kosovo Liberation Army (on behalf of which the U.S. bombed
Serbia in 1999) was considered a terrorist organization by the U.S.
State Department as late as 1998. Since the Serbian war ended, the KLA
has driven almost all non-Albanians out of Kosovo —
"ethnically cleansing" the area far more thoroughly than the
Serbs supposedly did.
Watch What You Ask For
It isn't that "America" is always wrong. Far from it.
It is that government is a powder keg. Whatever its alleged
purpose — to disarm criminals, make
America drug-free, bring peace to the world, alleviate suffering —
it almost always makes things worse, and often creates enormous suffering.
America became great because it relied far less on government than other
countries did. But during the 20th century, America coasted on its greatness
— as government became bigger and bigger, and took control of more and
more of our lives.
Most politicians, reporters, educators, historians, and even entertainers
seem to hold a general bias in favor of bigger government. So what you hear
through normal channels is too often only the "facts" that
encourage turning to government for answers.
You can't spend your life searching out news stories that don't appear on
the Nightly News. But you can get alternative news and viewpoints at
websites like LewRockwell.com —
and you can bookmark and revisit some of the websites from which these sites
And, most important, you should be very skeptical of any promise made
by any President or Congress —
Republican or Democrat — that your
government is about to improve the economy, public safety, morals, or