Ignorance Is Dangerous

by Harry Browne

January 17, 2002       

Recently, in an article pointing out that less government would lead to less crime, I wrote:

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 been exposed.

For example, did you know that . . .?

  • It was only half-way through the Civil War that slavery 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 revenue.

  • 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 1930s.

(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 lives.")

  • 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, Franklin 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 get articles.

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 national defense.