Record 2,500 Gather at “Best FreedomFest Ever”

By Mark Skousen

“FreedomFest was a gigantic conference.  It drew many academics, journalists, activists of all ages, vendors, investors, and a huge variety of professionals in all fields. And of course, Laissez Faire Books was there in full force. The level of fun was totally over the top. But the content of every session I attended was just spectacular.” – Jeffrey Tucker, president, Laissez Faire Books

Everyone seems to agree:  Our 7th FreedomFest was the “best ever” according to the many emails I’ve received – from Alex Green, Floyd Brown, Susana Etcheverry, Bert Dohmen, Brian June, and Gene Epstein, economics editor at Barron’sDinesh D’Souza said that FreedomFest has rapidly become “the premier libertarian gathering.”

We broke all kinds of records this year – number of attendees, sales of books at our official bookstore (Laissez Faire Books), and CDs/MP3s.  Numerous sessions, panels and debates at Planet Hollywood were standing room only.  And for the first time we had a major TV network, Fox Business at FreedomFest, along with C-SPAN.  (Plus a nice mention by Bill O’Reilly on Fox News in his interview with John Stossel.) [Read more…]

Five Americans Inducted Into Free Market Hall of Fame

Las Vegas, Nevada (July 11, 2009): Five American prominent writers and economists –Henry Hazlitt, Murray Rothbard, Rose Wilder Lane, H. L. Mencken, and Booker T. Washington — were inducted into the Free Market Hall of Fame at the Saturday night banquet at FreedomFest. This year’s conference attracted over 1,700 attendees.

Each year FreedomFest honors individuals who have made a significant contribution to the cause of economic liberty. The first induction ceremony was held last year, and the recipients were Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith; French writers J.-B. Say and Frederic Bastiat; Austrian economists Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek; American writer Ayn Rand; and American economist Milton Friedman.

Mark Skousen, producer of FreedomFest, announced this year’s inductees, followed by comments by Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine.

Five Inductees into Free Market Hall of Fame in 2009

Henry Hazlitt (1894-1993) was the premier libertarian journalist and popularizer of Austrian economics in the 20th century. He used his position as financial editor of the New York Times and columnist for Newsweek to editorialize against Keynesian economics, the New Deal, and the imperial powers of government. His book, Economics in One Lesson, has sold over a million copies and become a classic. He was a founding vice-president of the Foundation for Economic Education, and early editor of The Freeman.

“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.” — Henry Hazlitt

Murray N. Rothbard (1826-1995) was the dean of Austrian school of economics during the latter half of the 20th century, and a scholar who made major contributions to economic theory, history, and philosophy. He was the author of numerous books, including Man, Economy and State (1962), America’s Great Depression (1963), and The Ethics of Liberty (1982). His pamphlet, “What Has the Government Done to Our Money?” inspired a new generation of libertarians and the hard-money movement. Rothbard was a vociferous critic of Keynesianism and all forms of government intervention.

By Murray Rothbard:

“The establishment of Central Banking removes the checks of bank credit expansion, and puts the inflationary engine into operation.”

“It is easy to be conspicuously ‘compassionate’ if others are being forced to pay the cost.”

Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968) is the author of Discovery of Freedom, a classic in libertarian literature. She is best known for her laissez faire political writings and the many stories she and her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, wrote about growing up on the prairies of America, where she learned the difference between individual initiative and government welfare. As a newspaper reporter and freelance writer she traveled throughout the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, Egypt, the Middle East, and Russia. In her travels she experienced firsthand the effects of communism, socialism, and fascism, and observed that rigid organization and central planning have a stifling and stultifying effect, to the point that “very few men have ever known that men are free.”

“Individualism, laissez faire and the slightly restrained anarchy of capitalism offer the best opportunities for the development of the human spirit.” — rose Wilder Lane

H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) was America’s favorite libertarian journalist, essaying, satirist and bon vivant of the the 20th century. He wrote the classic work, The American Language, and is regarded as one of the most influential American writers and prose stylists of his age. Known as the “Sage of Baltimore,” he was a skeptic and critic of all forms of government mischief.

By H.L Mencken:

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

“A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”

“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

Booker T. Washington (1856 – 1915) was an American educator and the dominant leader of the African-American community in the early 20th century. Author of a classic autobiography, “Up from Slavery,” he supported education, self-help, and economic independence in the private enterprise system as the best way to escape poverty and achieve political equality. Born to slavery and freed by the Civil War in 1865, Washington became head of the new Tuskegee Institute, and built a personal organization that gained the support of wealthy industrialists as well as middle class blacks in pursuit of equality through “patience, industry, thrift, and usefulness.”

“The individual who can do something that the world wants done will, in the end, make his way regardless of his race.” — Booker T. Washington

Vote for your favorite free market supporter at

FreedomFest is an independent conference held annual in Las Vegas and billed as “the world’s largest gathering of free minds.” Next year’s conference will be held July 7-11, 2010, at Bally’s Events Center in Las Vegas. For more information, go to

Me and William F. Buckley: A True Story

A giant has died.  William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review magazine and the modern conservative movement, passed away on Wednesday, February 27, at the age of 82.

We will be dedicated one of the rooms at FreedomFest ( in his honor.

To me, Bill Buckley was a distant hero. As a teenager, I frequently read his “National Review” magazine.  I had met him several times, starting with his appearance at Jim Blanchard’s Gold Conference in the late 1970s when he ably debated John Kenneth Galbraith.  He was also the emcee at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE)’s 50th anniversary party at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1996, where I witnessed Margaret Thatcher upstage him — a first!

Despite his fame and fortune, Buckley was always friendly and helpful. He never put on airs. He never insisted on being called “William.” He was always “Bill.” His interests were ubiquitous. He loved to pontificate, travel, sail, ski (especially with Milton Friedman), play chess, drink fine wines, smoke, and entertain, listen to classical music, write, debate (“Firing Line”), appear in public (the Johnny Carson Show), defend the undefendable (Joe McCarthy), worship (as a practicing Catholic who was no prude — he wrote frequently for Playboy magazine), and even befriended enemies (John Kenneth Galbraith but not Norman Mailer).  He was married only once, to his sweetheart Patricia, with which he had one son, Christopher (also an entertaining writer).  His only weakness was his passion for wine and cigars.  He was a heavy drinker and may have become an alcoholic.

I became his friend when I was president of the FEE in 2001-02.  And, through a miraculous unpredictable series of events, he landed me a position at Columbia Business School!  Here’s the story:

When I moved to New York to became president of FEE, the oldest free-market think tank, I contacted Bill Buckley about getting together, since I knew he was friends with the founder, Leonard Read. He graciously invited my wife Jo Ann and me over to his ocean-front home in Stamford, Connecticut, for lunch. It was a beautiful, warm spring day in 2002, and we spent a delightful two hours together reminiscencing about the conservative movement.  After drinking a couple of glasses of red wine, he smoked a couple of cigarettes, which surprised me. (I found out later that he died of emphysema.)

I brought with me my first edition of “God and Man at Yale” for him to sign. It is a classic that will, in my judgment, become his most famous book (although I have a fondness for his sailing books.)

After touring his house and study where he writes his books and columns (located in his garage!), he pointed to multiple copies of all his novels and political books, and offered to give me and my wife any book we wished.  I picked up the third in his trilogy of sailing books, which he promptly autographed.

As we were leaving, I thought at the last minute to give him a copy of my book, “The Making of Modern Economics,” which had just been published.  I had no idea if he had more than a passing interest in the history of the great economic thinkers such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, or John Maynard Keynes, but I gave it to him anyway.  We said our good-byes and drove away.

A Surprise Invitation

I didn’t think any more about it, until a month later I got a surprise call from John Whitney, a professor of management at Columbia Business School, who said he had read a highly favorable review of my book in National Review, written by Bill Buckley himself.  Buckley praised my history and ended his review with the statement, “What an absolutely ideal gift for college students.”

Professor Whitney read my book and invited me to give a guest lecture at Columbia……and a few months later, Whitney said he would like to recommend me to the dean to take over his course at Columbia Business School. I immediately accepted.

I will be eternally grateful to William F. Buckley, Jr., for opening this door to my career.

Listening to His Memoirs

Bill and I corresponded by letter after that, and occasionally got together at a social function in New York City.  When Regnery came out with his memoirs, “Miles Gone By,” I read it from cover to cover.  I told Marji Ross, the publisher, that that the one small CD attached to the hardback only whetted my appetite for a full reading, and lo and behold, a few months later, my wish came true and I listened to Bill Buckley’s melodious voice for days on end.  If you want a lasting memory of the private and public persona, buy the audio version of “Miles Gone By.”  It’s priceless.

Jeff Carneal, the president of Eagle Publishing, invited me to join him at his table for Buckley’s 80th birthday celebration on November 17, 2005.  As celebrities honored him, I thought of the great Chinese-American philosopher Lin Yutang, who wrote the following about “Growing Old Gracefully” in his classic libertarian work The Importance of Living (one of my favorite philosophy books), pp. 193-195:

“A natural man loves his children, but a cultured man loves his parents….

“It is to be assumed that if man were to live his life like a poem, he would be able to look upon the sunset of his life as his happiest period, and instead of trying to postpone the much feared old age, be able to actually look forward to it, and gradually build up to it as the best and happiest period of his existence.

“In my efforts to compare and contrast Eastern and Western life, I have found no differences that are absolute except in this matter of the attitude toward age….The East and the West take exactly opposite points of view.

“This is clearest in the matter of asking about a person’s age or telling one’s own.  In China, the first question a person asks the other on an official call, after asking about his name and surname is, ‘What is your glorious age?’

“Enthusiasm grows in proportion as the gentleman is able to report a higher and higher age, and if the person is anywhere over fifty, the inquirer immediately drops his voice in humility and respect….

“The sixty-first birthday is a happier and grander occasion than the fifty-first and the seventy-first is still happier and grander, while a man able to celebrate his eighty-first birthday is actually looked upon as one specially favored by heaven.”

I sent a copy of this essay by Lin Yutang, which he graciously received.

A year later, I met up with him for the last time on the National Review cruise around Great Britain.  Although he was no longer making public appearances, he still had a sparkle in his eye, and he said, unexpectedly, “I keep your economics book at my bedside and tell all my friends to read it!”

Praise does wonders for the sense of hearing!  William F. Buckley will always be #1 in my book.

Announcing the Free Market Hall of Fame!

Dear friends of liberty,

Here’s my latest idea:  The Free Market Hall of Fame is now up and running, and it’s creating a lot of debate!  We’re getting hundreds of new voters every day.  Lots of blogs are picking it up…..

Vote for your favorite free-market advocate (both living and dead) by going to
Choose among five categories:
1.  Favorite free-market economists
2.  Writers and journalists
3.  Business leaders and entrepreneurs
4.  Government leaders
5.  Think tanks and freedom organizations
The survey also includes a Free Market Hall of Shame, people who have done the most damage to the cause of liberty.  Look where George W. Bush appears on the voting list.
Then after voting, you can find out the current rankings of the nominees.  It’s fun.
We are going to have our first Induction Ceremony of the Top Five vote getters at the next FreedomFest, July 9-12, 2008, at Bally’s/Paris Resort in Las Vegas.  Plus an “award” to the winner of the Free Market Hall of Shame.  (For details, go to
Please pass this announcement along to all your friends and colleagues.
It’s time we honored all the great all the great teachers, writers, business leaders, legislators, and think tanks that have advanced the cause of liberty.
In liberty, AEIOU,
Mark Skousen
Producer, FreedomFest 2008
The World’s Largest Gathering of Free Minds
July 10-12, 2008: 7-11 in Las Vegas

Ludwig von Mises started out ahead as favorite free market economist, but now Milton Friedman has surpassed him…..Ronald Reagan is neck and neck with Thomas Jefferson as favorite political leader…….Steve Forbes is leading in the business leaders category, but Charles Koch (Koch Industries, the world’s largest private company) and John Mackey (Whole Foods Market) are moving up (with lots of write-ins for Bill Gates and Steve Jobs)……We’ve had to add several “write in” candidates, such as Greg Mankiw from Harvard, who is advancing (Walter Williams is in the early lead as favorite living free-market economist)……and when we added Ben Franklin (in business leaders category) he immediately went to first place!
And now Ed Crane (Cato Institute) has moved ahead of Lew Rockwell (Mises Institute)–and Ed Feulner (Heritage Foundation) and Bob Poole (Reason) are not far behind.
Voting does count after all!

Join My New Weekly E-Letter, The Worldly Philosophers

Dear Worldly Philosophers,

Are you a seeker of worldly wisdom?  Do you like to read about the lives and ideas of great thinkers, entrepreneurs, and creative geniuses and how you can apply their stories in your own life?

In college, I read the book “The Worldly Philosophers,” about the great economic thinkers and their influence in the world — giants like Adam Smith, Karl Marx and the most worldly wise of them all, John Maynard Keynes (both a successful speculator and devotee of politics and the arts).

Each week I will highlight a worldly wise figure in history, present or past, who can teach us ways to make money, achieve financial and personal freedom, and enjoy life to the fullest:  People like J. Paul Getty, Benjamin Franklin, J. P. Morgan, John Maynard Keynes, Jesse Livermore, Andrew Carnegie, King Solomon, and many other worldly philosophers, based on my large personal library of financial, business and economics books.

Sign up today with your email address here and every week you will be introduced to a new “worldly philosopher” and how you can apply his or her principles.  It will be entertaining and educational.

To sign up, go to

Wisely yours, AEIOU,

Marcus Aurelius
The Worldly Philosopher

Atlas Shrugged – 50 Years Later

Atlas Shrugged – 50 years later – At a time of rampant collectivism, Ayn Rand renewed the promise of liberty. But her ethics are dangerous. When Ayn Rand finished writing “Atlas Shrugged” 50 years ago this month, she set off an intellectual shock wave that is still felt today. It’s credited for helping to halt the communist tide and ushering in the currents of capitalism. Many readers say it transformed their lives. A 1991 poll rated it the second-most influential book (after the Bible) for Americans. Read the article below.

Atlas Shrugged – 50 Years Later
by Mark Skousen
Christian Science Monitor
March 6, 2007

When Ayn Rand finished writing “Atlas Shrugged” 50 years ago this month, she set off an intellectual shock wave that is still felt today. It’s credited for helping to halt the communist tide and ushering in the currents of capitalism. Many readers say it transformed their lives. A 1991 poll rated it the second-most influential book (after the Bible) for Americans.

At one level, “Atlas Shrugged” is a steamy soap opera fused into a page- turning political thriller. At nearly 1,200 pages, it has to be. But the epic account of capitalist heroes versus collectivist villains is merely the vehicle for Ms. Rand’s philosophical ideal: “man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

In addition to founding her own philosophical system, objectivism, Rand is honored as the modern fountainhead of laissez-faire capitalism, and as an impassioned, uncompromising, and unapologetic proponent of reason, liberty, individualism, and rational self-interest.

There is much to commend, and much to condemn, in “Atlas Shrugged.” Its object – to restore man to his rightful place in a free society – is wholesome. But its ethical basis – an inversion of the Christian values that predicate authentic capitalism – poisons its teachings.

Mixed lessons from Rand’s heroes

Rand articulates like no other writer the evils of totalitarianism, interventionism, corporate welfarism, and the socialist mindset. “Atlas Shrugged” describes in wretched detail how collective “we” thinking and middle-of-the-road interventionism leads a nation down a road to serfdom. No one has written more persuasively about property rights, honest money (a gold-backed dollar), and the right of an individual to safeguard his wealth and property from the agents of coercion (“taxation is theft”). And long before Gordon Gekko, icon of the movie “Wall Street,” she made greed seem good.

I applaud her effort to counter the negative image of big business as robber barons. Her entrepreneurs are high-minded, principled achievers who relish the competitive edge and have the creative genius to invent exciting new products, manage businesses efficiently, and produce great symphonies without cutting corners. Such actions are often highly risky and financially dangerous and are often met with derision at first. Rand rightly points out that these enterprising leaders are a major cause of economic progress. History is full of examples of “men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision.” In the novel, protagonist Hank Reardon defends his philosophy before a court: “I refuse to apologize for my ability – I refuse to apologize for my success – I refuse to apologize for my money.”

But there’s a dark side to Rand’s teachings. Her defense of greed and selfishness, her diatribes against religion and charitable sacrificing for others who are less fortunate, and her criticism of the Judeo- Christian virtues under the guise of rational Objectivism have tarnished her advocacy of unfettered capitalism. Still, Rand’s extreme canard is a brilliant invention that serves as an essential counterpoint in the battle of ideas.

The Atlas characters are exceptionally memorable. They are the unabashed “immovable movers” of the world who think of nothing but their own business and making money. “… I want to be prepared to claim the greatest virtue of them all – that I was a man who made money,” says copper titan Francisco d’Anconia. But these men are regarded as ruthless, greedy, single-minded individualists. They are men (except for Dagny Taggart, who could be confused for a man) who always talk shop and give scant attention to their family. In fact, no children appear in Rand’s magnum opus.

Her chief protagonist, John Galt, is an uncompromising superman. He is the proverbial Atlas who holds the world on his shoulders. He has invented a fantastic motor, yet is so frustrated with state authority that he withdraws his talents – hence the title, “Atlas Shrugged” – and spends the next dozen years working as a manual laborer for Taggart International.

Mr. Galt somehow succeeds in getting the world’s top capitalists to go on strike and, in many cases, strike back at an increasingly oppressive collectivist government. Rand’s plot violates a key tenet of business existence, which is to constantly work within the system to find ways to make money. Real-world entrepreneurs are compromisers and dealmakers, not true believers. They wouldn’t give a hoot for Galt.

Rand, of course, knows this. And that’s OK, because “Atlas Shrugged” is about philosophy, not business. In her world, there are two kinds of people: those who serve and satisfy themselves only and those who believe that they should strive to serve and satisfy others. She calls the latter “altruists.”

Rand is truly revolutionary because she makes the first serious attempt to protest against altruism. She rejects the heart over the mind and faith beyond reason. Indeed, she denies the existence of any god or higher being, or any other authority over one’s own mind. For her, the highest form of happiness is fulfilling one’s own dreams, not someone else’s – or the public’s.

Galt crystallizes the Randian motto: “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man nor ask another man to live for mine.” No sacrifice, no altruism, no feelings, just pure egotistical selfishness, which Rand declares to be supreme logic and reason.

This philosophy transcends politics and economics into romance. The novel’s sex scenes are narcissistic, mechanical, and violent. Are the lessons of her book any way to run a marriage, a family, a business, a charity, or a community?

To be sure, Rand makes a key point about altruism. A philosophy of sacrificing for others can lead to a political system that mandates sacrificing for others. That, Rand shows with frightening clarity, leads to a dysfunctional society of deadbeats and bleeding-heart do-gooders (Rand calls them “looters”) who are corrupted by benefits and unearned income, and constantly tax the productive citizens to pay for their pet philanthropic missions. According to Rand, they are “anti-life.”

But is the only alternative to embrace the opposite, Rand’s philosophy of extreme self-centeredness? Must we accept her materialist metaphysics in which, as Whittaker Chambers wrote in 1957, “Randian Man, like Marxian Man, is made the center of a godless world”?

No, there is another choice. If society is to survive and prosper, citizens must find a balance between the two extremes of self-interest and public interest.

Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, may have found that Aristotelian mean in his “system of natural liberty.” Mr. Smith and Rand agree on the universal benefits of a free, capitalistic society. But Smith rejects Rand’s vision of selfish independence. He asserts two driving forces behind man’s actions.

In “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” he identifies the first as “sympathy” or “benevolence” toward others in society. In his later work, “The Wealth of Nations,” he focuses on the second – self-interest – which he defines as the right to pursue one’s own business. Both, he argues, are essential to achieve “universal opulence.”

Smith’s self-interest never reaches the Randian selfishness that ignores the interest of others. In Smith’s mind, an individual’s goals cannot be fully achieved in business unless he appeals to the needs of others. This insight was beautifully stated two centuries later by free-market champion Ludwig von Mises. In his book, “The Anti-Capitalist Mentality,” he writes: “Wealth can be acquired only by serving the consumers.”

Golden rule anchors true capitalism

Smith’s theme echoes his Christian heritage, particularly the Golden rule, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matt. 7:12). Perhaps a true capitalist spirit can best be summed up in the commandment, “Love thy neighbour as thyself” (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39). Smith and Mr. von Mises would undoubtedly agree with this creed, but the heroes of “Atlas Shrugged” – and their creator – would agree with only half.

Today’s most successful libertarian CEOs, such as John Mackey of Whole Foods Markets and Charles Koch of Koch Industries, have adopted the authentic spirit of capitalism that is more in keeping with Smith than Rand.

Theirs is a “stakeholder” philosophy that works within the system to fulfill the needs of customers, employees, shareholders, the community, and themselves. Their balanced business model of self- interest and public interest shows how the marketplace can grow globally in harmony with the interests of workers, capitalists, and the community – and can even displace bad government.

The golden rule is the correct solution in business and life. But would we have recognized this Aristotelian mean without sampling Rand’s anthem, or for that matter, the other extreme of Marxism-Leninism? As Benjamin Franklin said, “By the collision of different sentiments, sparks of truth are struck out, and political light is obtained.”

John Galt – it’s time to come home and go to work.

Mark Skousen has taught economics at Columbia University and is the author of more than 25 books, including, “The Big Three in Economics.”

The Art of Letting Go

Liberty Magazine
March 2007

by Mark Skousen

“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.”— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Would you do me a favor? Find an easy chair, or better yet, go outside to a secluded spot and read this essay at your leisure.

Ever since my family and I lived in the Bahamas for two years,1 I’ve had an interest in leisure, the lure of breaking away from business and just relaxing, wandering, and letting my mind go. It seems like a very libertarian thing to do. Along with a photo of my family in the Bahamas, I have on my bookshelf a whole list of titles to remind me to walk away from work: The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow; Leisure: The Basis of Culture; and Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness.

But before I go on, would you mind indulging me? As I write this, it’s a beautiful sunny day here in New York, and my wife has just beckoned me to join her at the swimming pool along the Hudson River. I’ll be back in a not-so New York minute . . . (While you wait, go ahead and read the rest of this issue of Liberty, or just listen to the birds sing.) There’s nothing like an opportunity to think, meditate, and relax with friends on a balmy summer day.

In my travels, I make a point of wandering aimlessly around the city or neighborhood I’m visiting, and usually end up at some used-book store. In the mid-’80s, I happened to be in Durango, Colo., a small college town, and came across a first edition of a book called The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang. I’d tried to read Chinese philosophers before, but never found them appealing until this book came along. What makes Lin Yutang so different from Confucius, Mencius, and Lao Tzu? He lived in both the East and the West, and consequently does an extraordinary job of contrasting the cultures. His book was so refreshing and shocking, so charming and witty, that I found myself underlining something on practically every page. And though Lin wrote in 1937, he sounds very modern.

Lin was a 20th-century Taoist known for his philosophy of leisure and “letting go.” He was also a libertarian who despised all forms of government control, especially Marxism-Leninism and Maoism in Red China. Born in southeastern China in 1895 to Christian missionaries, he learned English at St. John’s University in Shanghai and pursued a doctoral degree at Harvard University. He left Harvard early and went to France and then Germany, where he earned a Ph.D. at the University of Leipzig. After 1928, he lived most of his life in New York, where he translated Chinese texts and wrote prolifically. His objective was to bridge the gap between East and West, teaching Westerners about the old Chinese culture in such bestsellers as My Country and My People (1935) and The Importance of Living (1937). Refused permission to return to China by the Communists, Lin moved to Taipei, Taiwan, where he died in 1976.

The Age of Busy-ness

To understand Lin’s Chinese philosophy, I begin by quoting his most famous line, a line that mystifies workaholic Americans: “Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.”

I made the mistake of writing this statement on the blackboard on my first day of class as a professor at Columbia Business School. A third of the students immediately left, and dropped the class. (Fortunately, the majority had an open mind about pursuing interests other than a 24/7 lifestyle, and later rated my class highly.)

Yet there is wisdom in Lin’s statement. If you are too busy in your work, you don’t have time to learn new ideas, to discover new truths, to enjoy life’s little pleasures, or perhaps to pick a winning stock! Beating the market requires you to look down untrodden paths, and you need the free time to do it.

Lin Yutang criticizes most Americans for being too busy, and therefore slaves to the business culture and the old ways. They worry themselves to death. In another startling statement, Lin writes, “The three American vices seem to be efficiency, punctuality and the desire for achievement and success. They are the things that make the Americans so unhappy and so nervous.”2 Gee, I thought they were American virtues!

Life in the West, according to Lin, is “too complex, too serious, too somber, and too involved.” He would agree with Henry David Thoreau: “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” Following Taoist philosophy, Lin warned against “over doing, over achieving, over action . . . of being too prominent, too useful, and too serviceable.” The “perfectly square” house, the “perfectly clean” room, and the “perfectly straight” road rankle in him. He goes on to say, “O wise humanity, terribly wise humanity! How inscrutable is the civilization where men toil and work and worry their hair gray to get a living and forget to play!”

The Art of Loafing

Lin says not to worry: “The Chinese philosoph[er] . . . is seldom disillusioned because he has no illusions, and seldom disappointed because he never had extravagant hopes. In this way his spirit is emancipated.”

Culture, says Lin, is essentially a product of leisure. “The art of culture is therefore essentially the art of loafing. From the Chinese point of view, the man who is wisely idle is the most cultured man.” He likes a messy room, a crooked road, and a leaky faucet!

Lin offers the secret to success for the businessman (busy man?) in this statement: “Actually, many business men who pride themselves on rushing about in the morning and afternoon and keeping three desk telephones busy all the time on their desk, never realize that they could make twice the amount of money, if they would give themselves one hour’s solitude awake in bed, at one o’clock in the morning or even at seven. There, comfortably free, the real business head can think, he can ponder over his achievements and his mistakes of yesterday and single out the important from the trivial in the day’s program ahead of him.”

But the West won the cultural war. Today, 70 years after Lin’s critique of the three American vices, it is the Japanese, the Chinese, the Koreans, and the Indians who dress in Western business suits and spout the Western philosophy of efficiency, punctuality, and goal-setting, and who work 14-hour days and forget to play. In the new China, the roads are straight, the houses are perfect, and everything works. I suspect Lin Yutang would not like the new Asia, especially the regimented Singapore. It’s a paradise lost.

The Individual and the State

Lin Yutang is a champion of the individual and “its unreasonableness, its inveterate prejudices, and its waywardness and unpredictability.” But in today’s society, warns Lin, the individual free thinker is being replaced by the soldier as the ideal. “Instead of wayward, incalculable, unpredictable free individuals, we are going to have rationalized, disciplined, regimented and uniformed, patriotic coolies, so efficiently controlled and organized that a nation of fifty or sixty millions can believe in the same creed, think the same thoughts, and like the same food.” Lin goes on to warn, “Clearly two opposite views of human dignity are possible: the one believing that a person who retains his freedom and individuality is the noblest type, and the other believing that a person who has completely lost independent judgment and surrendered all rights to private beliefs and opinions to the ruler or the state is the best and noblest being.”

I daresay which of the two applies to Liberty readers! Lin dislikes the popular trend of sorting people into groups and classes. “We no longer think of a man as a man, but as a cog in a wheel, a member of a union or a class, a ‘capitalist’ to be denounced, or a ‘worker’ to be regarded as a comrade. . . . We are no longer individuals, no longer men, but only classes.”

Lin Yutang experienced the brutality of Chinese communism and the heavy-handed bureaucracy of Washington durng the New Deal era. Needless to say, he had a low opinion of government: “I hate censors and all agencies and forms of government that try to control our thoughts.”

Favoring persuasion over force, Lin distrusts laws and law enforcement. Quoting Lao Tzu, Lin says government regulation “represents a symptom of weakness.” Lin adds, “the great art of government is to leave the people alone.” Quoting Confucius, Lin suggests that if you regulate people by law, “people will try to keep out of jail, but will have no sense of honor.” But if you regulate the people by moral teaching, “the people will have a sense of honor and will reach out toward the good.” War is never ideal, even when your side is right. Again Lin quotes Lao Tzu: “Where armies are, thorns and brambles grow.”

Lin opposed Mao and the Communists because they placed society above the individual. The Soviet model was “disastrous” and Maoism “the worst and most terroristic regime.” Lin favored a “silent revolution, of social reform based on individual reform and on education, of self-cultivation.”3

He also questioned the establishment economist and forecaster:

“Perhaps I don’t understand economics, but economics does not understand me, either. The sad thing about economics is that it is no science if it stops at commodities and does not go beyond human motives . . . It remains true that the stock exchange cannot, with the best assemblage of world economic data, scientifically predict the rise and fall of gold or silver or commodities, as the weather bureau can forecast the weather. The reason clearly lies in the fact that there is a human element in it, and when too many people are selling out, some will start buying in. . . . This is merely an illustration of the incalculableness and waywardness of human behavior, which is true not only in the hard and matter-of-fact dealings of business, but also in the shape of the course of history.”

He was probably unfamiliar with the one school of economics that does take into account human behavior: the Austrian school of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Undoubtedly Lin would like the title of Mises’ magnum opus Human Action.

Lin Yutang has many more things to say about our culture and how to live a happy and fulfilling life: about growing old gracefully (“The East and West take exactly opposite points of view. In China, the first question they ask is, ‘What is your glorious age?’ ”); the need for women at dinner (“the soul of conversation”); the evils of Western wear (“inhuman”); the only way to travel (“buy a one-way ticket”); and his controversial views on smoking (“one of the greatest pleasures of mankind”). I’ve only scratched the surface of this brilliant Chinese philosopher.

On Buddhism and Christianity

For Lin, Buddhism’s outlook (“life is suffering”) was too pessimistic and its path to happiness (“suppress one’s desires”) too austere. In a chapter called “Why I am a Pagan” in “The Importance of Living,” Lin renounced his parents’ Christianity, which in his age forbade enjoying sex, dancing, food, smoking, drinking, and the good life, in favor of an ascetic lifestyle that suppressed all sinful pleasures to obtain salvation.

Although Lin approved of the Christian emphasis on technology and education, and its banishment of foot binding and drug use in China, he rejected the austerity and social isolationism. “Chinese Christians virtually excommunicated themselves from the Chinese community,” he wrote. While at college, Lin discovered “the vast world of pagan wisdom.” His personal philosophy: “If I had to make a choice between contemplating sin exclusively in some dark, cavernous cor­ner of my soul, and eating bananas with a half-naked girl in Tahiti, entirely unconscious of sin, I would choose the latter.”

Yet in the 1950s, he returned to his Christian roots, although it was a liberal, tolerant, forgiving Christianity. What reconverted him? Not the catechism, but Christian charity, the showing of love, kindness, and good works toward his fellow man as Jesus proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount. “Once this original emphasis is restored and Christians ‘bear fruit’ in their lives, nothing can withstand the power of Christianity.”4

But for now, it is Lin Yutang and his works that are bearing fruit. There is a growing hunger for leisure in a speedy world and for individualism in a conformist globalization. As if speaking today, Lin states, “I am quite sure that amidst the hustle and bustle of American life, there is a great deal of wistfulness, of the divine desire to lie in a plot of grass under tall beautiful trees of an idle afternoon and just do nothing.”

While enjoying that idle afternoon, may I suggest you take along a copy of Lin Yutang’s “The Importance of Living”? In the United States, a Little, Brown edition came out in 2003, although I’m disappointed that it is without Chinese art on the cover or running heads inside the book. Lin would not approve of such an austere edition! A Singapore edition by Cultured Lotus recaptures the beauty of the original and is far superior. Yet I personally prefer the 1937 edition by John Day Company, available by wandering through any dusty, dank, disorganized bookstore.

1. See “Easy Living: My Two Years in the Bahamas” (Liberty, December 1987).
2. Lin Yutang, “The Importance of Living” (John Day and Company, 1937), p. 150.
3. Lin Yutang, “From Pagan to Christian” (World Publishing, 1959), p. 78.
4. “From Pagan to Christian,” p. 236.

Franklin and His Critics

Was Benjamin Franklin an indispensable public servant, or a cunning chameleon? A believer, or a heretic? A hard-headed entrepreneur, or an opportunistic privateer? A devoted family man, or a salacious womanizer? An important scientist and inventor, or a hoaxer and self-promoter? The first civilized American, or the most dangerous man in America? Read the article below.

History of Freedom
Liberty Magazine
December 2006

Franklin and His Critics
by Mark Skousen

“Let all men know thee, but no man know thee thoroughly.” — Poor Richard’s Almanac

Was Benjamin Franklin an indispensable public servant, or a cunning chameleon? A believer, or a heretic? A hard-headed entrepreneur, or an opportunistic privateer? A devoted family man, or a sala­cious womanizer? An important scientist and inventor, or a hoaxer and self-promoter? The first civilized American, or the most dangerous man in America?

Probably, he was all of the above. But no matter where you come down on this debate, one thing is clear: Franklin’s stature has increased dramatically since his death in 1790.

A recent AOL poll ranked him after Washington as America’s most admired founder. None of the others (Jefferson, Adams, Madison) even came close. This year, the nation celebrates Franklin’s 300th birthday with fanfare: two commemorative coins by the U.S. Mint, four stamps by the U.S. Postal Service, and a national exhibit that is making its way around the country. A bevy of biographies has been published, and most of the books are laudatory. H.W. Brands identifies Franklin as “the first American . . . who is perhaps the most beloved and celebrated American of his age, or indeed of any age.”

Michael Hart ranks him as “the most versatile genius in all of history” — the most multi-dimensional of the founders as businessman, scientist, writer, and politician.

Joyce Chaplin identifies Franklin as one of only two scientists in the world who have achieved “international icon” status (the other is Einstein).

Many consider Franklin the cultural father of American capitalism, because of his emphasis on self-education, industry, and thrift. And Gordon Wood argues that Franklin was second only to Washington as America’s “necessary man,” the man who single-handedly raised 34 million livres (equivalent to $14 billion in today’s money) to finance the war of the revolution. Washington won the war at home, but Franklin won the war abroad: “He was the greatest diplomat America has ever had.”

I was privileged to be part of the Franklin celebration when, last April, I was invited to speak at the First Day Issue Ceremony in Philadelphia for the four commemorative stamps honoring Franklin as a printer, scientist, postmaster, and statesman. I’ve been an admirer of this versatile genius since reading his “Autobiography,” which is rightly regarded as America’s first “how to” self-improvement book, championing the virtues of industry, thrift, and prudence. Over the years I’ve collected dozens of other books on him, including the voluminous edition of his “Papers” compiled and edited by Yale University Press. It was while reading through the “Papers,” now approaching 38 volumes, that I came up with the idea of completing the “Autobiography.” These memoirs end abruptly in 1757, just as Franklin is about to embark on his career as an international political figure. He lived another 33 years as colonial agent, revolutionary, signer of the Declaration of Independence, America’s first ambassador, and delegate to the Constitutional Convention. In going over the “Papers,” I realized that it might be possible to gather together the autobiographical passages from his letters, journals, and essays, and complete his story, all in his own words. The result was “The Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin,” published this year by Regnery.

Yet I have sometimes wondered whether my admiration of Franklin was misplaced, and how, if at all, his ideas could be defended.

Among libertarians, there is a great deal of animosity toward wise ol’ Dr. Franklin. Just last month, for example, I came across an article called “Benjamin Franklin Was All Wet on Economics,” written by a college student for the Mises Institute website. The author focused on Franklin’s labor theory of value and his support of paper money.

No doubt the philosopher was seriously misguided on a number of important issues. Yet, if we are willing to take a broad view of his economics, a case can be made that even in this area he was a sound thinker. Actively involved in the creation of the three major documents of American government (the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution), Franklin was an advocate of a limited central government. “A virtuous and laborious people may be cheaply governed,” he declared. He was a disciple of Adam Smith and free trade, and was enamored of the laissez-faire policies recommended by the French physiocrats (Turgot, Condorcet, et al.). His are the admirable sayings: “Laissez nous faire: Let us alone. . . . Pas trop gouverner: Not to govern too strictly.”

Franklin was certainly no Keynesian. He defended the rich and worried about how incentives for the poor would be affected if the state adopted a welfare system. He was no Malthusian, either. He opposed a minimum wage law and wrote in favor of free immigration and fast population growth. He rejected any form of state religion or mandatory religious oaths and demanded that slavery be abolished in the new nation — in 1789. And he learned by sad experience (through the careers of his son and grandson) that public service is less rewarding than private business. His ideas on foreign policy anticipated George Washington’s farewell address by nearly 20 years. In 1778 he stipulated that “the system of America is to have commerce with all, and war with none.”

Granted, he was no anarchist. In economics, he did favor paper money and a “real bills” doctrine of expanding the money supply beyond specie, though “no more than commerce requires.”

He believed that easy money would facilitate trade. During the American revolution he justified the runaway inflation of paper “Continentals” as an indirect way for all Americans to pay for the war, although he begged Congress to improve the creditworthiness of the United States by 2006 paying interest in hard currency. He was a strong supporter of Hamiltonian-style central banking and an investor in the Bank of North America. His likeness on the $100 bill — the highest denomination of an irredeemable American paper currency — would greatly please his vanity.

He argued that the state should be actively engaged in the free education of youth and other public services, and in dispelling the ignorance represented by public fads and superstitions. From several sources, it appears that he was in league with Jefferson in emphasizing “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as the goal of government, downplaying John Locke’s inalienable right to property. Property, he wrote, is purely a “creature of society” and can be legitimately taxed to pay for civil society. He was quite critical of Americans who were unwilling to pay their share of society’s “dues.”

None of this is likely to endear Franklin to libertarian theorists, and it hasn’t. Among them, the leading detractor has been Murray Rothbard, who in his four-volume history “Conceived in Liberty” describes Franklin as “perhaps the most over inflated [leader] of the entire colonial period in America.” At every turn in the history of the American revolution, Rothbard deprecates Franklin’s achievements and accentuates his peccadilloes. He finds in the sly Dr. Franklin “a sinister, subversive devil . . . an opportunist par excellence . . . cunning . . . fawning . . . meddling . . . opportunistic hedonist . . . ”

According to Rothbard, Franklin was a warmonger, a Tory imperialist, and a speculator with his “cronies” who engaged in a “pattern of plunder of the American taxpayer” during the war. His Albany Plan was far more than an innocent way to unify the nation; it was a deliberate attempt to create a “central super government.” Franklin comes off almost as badly as the “deep-dyed conservative” Washington, who is characterized as a fumbling, inept general who sought to “crush liberty and individualism” among his soldiers and impose a “statist” army.

Rothbard would have preferred as American commander “the forgotten hero,” the “brilliant, gifted” Charles Lee, champion of “liberty and guerrilla war.” And instead of Franklin as envoy to France, Rothbard would have selected the “estimable liberal” Dr. Arthur Lee.

Never mind the fact that other historians uniformly describe Arthur Lee as a “bilious” and “cantankerous” patriot who hated America’s French allies and accomplished little himself. Rothbard also likes Thomas Paine, promoter extraordinaire of the American cause — while ignoring the fact that Paine’s mentor was none other than Benjamin Franklin, and that Franklin was a lifelong supporter of Paine’s ideas. What did Paine see that Rothbard couldn’t?

Rothbard never explains the way in which somehow, by July 1776, the “Tory imperialist” suddenly became the “radical revolutionary” and co-conspirator of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Indeed, Franklin was one of the first of the founders to call for independence. As early as 1771, he observed that the “seeds are sown of total disunion” between England and her colonies. In 1775, he drafted a resolution to Congress to dissolve “all ties of allegiance” with a country that had failed to “protect the lives and property of [its] subjects,” adding: “It has always been my opinion that it is the natural right of men to quit, when they please, the society or state, and the country in which they were born, and either join with another or form a new one as they think proper.”

Furthermore, Franklin (like Rothbard) appears to have been an advocate of natural rights: “I am a mortal enemy to arbitrary government and unlimited power. I am naturally very zealous for the rights and liberties of my country, and the least encroachment of those invaluable privileges is apt to make my blood boil.”

No modern libertarian could have said it better. It is surprising that modern libertarians should fail to give Franklin credit for the “radical” and “libertarian” Pennsylvania Constitution written in 1776 and endorsed by him throughout his lifetime. And what about his critical role in raising military and financial aid in France? This is what we receive from Rothbard’s witty but poisoned pen: “The wily old tactician Franklin proved to be a master at the intricacies of lying, bamboozling, and intriguing that form the warp and woof of diplomacy. Moreover, the old rogue was a huge hit with the French, who saw him as the embodiment of reason, the natural man, and bonhomie.”

Rothbard is deadly silent about Franklin’s thrill of victory and Arthur Lee’s agony of defeat when it came to fundraising for the American cause.

Unfortunately, the only biography that Rothbard recommends is Cecil B. Currey’s “Code Number 72: Ben Franklin: Patriot or Spy?”, which accuses Franklin of being a double agent for the British. (Carl Van Doren’s “Benjamin Franklin” [1938] is the most comprehensive work in the field, and quite different in its conclusions from Currey.) Currey is a tough-minded researcher but ignores the evidence that doesn’t fit his agenda. “I have not . . . pretended to write a ‘balanced’ picture of Franklin (for I have focused on his shadows).”

Currey put together a sizeable amount of circumstantial evidence that while Franklin was ambassador to France he played both sides of the conflict. “The story involved treason, breaches of security, lackadaisical administration, privateering, misplaced truth, war profiteering, clandestine operations, spy apparatus, intrigue, double-dealing.” Today we know that Franklin and Adams were surrounded by spies, including one of their secretaries, Edward Bancroft. “A cell of British Intelligence was located at Franklin’s headquarters in France, and Benjamin Franklin — covertly perhaps, tacitly at least, and possibly deliberately — cooperated with and protected this spy cell operating out of his home in France from shortly after his arrival in that country until the end of the war.”

It is true that Franklin loved England before he loved France. He lived in London for nearly 20 years and considered it home, more even than Philadelphia. His son William was so enamored with the British Empire that he remained a loyalist throughout the war, thus giving rise to the rumor that his father was a double agent. In France, Franklin met with British agents and listened to their offers of honors, emoluments, and bribes. He did little to hide his activities and papers from alleged spies, whether French or British. And, yes, he was identified clandestinely as “Number 72.”

But it is also clear that Franklin broke with his son and was so bitter about being deserted “in a cause where my good fame, fortune and life were all at stake” that they never reconciled. Currey is correct that the British had a code number for Franklin, but the French also had a code for him (“Prométhée,” the Greek god who brought fire from heaven). The British had code numbers for almost everyone, including Washington (“Number 206”). And British and French spies were so common that Franklin simply ignored them.

Again, it’s important to look at the big picture. If indeed Franklin was playing both sides of the war, would he have worked so enthusiastically to obtain essential aid from France? If you buy Currey’s argument, you could just as easily make the argument that Arthur Lee and even John Adams were traitors, because both seemed to make every effort to insult the French and sabotage Franklin and his fundraising efforts. Practically every historian today agrees that without Franklin, the French would not have given the financial and military support necessary to win the war at Yorktown.

Nevertheless — and this demonstrates the influence of Rothbard in libertarian circles — when Gary North devoted the 1976 bicentennial edition of his “Reconstructionist” journal to a symposium on Christianity and the American Revolution, he chose only one historian to write “The Franklin Legend,” Cecil Currey. Today Currey’s book is out of print, and for good reason. Franklin clearly switched from loving the British Isles to hating the Crown and its ministers. He considered the War for Independence “the greatest revolution the world has ever seen” and a “miracle in human affairs.”

But let’s consider some other historians’ attacks on Franklin. Tom Tucker wrote an entire book (“Bolt of Fate” [2003]) contending that Franklin’s famous kite experiment was faked, that it was one of Franklin’s hoaxes. His evidence? Franklin didn’t write about the kite story for years, and the only detailed account was written by his friend Joseph Priestley, some 15 years after the event. Yet according to Priestley, Franklin dreaded the ridicule of performing an unsuccessful experiment in public, so he used his son William as his only witness — and William never denied the kite test, even after he and his father had become estranged.

Another assault on Franklin is embodied in “Runaway America” (2004), by David Waldstreicher, who argues that Franklin masked his true feelings about slavery, and that he was a slave trader and slave owner in an age of supposed freedom and equality. Here again the author ignores or downplays contrary evidence, such as the fact that in 1763 Franklin visited the Negro School of Philadelphia, which he helped establish, examined the students, and discovered “a higher opinion of the natural capacities of the black race . . . Their apprehension seems as quick, their memory as strong, and their docility in every respect equal to that of white children.”

Franklin was never much of a slaveholder — compared, for example, to Washington or Jefferson — and the few slaves he held as servants were freed in London before he returned to America in 1775. Two years before he died, he became president of the Philadelphia Society for the Abolition of Slavery and helped introduce legislation in Congress to abolish slavery once and for all.

Franklin has been blamed for abandoning his devoted wife, Deborah, and becoming a lecher in London and France. There is plenty of evidence to support a charge like this. He wrote several risqué bagatelles, such as “Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress,” and “The Speech of Miss Polly Baker,” which defends a single mother who was prosecuted for the fifth time for having an illegitimate child. Franklin himself had a “natural” son, William. In his “Autobiography” he confessed that, as a young man, his “hard-to-govern’d passion of youth” led him into “intrigues with low women.” (This paragraph was censored in grade schools until the early 20th century, when, presumably, it was realized that children no longer understood what this usage of “intrigues” might mean.) Carl Van Doren says that “he went to women hungrily, secretly, and briefly.”

In 1730, Franklin entered into a common-law marriage with Deborah Read, whose husband abandoned her without a divorce. Together they raised William and had two children of their own: Franky, who died of smallpox at age four, and Sally, who cared for Franklin in his final years. Despite all the rumors, there is no hard evidence that Franklin sired any other illegitimate children. He settled into a faithful relationship with his wife in Philadelphia and focused on his printing business.

The relationship changed in the last 18 years of their marriage, when they lived separate lives. But he did not by any means abandon her. When he was made a colonial agent in 1757 and moved to London, he begged her to come with him, but she had a mortal fear of crossing the ocean and repeatedly refused. “I have a thousand times wished my wife with me, and my little Sally,” he wrote from London. Over time, they drifted apart emotionally, corresponding largely about mundane household matters and local gossip. Claude-Anne Lopez, a Franklin expert, notes that “it strains credulity to imagine that so vigorous a man was never unfaithful in all that time.”

Deborah died in late 1774, when Franklin was still in London. Two years later, as a widower, he was back in Europe. The French lionized the American ambassador, who developed a considerable friendship and correspondence with several beautiful French women, including Madame Brillon, who was an artist and musician, and the wife of a diplomat. Their relationship supposedly never went beyond friendship, although Franklin admitted to a friend, “I sometimes suspected my heart of wanting to go further.”

Their letters are intimate and flirtatious, and fun to read. (See chapter 6 of “The Compleated Autobiography.”) He considered flirtation a legitimate “amusement” and refuge from a grueling schedule of diplomacy. Gossip spread about him and Madame Brillon. Her husband once found them kissing; they played a game of chess in her bathroom; she sat on his lap at a dinner party attended by John and Abigail Adams, puritans who were “disgusted” by Franklin’s behavior. Jefferson observed that “in the company of women . . . he loses all power over himself and becomes almost frenzied.”

One of his critics wrote this ditty:
Franklin, though plagued with fumbling age,
Needs nothing to excite him,
But is too ready to engage,
When younger arms invite him.

The old doctor was 70 years of age when he arrived in France in 1776. During his long stay he suffered severely from gout and kidney stones. Sometimes he could hardly walk. It is doubtful that he fulfilled his sexual fantasies in any meaningful way. As historian Robert Middlekauff suggests, “Reading his correspondence of this period and remembering what we know of his physical condition, we might conclude that Franklin’s sex life was very much like Jane Austen’s novels — all talk and no action.”

Franklin was often criticized by contemporary Christians for his heretical religious views. He was not a churchgoer, and had doubts about the divinity of Jesus. But he believed in God. A deist for most of his life, he supported a pragmatic religion that favored good works and charity more than simple faith and hope. And by “good works,” he said, “I mean real good works, works of kindness, charity, mercy, and public spirit; not holiday-keeping, sermon-reading or hearing, performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers, filled with flatteries and compliments, despised even by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity.”

Franklin is justly famous for engaging in innumerable civic and charitable causes throughout his adult life — and into the afterlife, by means of his perpetual fund, established in his will, for the benefit of young tradesmen in Boston.

But to return to the heart of libertarian concerns about Franklin, it can be said that, in many ways, he was America’s first champion of free enterprise. Economists of the “Austrian” school, who have been so influential on modern libertarian thought, would be pleased with his emphasis on entrepreneurship, industry, and thrift. Eugen Böhm-Bawerk and Max Weber recognized his genius, and so did American capitalists Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Mellon, who were deeply influenced by the “Autobiography.” Franklin anticipated the incredible material and technological progress that America has made in the centuries since its founding. An incurable optimist, he was always bullish on America, and life in general. At the end of the War for Independence, he predicted, “America will, with God’s blessing, become a great and happy country.” The United States, he said, is “an immense territory, favored by nature with all advantages of climate, soil, great navigable rivers and lakes . . . [and] destined to become a great country, populous and mighty.” More importantly, he told potential immigrants that the country “affords to strangers . . . good laws, just and cheap government, with all the liberties, civil and religious, that reasonable men can wish for.” (He underlined the word “cheap.”)

What were his politics? Franklin was opposed to a strong central executive. In his original draft of the Articles of Confederation, he proposed twelve members of the executive instead of one president, to disperse political power. He opposed public “offices of profit.” As Bernard Fay concludes, “They [Congress] were directly opposed to Franklin’s philosophical tendency, which might be summed up in this formula: the least government possible is the greatest possible good.”

Certainly he was no social libertarian, despite his image as a libertine and free thinker. While he is famous for reading books in the nude, frequenting the salacious Hell-Fire Club in London, and flirting with French ladies in Paris, he wrote stern letters to his daughter Sally chastising her for wanting to wear the latest fashions while a war was going on, and he refused to buy his grandson Benny a gold watch while in France. He dressed plainly and constantly preached economy. He always promoted frugality and industry in both public and private life. Readers might be surprised by his attack on the growth of taverns in Philadelphia upon his return from England in 1762. Though a defender of free speech, he railed against scurrilous newspaper reports.

There is nothing special about this side of Franklin. His distinctive contribution is not found in his lectures on the more conventional virtues but in his openness to the new, entrepreneurial, can-do spirit. He lambasted privileged public offices and aristocracies of birth, and told European immigrants that “in America, people do not inquire concerning a stranger, What is he? but What can he do?”

He illustrated what an individual could do by doing it himself, helping to finance good causes with his own business profits. He was civil-minded early in his career, involving himself with the nation’s first fire company; the nation’s oldest property insurance company; and Philadelphia’s own hospital, library, and militia. All were created with mostly private funds. “America’s first entrepreneur may well be our finest one,” concludes John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard family of mutual funds.

Like all the founders, he had his share of foibles. How should one weigh his mammoth achievements against his inscrutable flaws? Before you make up your mind, I suggest you spend a few days reading Franklin’s own accounts of his life. You may see a different Franklin from the man his critics and I have described.

Libertarians are not used to winning. They prefer being in the minority. They figure that if they are victorious, they must be compromising their principles. That may be what galled Murray Rothbard: Franklin was so damned successful as a scientist, businessman, and diplomat. To libertarians, it may help to know that he wasn’t always successful. He had his share — and perhaps more than his share — of enemies. Here’s his philosophy about his critics: “As to the abuses I have met with, I number them among my honors. . . . The best men have always had their share of this treatment . . . and a man has therefore some reason to be ashamed when he meets with none of it. Enemies do a man some good by fortifying his character. I call to mind what my friend good Rev. Whitefield [the famous evangelist] said to me once: ‘I read the libels writ against you, when I was in a remote province, where I could not be informed of the truth of the facts; but they rather gave me this good opinion of you, that you continued to be useful to the public: for when I am on the road, and see boys in a field at a distance, pelting a tree, though I am too far off to know what tree it is, I conclude it has fruit on it.”

Now that’s a saying that all libertarians can appreciate.

1. H.W. Brands, “The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin” (Doubleday, 2000), jacket.

2. Michael H. Hart, “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History,” 2nd ed. (Kensington, 1992) 516–17.

3. Joyce E. Chaplin, “The First Scientific American: Benjamin Franklin and the Pursuit of Genius” (Basic Books, 2006) 1.

4. Gordon Wood, “The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin” (Penguin, 2004) 196.

5. “The Compleated Autobiography, by Benjamin Franklin,” compiled and edited by Mark Skousen (Regnery, 2006) 189, 300.

6. “Compleated Autobiography” 148.

7. “Compleated Autobiography” 357.

8. “Compleated Autobiography” 298–99.

9. Murray N. Rothbard, “Conceived in Liberty” (Arlington House, 1975) 2.64, 67, 172; 3.273; 4.358. My disagreement with Murray Rothbard on his assessment of Franklin, as well as Adam Smith, does not diminish my admiration of Rothbard’s tremendous contributions to economics, including “America’s Great Depression,” “Man, Economy, and State,” “Power and Market,” and “What Has the Government Done to Our Money?”

10. Rothbard, “Conceived in Liberty” 4.359, 4.43–44.

11. Rothbard, “Conceived in Liberty” 3.218, 4.34–35

12. “Compleated Autobiography” 65, 120.

13. “Compleated Autobiography” 80.

14. Rothbard, “Conceived in Liberty” 4.232–33.

15. Cecil B. Currey, “The Franklin Legend,” Journal of Christian Recon­struction (Summer 1976) 143.

16. Cecil B. Currey, “Code Number 72: Ben Franklin, Patriot or Spy?” (Prentice Hall, 1972) 12, 266.

17. “Compleated Autobiography” 130–32.

18. “Compleated Autobiography” 26. Waldstreicher ignores this passage.

19. Carl Van Doren, “Benjamin Franklin” (Viking Press, 1938) 91.

20. Claude-Anne Lopez and Eugenia W. Herbert, “The Private Franklin: The Man and His Family” (Norton, 1975) 26–27.

21. “Compleated Autobiography” 162.

22. Quoted in “Benjamin Franklin: The Autobiography and Other Writ­ings,” ed. Kenneth Silverman (Penguin, 1986) 206.

23. Hugh Williamson, “What Is Sauce for a Goose Is Also Sauce for a Gan­der” (1764).

24. Robert Middlekauff, “Benjamin Franklin and His Enemies” (University of California Press, 1996) 115–16.

25. “Compleated Autobiography” 387.

26. “Compleated Autobiography” 290.

27. Bernard Fay, “Franklin, Apostle of Modern Times” (Little, Brown, 1929) 504.

28. Some libertarians are critical of Franklin for opposing the notorious “outlaw” John Wilkes, a defender of free speech who was imprisoned for libeling the king of England in 1768, and the “drunken mad mobs” supporting “Wilkes and Liberty.” This is another case of Franklin’s so­cial conservatism before the American Revolution. Interestingly, after the war, Wilkes’ sister and mother came over to America and stayed at Franklin’s home in Philadelphia. See “The Compleated Autobiogra­phy” 59–62, 349.

29. “Compleated Autobiography” 292.

30. John Bogle, Introduction, “Benjamin Franklin: America’s First Entrepre­neur,” by Blaine McCormick (Dallas: Entrepreneurial Press, 2005).

31. “Compleated Autobiography” 44–45.

A Tribute to Milton Friedman

Mark Skousen and Milton Friedman at lunch

Mark Skousen and Milton Friedman at lunch

I was at the New Orleans Investment Conference when I learned that free-market economist extraordinaire Milton Friedman, died on November 16. He was a dear friend. I was probably the last person to go out to lunch with Milton. We met at his favorite restaurant in San Francisco, where I showed him a picture of him standing next to John Kenneth Galbraith, the premier Keynesian and welfare statist of the 20th century. Galbraith towered over the diminutive Friedman. Beneath the picture was a funny line by George Stigler: “All great economists are tall. There are two exceptions: John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman.” Milton was so pleased with the photo and caption that he sent it to all his friends only two weeks before his passing.

“All great economists are tall. There are two exceptions: John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman.” –George J. Stigler

George Stigler, Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Gailbraith -- "All great economists are tall. There are two exceptions: John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman." --George J. Stigler

George Stigler, Milton Friedman and John Kenneth Galbraith

(Left to right: George Stigler, Milton Friedman, John Kenneth Galbraith.
Creation of Mark Skousen. Technical assistance by James Durham.)

Milton had just turned 94, yet his mind was sharp. We discussed the latest Nobel Prize in economics. He said, “We’re running out of good names.” What about the new field of behavior economics that Richard Thaler (Chicago), Robert Shiller (Yale), and Jeremy Siegel (Wharton)? “Yes,” he agreed. “They are making an important contribution. Siegel worked with me at Chicago in the 1970s and is doing brilliant work.”

I asked Milton if he wouldn’t mind giving me a blurb for my next book, “The Big Three in Economics.” He loved my previous history, “The Making of Modern Economics,” and agreed to give me a quote. It saddens me to know he never got to it.

For the past few years, he walked with a cane. He suffered from pain in his legs, a weak heart (after two heart surgeries in the 1980s), and was losing his eye sight. As we left, I asked him, “Do you think you’ll live to be 100?” He answered quickly, “I hope not!”

A few days later he fell and was taken to the hospital. He died a couple weeks later of a heart attack.

Friedman was not only a great economist, but a memorable quotesmith. Besides the standard bearers, such as “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon” and “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” here are some others less well known:

“Competition is a tough weed, but freedom is a rare and delicate flower.” — (with George J. Stigler)

“If a tax cut increases government revenues, you haven’t cut taxes enough.”

“I favor tax reductions under any circumstances, for any excuse, for any reason, at any time.”

“A society that puts equality ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality or freedom.”

“Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”

“Inflation is taxation without legislation.”

“The economy and the stock market are two different things.”

“If government is to exercise power, better in the county than in the state, better in the state than in Washington.”

“The great advances of civilization, whether in architecture or painting, in science or in literature, in industry or agriculture, have never come from centralized government.”

“The minimum wage law is one of the most, if not the most, anti-black laws on the statute books.”

“Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.”

“The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem.”

I will miss our lunches and dinners together. He was one of the most unforgettable people I ever met.

In liberty, AEIOU, Mark

P. S.  At our luncheon last month, Milton Friedman and I also talked about the upcoming FreedomFest.  He was a big fan and was looking forward to it. He wrote me this statement to all freedom lovers:  “FreedomFest is a great place to talk, argue, listen, celebrate the triumphs of liberty, assess the dangers to liberty, and provide that eternal vigilance that is the price of liberty. We have so much to celebrate but also much to be concerned about.”  We are going to have a special tribute to Milton Friedman at FreedomFest 2007, set for July 5-7, 2007, at Bally’s in Las Vegas.  For more information, go to

Darwin on Wall Street

Darwin on Wall Street
Mark Skousen
Forecasts & Strategies August 1998

“No other theory or concept ever imagined by man can equal in boldness and audacity this claim — that everything revolves around human existence — that all the starry heavens, that every species of life, that every characteristic of reality exists for mankind and for mankind along. It is simply the most daring idea ever proposed.”
— Michael Denton, Nature’s Destiny

I can’t think of a more depressing philosophy than that of Darwinian evolution as expressed by apologists Stephen J. Gould and Richard Dawkins.

According to them, life is a mindless perpetuation of the species, without meaning or design, just natural selection and survival of the fittest.

Man is nothing special. The creation of life did not have man in mind. Man is accidental and random, a descendant of “punctuated equilibrium.” There’s no God, no special creator, no life after death, no spiritual existence at all. There’s no beauty in life — it’s all random matter. There’s no free will, only material determinism.

It’s all in the genes, didn’t you know?

Not surprisingly, Darwin suffered from this blead outlook on life and was terribly unhappy at the end of his life. Prior to writing The Origin of Species, he delighted in reading poetry and Shakespeare, and listening to music.

Afterwards, however, he lost all interest. “But now for many years, I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music.” (The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, pp. 138-139)

The evolutionist view is pervasive; we even see it in economics and the financial world. “Today’s economy is a dog-eat-dog world; it’s a jungle out there, and only the fittest survive; the big corporations gobble up the weak competition.”

Economic Darwinism ignores the cooperative side of the economy, and the ability of weaker participants to survive and even thrive.

In the financial field, the efficient market theorists proudly declare: “The markets are random and unpredictable. You can’t beat the market, so why try?” Their investment technique is pretty boring stuff: Buy index funds, never trade, just buy and hold until retirement. It’s like watching paint dry.

A Better Alternative: Intelligent Design

Fortunately, there’s an alternative to Darwinian philosophy called “intelligent design,” and there’s growing support for this more upbeat theory of life, even among evolutionists.

One of the most fascinating books I’ve read recently is Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe, by Michael J. Denton (Free Press, $27.50, buy at a discount through

Denton is a biologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand. He joins forces with the physicists who have demonstrated how the planet is uniquely formed to sustain life.

Moreover, Denton concludes, “the cosmos is uniquely fit for only one type of advanced intelligent life — Homo sapiens.” He demonstrates, for example, how the earth’s size and atmosphere are fit both for our size and dimension.

He writes eloquently about the unique features of man compared to other animals — our superior intelligence, vision, linguistic ability, and most interestingly, the dexterity of the hand. (A chimp can’t peel an apple, tie a knot, use a typewriter or thread a needle.)

Denton also points out how man is just the right size to handle fire. He also has an engaging chapter on water, and why humans and life in general couldn’t exist without it.

In one of his great books, Human Action (hardcover, $49.95, paperback, $24.95 available at, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises asserted correctly that man alsways acts purposefully and with design.

Human beings think, adopt values, make choices, are conscious, make mistakes and learn from experience. In the financial markets, humans invest with a specific purpose in mind, whether to earn income, make a capital gain or hedge their portfolio. Thus, all movements in stock prices are purposeful, and never random.

In sum, Darwinian evolution as a philosophy is an empty black box. It’s time sciencists and social thinkers look to “intelligent design” as a more consistent and more fulfilling concept of life.

Forecasts & Strategies
August 1998 issue