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Some Interesting COVID Thoughts

Received from a contact of mine, currently using the handle, “Pyro”:

Knowledge is impossible without observing reality. That
is why mountebanks and power seekers, seeking to deceive, 
always and must find some excuse (eg. faith, suppression 
of heresy, blasphemy, "the science is settled," the 
cautionary principle, a nihilistic rejection of the 
legitimacy of cognition, your own good, nationalism, 
patriotism, for the poor, for the widows and orphans, 
for the sick, etc.) to dissuade or prevent people from 
doing so.

To the contemporary mind set it is plausible, even so
obvious as to be unquestionable, that it is possible
to achieve any end by the application of sufficient 
coercion and, indeed, that that is the only way to 
accomplish an end with certainty. This belief makes
the promotion of a crisis, real or imaginary, an
effective tactic (as famously advocated by Rahm 
Emanuel) for the development of totalitarian power.

Clearly this is what is taking place as a result of
the coronavirus pandemic, which has been used as an
excuse to impose on a large part of the human race,
with their substantial acquiescence, a previously 
unthinkable suicidal lockdown. Besides politicians' 
own propensities, prevalent popular beliefs place 
them under almost irresistible political pressure to 
take such totalitarian measures.

The Economist Magazine smugly expresses the conventional 
    Leaders section: "Everything´s under control"
    For believers in limited government and open markets, 
    covid-19 poses a problem. The state must act 
    decisively. But history suggests that after crises 
    the state does not give up all the ground it has 
    taken. Today that has implications not just for 
    the economy, but also for the surveillance of 

    It is no accident that the state grows during crises. 
    Governments might have stumbled in the pandemic, but 
    they alone can coerce and mobilise vast resources 
    rapidly. Today they are needed to enforce business 
    closures and isolation to stop the virus. Only they 
    can help offset the resulting economic collapse. ...
and suggests that the totalitarian changes are likely to 
be permanent.

Is this conventional wisdom about the necessity and 
efficacy of totalitarianism true? Is, as most people
believe, liberty only an impractical luxury that, for 
transcendent reasons, like survival, must be surrendered 
in emergencies? There are powerful reasons to think it 
is just the opposite. But aside from the logic of the 
theoretical arguments, the ultimate resolution of the
issue requires a scientific test of the matter; which 
would be to try both approaches and see what the real 
consequences are. To look at reality requires an
experimental control case.

Such an experiment would be difficult to deliberately 
conduct for obvious ethical reasons. Also, it would be 
rejected by the advocates of totalitarianism on the basis 
that it would subject free people to unnecessary death 
and disease that coercion could avoid; it would never 
occur to them to consider that their methods might be 
decreasing well being rather than reducing death and 
disease. And they would never be willing to allow the 
possibility of conducting a test that might show, in 
practice, that they are wrong.

However, in spite of the overwhelming pressure to conform,
the country of Sweden has so far resisted adopting the
worst and most destructive totalitarian measures. If they
persist, their experience may offer a bit of a control 
case to observe.
Also, surprisingly, Nicaragua, of all places, may provide 
another one. So far it appears that, aside from isolating 
themselves on a private island, the only measures that the 
government of the dictatorial couple has imposed in Nicaragua 
is organizing marches and large public meetings to chant 
slogans against the coronavirus. Nevertheless, the people 
of Nicaragua seem well informed and to be taking their own
private measures to protect themselves while going about 
their normal business. We will see what the results are.

If these two control cases turn out with favorable results 
we can be assured that the facts will be suppressed by the 
political classes in the rest of the world to avoid being 
held responsible for the unnecessary evil they have caused.
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A Recipe For Heroes And Saints

Rules and obedience have never elevated anyone to heroism and greatness., but I know what does, and I discovered it in the rubble of 9/11.

I was scheduled to be in New York for a convention in early 2002, and sent an email to my old friend Jack. The text was along the lines of “Hey, I’m coming to NYC. Wanna get lunch?” His reply was simple: “Sure, but first I’d like you to come see my new project.”

Jack’s new project, as it turned out, was the restoration of the old New York Telephone building, now called the Verizon building. It was notched into the World Trade Center site, merely a few yards from the destroyed Building 7. This building was badly damaged on September 11th, but it didn’t come down. And it was extremely important that it did remain in service: nearly every telephone line serving Wall Street ran through it.

Lessons from a Disaster Zone

It was a cool, rainy, hazy day. Fitting, I thought. Most of the debris had been removed by the time I arrived, which gave everyone on the job a clean view of what was missing, and how much work lay ahead.

Since Jack and I are old electrical guys, we began by examining the power systems. And thus began a day of epiphanies. Each new piece of information brought others to mind. Every fact implied a lesson. I was grateful to have a good memory; scribbling notes in the rain wasn’t going to work.

The first item on the agenda was the 13,000 volt electrical service to the building. It was running over an aluminum scaffold, inside of a plywood box. Now, you may be thinking that 13,000 volts on a metal scaffold doesn’t sound very safe, and you would be right. There’s no way this installation would be acceptable in any normal circumstances.

But in this case, there wasn’t much choice. This was a disaster zone and an “approved” installation wouldn’t be possible for months. (They couldn’t even get the right kinds of wires.) So, the rules went out the window and Jack’s crew had to come up with something that would work and that wouldn’t kill anyone, or else Wall Street would shut and half of New York would have no telephones. The rules were simply overridden by reality. I couldn’t help thinking of an old saying, attributed to the Dalai Lama:

Learn the rules well, so you will be able to break them properly.

But the big story of the day came after our inspection. At lunch, Jack explained that after Building 7 fell initially on 9/11, other, partial, collapses continued for quite a while. Each time, clouds of dust and debris filled his Verizon building. On one particular day, the FBI vault in the basement of Building 7 caved in under the weight of yet another collapse. “And I swear to you, Paul,” Jack assured me with bulging eyes, “twenty- and fifty-dollar bills came floating through the site!”

Free money… it’s hard to imagine a better setup for a moral dilemma.

I made some comment about the guys being very happy that day. “No,” Jack said, “they wouldn’t touch them!”

I looked at him and waited for some elaboration. Finally he spoke up again. “They said ‘that’s not our money, it belongs to other people.’ And they wouldn’t touch it. They wouldn’t allow anyone to touch it. It just sat there until the FBI guys came through and picked it all up.”

When the lure of free money fails, I pay attention. This was clearly no ordinary event. Here were dozens of construction workers who refused to take free money – a lot of free money – when there was no enforcer looking over their shoulders or threatening them.

I looked at Jack again. He was stone serious; as serious as I have ever seen him.

So I was left facing a serious question: A large group of construction workers were turned into paragons of ethics, but exactly why? Obviously it was the change of situation that mattered, not the basic nature of the men; one’s nature does not change in a moment.

Then I understood: These men had never lacked a basic decency, what they had lacked was moral clarity. This was the first time in their lives when the difference between right and wrong was this clear.

Holding a clear vision of right and wrong, it would have been stupid for these men to take $50 bills belonging to others – their conscious sense of righteousness was worth far more.

For the rest of their lives, these men will know that when it counted, they stepped up to the task and performed it with honor. And I would bet large that, on their death beds, this fact will pass prominently through their minds. They will feel honorable, and they will have earned it.

What this Means

This means that while the fear of penalties may restrain people from certain actions, it is moral clarity that makes them actually good.

I know that we’ve all been taught to freeze up at questions about good and evil, but it really isn’t hard. Here’s all the answer you really need, in two very simple statements:

  1. What is hateful to you, don’t do to anyone else.

  2. Do not encroach upon anyone or their property, and keep your agreements.

Number one is the Golden Rule, and number two is the essence of the common law – more or less an extension of #1. And that’s all that we really need.

Sure, a professional philosopher can come up with weird exceptions, but that’s not a serious concern. Send the one-in-a-million scenario to a specialist and get busy with the other 999,999.

Yes, life is complex but that’s no reason to say “we can’t know right from wrong.” Act with integrity and I guarantee you’ll do the right thing 99.9% of the time.

The Lesson

The events of 9/11 were obviously very stark, and we certainly don’t want to rely on such things to set our moral compass. But, the lesson is clear: It is moral clarity that turns us into heroes and saints.

So, if you want to see good conduct, talk about integrity, self-honesty, and the courage to make individual judgments. If you want to feel good about yourself, cultivate these in yourself. Require them of your children. Oppose people who try to cloud moral choices.

I leave you with a few lines from a song called The Hero, by David Crosby:

And the reason that she loved him,
was the reason I loved him too.
He never wondered what was right or wrong,
he just knew,
he just knew.


Paul Rosenberg



Due to the number of questions I’ve received about Jesus, I think a podcast devoted to him is in order.

People addressing this material, from whatever angle, tend to have fiercely held opinions, cherry-picking facts around them. That makes these discussions very difficult, and I’ll do my best to avoid that trap. This is a fascinating subject, and removing dogmatic opinions is what opens it to us.

Listen on Google Play Music Listen on iTunes Listen on stitcher Listen on TuneIn


Free Money Doesn’t Fix Broken Processes

Massive monetary bailouts have been ordered and more are promised to follow. A first, and completely valid, first response goes something like this:

So, you’re printing up six trillion dollars, giving 7/8ths to banks and corporations and 1/8th back to us… which we’ll be taxed on… plus, all that money creates a monster deficit that our children be expected to pay back anyway? The honest answer, if it were ever given, would be “yes.” And for this we’re expected to thank them!

So, angry responses are understandable. That said, I want to go deeper, down to the things that cannot be fixed with ever-more money.

Business is a massive coordination of people, materials, information, tools and machines. Money is just something we use to exchange these things efficiently; it doesn’t directly fix any of them when they break.

If a business process is broken, money allows you to thrown more tools and people at it. But if the break in the process doesn’t respond to those things, more money won’t fix it. Here’s an example:

  1. A business finds that they can’t send their goods by cargo ship as usual. The manufacturing of some part was considered non-essential and the boats won’t be sailing for weeks at least.

  2. The business can consider shipping by air, but they’ll also be guaranteed to lose money on the order, since that option is much more expensive.

  3. The new money available to them is a loan, not a gift. If the company takes the free money and sends their goods by air, they’ll be unable to repay the loan, ending their business.

So, free money doesn’t fix this kind of broken process, of which there will be many. (And the longer things are locked down, the more there will be.)

And consider what happens if the manufacturer of the critical part goes bankrupt. No one automatically picks up the slack, and if there’s a file cabinet full of regulations to be conquered before making the missing part, will anyone want to attack that obstacle? Better off to start a new robot company.

So, we’re in for a lot of shortages. Eventually things will limp back to functionality – Europe recovered from World War II, after all – but only after a lot of pain and loss. Politicians don’t let go of regulations until lots of people suffer and/or die. And the corporations who paid for those regulations are likely to fight the whole way.

As I noted recently, politicians understand nothing about business. An economy, to them, is a big, magic box that spits things out. They’ll be the last to understand what’s happening, and they’ll knee-jerk to more and more centralized responses… until they can’t.


Paul Rosenberg



The Expat Money Show

Mikkel at the Expat Money Show just posted a really good podcast we did together.




14 Words

Imagine a pretty spring day. You’re standing on your front porch or some other pleasant vantage point and looking out at a sunlit landscape: trees, grass, and singing birds. Then your five-year-old child or grandchild walks up to you and tugs on your hand to get your attention. You turn and the child asks, “What kind of world is this?”

What do you reply?

This child deserves the truth. You won’t be able to use fancy words or long explanations, but truth doesn’t require those things. This child is ready to hear the truth about the world. This kind of moment comes along haphazardly, and you can’t be sure if or when another might show itself. Your answer may affect this child for the rest of his or her life. What do you say?

The 14 Words

As you stand on the porch, away from everything but nature and your child, the only intimidations, biases, and slogans present will be those inside of you… and your child should be insulated from such things. You have to speak truth. And as I say, it doesn’t have to be long and complex; in fact it can’t be, if you want to help a five year old. And it comes to just 14 words:

We are a beautiful species, living in a beautiful world, ruled by abusive systems.

Later – after true words have sunk into the young mind – you can explain that we’re not a perfectly beautiful species, that most people are often confused and that a few are just plain bad. You can further explain that volcanoes and hurricanes and grizzly bears exist. But if you value your child enough to tell them the plain truth, you’ll tell him or her the 14 words first and let them sink in before getting to the small print.

With that said, I’ll move to some explanation for the adults.

A Beautiful Species

11,000 or 12,000 years ago, humanity – perhaps five million of them – stumbled out from an ice age and began to spread across the earth, most of them having nothing in the way of science and technology. Since then, we’ve learned to fill the earth with food, build machines that race across the face of the earth, sail oceans and streams, and fly through the atmosphere at fantastic speeds. Imagine trying to explain these things to the people wandering away from their receding glaciers.

And not only this, but we’ve cured the vast majority of diseases, figured out the smallest parts of the machinery of life, built compendia of human knowledge, made them available anywhere and everywhere, and landed men on the moon.

We are a magnificent species. If that triggers “Never forget the darkness!” voices in you, please hang on to “We are a magnificent species” until they subside.

Here are two passages from G.K. Chesterton’s book, The Defendant, that bear upon dark, automatic thoughts:

There runs a strange law through the length of human history – that men are continually tending to undervalue their environment, to undervalue their happiness, to undervalue themselves. The great sin of mankind, the sin typified by the fall of Adam, is the tendency, not towards pride, but towards this weird and horrible humility.

Every one of the great revolutionists, from Isaiah to Shelly, have been optimists. They have been indignant, not about the badness of existence, but about the slowness of men in realizing its goodness.

You can find the same thing in the Bible, by the way. Theologies be damned, this is what Psalm 82 says, and which Jesus repeated: You are gods; all of you children of the most High.

A Beautiful World

This is a beautiful world. Get out and look at it: lay outside on a summer night and gaze at the stars for an hour; explore the wilderness. Don’t watch it on TV; go out and experience it.

It is beautiful. Perhaps not perfectly beautiful, but one flaw among fifty beauties does not negate those beauties.

Abusive Systems

We all know the systems that rule mankind are abusive. I’m not going to itemize, since we complain about these things every day. You already know. The problem with most of mankind is not that they can’t recognize abuse; it’s that they think they deserve it.

Now, let’s be clear on another thing: Rulership requires us to stay focused on evil. They have to frighten people and portray their competitors as “evil Huns.” They have to publicize threat levels and convince people they need to be saved from impending death. And of course, their dear friends in the media promote evil-consciousness 24/7.

Do you think, just maybe, that all this fear has bad effects upon us?

The Truth

The truth is that we are surrounded by people who cooperate, who assist one another, and who care about one another. But those aren’t the things we think about – those are things we’ve learned to ignore. The flashing images of evil surround us and scream at us, after all: The Russians are going to attack, the other candidate is going to destroy all you hold dear, SARS (or bird flu or swine flu or Ebola) is about to kill us all! It’s a long, dark symphony of manipulation.

The truth is we’re a beautiful species, living in a beautiful world.

The systems that wish to rule us are quite otherwise.


Paul Rosenberg


The Blind Destruction of The Economy

If all you have is a hammer,” says the old proverb, “everything looks like a nail.” And I’m hard pressed to think of a better way to describe the destruction of the US economy (and many others) over the past few weeks. It has been a foolish set of reactions, and I’m going to show you both why it happened and why it was unnecessary.

First, however, I should clarify that the financial meltdown and the blowing up of the economy are two different things:

  • As many of us have long noted, the leading finance regimes of the world were insanely over-blown bubbles, just waiting for some kind of pin to pop them. This was a virtual economy of fabricated currency units contained within carefully controlled securities markets.
  • The real economy of goods, deliveries, repairs and so on was separated from the virtual economy, and its surplus was skimmed away with paid-for regulations and obligations. The people in this economy got relatively poorer and poorer, the big corporations treated them as serfs and their rulers despised them, but they were allowed to keep working.

Finally the financial bubble popped, hurting lots of people, both comfortable and poor. But that didn’t require the burning down of the real economy… the aforesaid making, growing, repairing and distributing of everything that really matters to us.

Why They Burned It Down

Really, it boils down to this: When the shit hits the fan, people revert to their basic psychological premises. And for politicians… for rulers of most any sort… that psychological premise is control. If and when they reach down into their souls, that’s what they find.

On top of that we should remember that politicians aren’t much different than perpetual beauty pageant contestants. When such people see a parade developing, they run to the front and grab the parade’s attention any way they can. And if the parade has come together mainly out of fear, you get their attention by agreeing with them (loudly) and being just a little bit more extreme than they were. Then, you present yourself as the solution.

Hooray, it’s now my parade!”

Afterward, when the other beauty pageant contestants up their ante (more fear, more control) you raise yours too. Politicians react to the other contestants, not to some schlub on Main Street.

Complications aside, the actual economies of America and much of the world have been shut down because of this. The damage is already severe and the fallout may last a long time.

They Had No Choice!”

To those saying the politicians had no choice I have a very simple response: “No; they saw no choice.”

Now, since almost everyone has been taught to see the world as the ruler sees it, most people saw no choice either. But there were far better choices… choices that didn’t burn down economies.

What Other Choices?”

I suppose we can begin our list of other choices with a respectable adult – an actual grown-up – standing up, day after day, explaining to people the history of epidemics, the choices we face, the costs of each, and how every person can either save their neighbor or endanger them. We had several weeks, after all.

But this was not done. Sure, politicians acted a little bit like this after the horse was out of the barn, but people need time to assimilate such things, and a one-shot effort doesn’t work. Any ruler worth his or her salt would know this. But, they didn’t. Instead they reverted to what they did know: more control. Their psychological bias was for war rhetoric, soldier boys, tanks and quasi-tanks, more cops, fines, punishments and jail cells. Everything, to them, looked like a nail, and so the real economy was hammered.

But even without a respectable adult talking sensibly, most people were intelligent enough to take precautions. By the time the first lock-down orders were given, most Americas were already “sheltering in place,” and I suspect that most other peoples were too.

Here are a few other choices the rulers never considered:

  • Tell the people they won’t be taxed upon – won’t even have to report – their income from making masks, ventilators, valves, etc.
  • Tell the people that patents and regulations are suspended for the next year… that they will be held to account for negligence, misrepresentation, and so on, but that they needn’t get approvals.
  • Put every bit of data, every proposal, every blueprint and chemical formula online, available to the world. Upon receipt. (Why not? Because the people are brute beasts and the ruling class is not?)

This list could go on at length, but just this much would put millions of intelligent and motivated people to work – immediately and at zero cost – fixing the crisis in far more and better ways than command-and-control processes.

The proof of this is that even with none of the above, and at significant risk to themselves, some people are still acting independently. Here, for example, is a home-made ventilator (cleverly hacked together from CPAP materials) that could save many lives:









The Price We Pay For Being Ruled

Things didn’t have to go this way, and the price we’re paying now is the cost of rulership. I’ll spare you the details, but millions of us have already realized that rulership was never as advertised and that other options, while less than perfect, are far less bad than the bloody, arrogant and exceedingly expensive mess we’ve had.

You are not a nail; you’re a thinking and productive human being. Be clear on the fact that you didn’t deserve to be hammered and that it wasn’t okay. Because you didn’t and it wasn’t.

This is not the kind of world we deserve, and it’s up to us to improve it. The rulers are unable to move forward, and they just proved it again… this time on a massive scale.


Paul Rosenberg



Control Is An Addiction

Lord Acton wrote that power tends to corrupt, but I’m going to say flat out that it does corrupt. I’ll go further and say that it’s an addiction (probably every bit as bad as cocaine), and that the lust for control is one of its primary drivers.

Right now, with big governments – governments with gigantic intelligence operations – trying to grab ever-more surveillance powers, I want everyone to be clear on this. And so I’m going to give you reasons to believe it. Yes, we all feel in our guts that this is true, but I’m going to give you further reasons, because we’ve also been conditioned to conform to power.

With the world on fire and with power freaks at the helm, we no longer have the luxury of doing it the easy way and imagining that power will be kind to us in the end. It’s clear enough that power isn’t our friend, and in truth it never really was.

So, let’s get directly to it. Here’s a passage from a 2014 interview with Thomas Drake, formerly a top executive at the NSA, likening the control of surveillance to mainlining heroin:

In the digital space, you’re “data drug” habit goes exponential, because there’s just so much. You can mainline this all day long. To me, there’s a psychology that’s not often written about: What happens when you have this much reach and power, and constraints of law and even policy simply fade into the woodwork… Which is made worse by the fact that you can’t get enough, there’s never enough, and there’s more coming… You’re high all the time. Because you’re plugged in. It’s now 24/7. There’s no relief from the addiction.

Heroine… addiction… mainlining. The images are all too clear. And it’s this way through the entire operation… through the many, many operations.

Please understand that once surveillance gets going, it turns into a merciless war for ever-more data. This has overwhelmed not only governments, but Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the rest. Here’s an industry expert named Jennifer Sims, writing in The Future of Counter-Intelligence:

If information is power, then those who master this digital chaos first, and derive meaning from it, will likely gain critical advantages. Intelligence professionals, whether in business or in service to the state, are therefore in a silent race to develop tools for mining and analyzing growing volumes of swiftly moving information and then to use it…

And here’s Craig Mundie, Senior Adviser to the CEO of Microsoft, writing in Foreign Affairs March/April 2014:

Big data” has rendered obsolete the current approach to protecting privacy and civil liberties.

If you’re still minded to believe that it isn’t that bad and that it’s still easiest to be quiet and go along with them, you can get the study I did on this with Jonathan Logan. It’s called The New Age of Intelligence, and it’s a fast, cheap read on Kindle.

More reading, however, isn’t what will turn the tide on this. What will is simply calling things by their real names, over and over and over. You can start with “control is slavery” and figure out what to add on your own. Oh… and Do Not Comply.

Understand, this addiction has no end, and every time people get scared they just ramp it up… because they can, and because they’re addicts! Humans will agree to all sorts of horrific things if you can first get them afraid… and modern media is little more than a fear delivery system.

But we can’t fall for it any longer. This addiction has no end point, and what dies in the end isn’t the addict, but our souls. And if we don’t start taking this seriously, the control addicts of the world get a clear shot at proving Julian Assange right one final time:

If you want a vision of the future, imagine Washington-backed Google Glasses strapped onto a vacant human face—forever.


Paul Rosenberg


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Fear Is A Mind Hack

Humans are not naturally stupid. They are not naturally bad. Fear, however, distorts them, weakens them, and makes them far less effective than they’d naturally be. Fear, in its many guises, is the great enemy of mankind, and it’s time that we addressed it head on.

Fear is useful (even if unpleasant) when encountering an angry bear. But it is strongly degrading to both our bodies and our minds when we imagine a bear around every corner.

To state our problem simply, fear makes humans very easy to hack. When someone tries to make you afraid, they are abusing you; they are hacking you; they are grabbing your inner workings and turning them toward their own ends.

Intimidation is a hack, shame is a hack, a threat is a hack, confusion is a hack, insecurity is a hack, authority is a hack. All of these are tools for applying your life and energy to someone else’s purpose. Whoever uses them strikes at your reason, your enthusiasm, and more or less all the better forces within you.

We can be far more than we have been, but not until we defeat fear, which is a direct attack on the human psyche.

The Depth of the Problem

Please take a look at these two cards and decide which line on the right is the same length as the line on the left:

Obviously, the correct answer is C. A is shorter and B is longer.

However, a psychologist named Solomon Asch ran a group of experiments with these images, and found that 37% of his subjects were willing to say C was not the right answer if other people said so first. If this pressure was applied more than once, 75% gave in at least some of the time.

In the control group, with no pressure to conform, the error rate was less than 1%.

In other words, the problem of fear is so large that three quarters of us are willing to deny reality in the face of a possible threat. And I think that all of us have felt the fear of non-conformity well enough to understand these results.

This problem, then, is serious.

Resisting It

The first step in countering fear is to recognize it. That sounds simple, but often it isn’t. We develop emotional inertia in these areas, and after uncritically allowing fear to sway our minds hundreds of times, changing the habit requires persistence.

Fear being imposed upon you is not okay. The honest way to get another person to do something is to convince them. To use fear is to use a kind of force. Not only is it hacking, it’s thuggery. And again, it is not okay, no matter who does it to you.

Once you recognize that an attack is being made upon you, all you have to do is think about it rationally for a moment, formulate an appropriate response, and then act. At first your actions may be less than perfect, but once you are acting against fear, rather than accepting it, things will begin to change.

I think this quote from the film Defending Your Life paints a nice picture of our current situation:

Fear is like a giant fog. It sits on your brain and blocks everything – real feelings, true happiness, real joy. They can’t get through that fog. But you lift it, and buddy, you’re in for the ride of your life.

In Conclusion…

My message today is very simple: We’ve been maliciously and habitually hacked, and it’s time to start resisting. Fear is the enemy.

Fear,” wrote Frank Herbert in Dune, “is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” We don’t have to let this death into our lives. We can notice it and turn against it.


Paul Rosenberg



Why Can’t We Party Like It’s 1905?

When writing historical things, I try to include perspective from people who actually lived through the events. And for money issues in the US, I’m able to do that back to about 1905.

So, do you think life was nasty, brutish, and short in 1905? That there were poor and starving people falling dead on every street corner?


The Wright brothers were flying for 30 minutes at a crack; Einstein was upgrading the laws of physics; telephones and electric lights were being installed all across America; Henry Ford was getting the final pieces in place for his moving assembly line and Model T; radio was being developed; art was flourishing; and the world was more or less at peace.

Sure, we have far more tech and better medicine now, but mostly because the people of earlier times (like the 1905 era) gifted it to us.

People in 1905 lived in heated homes, refrigerated their food, had access to professional physicians, traveled the world (mostly on trains and ships), read daily newspapers (there were many more of them in those days), watched movies, and ate just about the same foods we eat.

So, was it really that bad a time?

No, it wasn’t. In fact, it was better in important ways.

Money Issues in the US: The Facts Don’t Lie

Consider this:

The working person of 1905 kept his or her money. They ended up saving somewhere between a quarter and a half of everything they made – after living expenses.

It’s hard to be completely precise when reconstructing the budgets of average people in 1905 (records are hard to find), but we do have enough for a good, close guess.

Here’s how finance worked for a working family man of 1905:

Annual income:           $700.00
Annual expenses:      ($350.00)
Annual savings:           $350.00

If you’re thinking that I’m taking liberties with these numbers, let me assure you that I’m not – I’m being conservative. For example:

  • The income figure should probably be higher. I’ve found figures of well over $800 for construction workers.
  • As for expenses, I rounded up from a New York Times article, dated 29 September, 1907. It specified $325 per year.
  • Added to that is the fact that many people grew their own food during that time, which would skew the figures further.
  • As noted initially, I compared these numbers with stories I heard from relatives who lived through the time. My uncle Dave, for example, used to tell me how he got a job paying $390 per year sweeping floors as an unskilled immigrant (who spoke almost no English) in 1903.

The next time you drive through an old part of town and see the grand old houses, remember that people were able to build and buy them because their paychecks weren’t stripped bare. There were no income taxes in 1905, no sales taxes, no state taxes, and not much in the way of property taxes.

There was also no such thing as a military-industrial complex in those days, and – miracle of miracles – the rest of the world survived!

And Now…

Today, the situation is much, much different. The average working family pays about half their income in combined taxes: income taxes (to the state and the Feds), payroll taxes, property taxes, gas taxes, utility bill taxes, sales tax, local taxes, and on and on.

So, figuring an average income of just over $50,000 (the 2011 figure). And combined taxes of about $25,000, the average American family is left to pay bills like these:

Mortgage                     11,000
Car payments              6,000
Gas, repairs, etc.         2,500
Property taxes             2,500
Food                              3,000
Total                          $25,000

That leaves people zeroed-out. And again, I’m being conservative, and I haven’t included a number of smaller expenses.

Great Grandpa Did It, So Why Not Us?

Your great grandfathers faced very few of the taxes that we face. (The government survived on tariffs.) There was no social security either, and – believe it or not – the streets were never full of starving old people. Families were able to take care of their own – it’s not that hard when you’re saving half of your income!

We have forgotten that it was once possible for an average person to accumulate money. The truth is that productive people should be comfortable. Well-off, as they used to say.

So, why can’t we party like it’s 1905?

You might want to think about that question.

Paul Rosenberg