Emerson and Hitler in the Marketplace


I really hate using Hitler quotes these days; people take them as ultimate slams, rather than illuminating thoughts from a bad guy. But that said, Adolph did make a very clear and useful statement when he said this:

I have not come into this world to make men better, but to make use of their weaknesses.

This is a fundamental model of human action, and sadly, one that is fairly common. Granted, most people don’t take it nearly as far as Hitler did, but they do use the model, purposely taking advantage of human weaknesses.

My first professional-level boss operated on this principle. He’d take advantage of you as far as you’d let him, although he did compartmentalize his actions. That is, outside of work he acted like my grandpa, but at the office he’d rip me off whenever he could… and he did the same to our customers.

Sadly, there are a lot of people like my old boss, and a lot of them mask their behavior in free-market rhetoric. Nonetheless, the principle underlying their actions is “Make use of their weaknesses.” They may limit their predations to the marketplace (for which I am glad), but their principle of operation inside the marketplace is corrupt, and it tends to corrupt the market as well as themselves.

And while I have no desire to get specific pointing fingers, I will share some examples:

  • You sell people things they don’t really need, because you can.

  • Your advertising takes advantage of psychological weaknesses – hustling people into buying more of your product than they would if you reasoned with them.

  • You get legislation written to drive politically weaker competitors out of your market.

  • You pay politicians to force people to buy your product.

  • You use your superior influence to have standards written in your favor.

  • You purposely mislead customers.

  • You use misleading click-bate to juice your numbers and “get famous.”

  • You purposely stir controversy to “get famous.”

  • You manipulate interest rates so that people have to put their money in a pot you control.

  • You customize the web pages people see, serving the desires of those who pay you. The page-viewer isn’t told he/she is being manipulated in this way.

And so on.

I think we all have to admit that this method of doing business is becoming dominant. Clearly it’s already dominant in Washington, DC, on Wall Street, and in the boardrooms of the various mega-corps.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line in all this is that these people aren’t serving their customers and aren’t honest players in a free market. Rather, they are seeking and exploiting weaknesses.

I find that method of living to be pretty damned ugly, and I think it speaks to the insecurities of those who engage in it. If you survive by taking advantage of others, what does that say about your confidence in your own abilities? Or the strength of your self-image minus your possessions?

Enter Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson said a lot of interesting things, but few of them better than this short (and edited) passage:

A  man buys and sells in the market place and takes care that others shall not cheat him. But a day comes when he takes care that he shall not cheat others. In that day his market-cart becomes a chariot of the sun.

This is the kind of business I like seeing. Furthermore, this is the kind of character development I like seeing.

I see business as a heroic, creative venture, delivering real benefits to humanity. Businesses feed people, move people, house them, clothe them, and cure their diseases. Businesses bless humanity.


My point is that we should consider these two models. Both are operating in what we call free markets, and it is fairly easy to be seduced into using exploitation… and for all the reasons we encountered back in high school:

  • The other kids are doing it.

  • It makes you cool.

  • Jimmy did it and he didn’t get hurt.

  • It impresses the chicks (or whomever).

We, however, are no longer teenagers, and so I’ll suggest that we act according to Ralph’s model, not Adolph’s.

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War Isn’t Actually Pointless

warpointlessPeople often say that war is pointless, and it must be admitted that their argument is a good one:

What was gained in Iraq and Afghanistan? Things there are just as bad today as when the Western armies rolled in. And the threat to the West seems no less. To what end were all those people killed, mutilated, and terrorized?

What was the point of all the kingdom-versus-kingdom wars? Borders shifted left; borders shifted right; but the daily lives of the farmers, bakers, and traders mostly went back to normal after all the death.

And so on.

Even in the case of World War II – our best “wild man must be stopped” scenario – the facts don’t actually bear out the effectiveness of war. Yes, I’m very glad that Hitler was stopped (had I been there, I might have undertaken to kill him myself), but in full honesty, we must also admit that while the war stopped Hitler, it also made the world safe for Stalin, who went on to kill more people than Hitler ever did.

And without Stalin and a strong USSR, would Pol Pot have been able to kill a fourth of the population of Cambodia? Would Mao have been able to rack up the greatest death toll in human history… as much as Stalin and Hitler combined?

So, even in our very best scenario, a good argument can be made for war’s pointlessness.

But alas, I am drifting from my title subject, where I maintain that war is not pointless.

The Ruler and the “Poor Slob”

One of the more instructive quotes on war comes from Hermann Göring, a key member of Hitler’s inner circle. Notice the distinction he makes between the people and the leaders.

Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war: neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood.

But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a parliament or a communist dictatorship.

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peace makers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

This explains why we so often see war as pointless: We’re looking at it from the vantage point of the poor slob, not from the vantage point of the ruler.

So, the truth is that war is not pointless… it’s only pointless from the standpoint of the poor slob who has to suffer and die in it.

For the ruler, war has a clear and compelling purpose: it gets rid of competitors.

States fight. That is as accurate as any statement of history that can be found. It was true 6,000 years ago and it is true now. Conflict is part of the core nature of states; they compete like animals over limited territories. Thus, war serves them.

Individuals can fight too, of course, but ask yourself this: Among the 200 or so human beings who live closest to you, how many fistfights have you seen over the last few years?

On the other hand, among the 200 or so states on this planet, several dozen have had wars over the last few years. Doesn’t that say something about the nature of states versus the nature of individuals?

The Other Reason

But it’s not just because of their perpetual competition that war has a purpose for state leaders. They also need it for upholding their legitimacy.

As we mentioned two weeks ago, every state rests on legitimacy: the belief that is it right for the state to take money by force, to punish those who disobey them, and to send children to die in wars.

If people ever stopped believing these things – if they stopped holding them as legitimate – the state itself would fail.

So, the other purpose of war is to uphold the legitimacy of the state.

One way to uphold state legitimacy is simply to work the perennial human weakness, fear. Thus, we have our modern “war on terror,” including this year’s new bogeyman, ISIS. The terror of monsters works for legitimacy, because scary monsters require something equally big and scary to stop them… and that necessary thing is a warfare state.

Interestingly enough, war is especially important for legitimacy just now, since “forever prosperity for all” isn’t working and the less-favored classes remain compliant only because they’re bought off with free food. So, war is one of the few things that still uphold the state’s legitimacy.

Curtailing war would help the economic situation, of course. But that would also remove the bands that tie millions of people to the state for emotional comfort. (See here for an explanation.) So, pulling back on war would probably be a net loss to legitimacy.

This is especially important to the state, because once legitimacy breaks, it’s hard to get it back. Following the Vietnam War, for example, “Team America Always Wins!” stopped selling and didn’t come all the way back for decades. So, with “forever prosperity for all” failing, war remains essential to state legitimacy.


My point in this article is that war tends to be pointless for the average person, but it’s definitely not pointless for their rulers. It is, to quote an old phrase, “the health of the state.”

So, when does war end? I’ll close by letting Albert Einstein answer that question for us:

Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.

That might be a good topic to discuss with friends and neighbors.

Paul Rosenberg

Destroying the Myth That Military Power Equals Freedom

military power equals freedomAs I was finishing up my liberty entertainment article a few weeks ago, I checked lists that other people had made, just to see if I had forgotten something. As I did, I was dismayed to find that in most of these lists, pro-liberty really meant pro-military.

So I think it’s time to take a quick look at the myth that military power gives us liberty.

The Fantasy of the Foreign Oppressor

There is a plot that lies behind this “military power equals freedom” belief. It says that the enemy of liberty is a foreign invader. So, if the outsider is afraid to approach, we are free.

It implies that “local rule equals freedom.”

This is simply a lie. But it’s a lie that works very well in fiction.

Back in the real world, the hometown of an oppressor – whether it be near or far – makes him no better or worse.

Are we free because the people who rule us reside within local borders? Does that remain true even when it’s the “inside our lines” people who oppress us?

May only foreigners be oppressors?

Consider these recent cases:

  • No people suffered more to defeat Hitler than the Russians. So did killing the foreign invader make them free? Hardly – it kept Stalin, who killed far more people than Hitler ever did, in power.
  • What about Southern blacks in 1950? Almost everything done to them was “under the law,” and they were protected by a massive military and a nuclear arsenal capable of reducing any invader to ashes. Were they free?
  • And what about their great-grandparents who were slaves? They were militarily protected, after all. And their local oppressors operated fully under the rule of law. The  Supreme Court approved. Did that make them free?
  • The people of Eastern Europe were protected by a Soviet arsenal that included thousands of atomic bombs. They were further protected by constitutions and courts, all of which were locally administered. Were they free?

I could go on, but I think the point is made: The vast majority of human oppression comes at the hands of locals, not foreigners.

That’s a fact, whether or not it works as a movie plot.

I know that many good men and women have spent time in various military capacities, but the fact is this:

Foreign invaders abuse far, far fewer people than do local bosses.

And here’s another fact: Once a foreign invader takes control of a new place, he usually tries very hard to keep the populace happy. The foreigner does not murder civilians by the millions… but local rulers do. (Think of Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin, etc. They each killed millions of locals.)

The Flip Side of Xenophobia

Xenophobia is fear of the foreigner and usually applies to things like hating immigrants. But it’s not always “fear.” It’s more often a need to keep the foreigner beneath us.

In any case, classic expressions of xenophobia involve punishing immigrants, Jews, or some other outsiders (justified by whatever facts can be conveniently assembled).

It seems to me that the myth we mentioned above, “military power equals freedom,” is the flip side of this xenophobia phenomenon:

  • On one side of this “xenophobia coin,” we have outsiders whom we need to keep beneath us.
  • On the other side, we have outsiders whom we must prevent from putting us beneath them.

Both of these fears come from a dominance instinct:

We must allow no one above us.

We must keep those below us in place.

Both of these impulses are irrational, and they tend to travel together.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but my experience tells me this:

The people who love the “military equals freedom” fantasy are the same people who oppose immigrants.

That’s not just an American thing, by the way. You see it more or less everywhere.

I know that there are many exceptions to this statement (we’re talking about millions of individuals, after all, many of whom DO analyze their own minds), but I think this statement holds up:

“Military equals freedom” grows from the same impulse as xenophobia.

The Case of America

Since the majority of my readers seem to be Americans, I’ll devote a minute to the US’s fear of the “foreign devil.”

Should Americans really take an “alien invasion” seriously? Even when surrounded by two huge oceans and friendly people to the north and south? (The trouble in Mexico exists largely because the US government created it.)

There is no potential invader who takes invasion seriously. Here’s what Japan’s Admiral Yamamoto said during the hostilities of World War II:

You cannot invade mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass.

No foreign power would seriously consider invading America, where there are 270 million guns in the hands of ordinary people. Everyone, not just boys in uniforms, would be a deadly threat.

The US can be taken by stealth, but not by an open invasion. If the American people ever paid attention to what was being done to them, no oppressor would survive it.

To close this discussion, here’s a quote from General Douglas MacArthur, who knew something about America and war:

Our country is now geared to an arms economy which was bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda of fear.

We need to let go of fear and think rationally.

Very seldom do foreigners oppress us. The vast majority of oppression comes from within.

Paul Rosenberg