Monday, March 2, 2015

The programmer who wasn't



Officially, he was not a programmer, though programming the IBM mainframes was all he did.  There was no contract money for hiring a programmer, but there was money to hire something else.  What that else was, he never found out.  But he was hired.

The programming staff that supported the DoD (Department of Defense) Anti-Ballistic Missile development project took orders from the engineers and scientists who analyzed the data.  He was not part of that programming staff.  The individuals on the staff wrote FORTRAN programs mostly from scratch in response to the analysts’ orders.  It worked but it was costly.  There was a time lag between generation of the missile test data and its analysis, due almost entirely to the time it took to write and debug the programs.  

What was needed was a software tool that would allow the analysts to massage the data themselves, without the aid of the FORTRAN programmers. 

A big meeting was held that brought in IT professionals and management from system support, the FORTRAN programming staff, and the data analysis section.  The purpose: could such a tool be developed in a reasonable timeframe at an affordable price?  The answer: No.  It would take programmers — plural — with the ability to write a specialized compiler, and such people were both rare and expensive.  And even if complier writers were available at an affordable price, it would take far too long to create a tool that would serve a broad range of analytical requirements.  

The program they wanted was a program that couldn’t be written.


So the great minds that left the meeting — and a few truly were great — found themselves with no better solution than the one they had been using all along.  The PhD analysts would continue feeding data reduction requirements to the FORTRAN staff and wait for the results.  

Some people were quite unsettled about this and couldn’t leave it alone.  Several weeks later, two managers approached the programmer-who-wasn’t and asked him to think about the possibility of a software tool for non-programmers —  the analysts — that would give them the power of a programmer but without the excruciating delays inherent in developing and debugging a program. 

In other words, could the programmer-who-wasn’t write the program that couldn’t be written?


He thought about it in his noisy cubicle and came up with a design.  He and the two managers plus a crack programmer deeply familiar with the project met for three hours examining his proposal.  He had the right approach but the wrong specifics.  Every part of it was changed, on paper.  And on paper, they now had the specifics they needed.  The only thing missing was the impossible part, the program to make it all work.

The programmer-who-wasn’t went back to his noisy cubicle and thought about how he might implement the specifics into an easy-to-use program that didn’t gobble up expensive computer resources such as execution time and memory.  He had been programming for over four years, much of it spent writing programs for transonic wind tunnel tests.  Writing a program that couldn’t be written was his first major challenge since changing departments.  

After two weeks of working on little else, he reported to one of the managers, his supervisor, that he saw no way to do it, short of writing a compiler, a task he was wholly unqualified to undertake.

The supervisor was at least sympathetic.  How could he not be?  The best brains in the company had not found a solution either. 


One afternoon after the close of business he talked with a friend who was working on his PhD in electrical engineering.  The programmer-who-wasn’t explained the wall he had run into, and his friend offered him encouragement along with two thick textbooks on compiler design to study. 

He thanked him and took the books back to his cubicle which was no longer noisy at this late hour.  He understood only a smattering of what he read, but something about it opened up his thinking.  A compiler was a new approach to programming for him.  A compiler took a series of statements a programmer wrote in a language the programmer understood and translated it into machine executable code.  A compiler was a program that ran in stages, passing its results from one stage to the other, before producing the final product the computer could execute, what smartphone users today call an app.  

But was it not possible for any program to compute in stages, not just compilers?  The answer was obviously yes, provided the programmer knew how to design and use data structures.  A program that did this was usually called an interpreter, not a compiler.  Unlike compilers, interpreters didn’t generate stand-alone executable code.  A program that ran under an interpreter needed the interpreter in memory during execution, which in this case was perfectly acceptable.

He saw an opening he hadn’t seen before.  That apparently no one in the company had seen.  He went for it.


Almost immediately he saw the impossibility of his task.  His work area was almost never quiet.  He needed quiet.  He found it impossible to concentrate.  How was he to write this program that couldn’t be written if voices filled the air around him?

An unusual task needed an unusual approach.

He walked cold turkey into the office of the project engineer, a short bearded man in his early 40s with sparkly blue eyes and a sense of humor.  The engineer listened carefully while the programmer-who-wasn’t spoke.  He said there was too much noise in his office but if he could do his designing and coding at home and come in during the evenings to test his program he could get the job done.  Coming into the data center after hours meant he would be testing his program at reduced computer rates while getting almost immediate turnaround. 

On the face of it, his proposal was outrageous.  It had never been done before, not at this company.  People came to work in the morning, spent the day in their offices, then went home to be with their families.  Your cubicle is too noisy?  Get used to it, pal.  Who are you to get away with something like this?

But the project engineer dearly wanted the job done.  At this point it was not a nice-to-have.  It was essential for getting follow-up work on the DoD contract.  He had a prestigious office with a window, with little or no noise infiltrating its sanctum.  He could sympathize.

It took him little more than two seconds to reach a decision.

Saying nothing, the project engineer raised his hand and waved him godspeed. 

The programmer-who-wasn’t drove home and got to work.


He spent the next three months without a day off doing what he promised, working at home during the day and testing his progress on the mainframe in the evening — sometimes the late evening that carried over into the late morning.  His desk was a corner of a wrap-around counter in the bedroom of a mobile home he shared with his wife.  They had no kids, though this programming project might be considered an attempt to produce an offspring.  It had become a labor of love.

Snow fell frequently during this period.  It made his bedroom work area peaceful because it kept neighbors inside.  And most people were driving home from work when he drove into work in the evening, making traffic a light burden.

Co-workers wondered about him.  What was this special program he was working on?  Was he really working or just goofing off?  Suspicion about his work life grew stronger the more he worked at home.  One morning, just before leaving the office after a 24-hour stint, he fell into conversation with a friend, a research physicist.  He was an older man named Jack.

“People are worried about you.  They think you’d be better off working normal hours,” Jack told him with a faint note of warning in his tone.  

What Jack left unsaid ordinarily would’ve bothered him.  He wasn’t worried.  He knew the hand he was holding.

The day soon arrived when he could show the project engineer the results, and they far exceeded expectations.  The project engineer was blown away.  

He installed the program and trained users at several locations, including a coral island in the remote western Pacific ocean.  He presented a detailed explanation of its design to the five-person committee that judged such matters.  The project engineer was on the committee.  So was the PhD candidate in electrical engineering.  The committee members liked it.  Most analysts loved it, even if it didn’t solve every problem they had.  There was always version 2.0.  They loved it because it allowed them to process their data themselves almost immediately after a mission.  That feature alone made it a godsend.


So how could the programmer-who-wasn’t write the program that couldn’t be written?

Was he smarter than the rest?  Wouldn’t it be logical that he was?  He had solved a problem they couldn’t.  Didn't that prove it?

There was no question who was smarter.  His success did not reflect a superior IQ, and no one thought it did.  So what was the answer?  How was he able to turn out a program the smart guys said couldn’t be written?


To the project engineer the answer was obvious and he announced it thusly: 
He succeeded because he was too dumb to know it couldn’t be done.
To the extent anyone cared, this became the accepted explanation.  It felt right.

He was also too dumb to finish his formal education.  

Lacking a degree, he was paid considerably less than those who had one, even though most of the degree holders thought the program he had written had been only a pipe dream — even though, had he taken the time to finish his degree, the program would have remained only a pipe dream.

The FORTRAN programmers mostly ignored his achievement.  Managers, from supervisors to executives, loved it and praised him for it publicly, to the point of making him feel uneasy.  Lavish praise — but little else.  On the day raises were handed out his increase was token.  Reason given: no degree.  The FORTRAN programmers could take comfort in knowing his salary was well beneath theirs.

His dream of moving to a real house, funded by a real job, had been shattered.

So he picked up the pieces of his broken dream and went home.  


A day later he did what any dumb guy would do: He quit.  The programmer-who-wasn’t, was no more.  He had passed voluntarily from employed hero to unemployed bum.

But the bum had a problem.  He had to earn a living. What could a burned-out programmer do to make a buck?  He had no skills other than programming.

Meanwhile, the project engineer received a big promotion.  Other degreed individuals received generous raises, if not promotions themselves.  

The bum tried different things.  He wrote ad copy for ad agencies.  He wrote a Hollywood screenplay that didn’t sell and a film script about the life-cycle of utility poles that did.  He went back to school and got a meaningless degree.  Money trickled in.

The frustration peaked, and eventually he and his wife split.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Will the future be for elites only?

In April, 2000 Bill Joy, cofounder of Sun Microsystems, wrote a piece for Wired titled Why the future doesn't need us.  If technology trends continue, he said, the mass of humanity will become an endangered species.

In late 1998 Joy had heard Ray Kurzweil speak on technological trends and was frightened by Kurzweil's predictions.  Joy concluded humans would soon be overwhelmed by machine intelligence.
As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won't be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.
As machines continue to take over jobs, the mass of humanity will not need to work, Joy suggests.  Humans will be a "useless burden on the system."  A fiendish elite may decide to exterminate their underlings and rely exclsuively on machines for economic growth.

But there are problems with Joy's argument. If Kurzweil is prescient, and he has been, nanotechnology will make people much smarter (and healthier) than they are today.  Augmented intelligence could save us from tyrants.  Computer aided brains would do a better job of dealing with every kind of problem, including exponentially expanding technology.

In his landmark essay of 2001, Kurzweil explains how this might happen.  First, we will use tiny robots to scan the brain.
By 2030, “nanobot” (i.e., nano robot) technology will be viable and brain scanning will be a prominent application. Nanobots are robots that are the size of human blood cells, or even smaller. Billions of them could travel through every brain capillary and scan every relevant feature from up close. Using high speed wireless communication, the nanobots would communicate with each other, and with other computers that are compiling the brain scan data base (in other words, the nanobots will all be on a wireless local area network).
Nanobots will help scientists understand the functioning of the brain.  Nanobots will also "expand our experiences and our capabilities."
Nanobot technology will provide fully immersive, totally convincing virtual reality in the following way. The nanobots take up positions in close physical proximity to every interneuronal connection coming from all of our senses (e.g., eyes, ears, skin).  We already have the technology for electronic devices to communicate with neurons in both directions that requires no direct physical contact with the neurons.
These "neuron transistors," forerunners of nanobots, can detect the firing of a nearby neuron, cause it to fire, or suppress it from firing.

When nanobots are developed they will provide the link between biological and nonbiological thinking.
Our brains today are relatively fixed in design. Although we do add patterns of interneuronal connections and neurotransmitter concentrations as a normal part of the learning process, the current overall capacity of the human brain is highly constrained, restricted to a mere hundred trillion connections. Brain implants based on massively distributed intelligent nanobots will ultimately expand our memories a trillion fold, and otherwise vastly improve all of our sensory, pattern recognition, and cognitive abilities.  (emphasis added)
How will we get these nanobots into our brains?  The way we take cough syrup.
Nanobots will be introduced without surgery, essentially just by injecting or even swallowing them. They can all be directed to leave, so the process is easily reversible. They are programmable, in that they can provide virtual reality one minute, and a variety of brain extensions the next. They can change their configuration, and clearly can alter their software. Perhaps most importantly, they are massively distributed and therefore can take up billions or trillions of positions throughout the brain . . .
There are many questions about nanobots that remain to be answered, including their price, but they are seen by researchers as a plausible means of dealing with an exponentially advancing future.  People will be far less susceptible to all kinds of ills, including misanthropic elites, if they have nanobots working for them.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

"I, Politician" Revisited

When you go to the polls tomorrow, remember: Voting will fix things if you vote for the right politician.  This means you have to cast an educated vote.

An educated vote is one nuanced by the indoctrination we received in the public schools.

Yes, this is getting old but what are our choices?  We're told as flawed as the process is it's better than not voting.  Not voting is condemned as grossly irresponsible.  Not voting is seen as surrendering society to fascists or communists or terrorists or the mega corporations.  Not voting means surrendering the country to the likes of Mitt Romney or Barack Obama or one of Bill Clinton's women.  

If enough of us stay away from the polls, not voting could even result in anarchism.  Unthinkable!  And that's true, we don't think about it, so we vote instead.

In honor of our predilection to let others steer us through life, I offer a piece I wrote in 2002 on the nature of the animal people create through suffrage.  Remember, without suffrage, we suffer even more than we do now.

At least that's what our overlords have always told us.

I, Politician (2002)


George Ford Smith

You all know me well, yet few of you can explain who I am.  At last count there were 135 of me vying to run California after the expected departure of Governor Davis.  If you believe I can save you, then you must believe your world is in desperate need of propaganda, force, and plunder, for those are my specialties.

I, Politician, speak to you without my confusing labels of Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Liberal.  Neither are my gender or race important, though you would be wise to check out my friends.  I seek to rule for the glory and the power.

There are those who seek power over nature and others who seek power over man.  Need I mention my preference?  There’s no mystery to my method; I simply feed your emotions of fear, greed, and envy.  I am George W. Bush promising you protection from government enemies; I am Hillary Clinton promising to pay all your medical bills; I am a DOJ prosecutor going after Martha Stewart or Bill Gates because they make loads of money.  I can promise these things and more, while making you believe it will cost you nothing.

The law once limited what I could do to help you.  But since my declared motive is public service, not private profit, and since you’ve never learned the lesson of the market’s “invisible hand,” [1] you’ve agreed to let me expand the law to be more accommodating.

Do you love the American principle of equality under the law?  I am especially fond of it.  I have altered it from its original meaning – which is, that no one is privileged -- to a more progressive interpretation: No one is privileged who does not play the lobbying game.  The revised meaning is infinitely more useful for my purposes.

No matter what the issue is, I, Politician always discuss it in terms of how government should spend and regulate, not whether it should be doing anything at all.  I address problems by perpetuating them in bureaucracies and doling out plums to political supporters.

For me to help you as much as you would like, and bring justice to far-away lands, it is necessary for I, Politician, to claim ownership of your wealth.  This I do primarily in two ways: by seizing your income before you even get it and by establishing a system of legal counterfeiting.

Long ago, the paper you call money were once receipts redeemable in gold. The gold standard kept the banks honest, which is to say, it made banks uncomfortable when they loaned out pseudo-receipts not backed by gold.  It caused grave problems when depositors demanded their gold and the banks didn’t have enough to go around.  So I, Politician, when I was FDR, confiscated the people’s gold and made it illegal to use as money.  I seized the gold held in Federal Reserve banks and transferred it to the U.S. Treasury, giving in exchange gold certificates, pieces of paper testifying to the theft.  [2]

I declared paper money itself was now money, with government as the monopoly supplier.  As one economist observed, “In 1933, the United  States government removed the gold restraint on its inflationary potential  by shifting to fiat money.” [3]   Thus, I can create fiat dollars whenever I need them by cranking up the printing presses.  When this causes prices to rise and the dollar to sink, I blame it on the greed of business.

I hasten to add that I, Politician, can only do this on a national level; I have forbidden states from printing their own money.  They must feed off their flock in direct ways, through user fees and other taxes.

The only threat I have comes from you.  Someday you might fight back, as Vernice Kuglin has done against the IRS.  But notice the solitude of her crusade.  A woman stands up to the American Gestapo as our founders once did to the king.  Is she hailed as a defender of American freedom?  No.  The Fox TV mouths tell us she is “one lonely soldier who found a sympathetic jury” but has not started a trend.  [4]  Or they openly attacked her with the flag, as my buddies Hannity and Colmes did.  [5] I, Politician, have friends in all the right places.

I, Politician, run a huge wealth-transfer and war-making operation.  I achieve legitimacy through controlled elections and the systematic corruption of culture.  Take away my revenue and my power goes with it, as well as my incentive to mess in politics.  But who wants to see people keeping their wealth and conducting their lives without state regulation?  Certainly not I, Politician.

1 Read, Leonard E., “I, Pencil,”

2 Raico, Ralph, FDR – The Man, the Leader, the Legacy, Part 10,

3 Rothbard, Murray N., For A New Liberty, quoted in Raico.

4 Woman Beats IRS in Court Over Income Tax Protest,2933,94630,00.html

5 Vernie Kuglin and Attorney Larry Becraft on Hannity & Colmes, MP3 audio file,

Monday, September 22, 2014

Here comes the sun

From an article at VentureBeat:

"In the 1980s, leading consultants were skeptical about cellular phones. McKinsey & Co. noted that the handsets were heavy, batteries didn't last long, coverage was patchy, and the cost per minute was exorbitant. It predicted that in 20 years the total market size would be about 900,000 units and advised AT&T to pull out.

"McKinsey was wrong, of course. There were more than 100 million cellular phones in use 2000; there are billions now. Costs have fallen so far that even the poor, all over world, can afford cellular phones.

"The experts are saying the same about solar energy now. They note that after decades of development, solar power hardly supplies 1 percent of the world's energy needs. They say that solar is inefficient, too expensive to install, and unreliable, and will fail without government subsidies. They too are wrong. Solar will be as ubiquitous as cellular phones are."

Read the rest here:

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Who says the empire is broke?

Libertarians have paralleled the neocon US to Nazi Germany quite often, but when an establishment voice makes such a comparison, it is noteworthy.  Not only the words spoken are worthy of note, but the establishment turbulence they created.

Richard Mourdock is the outgoing treasurer of Indiana.  During his political career he has called for cuts in federal spending of $7.6 trillion over a ten-year period and opposed the bailouts of GM and Chrysler during the most recent financial crisis.  He believes in balanced budgets and has a knack for offering up his chin to political opponents.

In a farewell speech delivered Saturday at the Indiana Republican Convention in Fort Wayne, Mourdock told the 1,700 delegates in attendance that "The people of Germany in a free election selected the Nazi Party because they made great promises that appealed to them because they were desperate and destitute. And why is that? Because Germany was bankrupt."  He then had the gall to point out that the U.S. was "drifting" toward bankruptcy and would be vulnerable to a charismatic leader like Hitler.

He's wrong.  We're not drifting toward bankruptcy, we're already there.  Of all the attacks on his speech no one bothered to point this out.  Nor did any one challenge his position that when the checks bounce the U.S. or any country would be vulnerable to a charismatic leader who could offer up a whipping boy for the people's rage.  No one wants to believe that government spending can't go on forever.

The mainstream insists that as long as we believe we're not bankrupt, we won't be.  We are what we believe.

Stephen Klapper, vice president of the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, spoke for many when he announced that "it's outrageous to equate our nation's legitimate public policy challenges, and the way we choose to address these issues – ideally through civil discourse and rigorous debate – with the way Hitler and his Nazi regime propagated one of civilization's most reprehensible atrocities through lies, terror, and ultimately genocide."

Lies and terror are the heart and soul of government, Mr. Klapper, and have been since forever.  Genocide?  It depends on how appealing other options are when government gets desperate.  FDR turned to war, not genocide, though he had bad things to say about those economic royalists who were sabotaging his program of economic fascism.  And in turning to war we got the Holocaust.

According to the status quo there are no serious challenges to public policy.  Debt can grow forever because we owe it to ourselves.  Through debt we are delivered.  We are all Keynesians now, even if Keynesians were clueless about the arrival of the Financial Crisis.  Armed with a printing press and the congressional courage to spend without restraint government can create prosperity any time it wishes.

The only thing we have to fear is some prominent wise guy telling us the empire is broke.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Meet a lady I think you'll like

When I became a public defender, it was like the scales fell from my eyes.  And I understood that the law has become an instrument of injustice.”
— Catherine S. Bernard

If you were stopped on the street and asked to name America’s core values, you might say, recalling the words of the Declaration, that Americans believe each person possesses rights that are absolute, that cannot be given or taken away, and that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  

You might say that and you might not, because in 21st century America such values are rarely articulated in public because of the danger they pose to the powers that be.  They are clearly not the core values of most Washington and state lawmakers, judging by the outpouring of laws they set upon us.  Consistent with their Keynesian economic orientation, they rarely see people as individuals, but rather as voting blocs or aggregates.  Anyone with the nerve to exalt the individual is regarded as a threat to their political security.

And in that, they are 100% correct.

It is indeed refreshing, then, to find someone who not only has the moxie to stand up for our rights, but is also trying to get seated as a lawmaker — in this case, as the Georgia state legislator for House District 80, Brookhaven.  It is somewhat misleading to think of Catherine Bernard as a potential lawmaker, though, because she thinks we have far too many laws and many of them need repealing.  She also has strong opinions about Edward Snowden, the Fed, and ObamaCare.  And she thinks government is choking on lawyers, even though she is one herself.

But rather than have me tell you about her, let’s go straight to the source.  I had the pleasure of talking to Catherine recently to get a better understanding of who she is and what she stands for.  What follows is a redacted transcript of our conversation. 

George F. Smith: You graduated from the University of Virginia law school, but before that you were a political science and philosophy major at Emory University in Atlanta.

Catherine Bernard: That’s right.

GFS:  Why those particular majors?

CB: I guess I’ve never been interested in much else.  I did debate from very early on.  My teachers actually recommended to my parents that they send me to debate camp.  I was one of those kids who was always interested in fairness and talking out the issues, and making sure people were being treated in a just way, and that everybody was free to do the right thing.

GFS: Did you go to the debate camp?

CB: I started debate camp the summer after my eighth grade year and I went every summer thereafter.  I went to several different ones, including University of Michigan, University of Kentucky, Wake Forest, and Longwood University in Virginia.  My friends from debate have ended up all over the place — a lot of Supreme Court clerks, a lot of law professors — and I still cherish my friendships with them.  They’ve provided an excellent intellectual sounding board for me as I’ve continued to develop my political philosophy.

GFS: Do you have a favorite political philosopher?

CB:  Yes!  John Stuart Mill.  

GFS: Why Mill?

CB:  Well, he doesn’t get everything right, but he got more things right than most. His conception of the harm principle is a strong justification for good politics and good government.  He gets it right.  Unless a person is doing something to harm others, his fellow citizens really have no right to interfere with his life. 

GFS:  So, why are you running for office? 

CB:  Part of it is, I don’t want to.  We need more people in politics who are not caught up in the idea that “I want to do this.  I want to be important.  I want to exercise control over my fellow citizens.”  You know, it really has become a career for a lot of people.  They become a governor — someone who just exercises control over other people.  This is not the vision of our country under the Constitution which is supposed to be “by, of, and for the people.”  And you don’t get that when you have a political class that does nothing but participate in politics as a career.  We need more change.  We need people who will voluntarily term-limit themselves.

GFS: Would you impose term limits on yourself?

CB:  Yes.  In the state house you don’t need to be in there longer than three terms — three two-year terms.  Ideally, two two-year terms but I recognize four years can be a relatively short amount of time.

GFS:  What is Brookhaven’s greatest need right now?

CB:  Well, I don’t mean to sound overbearing like I know what’s best for people — that’s the opposite of my approach — but I do think we need less government control.  In voting to make Brookhaven a separate city, we voted for local control.  But at every turn our local government has been just another layer of bureaucracy standing in the way of the will of the citizens, whether it’s the Pink Pony lawsuit or, just now, our mayor has shortlisted one of his campaign contributors who’s also a member of the planning commission.  The supporter's firm is about to get a big transportation contract with the city’s comprehensive transportation plan.  Stories like that are just rampant. 

I participated in the Transit Oriented Development Process where we went to lots of meetings and talked about how we wanted the city to grow.  I would talk to people and find out, “Oh, well, this guy is starting a company to sell golf carts, and that’s why he wants golf cart trails in Brookhaven.”  There’s so much intertwining of people’s personal financial interests with government control that we’re setting ourselves up for worse and worse outcomes.

GFS: And how would you address this problem?

CB:  More citizen engagement as well as an attitude from local government that government is not there to solve everything, that really the most desirable outcomes come from people coming together cooperatively rather than coercively.  And I think one of the biggest examples is Briarwood Park, which is a park near Buford Highway that was not in great shape.  A group of citizens got together and cleaned it up without coercive pressure from the city.  They built a garden, raised donations from companies and individuals to build a playground, and now it looks great.  It’s fantastic.  You didn’t need a government mandate to do it.

Really, a state legislator should be looking at what’s best for the whole state of Georgia rather than get bogged down in local issues.  As a state legislator, I would try to set the example of, “Let’s look at citizen solutions first rather than jumping to government-mandated solutions.  Let’s make Georgia a society where we respect each other and cooperate with each other rather than try to pass laws to control each other.”

GFS: Do you find yourself at odds with people when discussing economics?

CB: I find myself arguing with Keynesians quite a bit.  I don’t know if you’ve seen that video portraying Keynes and Hayek, where they’re in the ring boxing together—

GFS:  Oh, yes, it’s great.

CB: Yes, it is.  I think a good way to talk to Keynesians is to point out what exactly they’re trying to say — that it’s the broken window fallacy writ large.  To Keynesians, as long as there’s some kind of activity going on, then that’s stimulating the economy.  They love Paul Krugman — he won the Nobel Prize in economics, so he must be brilliant. And they have a habit of making non-falsifiable claims, and then whatever happens is evidence for their position.  “Oh, the stimulus didn’t work?  It’s because we didn’t spend enough money on it.”  Their answer is always more government, no matter what.

GFS: True.

CB:  They complain about how bad our health care system is in the United States, and they say, “Well, your free market health care system isn’t working.”  I say, “We haven’t had a free market health care system since the wage controls of the Forties that were put in place to force companies to start offering insurance instead of wage increases.”  It was only when we started moving away from a free market system that we got stagnating and eventually declining outcomes.

GFS: Have your political views changed over the years, Catherine?

CB:  Well, when I graduated from law school and started working for a big firm, I ran with a crowd where it wasn’t enlightened to be a Republican.  All the enlightened people were Progressives.  “Of course you had to believe in government as the solution.”  I cast an absentee ballot for Obama in 2008 because I did not like George W. Bush, I did not like years of war, and I fell for it.  I fell for the whole, “I’m going to restore the Constitution and bring peace.” 

GFS: Ron Paul also ran in 2008.  Did you have any opinion of him back then?

CB:  I did, I did!  I thought he was a racist, a sexist, and probably antisemitic.  

GFS: And that has changed?

CB:  Yes, because it was not based on any kind of knowledge or research.  That’s what I’m saying about how I was really — maybe “conformist” is a strong word — but I was not questioning.  I just accepted the view that Ron Paul, “Well, he’s that crazy old guy who wants women to be barefoot and pregnant and doesn’t care about the Civil Rights Act.”  I think that experience has made me a better advocate for positions of liberty because I understand what we’re up against.  I understand the way that people think about things like the Civil Rights Act.  They say, “Well, how could you be against civil rights?”  And I tell them, “How could you leave something as important as civil rights up to a government where it’s still good law to intern citizens based on their racial descent?”  Korematsu v. United States was never overturned. 

GFS: Ron Paul entered politics in the 1970s because of his opposition to the Federal Reserve System and its monopoly fiat money.  He wants to abolish the Fed.  What would you do with it?

CB:  I would blink it out of existence.  I think it is a terrible public/private partnership, I think it is an unaccountable private entity that has tremendous government power to print money. 

Every dollar that’s printed and literally handed out to these crony bankers makes the dollar in a poor person’s savings account or paycheck worth less.  People talk about income inequality and how it’s so awful that people are getting poorer and worse off, and I totally agree.  But it’s actually government intervention and things like quantitative easing that is making it so much harder for poor people to get by. 

Poverty had been going down in the United States until the War on Poverty, when it started plateauing, and now it’s actually going up.  That’s crazy in a country like ours to actually have poverty going up.  People are going to say, “Oh, things are getting worse.  We must need more government!”

GFS: If you got rid of the Fed, would you also get rid of the Fed’s money — federal reserves notes? 

CB: I support competing currencies.  I think people should be free to trade in whatever currency they want.  I would advocate repealing laws restricting other forms of tender.  Bitcoin, barter, gold, silver — people should be able to trade however they consent to trade with each other.

GFS: If you had the power to repeal ObamaCare, would you?

CB:  I absolutely would.  What I want to get across to people is, there are so many folks, particularly on the Left, but also some of our more moderate conservatives, they look at opposition to ObamaCare as saying, “Oh, you don’t want poor people to get health care!”  It’s actually because I want poor people to be able to get health care that we absolutely cannot impose any further form of socialized medicine.  I have a very humanitarian opposition to ObamaCare.

When I became a public defender, it was like the scales fell from my eyes.  And I understood that the law has become an instrument of injustice.  It’s very easy to point at someone who questions the status quo and say, “Oh, well, that person’s crazy.  That person just doesn’t understand the way the world works.”  But that has always been the justification for tyranny.  Everyone just going along to get along.  So many of my friends think, “You see tyranny around every corner.”  That’s an actual quote from one of my law school friends.  And I say, “Well, I’m not trying to, but the time to notice it is before it becomes the Third Reich.  Once that happens it’s too late.  You have to find the warning signs and figure it out while everybody else is still thinking it’s kind of a crazy idea.  

When I learned Wickard v. Filburn, I said, “Oh, well, that’s just rule of law!”  It might be wrong but it would be worse not to follow the law — that would be disrespect for the rule of law.  But I have almost gone a complete 180 from that where I do advocate civil disobedience.  I do advocate people standing up for their rights even if the law is saying otherwise.  I genuinely believe our basic freedoms that our country was founded on are in jeopardy, and we are not going to be able to fix that if we just have a blind reverence for the rule of law, no matter what that law is.

GFS: Edward Snowden — hero or villain?

CB: He’s a hero.  We always see signs saying, “If you see something, say something.”  If you see something that’s bad you should report it so that everyone else knows about it.  And that’s exactly what Edward Snowden did.  He saw our government violating the Constitution, lying to the people about this constitutional violation, and he exposed it — to us.  I know some people who say, “Oh, he sold his secrets to the Russians!”  No, he didn’t.  If he had sold his secrets to the Russians we would’ve found out about it in a very different way.  His actions are not the actions of somebody who is selling secrets to the highest bidder.  He revealed them to American journalists who reported it in the American press. 

GFS:  Glenn Greenwald?

CB:  I’ve actually been a huge fan of Glenn Greenwald even before the Edward Snowden revelations.  I love his new website, The Intercept.  I think he represents what journalism should be.  There’s a great quote: “Journalism is what people don’t want to be printed.  Everything else is public relations.”  He’s going after the stories that are making people mad, and I think that’s a sign he’s on the right track. 

GFS: Anything else you care to add?

CB:  Well, I had a  conversation today with a voter, a very nice guy.  He was saying, “Yeah, yeah, you sound great!  I’ll support you.”  Then he said, “What do you think of the Tea Party?”  And I said, “Well, I agree that we’re taxed enough already.  Some of their positions are not as good as others, but they do get some stuff right.”  And he didn’t like that one bit.  He said, “I don’t believe in taking a government prisoner.”  He was referring to the government shutdown.  He said, “I like the establishment Republicans.  The Tea Party, that’s what I have trouble with.” 

It was just so disappointing to me.  The mainstream media has engaged in a smear campaign about the Tea Party.  They’re presented as uneducated, theocratic hicks who just don’t understand government.  That’s the problem.  They’re actually one of the strongest voices for limited government out there, but they’re being caricatured in a way that presents them as enemies of good government.   

I really want to bring together people who want limited government for humanitarian reasons.  I want to show folks that it’s not about being selfish or not caring what happens to other people.  It’s because we care about what happens to other people that we don’t want to let the government keep doing what it’s doing.

GFS:  Thank you, Catherine.

CB:  My pleasure.