Friday, July 15, 2011


by James Craig Green

As I approach the best years of my life (almost 66), I contemplate things I didn't think to write down before. One of these is the characteristics I have grown to admire in others, especially those I think inadequate in myself. This provides incentive for self-improvement.

I list only four characteristics here, so as not to dilute what I think is the superior importance of these few.


I place courage first, because it is the one thing more than anything else I wish I had more of. From what I know of others, I suspect this is an almost universal failing in people, though some may not recognize or strive for it as I do.

I split courage into two categories.

Physical courage is like that of a soldier who wins a medal, or more commonly, from ordinary people caught up in a tragedy who suddenly discover courage they didn't know they had. One example was Roger Olian, a passerby who dove into the icy water of the Potomac River in 1982 after a plane went down shortly after takeoff from Washington D.C. He jumped into the icy cold water then, assisted by several off duty military personnel, attempting to rescue a survivor. Only five out of 79 people on the plane survived. This kind of thing happens more than I can recall, to people who didn't know they had it in them.

My late uncle Eugene Austin, a marine in the South Pacific during World War II, spent a year in Veteran's Administration (VA) hospitals after the war, having won the Silver Star and multiple purple hearts. I once asked my cousin Spencer Austin, his son, why he performed the incredibly courageous act that won him the Silver Star. Spencer said, "He got really mad." That was a shocker to me, but I wonder how often such things happen because someone just lost emotional control. Perhaps nine times out of ten, someone in that frame of mind would get killed, but my uncle Gene survived. Since this has never happened to me, I don't really know.

For lack of a better term, I call the other kind of courage Social Courage. This means the courage to go against the crowd, especially when you choose principle over expediency. I think this kind of courage is very rare, though we do hear of such cases: whistleblowers who lose their jobs doing the right thing, the rare, rare, rare politician who follows his conscience despite its negative impact on his/her re-election (almost all such claims are false), and even the simple ability to tell the truth when a lie would be easier. This is the kind of courage I strive for, and often fail to acheive, because swimming upstream is so difficult. Unlike the soldier or spontaneous hero who reacts emotionally, this almost always involves a known negative cost, like the loss of a job or friends as the cost of one's courage.

My all-time favorite hero for this second kind of courage is Muhammed Ali, Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world, when he refused to be drafted during the Viet Nam war. In 1967, Ali was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for draft evasion. He literally gave up everything -- his income, titles, security, the admiration of untold millions and the terrible scorn, even hatred of others -- all with the knowledge he would likely go to prison. I can't imagine anyone giving up so much for principle, but he did. As you probably know, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned his conviction, and he didn't have to go to prison. But his title was lost, so he had to invent the Rope a Dope strategy against the awesome power of George Foreman in his historic 1974 comeback. In my estimation, not one man in a million has this kind of courage, especially when the stakes were so high and the deck was stacked against him.

I believe in courage enough to have a tattoo of the Chinese character for it on my arm, to remind me to break out of a natural human tendency - conformity. One of the scariest things I ever did was to call a girl and ask for a date when I was a 14 year-old in Junior High School (it wasn't called middle school then). I remember beginning the call several times, but hanging up before anyone answered before I finally got it done. I have managed to develop social courage in some areas since, but I hope I never have to find out whether I have the other kind, physical courage. The closest I ever came was riding a motorcycle on the race track, which was probably a combination of adrenalin and emotion. It was the most fun thing I ever did, lasting almost a decade ending in 2009.


Trustworthiness is essential to be a good friend, neighbor, partner, customer or service provider. The lack of it is at the root of today's multiple worldwide financial crises. Although so many people today are indoctrinated by government schools and movies to think businessmen and women are evil and do so much harm to the environment and society, in my opinion the opposite is most often true. This requires an explanation, since it seems to be such a minority viewpoint.

If you' ve read any of my other posts, you know I have a free market bias. I believe that most of the damage business does today, especially the most egregious and destructive examples, is a direct result of government subsidies, government regulations, unfunded mandates on business and other political favoritism which I called CRONY CAPITALISM in an earlier blog post. A good example of this was a prior Congress' limiting future oil spill damages to $75 million after the Exxon-Valdez disaster in Alaska in the seventies, which was a small fraction of the actual damages in the more recent case in the Gulf of Mexico. Although one could reasonably argue that President Obama did right when he stepped in to demand more from British Petroleum (BP), this would not have been necessary without the earlier, disastrous, political action to artificially reduce oil companies' risk of lawsuits from insurance companies and other affected parties.

Without turning this into another essay... government subsidies (and limited liability legislation) encourage business' dependence on government, just like heroin, at the same time making them less responsible for damage they may cause. One reason for this is the suspension of property rights and their enforcement, like bailing out Wall Street banks with taxpayers' money. Of course government, forever naive and hopelessly stupid, assumed, but did not require, that the banks would make new loans with it. Instead, they just improved their balanced sheets. It is the height of arrogance, ignorance and denial to think that free markets caused any part of this. See also CRONY CAPITALISM, scrolling to What Free Market?

Some companies petition government to pass further restrictions on their competitors, which was the origin of the wave of antitrust legislation in the 1890's and since. This anti-market activity is a another kind of government subsidy for some businesses, and cronyism adversely affecting others. This has created one of the most counterproductive, destructive, arbitrary and capricious bodies of law any government ever imposed on its citizens. Always sold as the panacea for some problem (i.e., monopoly), it almost always makes the problem worse, creating unintended consequences no government bureaucrat or agent can predict. It is no accident, for example, that giving the Federal Reserve (a private banking cartel) a monopoly over the nation's money and credit did not solve the problem of "banking monopolies" promised at its creation in 1913. Instead, it has destroyed more than 95% the value of the dollar. See THE COURAGEOUS WISDOM OF RON PAUL.

Give me control of a nation's money and I care not who makes its laws -- Mayer Amschel Rothschield

Concerning personal trustworthiness, think about which friends, family member and associates you treasure the most. Most likely, they are the ones who give you positive values in exchange for the values you give them, in a win-win relationship where both parties benefit. In the unsubsidized business world, trustworthiness is the most important aspect of contract law, developed privately by merchants in ancient times. Only when nation-states came along in recent centuries, did government take over and attempt to monopolize this innovative development.


Like any good thing, honesty can be carried too far, or applied in a situation where it does more harm than good. For example, telling someone that a friend or family member they have known and trusted all their life is a crook, or did some dispicable thing. If necessary to prevent further harm, this may be a good thing, but if only to set the record straight on a loved one's deathbed, it may further no purpose but pain and emotional suffering. I have Dr. Laura Slessinger, the famous talk show host, to thank for this practical wisdom.

Honesty is particularly important in government, where it is found the least. Since government is a legal monopoly of force against innocents, it most effectively separates personal responsibility from individual action (See CRAIG'S SEVEN PREMISES - Numbers 4-6). This is one important reason why government has easily outstripped its protective function and instead became a bloated monster whose primary purpose today seems to be to separate people from their rights instead of protecting them. Of course, the whole idea of "rights" has been turned on its head since the New Deal, as I discuss in CONFUSION ABOUT RIGHTS.

It should be obvious that a person's proven honesty in contractual and other dealings is one of; perhaps the most important, aspect of trustworthiness. But, you don't have an obligation to tell a thief where the money is hidden.


I include compassion here not because so many people lack it, but because so many think government produces or encourages it, which is completely false. Let me begin by defining what I mean by compassion.

Compassion is the voluntary choice to assist someone in need.

However, once government gets involved, the voluntary part goes out the window. As I explain in my blog post MARKETS WORK - GOVERNMENTS DON'T, government funding always comes from legalized theft, fraud and extortion. This includes increasing public debt and "printing" dollars (future pain) as well as more obvious and immediate taxation and expanding government spending without wealth to back it (current pain).

Furthermore, once people have come to expect the government to take care of disaster victims, feed the poor, help budding entrepreneurs start businesses and create safety nets, private charities are diminished, not only in their primary goal to help people, but in the lack of honesty inherent in political, rather than voluntary, resource allocation. As I pointed out in ADAM SMITH'S DISMAL SCIENCE, governments at all levels turned away truckloads of food, water, clothing and other useful items after Hurricane Katrina that were sent by churches, private charities, businesses and spontaneous groups of Americans, the most compassionate people on Earth.

Perhaps the most insidious aspect of government pretending (always failing) to achieve compassion is forcing people to give to causes they do not support. This diminishes the genuine compassion so many people exhibit during natural and other disasters. It is no accident that Americans have been the most compassionate people on Earth, originating so many international organizations designed to do one thing -- to help people in need. This compassion came not from government, which inhibits it, but from ordinary people left mostly free to pursue their own lives instead of being told what to do with them from cradle to grave. The decline in American compassion over the last half century is a direct result of government involvement.


I wish I could say I always uphold these characteristics, but I too often lack the courage to do so. For me, courage is most important because it makes the others easier to find. As one of my favorite philosophers, Epictetus, (Roman Slave and leader of the Stoic movement) said, do not worry about things over which you have no control. The past cannot be undone, and as another mentor of mine said, "Perfect is the enemy of good enough."

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