Harry Browne

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Coercion never produces harmony. How harmonious are people who are being forced to act against their will? Most likely, those who are coerced will resent those who benefit from the coercion. This sets group against group; it doesn't bring them together.

Harry Edson Browne (17 June 19331 March 2006) was an American politician, libertarian writer and public speaker, and investment analyst. He was the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee in the U. S. elections of 1996 and 2000.  He was the author of 23[1] books that in total have sold more than 2 million copies and of thousands of articles, co-founder and Director of Public Policy of the libertarian Downsize DC Foundation, and host of two weekly network radio shows (The Libertarian Conversation and The Money Show) and of an eTV show (This Week in Liberty with Harry Browne).


  • The income tax is the biggest single intrusion suffered by the American people. It forces every worker to be a bookkeeper, to open his records to the government, to explain his expenses, to fear conviction for a harmless accounting error. Compliance wastes billions of dollars. The income tax penalizes savings and creates an enormous drag on the U.S. economy. It is incompatible with a free society, and we must get rid of it.
  • We should never define Libertarian positions in terms coined by liberals or conservatives — nor as some variant of their positions. We are not fiscally conservative and socially liberal. We are Libertarians, who believe in individual liberty and personal responsibility on all issues at all times.
  • I say that the Second Amendment doesn't allow for exceptions — or else it would have read that the right "to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, unless Congress chooses otherwise." And because there are no exceptions, I disagree with my fellow panelists who say the existing gun laws should be enforced. Those laws are unconstitutional [and] wrong — because they put you at a disadvantage to armed criminals, to whom the laws are no inconvenience.
    • Second Amendment rally in Arkansas (8 August 2000)
  • When will we learn that we can't allow our politicians to bully the world without someone bullying back eventually?
    • "When Will We Learn?" posted one day after 9/11, "Antiwar.com" (12 September 2001)
  • Government is good at one thing: It knows how to break your legs, hand you a crutch, and say, "See, if it weren't for the government, you wouldn't be able to walk."
  • Given the results of the government's War on Poverty and the War on Drugs, we can assume that a War on Abortion will lead within five years to men having abortions.
  • There already are 20,000 federal gun laws and regulations on the books. If those laws haven't made America safe by now, why should we think 20,001 laws will suffice? We shouldn't. Instead, we need to recognize that those 20,000 laws are a principal cause of the current violence in society. They have made our children and all innocent adults much less safe -- by disarming innocent citizens and encouraging armed criminals to take advantage of us.
    • As quoted in Gun Control: Preventing Violence or Crushing Constitutional Rights (2011) by Matt Doeden, p. 65

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World (1973)[edit]

  • Freedom is the opportunity to live your life as you want to live it.
    • p. 11
  • The unfree person can never fully repress his urge for freedom — whether he considers his jailer to be his family, his job, society, or the government. And so, from time to time, halfhearted attempts are made to break free from the restrictions.
    • p. 11
  • I've concentrated upon the things I control, and used that control to remove the restrictions and complications from my life.
    • p. 16
  • Freedom is the opportunity to live your life as you want to live it.
    • p. 16
  • The unselfishness trap is the belief that you must put the happiness of others ahead of your own. Unselfishness is a very popular ideal, one that's been honored throughout recorded history. Wherever you turn, you find encouragement to put the happiness of others ahead of your own — to do what's best for the world, not yourself. If the ideal is sound, there must be something unworthy in seeking to live your life as you want to live it.
  • Absolute morality is the most common type of morality, and it can be pretty intimidating. You can be made to appear 'selfish,' 'whim-worshiping,' 'egoistic,' 'hedonistic,' or 'ruthless,' if you merely assert that your own happiness is the most important thing in your life.
    • p. 54
  • If an individual is required to give up his own happiness for society, of what value is society to him?
    • p. 54
  • The unselfishness trap is the belief that you must put the happiness of others ahead of your own. Unselfishness is a very popular ideal, one that's been honored throughout recorded history. Wherever you turn, you find encouragement to put the happiness of others ahead of your own — to do what's best for the world, not yourself. If the ideal is sound, there must be something unworthy in seeking to live your life as you want to live it.
    • p. 60
  • One person devotes his life to helping the poor. Another one lies and steals. Still another person tries to create better products and services for which he hopes to be paid handsomely. One woman devotes herself to her husband and children. Another seeks a career as a singer. In every case, the basic motivation has been the same. Each person is doing what he believes will bring him happiness. What varies between them is the means each has chosen to gain his happiness.
    • pp. 60-61
  • In seeking your own freedom and happiness, you have to deal with those who tell you that you shouldn't put yourself first. That creates a situation in which you're pressured to act negatively — to put aside your plans and desires in order to avoid the condemnation of others.
    • p. 62
  • If someone says that giving is the key to happiness, isn't he saying that's the key to his happiness? To assume that his opinions are binding upon you is a common form of the Identity Trap.
    • p. 63
  • An efficiently selfish person is sensitive to the needs and desires of others. But he doesn't consider those desires to be demands upon him. Rather, he sees them as opportunities — potential exchanges that might be beneficial to him.
    • p. 66
  • He doesn't sacrifice himself for others, nor does he expect others to be sacrificed for him. He takes the third alternative — he finds relationships that are mutually beneficial so that no sacrifice is required.
    • p. 66
  • When someone accuses you of being selfish, just remember that he's upset only because you aren't doing what he selfishly wants you to do.
    • p. 67
  • Groups are not living entities. They don't think or act; only individuals do. And yet any group effort is based upon the assumption of a group purpose that overrides the individual differences of its members. It's expected that the group will act as a single unit with a unified purpose.
    • p. 68
  • A free man doesn't need groups, because he's in a position to take advantage of the numerous direct alternatives that require only his decision, not the changing of others.
    • p. 78
  • There are also wide differences in tastes and desires. This, too, is fortunate. For these differences make the world orderly. If everyone wanted the same things, we would all be struggling against each other to acquire what little was available. Diversity is the source of harmony in human relationships.
    • p. 81
  • Desires are limitless; resources are limited. Those two conditions are the reasons that individuals must make choices. Individuals decide how they'll use their limited resources to satisfy their strongest desires. In doing so, they develop value scales, which we can see only by looking at the exchanges they're willing to make.
    • p. 82
  • The basic mistake is the assumption that with a government they will have more than what they would have had in the marketplace. The truth is that they wind up with less. For the government can only give you something by taking away something you want more.
    • p. 86
  • People seek government action because they don't approve of what other people choose to do with their lives. They want to overrule the decisions others have made concerning the use of their own time and money.
    • p. 86
  • Governments don't protect you. They can't. All they can do is promise to make the person who hurts you pay for his crime — if they can catch him. The criminal won't pay you back, of course, so they punish him only as a deterrent to future crime. If you think the deterrent is working, why is crime always such a public issue?
    • p. 92
  • It's just as foolish to feel that you must make everyone understand that you're right, that your desires are legitimate, that you should be able to do as you want. You don't have to. Just concentrate your attention on finding those people who are appropriate for you. You can ignore the others
    • p. 105
  • I've heard it said that the Constitution is perfect but that the politicians create problems by ignoring it. But if the Constitution can't make the politicians respect it, of what value is it? It's interesting to talk about, but not really useful to your freedom. For, in practice, the Constitution is whatever the President, the Congress, and the Supreme Court choose to think it is — and that may be considerably different from what you think it is.
    • p. 109
  • You have so much control over your life, it would be a shame to throw it away. But you do just that if you hope to get what you want by invoking your rights or by trying to change others.
    • p. 113
  • An individual doesn't need to live in a free society in order to be free himself — and when he tries to change the world, he's in for a lot more trouble than he may have bargained for.
    • p. 115
  • Is the government getting too repressive? You could spend the rest of your life fighting it, but your actions won't change the fate of the nation. However, you can make sure the repression doesn't get in your way.
    • p. 123
  • A free person doesn't try to remake the world of his friends or his family. He merely appraises every situation by the simple standard: Is this what I want for myself? If it isn't, he looks elsewhere. If it is, he relaxes and enjoys it — without the problems most other people take for granted.
    • p. 124
  • A free person uses his tremendous power of choice to make a comfortable life for himself. The power of choice. You have it. But you forfeit it when you imagine thet you can choose for others. You can't.
    • p. 124
  • The existence of evil isn't a claim upon you. 'Evil' will always exist in the world. To accept as a principle that you must fight something because it is evil is to believe you must fight anything that's evil. There's no end to the number of evils that could command your attention. Is that all your life is for — to spend it fighting evil?
    • pp. 127-128
  • Everything you want in life has a price connected to it. There's a price to pay if you want to make things better, a price to pay just of leaving thing as they are, a price for everything.
    • p. 140
  • Taking risks is an inherent part of life; it's only dangerous when you act as though you're not taking a risk.
    • p. 155
  • If everyone in your church or neighborhood is sure he knows exactly who and what God is, how to reach him, and what his rules for human behavior are, that isn't evidence of anything — except evidence that a lot of people say they hold that opinion.
    • p. 156
  • Don't let uncertainty prevent you from enjoying what you have. But don't let overconfidence lead you to act upon what you don't have yet.
    • p. 159
  • You are the sovereign authority for your life. You are the ruler who makes the decisions regarding how you will act, what information you will accept. You do it anyway — but if you recognize that you do it, you can gain much greater control over your future.
    • p. 161
  • It's easy to believe that you came into the world with a prearranged program you must follow. After all, long before you arrived, other people figured out how you should live, what laws you should obey, what your obligations are, the whole structure for a 'proper' life… Are you willing to give up the one life you have in order to conform to the way others think you should live?
    • p. 162
  • By bending yourself to fit the institutions, you turn things inside out. The institutions must be created and utilized as they serve you — not vice versa. When they don't add anything to your well-being, you have no logical reason to support them.
    • p. 163
  • Freedom is more often lost by false assumptions than by the power of one's enemies.
    • p. 164
  • Every person is the sovereign ruler of his own life. But few people ever recognize that fact. Those who do will make it their business to find freedom. Those who don't will invariably resign themselves to whatever 'society' makes available to them.
    • p. 167
  • The gigantic myth called 'society' that rules so many lives doesn't even exist. 'Society' is merely a collection of different people, tastes, and judgements. It can't enforce its rules upon you. You don't have to uphold causes you don't believe in, go to cocktail parties that bore you, dress and act as you've been told to.
    • p. 168
  • To be free, you have only to make the decision to be free. Freedom is waiting for you — anytime you're ready for it.
    • p. 169
  • In the book 1984, George Orwell pictured a totalitarian society that has become the standard view of the total state of the future. Everyone's life was controlled by computer, and there was a TV camera in every room to monitor everyone's activities… Fortunately, such dramas overlook the fundamentals of economics. The larger the government, the less efficient and productive is the economy. Slaves don't produce with the enthusiasm, incentive, and imagination that free people do. Bureaucratic programs just don't work as intended… So while the totalitarian state may include a TV camera in every room, I doubt that the camera will work.
    • p. 176
  • I think that many people hide their identity, tolerate restrictions, and remain in bad relationships because they're afraid of being lonely. But I wonder what they mean by 'lonely.' Aren't they very lonely when they deal with people who don't understand and appreciate them? I know I'd be lonely in such a situation.
    • p. 192
  • Life is to be lived, not sacrificed.
    • p. 223
  • Security comes from your ability to deal with the world, not from a guarantee by someone else. When you know you're capable of dealing with whatever comes, you have the only security the world has to offer.
    • p. 260
  • To be self-reliant is to recognize that no one else is as concerned about your future as you are and that no one knows as much about you as you do.
    • p. 260-261
  • The desire to be love, to be understood and appreciated, is universal. Unfortunately, many people don't feel they're worthy of such benefits, and so they hope to have them guaranteed without having to earn them. They seek perpetual love and understanding by getting married, by joining groups, or by having children… If you rely upon yourself, you know that you can find the kind of people who will appreciate you. If you rely upon marriage, family, or groups, you know intuitively that you're vulnerable; you can be deserted despite the guarantees. And you know that the appreciation isn't for what you are but instead for your role in the family or the group.
    • pp. 266-267
  • If you earn whatever you want, you know that it's yours. Then life is an adventure. The uncertainty of the future is a challenge, not a source of dread.
    • p. 269
  • Freedom from exploitation is perhaps the easiest freedom to get. All you have to do is to stop participating in any relationship — of any kind — that doesn't suit you.
    • pp. 276-277
  • To be honest, you must know yourself well. And that involves integrity — which is honesty's twin asset. Integrity is knowing yourself well enough to be able to mean what you say.
    • p. 300
  • Never focus your attention on anyone's weaknesses — his temper, sloppiness, poor logic, dishonesty, whatever. Recognize these shortcomings, take them into consideration, but don't waste your time complaining about them. Instead, pay attention to what your actions should be in order to deal with him.
    • p. 322
  • A free person has no one to blame. He has no boxes, no restrictions, no enemies to take the responsibility for his actions.
    • p. 324
  • I've always found it hard to understand why so many people live so much for the future — especially when the present is such a lovely place.
    • p. 333
  • Things will get better only when you make the changes that are necessary to make them better.
    • p. 339
  • Don't be so afraid of sudden, sharp discomfort that you willingly tolerate chronic, continual, deadening pain the rest of your life. If you refuse to undergo temporary discomfort, you're resigning yourself to a lifetime with little happiness. The chronic pain can deaden your senses, destroy your love of life, and make you bitter.
    • p. 358
  • A big philosophical breakthrough for me was the realization that my own freedom was not only possible, but far more important than the establishment of a free society.
    • pp. 372

Why Government Doesn't Work (1995)[edit]

  • If you resist, their job will be to 'take you into custody' — which is a euphemism for seizing you, handcuffing you, and taking you to jail. At this point, it will be obvious that the regulation's purpose is to force barbers to charge at least $8 — not by persuasion, but with a gun. Every government program, no matter how benign it may appear, is the same. Coercion is the reason — and the only reason — it is a government program.
    • pp. 11-12
  • So what is government? Very simply, it is an agency of coercion. Of course, there are other agencies of coercion — such as the Mafia. So to be more precise, government is the agency of coercion that has flags in front of its offices. Or to put it another way, government is society's dominant producer of coercion. The Mafia and independent bandits are merely fringe competitors — seeking to take advantage of the niches and nooks neglected by the government.
    • p. 12
  • Once its considered proper to use government force to solve one person's problem, force can be justified to solve anyone's problem.
    • p. 18
  • I call this The Dictator Syndrome. You see suffering or danger, and in your imagination you see a government program eliminating it. But in the real world the program would operate as you expect only if you were an absolute dictator — having at your disposal all the government's power to compel everyone to do things your way.
    • p. 20
  • But coercion never produces harmony. How harmonious are people who are being forced to act against their will? Most likely, those who are coerced will resent those who benefit from the coercion. This sets group against group; it doesn't bring them together.
    • p. 24
  • The government that's strong enough to give you what you want by taking it from someone else is strong enough to take everything you have and give it to someone else.
    • p. 27
  • When someone asks for a government program, he is saying in effect, 'Tell the police to use their guns to get me what I want.'
    • p. 28
  • Government lets people take from others without having to face the people being hurt.
    • p. 29
  • Once the door was open, once it was settled that the government should help some people at the expense of others, there was no stopping it. If the coercion of government can endow one person with property he hasn't earned, then everyone will want to use government to get something he wants. So it's not surprising that, over the past two centuries, more and more people have concluded that they deserve government's help.
    • p. 30
  • You can't limit government's coercion to just those transfers you believe are fair, because you can't give government the power to force good on the country without also giving it the power to force enormous evil on the country — in fact, to do anything it wants.
    • p. 31
  • Gun-control laws don't inhibit criminals, who rarely buy their guns in stores. But the laws do prevent you from defending yourself.
    • p. 64
  • Gun-control laws don't reduce crime, but passing them gives politicians another soap-box opportunity to pose as crime-fighters. Conservative politicians act tough by repealing the Bill of Rights, while liberal politicians act tough by outlawing weapons. Neither action reduces the crime rate. But both allow politicians to feel self-righteous, and both undermine our freedom.
    • p. 135
  • The politicians' stirring phrases are meant to keep our eyes averted from the reality of war — to make us imagine heroic young men marching in parades, winning glorious battles, and bringing peace and democracy to the world.
    But war is something quite different from that.
    It is your children or your grandchildren dying before they're even fully adults, or being maimed or mentally scarred for life. It is your brothers and sisters being taught to kill other people — and to hate people who are just like themselves and who don't want to kill anyone either. It is your children seeing their buddies' limbs blown off their bodies.
    It is hundreds of thousands of human beings dying years before their time. It is millions of people separated forever from the ones they love.
    It is the destruction of homes for which people worked for decades. It is the end of careers that meant as much to others as your career means to you.
    It is the imposition of heavy taxes on you and on other Americans and on people in other countries — taxes that remain long after the war is over. It is the suppression of free speech and the jailing of people who criticize the government.
    It is the imposition of slavery by forcing young men to serve in the military.
    It is goading the public to hate foreign people and races — whether Arabs or Japanese or Cubans or Serbs. It is numbing our sensibilities to cruelties inflicted on foreigners.
    It is cheering at the news of enemy pilots killed in their planes, of young men blown to bits while trapped inside tanks, of sailors drowned at sea.
    Other tragedies inevitably trail in the wake of war. Politicians lie even more than usual. Secrecy and cover-ups become the rule rather than the exception. The press becomes even less reliable.
    War is genocide, torture, cruelty, propaganda, and slavery.
    War is the worst cruelty government can inflict upon its subjects. It makes every other political crimecorruption, bribery, favoritism, vote-buying, graft, dishonesty — seem petty.
    • p. 144; p. 147 in second edition (2003)
  • We have to understand that politicians don't want to reduce government. And it isn't because they think the spending cuts would hurt too many people. It's because they know it would hurt them. No matter what they say, neither Democrats nor Republicans want to give up the power that allows them to bestow favors and exemptions on friends.
    • p. 172
  • Reinventing government isn't the answer; we need to disinvent it. And you can't make an agency of coercion user friendly; a gun is still a gun — even if the triggerman smiles, calls you 'sir' or 'ma'am,' and lets you fill out a sheet evaluating his performance.
    • p. 195
  • Government doesn't work, and I want the federal government out of them. The answer always is smaller government. Government forces one choice on everyone. Freedom provides a hundred choices.
    • p. 218
  • To correct this, we don't need to turn back the clock. We only have to turn away from government — from the idea that we can cure social problems with a gun, from the fairy-tale belief that government can be made to work for anyone but the politicians. Coercion will never be as effective as freedom and cooperation. Government doesn't work. It is time to stop trying to fix it, and start finding ways to live with as little of it as possible.
    • p. 219

Liberty A to Z (2004)[edit]

  • Since government supposedly can do whatever it sets out to do, the president should sign an executive order outlawing death. However, as with all other laws, Congress should be exempt.
    • p. 44
  • Conservatives are very upset at the idea of a single-mom family. But they do their best to create a lot of them by sending American men off to war to be killed.
    • p. 49
  • No one ever died from smoking marijuana, but millions of people have died by believing politicians. So why is marijuana outlawed while politicians are still legal?
    • p. 55
  • The Consumer Price Index is 15 times higher than it was when the Federal Reserve was founded in 1913. In the hundred years prior to the advent of the Federal Reserve, prices in America fell by one third.
    • p. 69
  • The free market punishes irresponsibility. Government rewards it.
    • p. 76
  • I want government small enough to fit inside the Constitution.
    • p. 83
  • When a Republican politician says he's in favor of the 2nd Amendment, it means he won't compromise on gun control until the last possible minute.
    • p. 105
  • The insurance company has a strong motivation to make no promise it can't keep, and to keep every promise it makes. The police have no such motivation, since they are usually immune from any prosecution for failing to protect you. Thus you can't reply on the police (or any other government agency) to protect you. You must depend upon your own ability to repel an attacker.
    • p. 105
  • It is a mistake to define a libertarian as someone who is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Never define libertarians in terms of conservatives or liberals. Conservative politicians are as fiscally imprudent as liberals, and liberal politicians are as contemptuous of individual rights as conservatives.
    • p. 127
  • Whenever the government fails to prevent a plane crash, the event is cited as justification for having the government prevent plane crashes.
    • p. 147
  • Republicans campaign like Libertarians and govern like Democrats.
    • p. 151

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