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Historian, author of The Triumph of Liberty

Jim Powell is Senior Fellow at a libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., with which he has been associated since 1988. He has also done work for the Manhattan Institute, the Institute for Humane Studies, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the National Right to Work Committee and Americans for Free Choice in Medicine.


Cato Institute, Senior Fellow

Web Pages

About Jim Powell
Author page at, website maintained by Powell in connection with The Triumph of Liberty (2000)
Since 1988, Powell has been a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Since 1992, he has been editor of Laissez Faire Books, the world's largest source of books on liberty ... Powell graduated from the University of Chicago in history. Among his professors were ... William H. McNeill, economic historian Earl J. Hamilton and Daniel J. Boorstin ... At the University of Chicago, as an editor of New Individualist Review, Powell helped publish articles by future Nobel Laureates F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman and George Stigler as well as other libertarian thinkers like Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt and Murray Rothbard.
Jim Powell | Cato Institute
Staff page, includes picture, profile and links to writings
Jim Powell, senior fellow, is an expert in the history of liberty. He has lectured in England, Germany, Japan, Argentina and Brazil as well as at Harvard, Stanford and other universities across the United States. He has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Esquire, Audacity/​American Heritage and other publications. He is the author of several books, including The Triumph of Liberty, A 2,000 Year History Told Through The Lives Of Freedom's Greatest Champions (Free Press, 2000), with a foreword by Paul Johnson. This book chronicles heroic struggles against tyranny, slavery, war and mass murder.


Adam Smith—"I had almost forgot that I was the author of the inquiry concerning The Wealth of Nations", The Freeman, Mar 1995
Biographical essay
Before Adam Smith, it seemed that most people believed government was necessary to make an economy work. In Britain and Europe, governments promoted economic self-sufficiency as a bulwark of national security. They subsidized 'strategic' industries like mining and silk-making. ... Nobel Laureate George Stigler dubbed Smith 'the patron saint of free enterprise.' H.L. Mencken declared: 'There is no more engrossing book in the English language than Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations.' He remains a commanding presence as liberty is being reborn at the dawn of the twenty-first century.
Agenda for Liberty: A Biography of John Lilburne, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Lengthy biographical essay
A number of times throughout history, tyranny has stimulated breakthrough thinking about liberty. This was certainly the case in England with the mid-17th century era of repression, rebellion and civil war. There was a tremendous outpouring of political pamphlets and tracts. By far the most influential writings emerged from the pen of John Lilburne. ... Behind many of our most fundamental civil liberties there stood John Lilburne, a mere apprentice who helped develop a bold new vision of liberty, took a principled stand, risked his life, defied tyrants and got his story out. He suffered that we might be free.
Albert Jay Nock: A Gifted Pen for Radical Individualism, The Freeman, Mar 1997
Biographical essay, including his early life, editorship of The Freeman, and notable books and essays
American individualism had virtually died out by the time Mark Twain was buried in 1910. Progressive intellectuals promoted collectivism. Progressive jurists like Oliver Wendell Holmes hammered constitutional restraints as an inconvenient obstacle to expanding government power, supposedly the cure for every social problem. ... Despite the onslaught of wars and the relentless expansion of government power, individualism endures as a living creed, and Albert Jay Nock deserves considerable credit. He expressed fundamental issues of liberty with blazing clarity. He withstood withering criticism.
Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Who First Put Laissez-Faire Principles into Action, The Freeman, Aug 1997
Biographical essay, covering his life, works and involvement with the Physiocrats, as well as his accomplishments as an administrator
By the mid-eighteenth century, a number of authors had expressed the liberating vision that came to be known as laissez faire. Anne Robert Jacques Turgot put it into action. As regional administrator and later comptroller-general of France, a nation which had succumbed to absolute monarchy, he took giant steps for liberty. ... He told the truth. He pursued justice. He was fearless in challenging special interests who everywhere capture government power. He showed why liberty is absolutely essential if the poorest among us are to improve their lives. He displayed the courage and compassion to help set people free.
Barack Obama: The Anti Economic Growth President, 29 Feb 2012
Lists and criticizes several of Obama's policies and proposals and discusses why economic growth and progress is beneficial
For several hundred years, a consensus developed in Western nations that economic growth — human progress — is a good thing. But now economic growth is under attack. Economic growth has meant more jobs, higher incomes, more wealth and all the good things that become possible — a more comfortable life, better nutrition, better health care, more education, a cleaner environment, a secure retirement ... So the stakes are high. If the anti-growth view prevails, we might find ourselves slipping into a new dark age. But if voters choose political leaders committed to economic growth, there could be a new boom ahead.
Benjamin Franklin: The Man Who Invented the American Dream, The Freeman, Apr 1997
Lengthy biographical essay, including a section on the posthumous publication and reaction to Franklin's Autobiography
Benjamin Franklin pioneered the spirit of self-help in America. With less than three years of formal schooling, he taught himself almost everything he knew. He took the initiative of learning French, German, Italian, Latin, and Spanish. He taught himself how to play the guitar, violin, and harp. ... But none of the critics deny that Benjamin Franklin achieved stupendous things. He championed personal responsibility, intellectual curiosity, honesty, persistence, and thrift—principles that have helped people everywhere lift themselves up. ... His most glorious invention was—and is—the American dream.
Blockading with Trade Restrictions, 27 Oct 2010
Explores the writings of Henry George in his book Protection or Free Trade offering advice to current waves of protectionism
A whiff of protectionism is in the air. Battered by the recession, many Americans are beginning to blame some of their woes on foreigners. There's talk that the federal government ought to take action against Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Europeans and others. ... Such observations inspired George’s most famous lines: 'Protective tariffs are as much applications of force as are blockading squadrons, and their object is the same — to prevent trade. ... What protection teaches us is to do to ourselves in time of peace what enemies seek to do to us in time of war.'
Related Topics: Free Trade, Henry George, Monopoly, War
Frederic Bastiat, Ingenious Champion for Liberty and Peace, The Freeman, Jun 1997
Biographical essay of Frédéric Bastiat, covering those who influenced him as well as those influenced by him, his writings (including correspondence with his friend Coudroy), his roles in the French Constituent and Legistative Assemblies and his legacy
Frederic Bastiat ranks among the most spirited defenders of economic freedom and international peace. Nobel Laureate F. A. Hayek called Bastiat "a publicist of genius." The great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises saluted Bastiat's "immortal contributions." ... He maintained that the only meaningful way to secure peace is to secure human liberty by limiting government power, and he was right yet again. Bastiat took the lead, he stood alone when he had to, he displayed a generous spirit, he shared epic insights, he gave wings to ideas, and he committed his life for liberty. He earned his place among the immortals.
Great Thinkers: Ayn Rand
Includes short introductory profile, photograph, quotes from some of Rand's books and links to other resources about her
Ayn Rand (1905-1982) won over millions to the the moral values of individualism and liberty which had fallen out of fashion more than a century ago. There continues to be a lively interest in her ideas. There continues to be a lively interest in her ideas. The 1997 release of Michael Paxton's documentary film Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life was nominated for an Academy Award. ... The Fountainhead, about an architect battling collectivists all around him to maintain the integrity of his ideas, gradually gained a big following and was made into a movie in 1949. Rand expanded on her views of liberty, sex, money and other issues in Atlas Shrugged.
Related Topic: Ayn Rand
Great Thinkers: Lord Acton
Includes short introductory profile, short essay titled "Acton's independent mind", photograph and links to other resources on Acton
Historian Lord Acton (1834-1902) issued epic warnings that political power is the most serious threat to liberty. Born in Naples, he was educated in England, Scotland, France and Germany, developing an extraordinary knowledge of European political history. ... Historian George Macaulay Trevelyan observed that Acton's 'knowledge, his experience and his outlook were European of the Continent ... He had the brow of Plato, and the bearing of a sage who was also a man of the great world. His ideas included many of our own, but were drawn from other sources and from wider experience.'
Related Topic: John Dalberg-Acton
Hayek, Life and Times
Lengthy biographical essay, with extensive quotes both from Hayek and others (including Keynes)
Socialism appealed to the idealism of intellectuals, yet it brought the most hideous tyrannies. Just from the standpoint of human liberty, socialism was a catastrophe everywhere ... As John Cassidy wrote in the February 7, 2000 New Yorker: "If there are two things most people can agree on these days, they are that free-market capitalism is the only practical way to organize a modern society and that the key to economic growth is knowledge. So prevalent are these beliefs that their origins are rarely examined, which is somewhat surprising, since both statements can be traced back, in large part, to one man, Friedrich August von Hayek."
Herbert Spencer: Liberty and Unlimited Human Progress, The Freeman, Apr 1995
Lengthy biographical profile, highlighting Social Statics and his acquaintance with Andrew Carnegie
Fabled steel entrepreneur Andrew Carnegie hungered to know the secret of human progress. During the early 1880s, he found out after he joined a Manhattan discussion group. There he heard about British philosopher Herbert Spencer, who had written volumes on the subject. ... He predicted the colossal failure of government schools. He affirmed that private individuals are responsible for human progress. He would be thrilled by the world-wide resurgence of market economies today, vindicating his conviction that wherever governments interfere least, you will see decency and improvement in the lives of ordinary people.
H. L. Mencken, America's Wittiest Defender of Liberty, The Freeman, Sep 1995
Biographical essay, highlighting Mencken's tenure at the Baltimore Sun, the books he authored, the founding and his work at the American Mercury monthly and his brief relationship with Sara Haardt
During the first half of the twentieth century, H. L. Mencken was the most outspoken defender of liberty in America. He spent thousands of dollars challenging restrictions on freedom of the press. He boldly denounced President Woodrow Wilson for whipping up patriotic fervor to enter World War I, which cost his job as a newspaper columnist. ... Nearly all of Mencken's chroniclers opposed his political views ... but they have found him irresistibly appealing. ... Someday, hopefully more people will appreciate Mencken's vital role in nourishing a love for liberty during some of America's darkest decades.
An Independent Judiciary: Edward Coke, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Lengthy biographical essay
Edward Coke was a great English jurist, scholar, and reformer. He opposed absolute monarchy and promoted the common law. Why were civil liberties first secured in England? One important reason was the development of common law principles and precedents independent of a ruler. ... While judges have made plenty of bad decisions, at least they have the power to strike down unconstitutional statutes, and sometimes they do. This is a big advance from the era when judges were everywhere intimidated into doing what a ruler wanted. Eloquent testimony to the vision, courage and devotion of Edward Coke.
John Locke: Natural Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property, The Freeman, Aug 1996
Extensive biographical essay, including summaries of his major works
A number of times throughout history, tyranny has stimulated breakthrough thinking about liberty. This was certainly the case in England with the mid-17th-century era of repression, rebellion, and civil war. There was a tremendous outpouring of political pamphlets and tracts. By far the most influential writings emerged from the pen of scholar John Locke. ... During recent decades, some thinkers like novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand and economist Murray Rothbard revived a compelling moral case for liberty. They provided a meaningful moral standard ... They stood on the shoulders of John Locke.
The life and times of Murray N. Rothbard
Full title: The life and times of Murray N. Rothbard, who showed why private individuals can do just about everything that needs to be done
Lengthy biographical essay
Economist Murray N. Rothbard mounted the most comprehensive intellectual challenge ever attempted against the legitimacy of government. During a career that spanned more than 40 years, he explained why private individuals, private companies and other voluntary associations can do whatever needs to be done ... For anybody interested in liberty, Rothbard offered an enormously rich intellectual feast ... Murray Rothbard did more than anyone else to show that people generally do just fine without government interference. He did much to inspire confidence in the wonders people achieve when they are free.
Ludwig von Mises, socialism's greatest enemy
Lengthy biographical essay on Mises, including details on Menger and Böhm-Bawerk
The unprecedented slaughter of the 20th century was primarily carried out in the name of socialism, the doctrine that government must control everything. Socialism's most outspoken adversary was the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises ... Mises was dramatically vindicated by the collapse of the Soviet socialist empire. "In the nineteen-thirties, when I was studying economics," socialist Robert Heilbroner confessed in the glossy pages of The New Yorker, "a few economists had already expressed doubts about the feasibility of centrally planned socialism ... It turns out, of course, that Mises was right."
The man who financed the American Revolution
Lengthy biographical essay of Robert Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence (and other founding documents) and financier of the Revolutionary War
Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington are the most famous heroes of the American Revolution, but it wouldn't have turned out successfully without Robert Morris. ... His aim was to promote the development of farms and towns, but European wars reduced the flow of immigrants ... The mortgages and taxes were more than he could pay. Creditors had him arrested, and he was sentenced to Philadelphia debtor's prison from 1798 to 1801. Humiliated and broke, he died on May 7, 1806. It was a sad end for the practical man who had done so much to help America achieve independence.
Milton and Rose Friedman: Capitalism's Greatest Living Champions: Eight ways you can learn from their success, Jul 1992
Written on occasion of Milton Friedman's 80th birthday; discusses eight techniques used by the Friedmans to reach and persuade others with their message of freedom and free markets
More than anyone else, Milton and Rose Friedman took a compelling case for free markets to the world. Ayn Rand has sold more books, but the Friedmans reached millions who probably never read a good book about freedom--through countless lectures, TV appearances and, of course, their Free to Choose TV series. ... Of course, the best way to learn from the Friedmans is to review their work yourself ... We're delighted to salute the Friedmans on their 80th birthday. We hope they'll be with us for many more years to share their insights, enjoy their family and their richly-deserved rewards.
Related Topic: Milton Friedman
Natural Law and Peace: A Biography of Hugo Grotius, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Biographical essay
For centuries, rulers had pursued wars to spread their religion, gain territory, seize assets or in other ways expand their power. The Florentine political thinker Niccolo Machiavelli had described war as a perfectly legitimate government policy. Then the early 17th century Dutch legal scholar and philosopher Hugo Grotius declared that war was wretched and that it harmed all participants. ... He told how to improve the prospects for peace. The greatest peace settlements, like those ending World War II and the Cold War, displayed his wisdom and generous spirit as they helped turn enemies into friends.
Related Topics: Hugo Grotius, Law, Netherlands, Rights, War
Popular Sovereignty: A Biography of Algernon Sidney, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Biographical essay
The influential English agitator and thinker Algernon Sidney championed popular sovereignty back when kings ruled the earth. For years, he stirred opposition to the English king Charles II, for which he was hunted by assassins. He spoke out against slavery in the British West Indies. There were two attempts on his life, and he suffered an ultimate tragedy—beheading. He became the most famous English martyr for liberty. ... In 1996, Cambridge University Press issued Sidney's unpublished Court Maxims, the lost manuscript for which turned up in Warwick Castle during the 1970s. Sidney truly died that his bold ideas could live.
Ralph Raico, RIP, 16 Dec 2016
Memorial and biographical note, including short bibliography
I was saddened by the news of Ralph Raico's passing on December 13. At Cato summer seminars during the 1980s, he delivered fabulous lectures about the history of liberty and its adversaries. He focused on European intellectual history and the development of classical liberalism ... Ralph became known for elegantly‐​crafted articles, pamphlets, and chapter contributions that helped illuminate the history of liberty. Ralph translated Mises' 1927 book Liberalismus, an excellent basic statement of classical liberalism, into English (1962), and a number of publishers have reissued his splendid translation.
Richard Cobden's Triumphant Crusade for Free Trade and Peace, The Freeman, Jun 1995
Extensive biographical essay, including Cobden's relationship with John Bright as they campaigned for repeal of the Corn Laws, and his later peace activism
The nineteenth century was the most peaceful period in modern history. There weren't any general wars between the fall of Napoleon in 1815 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914. This extraordinary peace followed centuries of endless wars and preceded the colossal carnage of the twentieth century. ... Approaching his 61st birthday, Cobden suffered serious asthma attacks. ... he died on Sunday, April 2, 1865. John Bright was among those by his side. 'I have only to say that after twenty years of most intimate and almost brotherly friendship,' Bright mourned, 'I little knew how much I loved him until I had lost him.'
Robert A. Heinlein's Soaring Spirit of Liberty, The Freeman, Jul 1997
Biographical essay, including multiple quotes from fellow authors and significant excerpts from Heinlein's novels and stories
A pioneering master of speculative fiction, Robert Heinlein has captured the imagination of millions for liberty. Five of his novels chronicle rebellion against tyranny, other novels are about different struggles for liberty, and his writings abound with declarations on liberty. ... Today Robert Heinlein inspires young people much as he inspired their parents and grandparents, an extraordinary phenomenon. ... Major studios currently have movie options on Glory Road, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Orphans of the Sky, and Stranger in a Strange Land. Robert Heinlein, now and forever—a great soaring spirit for liberty.
Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Paterson, and Ayn Rand: Three Women Who Inspired the Modern Libertarian Movement, The Freeman, May 1996
Triple biographical essay on the women who in 1943 published The Discovery of Freedom, The God of the Machine and The Fountainhead
Liberty was in full retreat in the early 1940s. Tyrants oppressed or threatened people on every continent. Western intellectuals whitewashed mass murderers like Joseph Stalin, and Western governments expanded their power with Soviet-style central planning. ... With their acknowledged eccentricities, Rand, Paterson, and Lane were miracles. They came out of nowhere to courageously challenge a corrupt, collectivist world. They single-mindedly seized the high ground. They affirmed the moral imperative for liberty. They showed that all things are possible.
A Salute to Bettina Bien Greaves, The Freeman, Jul 1997
The Freeman guest editor column, written for Greaves' 80th birthday to show an appreciation and the extent of her work for liberty
Bettina Bien Greaves is an extraordinary, unsung resource for liberty. Now FEE's Resident Scholar, a FEE Trustee, Freeman Contributing Editor, and two-time Guest Editor, she has done so many things for so many people for so long, it's past time to publicly acknowledge her myriad contributions .... This month marks Bettina's 80th birthday, something that she doesn't really want to be reminded of. But so many people have expressed gratitude for what she has done that we're glad to report she continues to enjoy good health—she regularly drives nearly 60 miles to participate in discussions about liberty.
Thomas Jefferson's Sophisticated, Radical Vision of Liberty, The Freeman, Jul 1995
Biographical essay, highlighting Jefferson's "felicity of expression" that led him to write the famous words in the Declaration of Independence
When Virginians reflect on the American Revolution, they often like to describe George Washington as its sword, Patrick Henry as its tongue, and Thomas Jefferson as its pen. Jefferson expressed a sophisticated, radical vision of liberty with awesome grace and eloquence. He affirmed that all people are entitled to liberty, regardless what laws might say. ... Before Jefferson slipped into a coma on July 3, 1826, he asked: 'Is it the Fourth?' He died on the Fourth, about 12:20 PM, a half-century after the glorious Declaration. ... he [survives], in the hearts and minds of millions everywhere who cherish liberty.
Thomas Paine-Passionate Pamphleteer for Liberty, The Freeman, Jan 1996
Biographical essay, highlighting Paine's writings in Common Sense, American Crisis, Rights of Man and Age of Reason
As nobody before, Thomas Paine stirred ordinary people to defend their liberty. He wrote the three top-selling literary works of the eighteenth century, which inspired the American Revolution, issued a historic battle cry for individual rights and challenged the corrupt power of government churches. ... Perhaps a new generation is rediscovering this marvel of a man. He didn't have much money. He never had political power. Yet he showed how a singleminded private individual could, by making a moral case for natural rights, arouse millions to throw off their oppressors—and how it could happen again.
To Defeat the Assault on Liberty, Our Appeals Must Be Moral, 13 May 2013
Argues, by providing several historical examples, that "compelling moral appeals for liberty" are needed to confront various current problems such as government spending and debt, higher taxes and disregard of constitutional limits on executive power
American liberty is under assault now more than at any time since the 1930s, because of runaway spending, soaring debt, ever higher taxes, proliferating regulations, implementation of Obamacare and the president's disregard for constitutional limits on his power. ... In recent times, Ronald Reagan stood out as a rare leader who could express moral appeals for liberty. He said, for instance, 'Only when the human spirit is allowed to invent and create, only when individuals have a personal stake in their success — only then can societies remain dynamic, prosperous and free.'
Why Should a Supreme Court Justice Care about Natural Rights?, 9 Jul 2010
Discusses the evasiveness of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan when asked about the Declaration of Independence, and argues why justices should heed the natural rights philosophy embodied by its most famous lines
Elena Kagan, President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, seemed to shock many people when she dodged questions about the Declaration of Independence during her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her seeming dismissal of the Declaration shouldn't have come as a surprise. Kagan is a progressive, and progressives have long been impatient with limitations on government power, such as those enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. ... Surely it's not asking too much to have a prospective Supreme Court justice understand and affirm the principles of the Declaration of Independence.


Jim Powell Interview, by Jim Powell, Scott Horton, The Scott Horton Show, 16 Apr 2005
"Scott and Jim Powell talk about his new book Wilson's War: How Woodrow Wilson's Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and World War II."

Books Authored

Wilson's War: How Woodrow Wilson's Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and World War II, 29 Mar 2005
Partial contents: Arrogance and Power - Why Did Wilson Decide He Must Break the Stalemate? - How Did Hitler Exploit Wilson's Blunder to Recruit 50,000 Nazis? - How Did Lenin Take Advantage of Wilson's Blunder and Secure Power?
Related Topic: Woodrow Wilson

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Jim Powell (historian)" as of 14 Mar 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.