"[T]he burden of government is not measured by how much it taxes, but by how much it spends." ~ Milton Friedman
Column by Jim Davies.
Exclusive to STR
It's been a great pleasure to see media mention every day recently of the man who once said in my hearing that the IRS is "the world's largest terrorist organization." The mere possibility that Ron Paul could actually get elected President is enough to make any liberty lover salivate. That he should already have stacked up some straw-poll outright wins is a rich bonus, and the fact that he has drawn hostile comments from some of the enemies of liberty is a good sign he's doing well. Their present howling and squealing is as nothing to the din we shall hear if his winning streak continues.
So I've devoted several of my recent blogs to a sympathetic critique of the "Issues" section of his very attractive and visitor friendly campaign website, RonPaul2012.com. He names 13, about which I've written commentaries. His proposals under some headings were superb, but overall I came away somewhat disappointed. This offers a summary.
His Issues list is headed by "Abortion" and the "Ron Paul 'Plan to Restore America,'" presumably reflecting the priority he gives to those two subjects, and ends with a personal Statement of Faith in which he quite rightly says "I want to avoid any appearance of exploiting [my faith] for political gain." Here's how I perceive the 13 compare to the libertarian axiom of self-ownership.
His Restoration Plan promises to slash Federal spending in his first year in office, down from the present unbalanced 24% to a level of 15% of GDP, balanced in three years. Ambitious and welcome, in the best tradition of libertarians running for President, this reduction includes hacking a third off the military spend, eliminating five Cabinet departments, abolishing the TSA (amen!) and lowering the corporate tax rate to 15%. There's more good stuff, but then I noticed that the ambitious spending reduction is not continued. After 2015 it flat-lines at 15% of GDP, and when viewed in dollar terms it actually rises, along with predicted GDP, after 2013. What's this? A libertarian promising to raise FedGov spending? Why does the Paul Plan not more closely conform to the standard set in 1996 by Harry Browne, which detailed how he would remove 93% of Federal spending in eight years?
I'm puzzled, too, that Paul characterizes this 15% as being lower than the "historical average" of 19.5%; for that level applies only to the last half century. If we go back to the century and a third prior to the chartering of the Federal Reserve, the historical average was less than 5%. So why set, as an apparently ongoing standard, a spending level three times higher?
The two Pauline "Issues" of the Economy and Taxes I grouped together, and they make delightful reading for the most part. Ron begins by explaining that the surplus, fiat "money" created by the Fed caused the present crisis, when combined with the laws that compelled lenders to provide mortgages to unsound borrowers; he then points to the solutions. He promises an eventual end to the Fed, a legalization of sound money, and lower taxes--in particular "Eliminating the income, capital gains, and death taxes to ensure you keep more of your hard-earned money and are able to pass on your legacy to your family without government interference." For good measure he says "he will be proud to be the one who finally turns off the lights at the IRS for good." Actually I think Josiah Browne will have that honor, but will not argue.
There is, however, a big problem in the details. If President Paul abolishes the alleged income tax, which yields a trillion dollars a year, how will he balance the budget at $2.9 trillion (in 2015) without replacing it with some large new tax? And if he does that, how will he collect it without an IRS, and what will become of his fine words about us keeping more of our own money? There are contradictions here which, when exploited by his rivals, could sink his candidacy without trace. I hope it isn't so, but this gives the appearance of inadequate homework. Again, it compares poorly with the meticulous 1996 Browne plan.
"End the Fed" is Paul's fourth "Issues" section directly about the economy, and he makes very plain why such termination is urgently needed. Less clear is how he proposes to do it. In fact, as I see it, he can't; I offered a couple of suggestions to help, but think that since Congress created the Fed, only Congress can drive a stake through its alleged heart. He does promise to "legalize sound money," but even that is puzzling; how can any President legalize anything, given that only Congress can make laws? In any case, what does he mean by "legalizing" it? Would it not be far better just to repeal the law that monopolizes government paper (the legal tender law)? And further yet, while acceptance of government paper remains compulsory, how will he counter Gresham's Law? Overall, this section has wonderful aims but the "how" has fuzzy edges.
Health Care is another major issue for Ron--rightly, given his profession. His web page on it is very good, qualitatively--but I was unable to see how the ten promises he makes would bring about the drastic reform that's clearly needed. They would improve the industry, no question--but would they slash its cost of 16% of GDP by the needed 90% or so? I don't see how. Something much more fundamental is required. His platform tinkers with the edges, but what else?
Abortion is high in Ron Paul's priorities, and his page on that expresses very well indeed the urgent, crying need to "sort out" the kind of anomaly that he saw once in hospital: a late-term abortion and a premature delivery had produced similar results. One was thrown into a bucket and set aside to expire, the other was nursed to good health. So we agree about the problem; what is the solution? Paul proposes a law, called "Sanctity of Life." The details we are left to imagine; but if such a law is to have teeth, we can reasonably expect it heavily to punish a young girl who aborts a fetus, for having committed murder--and her physician, as accessory. This "solution" is pathetic, authoritarian and outrageous, for someone known as a libertarian. Ron Paul must know perfectly well that the free market would solve this anomaly (as it would all others) better than any alternative, and it's not hard to imagine how. Yet this champion of freedom doesn't even mention that a market solution might exist! There's another bad one below, but this is arguably the worst page on Ron's campaign site.
National Defense is a key "Issue" on Ron's campaign website and its unique and most important contribution, which will enrage all his rivals, is "Far from defeating the enemy, our current [foreign] policies provide incentive for more to take up arms against us." The notion that the FedGov is at all responsible for the current military fiasco is anathema to them. Kudos, Ron!
Beyond that, his page on this issue seems to me to hedge, somewhat. He could have shown a clear example of that principle by naming the 60 years of favoring the Israeli state as the prime motivator for the 9/11 murderers--but doesn't. He notes that the power to defend the nation has been delegated to the FedGov but fails to question whether that collectivist delegation was either valid or beneficial. He says "Acting as the world’s policeman and nation-building weakens our country," but does not say whether he would, as Commander in Chief, bring back home everyone stationed in one of the 135 foreign bases. Why not? He would have that power! And he names as "the top national security priority" the task of "mak[ing secure] our borders"--just as if that task were either feasible or necessary. There's some very confused thinking here, or else (perish the thought!) he is playing to a Conservative gallery, prostituting principles for potential votes.
Gun Ownership is an issue on which Ron Paul has distinguished himself consistently, and we see on his website just what we'd expect: a promise to continue defending Americans' gun rights from the grabbers.
Even so, this item nicely illustrates the folly of supposing that freedom can be obtained by political means. Paul's page begins with a quote by Larry Pratt of GoA: "Ron Paul has been a leader in the fight to defend and restore the Second Amendment" and ends with a promise to "continue protecting your Second Amendment rights as President." Now analyze what that means: the gun-owner's rights are set by government permission? Not in my vision of a free society! I have the right to possess anything at all that I can obtain by voluntary means, just because I'm a self-owning human being. What government can grant, by Amendment Two or other means, government can also take away. Hence, government (politics) is incompatible with true liberty. Gun ownership isn't a "Second Amendment Right," it's a human right.
The Right to Work is a tricky subject, because if in a free society some employer should choose to bind his firm to a monopoly supplier of labor--a closed shop--he would be free to do so. Stupidity will not be outlawed. Instead, the market will reward it with higher costs and therefore lower sales and eventual extinction. Nonetheless, Ron Paul favors laws that forbid such foolish contracts. I wish he'd made it plainer on his site that the favoring is only a stop-gap position, and perhaps quoted Friedrich Hayek: "...once special privileges have become part of the law of the land, they can be removed only by special legislation."
Homeschooling is a subject dear to the heart of all wishing to protect their children from abuse, and Ron Paul's published position on it is excellent, and he promises to do what he can to end the government school monopoly. Unfortunately, it's not much; a President's powers are not unlimited. He focuses on a homeschooling tax credit of $5,000 per child, which would be a splendid way to counter state laws that compel payment for a government school place whether used or not (at least for those paying more than $5,000 per year in income tax), but unfortunately doesn't explain how two obstacles to it will be overcome:
- only Congress can legislate a tax credit, and
- if he has terminated the income tax (which he can by himself, in my understanding), that tax credit will be annulled.
However, a fair response would be that with the income tax deep-sixed, much more than $5,000 will be returned to its owners!
Ron Paul's position on immigration is, in contrast, entirely dreadful, and he should be ashamed of himself. And, of course, fix it fast. It shows him still firmly stuck inside the Statist "box." Throughout his web page on this "Issue," he places immigration control on a par with defense against terrorists! And the first of five actions on it he promises to take is to "Enforce Border Security." His word, not mine: a libertarian, promising to initiate force, by law! With thugs and armored vehicles and walls and fences (electrified?) and observation towers and machine guns and tasers . . . the lot. It's what "force" means. All so that a human being, who was so foolish as to get born a hundred feet to the South of a line some government drew on a map, shall be prohibited from offering his labor for sale alongside one who was born the same day 100 feet to its North. While reading this, I had to wonder which part of the self-ownership axiom Dr. Paul doesn't understand.
Next Issue: Energy. Here the Pauline perspective is much healthier. He rightly sees an unfettered market as the solution to liberating the supply of affordable energy, and calls for an end to the web of restricting legislation. The only glitch--and it's a big one--is that he lacks the power to carry out any of the five things he says need to be done. A President's "bully pulpit" is an influential structure, but it can only go so far; if Congresscritters are well enough bribed by lobbyists not to go along, it's not clear to me how he's going to make them.
Finally on the "Issues" part of Ron Paul's campaign site comes his "personal statement of faith." It's winsome and sincere, in full harmony with the very respectful way he declines to speak ill of his rivals personally, and stands in contrast to their apparently shallow and/or hypocritical use of religion. He clarifies that it's there for information only, and that he wished to take no advantage of it to curry votes. So far, so very good. My review of it remarks, however, that in evaluating a person's suitability for the job of President, voters should properly assess the whole man, and his religious beliefs are certainly part of his makeup. And religious beliefs are, by definition and without dispute, non-rational. As such, they are frequently ridiculous. Do we want awesome power over his fellow humans to be held by one who is seriously influenced by raw superstition? The reader's answer will be influenced by his own religious beliefs, but the question leaves me decidedly uncomfortable.
So much for what Ron Paul publishes. He's super on ending the Fed, gun ownership, homeschooling, quite good (though sometimes flawed) about his Plan to Restore America, the economy and taxes, health, defense, the right to work and energy, but thoroughly dreadful concerning abortion and immigration--so it's inconsistent, a mixed bag that leaves me unexcited. Better by far than all his rivals, but falling short of where he ought to be. The final entry in my blog commentaries concerns an Issue he doesn't publish at all, but in my view most certainly should: the War on Drugs. It is astonishing, and I'd say ominous, that he should leave that one out, for the multi-decade war on drugs is a flagrant assault on individual liberty and the source of tens of thousands of deaths and invasions of privacy--financial, as well as recreational--here and abroad. How can any honest, freedom-favoring candidate for high office not name it as a primary issue that will receive his close attention once elected? This truly glaring omission increases my fear that Ron Paul is compromising his commitment to individual liberty so as to attract votes from Conservatives who in several distinct ways are rigidly opposed to individual liberty; and if so, it's a fatal flaw.
A response to that might urge me to get real, and accept that in politics one has to craft and present one's platform so as to draw the greatest support from the voter groups known to actually exist, and that merely to stand up and say "these are my principles, vote for me" is fatally naive. I concede that may well be true, and that as Ron Paul remarked modestly to Jon Stewart in September on The Daily Show, he has "been elected a few times." But if it is true, it tells us that it's not possible to get a consistent libertarian elected to high office--because in total and in majority, so far voters don't want a consistent libertarian in high office. And that in turn tells me that the population needs re-educating so that it does want a consistently libertarian society (which would of course have nobody in office, high or low). And against that, I offer no argument at all.
So a second response might be that campaigns like Paul's may have only a slim chance of victory but have wonderful educational value; and I agree that several of the better Libertarian presidential campaigns have had exactly that. As shown above, however, in at least two Issues out of 13, Ron Paul's is teaching not liberty, but enforcement. If education is our aim--and I think it should be--we need something far more consistent. So may I recommend an article I wrote a few weeks ago, titled The Fix. It describes a way in which that necessary, principled, universal re-education is already quietly and rapidly proceeding, regardless of any and all political campaigns.