Friday, January 18, 2008

Why Ron Paul?

With my usual impeccable timing, I’ll take this opportunity to say I support Ron Paul for President. (Now you know why I’m not a day trader.) The National Review exposé of Paul’s newsletters increases my trepidation in doing so (mostly I’m thinking "what next?"), but I think it’s clear Paul is the best choice, and unlike what many a number of libertarians say, this is a time when the choice matters. (Classically Liberal has argued for sitting out, as have people such as Steven Horwitz and Wendy McElroy.) Why Paul, and not "None of the Above?" In a way, it’s because he’s a "fanatic" and a "kook."

The next President will have a choice - s/he will either jettison the Bush 43 courses, or lock them in. There are three areas in particular for which I think lock-in practically guarantees sharp, long run declines in American liberty, prosperity, and security. And I think it’s clear that Ron Paul would consistently jettison these, and the other candidates would not.

1. Federal Budget: a new CBO study highlights the unsustainability of our current fiscal situation. CBO puts current federal spending at 20% of GDP. Under a conservative projection, which essentially means no new spending initiatives, they find that rising costs (especially for Medicare, interest payments, and Social Security) will more than double this share of GDP over the next 75 years (43.6%, with some false precision). Of course, this is the conservative estimate; an estimate that includes likely new spending projects federal spending to an insane 75%.

This stuff is simply unsustainable, and means a looming crisis that is as close to a certainty as one can get. Ron Paul is a fanatic on these issues, adamant about the need for fiscal responsibility and sound money. A fiscal fanatic is exactly what we need right now. It’s received wisdom among economists that if there’s to be a central bank, the central banker ought to be an inflation "hawk," with much greater aversion to inflation than the average policy maker in government, who would have an incentive to create money for short term political gain. (Uh, Mr. Bernanke?)

Similarly the President should be a fiscal hawk, a fanatic, on spending. Fiscal responsibility, for a Congressman, is a public good. Every Congressman has an incentive to free ride on others’ fiscal responsibility, and grab pork for his own district. Since they all have this incentive, it’s a tragedy of the commons. A fanatic, in terms of the President, is one way of at least partially derailing this, and given we currently have no serious institutional constraints on spending, it’s the best we can do now. It will take intransigence to stand against the clamor for more spending, or for tax cuts without spending cuts. No other candidate has a shred of credibility in this area; they may differ in how fast federal spending should increase, and over what areas, but that’s it. And we can’t afford the status quo, never mind increases in spending.

2. PATRIOT Act and related police statisms: For me, the most terrifying aspect of Bush 43ism is the broad set of police state initiatives, such as PATRIOT Act, various warrantless spying programs, extraordinary rendition, suspension of habeus corpus, torture and the campaign to make it acceptable as public policy, Real ID, the FDA approval of technology for microchipping humans, declaration of "enemy" status that allows people to be imprisoned without judicial oversight for the duration of an undeclared "war" projected to go on for decades... Augh!

Conservatives take comfort in the apparent fact that the Bush administration has only used these powers and technologies to a limited extent. Small comfort. If the next administration doesn’t strongly reject all this, it will become the status quo in America, rather than a Bush aberration. And their already frightening use will expand.

Does anyone think Hillary will be hesitant to use these powers? Huck? Rudy? Etc.? Ron Paul catches hell for tending towards conspiracy theories, fears of the Trilateralists and the like. Umm, may I suggest that maybe that’s what we should want in a President, an unusually sharp fear of unconstrained power? We have a set of dreadful (and unnecessary) institutions in place, and the question isn’t "what happens if they are used exaclty as we'd want, by omniscient, benevolent leaders?" but "what happens if they are abused, and what prevents this abuse?" A little "paranoia" would be a virtue here. You cannot establish a system of unchecked power and not have it be abused; this is Hayek’s message in "Road to Serfdom." We don’t have four more years to put this off.

3. Perpetual war: The least of these problems, but a very nasty one. The U.S. is heading towards an expanding war with the Islamic world. The Republican candidates other than Paul are, frankly, warmongers to one degree or another (I fear Huckabee wants to lead us to Armageddon). Clinton and Obama have no credibility on withdrawal fom Iraq; both have already specified circumstances under which U.S. troops will stay, very low bars in each case, and the logic of occupation requires any presence be substantial. Continued occupation and intervention in Iraq and the Mideast simply increases Arab, Muslim, and world hostility to us. We are heading, I think, towards a wider set on unnecessary conflicts we can never win, and that will further bleed and bankrupt us. Perhaps Edwards is serious about withdrawal for now, in this one case, but he’s not a non-interventionist. Ron Paul is the only non-interventionist (memo to Wall Street Journal: isolationist is something quite different; the Huckabee/Edwards opposition to free trade is isolationist) running, and it will take a sharp break to reverse the destructive course we’re on.

One of my fonder wishes is that I have no idea what I’m talking about in any of this, and America is well on track for freedom, prosperity, and peace. But I can’t see it. The Bush Presidency was a disaster for America, and the world. The Bush course needs to be reversed, but for all the jibberish about "change," it’s hard to see that the candidates represent anything fundamentally different from the status quo. They differ on details, rather than fundamental issues. Paul is the sole exception, which earns him the label kook, but it’s only in a country that’s gone far, far astray that fiscal responsibility, strict limits on the police power of the state, and peace would be seen as "kooky." We need to move to a different track, and soon. Hence Paul. He's really not a fanatic or kook, but so dramatically different on central issues, so out-of-step with our unsustainable status quo, that he gets labelled as such.


I’ve never thought that Paul had chance of winning the nomination; the GOP hierarchy would never allow it. My hope is that he can galvanize opposition to our current course, and make the libertarian alternative commonly known. It’s a very difficult job, but he’s boggling it, and starts looking like a genuine fanatic and kook. There were endorsements by the likes of "Stormfront;" Paul said he can’t be responsible for whomever chooses to endorse him. But then there’s the newsletter scandal. It starts looking like a pattern, and Paul does indeed start looking suspicious. Why doesn’t he simply come out and damn the neo-nazis, racists, and their fellow-travelers to hell. Why did he ever flirt with them in the first place?

A friend of mine observed that the Ron Paul phenomenon really is something different in American politics, but, as he put it, whether it’s the start of a real libertarian alternative or the last gasp of liberty is unclear. I hope it’s the former, of course; and it could be even if Paul botches things, it really isn’t a "Ron Paul revolution." But botching things doesn’t help at all. I support Ron Paul, not because he’s perfect, but because wrt the three crucial areas above, he’s very good, and I don’t believe he’s a closet racist. He needs to do a better job of sinking this matter; but I think we also ought to support him, not for his sake, but ours.

I don't support Ron Paul anymore, as his poor judgment of associating himself with all of the crazies he's associated himself with show that he isn't fit to be president. If classical liberals, libertarians, and (Capitalist) anarchists don't distance themselves from Ron Paul and the people who associate themselves with him, we will end up permanently discrediting our ideas.

I'm voting in such a late primary state that the Democratic Primary won't matter (the Republican Primary might though), but I'm pulling for Obama. Yes, many of his ideas aren't good ideas, but he's got the right mindset to be president. He is socially progressive (which we definitely need after 8 years of a president who wants a theocracy), less of a warhawk (he's the only one of the candidates who can win who might not attack Iran), and less fiscally irresponsible (since 1968, the 2 most fiscally responsible presidents have been Carter and Clinton, the only Democrats). One party advocates less government than the other in all areas (albeit slightly less), so we should support them.

Classical liberals, libertarians, and even Anarchists need to start running for office (preferably through the major parties or through a new broad-tent "small government" party). We aren't going to win in the short term. We need to build a base from the ground up and to do so, we need to adopt positions that will work and that will not be dismissed by the American people as "crazy" or "extreme."

We must reject the defeatism of not voting (which achieves absolutely nothing as other people will just impose their views upon us in our absence) and the Stockholmism of continuing to support a candidate who is a detriment to our movement due to his extremely bad judgment. Third Parties campaigns will not work either, unless the party has positions acceptable to the American people and builds from the ground up. We aren't going to get a libertarian in the White House in 2008, so we might as well choose the least bad candidate among the major party candidates (the Democrat) and build a movement from the ground up.
Very well said. Thanks. I disagree in part, but you may be right.

I think Paul could yet do a decent job of furthering libertarian ideas, and hope he does. That's why I support him. I know he has no chance of being President.

Obama is certainly my favorite among the Democrats, and is superior to any of the Republicans save Paul, in my view.

Positions that "work"...what's this? Smaller government with a greatly reduced role is an absolutely necessity -- not slower growth or smaller as a share of GDP, but the real thing: less government, and government that stays within its strict Constitutional limits. It's an extremist and kooky position to many. The first task is to make the uncompromised libertarianism view accepted as an orthodox viewpoint. (I mean real libertarianism, not the crazy Rothbard-paleo version).
I am really surprised that someone like yourself, who is well versed in issues of foreign politics, could even think of supporting a candidate so...ermmm, well... far from world reality ...NV
Nat, to what departures from reality are you referring?

I might be able to explain if I knew.
Uhhh, where to start? 9/11? North Korea?..the examples are legion. So, here we go:
Divorcing from reality, an introduction:

Bonne lecture! NV
Well Nat, I agreed with most of what I read of Paul's positions on CFR's site. North Korea is an exception, but I think the S. Koreans have been right in pursuing some limited economic connections. Long ago we should have ended sanctions of Cuba, and flooded them with capitalist consumer goods in exchange for cheap sugar, good cigars, and sunny vacations.

Unless Paul has endorsed 9/11 conspiracy theories, I agree with him: years of American foreign policy helped make us a target. This isn't "blame America first" as his political opponents claim. The U.S. has repeatedly intervened -- against Mossadegh, for the Shah, for Saddam Hussein, against Saddam Hussein, etc. in ways we should never have. I've mentioned before the Pakistani who told me that at one time America's reputation was "the country that builds libraries full of eye-opening new ideas."

IMO American foreign policy borders on madness at times (and should be distinguished from some of the day-to-day programs of, say, State Dept.)
The statement above is very shocking. As a European who owes the Freedom of her countries (both of them as a matter of fact) to US intervention, let me tell you this: Any foreign policy expert and I mean by that, someone with field experience in the military or in international org. will tell you that this argument is advanced only by political analysts with an agenda (and we all know who they are) or by AlQaeda itself.
So let's get this straight:
The first countries that have been massively hit by terrorism were muslim countries, Charles. Arguing that the alleged “hyperinterventionism” of the US is the cause for terrorism in, say, Sudan or Algeria in the 90ies is pure nonsense. By the way, it is the same logic behind the statement that antisemitism is actually caused “by the Jews themselves”. And guess what, strangely enough, the same people arguing that this specific US policy caused 9/11 also argue that Israel’s problems are selfinflicted... it should ring a bell, Charles.

Neither is the US policy, nor is poverty the reason for 9/11. We know that neither Bin Laden, nor the terrorists involved in 9/11 were people suffering from poverty. But what they did is use this argument, just like they use the argument of Israel, just like they (mis)use the word of the Qu’ran as legitimization to commit crimes. These are the vectors, not the cause. These terrorists will always find new vectors, today it is that, tomorrow something else. This is a fascist ideology. NV
I don't think you have followed my argument, Nat. What, specifically, is shocking?

First, I have not said U.S policy "is the reason for 9/11." It does *help* explain it, though.

Second, neither have I said that all foreign policy initiatives are wrong. E.g. Germany owes its freedom (in part) to American efforts in W.W.II and subsequent prevention of Soviet occupation of the entirety of Germany. I am happy about this, you know.

Here's what I am getting at:

Post W.W.II, the western colonial powers, esp. Britain and France, attempted to reclaim their empires. The natives, who supposed W.W. II really was about self-determination, didn't agree with this. In the cases of Iran and Indochina, the United States ultimately supported the colonial powers, unfortunately, and ended up supplanting them, with some success in Iran, little success in Viet Nam. It is not one of America's more honorable episodes.

It's very clear that American involvement in Iran was wrong and anti-democratic. It inspired the Islamic Revolution. America then supported Saddam Hussein against the Iranians; but he was a lousy partner (for one thing, unwilling to build the Gulf of Aqaba oil pipeline, for another, the embarassing gassing of Kurds while an American "ally.") Eventually he went too far with his invasion of Kuwait.

When the U.S. led the coalition that kicked Iraq out of Kuwait, many Muslims, and especially the madman bin Laden, saw the presence on non-Muslim troops in holy Saudi Arabia as a deep afront to Islam. Furthermore, bin Laden apparently had asked the Saudi throne to finance him in raising an army, and was doubly offended by the American presence. He also allegedly desired to provoke an intra-Muslim civil war, in order that "apostate" Muslims might be removed from power, and the caliphate re-established, and provoking a war with the U.S. was supposed to strengthen his position in this.

Without bin Laden's craziness there'd have been no 9/11. But also, American intervention was crucial for making us his target.

Except for the Gulf of Aqaba pipeline story, this is all from the pages of "Foreign Affairs," not a conspiracy journal (although allegedly a journal of the conspiracy!) I believe that this is basically the position of Zbigniew Brzezinsky, for example. I can can send you cites, if you like. (or anyone else who desires 'em.)

Frankly, until this comment I don't think I have mentioned the *cause* of terrorism. And I've barely touched on it here. So to be clear, American foreign policy did not create the terrorism problem... but in too many cases, wrong policy has exacerbated it.

I think you have read too many of the crazy coots who post on Tom's blog; on the surface, some of their nonsense may sound similar to what I say, but I am arguing something quite different, even if I don't say it sufficiently clearly (My qualification about day-to-day State Dept. programs was supposed to differentiate this from the kooks -- I could tell lengthy stories about good stuff done by the U.S. or for that matter IMF & World Bank).

And so, in conclusion, ummm, err... if I have both the Mises Institute and Nathalie V. after me, good grief, I really have put myself into a corner!
Here is one of the sources I mentioned:

Somebody Else's Civil War

Well worth reading.
You left so many comments on my blog that I can't respond to all of them. Thanks for that, by the way. But I'll take the time to talk a bit about Ron Paul. As you know, I'm no economist (the "Amateur" in "Amateur Scientist" is there for a reason), but my problems with Paul run broader than his proposed economic policies.

While the PATRIOT Act is unnecessary and potentially oppressive, there's no reason to think it has anything to do with establishing a police state. If you've followed the rise of the neo-conservative movement and its views of foreign and domestic policy over the years (without a bias toward "us vs. them" paranoia from the likes of Alex Jones), you'll see that the PATRIOT Act, the war, and every other bungled operation of this administration falls nicely into their long-term and unwise master plan of increasing the powers of the executive branch--not enslaving the population. The PATRIOT Act plays fast and loose with the checks and balances of government because the neo-conservatives have a paranoid and unwarranted fear of red tape.
They believe that the president's commander-in-chief powers should apply to domestic quasi-military policy as well as the traditional military. The PATRIOT Act isn't a blueprint to establish a police state--it's a free pass for the executive branch to act more quickly than they've been allowed in the past. Of course this is a bad idea, but to think that it's a shadowy, fascist conspiracy is hyperbolic and (like the neo-conservatives themselves) paranoid. And despite this paranoia, there haven't been any detention camps or required biometric screenings or sub-dermal RF implants forced upon the population. We're in the same place we were eight years ago, minus some international respect and some intelligence on the Supreme Court.

But it's this paranoia that drives the Paul campaign. Replace all of Paul's supporter's usages of terms like "globalist" and "Trilateralist" with "Jewish" and Paul's beliefs start sounding an awful lot like that fraudulent and antisemitic classic "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion". Not that Paul and his supporters are antisemitic, but it's all the same story with different people to blame.

Also, there's Paul's essay on how there should be no separation of church and state, his racist newsletters and ludicrous explanation for them, and his idiotic notion that foreign intervention is always a bad idea. If Paul were president, who's to say the country wouldn't turn into a corporate-owned, theocratic island unconcerned with the health and democratic welfare of the rest of the world? And you can't defend corporations simply by explaining what they are. There's nothing wrong with the idea of a corporation--it's their actions--their time-proven disregard for the welfare of the individual--that's to be criticized and regulated. Under Paul's ugly mutation of libertarianism, there would be nothing stopping the consolidation of corporate power in the same way that he seems to fear the consolidation of government power.

Instead of asking why we're involved in foreign expeditions, why doesn't Paul ask why we aren't involved in the foreign expeditions that really matter? Why haven't we joined with the rest of the world to fight theocratic oppression in Burma, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea?

Paul disguises his complete ignorance and disinterest in the affairs of the rest of the free world as a concern for domestic policy, while at the same time his domestic policy is foolhardy, paranoid, and shortsighted. And his greatest mistake is acting as if there's an irreparable schism between government and the people. Government is the people, and when it strays too far, it's the people's responsibility to exercise their rights and keep it in check--not run screaming at it with a baseball bat like the childish Ron Paul would have us do.
Thanks AmateurScientist, interesting comment.

I think you miss the point re PATRIOT Act and similar developments. The intent of those who developed such is beside the point, as is whether they've been misused to date. When someone establishes a new set of rules/institutions, the proper question to ask is "how might this be abused?" When we ask that question re the various intelligence, law, and security initiatives of the Bush administration, it seems clear (to me, at least) that there's real danger here. It's mostly potential danger at this point, but none-the-less real.

Pauls' newsletters: I think there's good reason to believe he didn't write them nor endorse the content -- but that's a rather lame leg to stand on. I'd not support him if I thought he were racist. But he needs to go further in putting this matter to rest. (I largely concede your point here.)

Re replacing words; we could try the same exercise with one of your posts re anti-evolution ID supporters. I think it isn't a very meaningful exercise, because some people and groups deserve a little bashing. Trilateralists (believe it or not, there really is such a thing) and ID'rs are intellectual positions, and it's perfectly legitimate to attack them. This is quite different from, say, racial and ethnic positions. (BTW,I don't believe in conspiracy theories, and don't find groups like the CFR sinister.)

I think you're mistaken on Burma (not theocratic, and the U.S. hasn't failed to join the rest of the world in opposition, but there's little to be done), N. Korea (not theocratic, and the U.S. has consistently taken the hardest line, arguably too hard at times), and Saudi (no one opposes Saudi Arabia).

I entirely disagreed with your final paragraph.

And despite all my critical comments, I loved reading your blog. Thanks again for your comments.
We can agree that the PATRIOT Act should never have happened and that whoever is elected president should actively work to repeal it. I think that if any of the Democratic candidates win the White House, they will work to repeal it--not necessarily because of its potential for abuse but simply because it's a badge of the current administration's dangerous incompetency. If a Republican is elected (especially if it's John McCain), then I'm fairly confident he'll just allow it to expire. You're right that it's a step in the wrong direction and could lead to something like a police state, but I get the feeling from reading Ron Paul's writings and watching his speeches that he thinks it was created in order to bring about a police state. The irrelevancy of the motivations aside, I think that's an important point to make as it reflects on Paul's critical thinking skills. It's this lack of critical thinking that also leads Paul to appear on the programs of paranoid conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. Paul may not get behind their ideas, but for some reason a good number of his supporters are 9/11 "Truth Movement" types, Bohemian Grove worriers, and tin foil hat wearers.

I disagree that anyone could attack creationists the same way that Jews and globalists have been attacked by Paul supporters. The main idea here is that the people who fear global conspiracies (whether they be business conspiracies such as the Trilateral Commission or esoteric conspiracies like the dreaded New World Order) share a common theme of believing in a centralized, covert organization working in secret to increase their own wealth and power. I suppose I tend to go after the easy targets of Paul's craziest supporters, but there's a reason why these types of conspiracy nuts are so closely associated with the Paul campaign--and it's not just a creation of the media. YouTube alone has hundreds of homemade Ron Paul videos from people who also believe that 9/11 was an inside job. And when you're talking about people like that, there's very little difference among believing that 9/11 was an inside job or that the Federal Reserve is an inside job or that global government is an inside job. Probably outside your point, but that large fringe contingent of the Ron Paul movement really bothers me. Mostly because in not confronting it, Paul seems to be embracing it.

Finally, Burma is indeed a theocratic state. In all the media coverage of the horrible government cracking down on Buddhist activists, very few outlets mentioned that the government is itself of a rival Buddhist sect. Burma's problems stem from religion, which wouldn't be the case if religion weren't such an intrinsic part of the Burmese government. (Hence, my refusal to call the country Myanmar--a name given to it out of undue respect and fear of the religious controlling party.) And all North Koreans are expected to worship their current president's dead father--a man who officially still holds his title as head of state despite his being deceased. And while not as oppressive a government as some, Saudi Arabian government policy largely derives from Sharia law. There is no line hard enough to take against these governments, as each one of them subjugates a a faction of its citizens. In the case of North Korea, it even starves them to death.

Anyway, thanks for allowing an outlet. I'll continue to enjoy your blog in the future. Also, I can say in all honesty that Ron Paul supporters tend to be some of the smarter people active in politics. Which is why it's so frustrating when they don't see the problems I see. Not to sound narcissistic or anything.
AmateurScientist: your pont regarding Paul not confronting his kookier or more unsavory supporters is well-taken. I agree.

Re theocracy: N. Korea has attempted to create a sort of state religion (e.g. with the juche idea), but that's different from being a theocracy. I'm not so familiar with the Burmese case, but I have never heard that the government acts to enforce a state religion; simply that the leaders belong to a particular religion doesn't qualify. OTOH,you've rasied an issue I wasn't aware of; and maybe you are right. My more important point was that the U.S. doesn't support the regime, and I believe you aren't disputing this.

Finally, I think there is some reason to think that PATRIOT and such were dreamed up well before 9/11. It doesn't require conspiracy theory to think this, very similar legislation had been proposed earlier. At least one official U.S. gov't interagency report lamented that globalization was causing governments everywhere were losing their abilities to monitor and control flows of capital, people, and info. It wasn't secret, and not inherently sinister, but surely it had officials thinking about draft legislation to rectify this "problem." When such rules are put in place, the question to ask is "how could they be used beyond the original intent," because they always will be. NYC's temporary W.W. II rent controls are still operating today. RICO is used against, for example, anti-abortion groups. PATRIOT Act provisios have been used against minor domestic criminals. One needn't suppose a secret conspiracy to establish a police state, but we're on that road anywa.

I hope you are right about the democrats and McCain.
I apologize for returning so late to our argument. I get your point now, although I disagree with most of the points advanced in the paper published in FA- even though the nota bene :“Prof. Brzezinski-said-so-too” line never misses its effect.

To wrap this up: How an alleged "interventionism" in the 90ies is somehow linked to 9/11 – even in the periphery of the events, eludes me. I would like to remind you that the US and its allies have intervened in Bosnia TO SAVE a Muslim population, too.

I agree that one should not mix non interventionism and isolationism. But I would like to remind you that the “alliance-with-no-nation-but-trade-with-all”axiom might have had some truth in the 19th century but not in the 21st anymore. More than ever : in a globalized world the threats go global, too. We need quick access to modern technologies, know-how and info availability among allies to fight these new threats. Only alliances provide this.

I would also like to quote the quite telling remark of yours: “and subsequent prevention of Soviet occupation of the entirety of Germany. I am happy about this, you know”. Now, let us look at this more closely:
What and who did prevent the entire occupation of Germany in your views and how? And how long did this process last? Indeed it was an we need to dwell on the details?

On another note, perhaps you are able to enlighten my ignorant self: I do not quite see how “trading” with a totalitarian regime could have stopped the Kolima or Auschwitz. Any thoughts on how we could "trade" with Bin Laden? Let us conclude this conversation elsewhere, if you like. NV
We'll continue this discussion, I'm sure.

But it seems obvious to me that 9/11 was linked to American policy in the 1990s and before (2001 was practically the 1990s anyway). Why would bin Laden have wanted to attack the U.S. at all -- surely it wasn't because "he hates us because we're free."

You'll note that neither I nor Paul say the America deserved 9/11, nor that all our foreign interventions were bad, but certainly some were.

And with respect to the Middle East, many of our American interventions have been about trying to take over the British empire, in our own way -- something we never should have attempted.
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