Rand Paul for President

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has officially announced the opening of his campaign to be the next President of the United States. As CNN reports,

For Rand Paul, it’s all led to this moment.

Since riding the tea party wave into the Senate in 2010, Paul has carefully built a brand of mainstream libertarianism — dogged advocacy of civil liberties combined with an anti-interventionist foreign policy and general support for family values — that he bets will create a coalition of younger voters and traditional Republicans to usher him into the White House.

The test of that theory began Tuesday when the Kentucky senator made official what has been clear for years: He’s running for president.

“Today I announce with God’s help, with the help of liberty lovers everywhere, that I’m putting myself forward as a candidate for president of the United States of America,” Paul said at a rally in Louisville.

Paul immediately hit the campaign trail for a four-day swing through New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada — the states that traditionally vote first in the primaries and caucuses.

In his speech, he called for reforming Washington by pushing for term limits and a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. He argued that both parties are to blame for the rising debt, saying it doubled under a Republican administration and tripled under Obama.

“Government should be restrained and freedom should be maximized,” he said.

In general, I like Rand Paul. He seems to be more clever than most of the  leading Republicans and he is willing to  move beyond the comfort zone of the GOP and reach out to people who haven’t generally been very responsive to overtures from Republicans and he is willing to take unorthodox positions. His mainstream libertarianism is likely to be appealing to the large number of Americans who simply want the government to leave them alone without seeming overly dogmatic or extreme. He seems to be having a somewhat antagonistic relationship with the mainstream media, in that he is not allowing the reporters who have interviewed him to corner him or put words in his mouth. Perhaps Rand Paul understand, as few Republican politicians seem to, that the media is the enemy and will never give any Republican candidate a fair chance. All in all, Rand Paul seems to be an excellent candidate for president.


I have some reservations, though. Paul doesn’t have much experience in politics, just one term as the junior Senator from Kentucky. The last time we elected a one-term junior Senator, it didn’t work out too well. A more serious objection to a Rand Paul candidacy is the fact that his father, Ron Paul, is a lunatic and I am afraid that the nut doesn’t far fall from the oak tree. My most serious concern with Ron Paul is his extreme isolationism. There are a lot of people, including Rand Paul, who have been labeled as isolationist because they have expressed the position that the United States need not get involved in every conflict in the world and should exercise more discretion in intervening in foreign affairs, particularly in matters that do not affect our interests. This is a perfectly reasonable position to take. Ron Paul, however, seems to be of the opinion that the United States should not be involved in foreign affairs at all. We should mind our own business and in return the world will leave us alone. This is a dangerously naive position to take. For one thing, America is simply too big and powerful to mind its own business. Everything we do, even not doing anything, affects everyone in the world. A small country like Switzerland can keep to itself. The US does not have that option. Also, our present period of relative peace and prosperity depends very much on American leadership and power. If America falters, things could get very bad, very quickly. President Obama’s reluctance to assert American leadership has already caused much vexation among our allies and in the world generally. A truly isolationist administration would be a disaster.

Rand Paul seems to be more reasonable about foreign policy than his father and it may be that he will find a middle ground between extreme isolationism and excessive interventionism. It may also be that his father’s extreme positions will prevent his election or even nomination as the Republican candidate. It remains to be seen. The election of 2016 is still a long way off and it is probably premature to make any predictions or make any decisions about the candidates.

The Libertarian Moment

In his column at the Federalist, David Harsanyi explains why he is skeptical that the long-awaited libertarian moment has not yet arrived.

The New York Times Magazine has an entertaining look at the libertarian movement that includes, among others, my Federalist colleagues Ben Domenech and Mollie Hemingway making astute observations about its future. The main question, though, is whether America has finally stumbled upon its “libertarian moment.” And boy, do I wish the answer was yes.

Here’s how Robert Draper lays out the case:

But today, for perhaps the first time, the libertarian movement appears to have genuine political momentum on its side. An estimated 54 percent of Americans now favor extending marriage rights to gay couples. Decriminalizing marijuana has become a mainstream position, while the drive to reduce sentences for minor drug offenders has led to the wondrous spectacle of Rick Perry — the governor of Texas, where more inmates are executed than in any other state — telling a Washington audience: “You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money.” The appetite for foreign intervention is at low ebb, with calls by Republicans to rein in federal profligacy now increasingly extending to the once-sacrosanct military budget.

Without getting into policy specifics, there are a few problems with this narrative.

A libertarian – according to the dictionary, at least – is a person who “upholds the principles of individual liberty especially of thought and action.” And there is simply no evidence that Americans are any more inclined to support policy that furthers individual freedom or shrinks government.

Take two of the most frequently cited issues that herald the libertarian renaissance: legalized pot and gay marriage. Both of them, I would argue, are only inadvertently aligned with libertarian values. These are victories in a culture war. Both issues have rapidly gained acceptance in the United States, but support for them does not equate to any newfound longing to “uphold the principles of individual liberty.”

Many supporters of pot legalization are, for example, probably just as sympathetic to nanny-state prohibitions on products they find insalubrious or environmentally unfriendly. More seriously, many of the most passionate proponents of same-sex marriage are also the most passionate proponents of the government forcing Christian bakers and florists to participate in gay marriages and impelling religious business owners to subsidize contraception for their employees.

Beating back people who stand in the way of gay marriage to make room for people who stand in the way of religious freedom and free association doesn’t exactly feel like a victory on the liberty front.

I can save Mr. Harsanyi and many others some trouble. The libertarian moment will never arrive. That is not to say that some policies championed by libertarians may not become part of the political mainstream. Some undoubtedly will. It may also be that an overstretched federal government will have to be trimmed down in the near future. The era of really big government began in the industrial age and it may be that in our post industrial, information age society, smaller. leaner government will become the norm. Whatever happens, the Libertarian Party will never receive more than 5% of the vote and politicians who are consistently and dogmatically libertarian will never get very far.

The real problem with libertarianism is that no one really wants it. Many people say they do but they really don’t. As Mr. Harsanyi points out.

Now, with all that said, most Americans want nothing to do with libertarian economic policy. As Kevin Williamson pointed out not long ago in Politco, the love Americans show for their expensive and inefficient programs makes a libertarian moment in the near future unlikely. No matter how often voters tell pollsters they crave more choice, limited governments and free market solutions, elections tell us that they’re lying.

It would, perhaps, be more accurate to say that many people want libertarianism for themselves, but not for others. Libertarianism for me but not for thee. The government program that helps someone else is wasteful and extravagant. The government program that helps me is necessary for the economy. The laws and regulations that keep me from wanting to do what I want to do are burdensome and even tyrannical. The laws and regulations that keep someone else from doing what they want to do are necessary for the public good.

Libertarianism is usually considered a right-wing movement and there is a strong strain of libertarianism in contemporary conservatism, but in one important way, libertarians are closer to the left. Like many leftists, libertarians tend to ignore human nature, or believe that human nature can be changed if only the right policies are put into effect or if only the right sort of people are elected. They don’t seem to fully appreciate that there are reasons that governments tend to grow larger with time and  the sphere of liberty tends to decrease.

George W. Bush once expressed his view that the desire for freedom is universal by saying,

No people on earth yearn to be oppressed or aspire to servitude or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police.

He was right in saying that no one wants to be a slave. Unfortunately, as we have learned in places like Iraq, that is not enough. No one wants to be a slave, but too many of us don’t mind making slaves of others. Liberty does not flourish because people yearn to be free. It only flourishes when people manage to restrain their desire to control others, which is not easy. The truth is that every single one of us has a little Hitler or Stalin inside of us who wants very badly to tell everybody around us what to do. It is because of this very human impulse that libertarianism has such trouble gaining a wider appeal. Telling people to ignore their inner busybody and not take advantage of government largess is a very hard sell indeed.

The problem is not that the Democrats or Republicans are growing the government. The problem is that anyone who finds himself in public office has strong incentives to grow the government, and this would be true even if a member of the Libertarian Party were in Congress or were president. Ultimately this is not really a political problem but a human nature problem and that makes it very hard to find a solution.




John Stossel

John Stossel
John Stossel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I always like watching John Stossel back when he was the consumer affairs correspondent on 20/20. It was always fun to watch him expose scams and con artists. Since then, he has moved on to Fox News and his political views have changed dramatically from the typical liberalism of most people in journalism to strong Libertarianism. He talked about this transition in his first book Give Me a Break.

What caused Stossel’s conversion? As he tells it, in his work as a reporter, he made some observations that caused him to change his worldview. It is not often that someone will do that, especially a person with a career in the public eye. Most people would rather die than ever admit they were wrong, or change long held beliefs. John Stossel seems to be one of the few honest and courageous enough to do so.

Stossel’s first discovery was that most business people are not, in fact, crooks. This may seem counter-intuitive to anyone raised on Hollywood’s anti-business and anti-capitalist fare, but Stossel realized that the great majority of people who own a company try to run it honestly and ethically. The scam artists he made a career exposing were in the minority and they were never very successful in the long run.

Here, Stossel stumbled on an important aspect of a free market economy. In order for a business to flourish, it has to provide customers with a good quality good or service at a price they are willing to pay. A company that does not do this will, sooner or later, fail, unless it convinces a government that it is too big to fail. The classic example here would be the American auto industry. After World War II, the big three auto makers; Ford, GM, and Chrysler had a near monopoly on the US market. They began to get lazy. They began to sell poor quality cars to the American consumer, thinking that the consumers had nowhere else to go. They were wrong. Now two of the three are owned by the government.

An example of a business that does thing right is Amazon.com. My Kindle stopped working yesterday. The screen developed large patches that seemed frozen. I called their support center and they said they would ship me a replacement. There was no trouble. I did have to pay $69 because the warranty had run out, but considering that buying a new one would have cost me $139, this seemed a bargain. Why did Amazon do that. They might have made more money by telling me “tough luck” and expecting me to buy a new Kindle. Then again, maybe not. There are other people out there selling e-readers. I suppose Amazon is making a profit out of the deal, but even if they are not, it is worth taking a loss to keep me a satisfied customer.

Imagine, if Amazon.com had a monopoly on electronic publishing. Better still, imagine if this monopoly were enforced by law, or that Amazon.com were a government agency. Would they care about making me happy? Probably not. Just look at our public school systems if you have any doubts about how well governments respond to consumers.

This is not to say that business people are all wonderful or even especially virtuous, much less that they are somehow superior to people who work in government. They are not. Nevertheless, anyone in business has a certain incentive to maintain a good reputation that people in government do not. This is why the free market is far, far superior in meeting people’s needs than any centralized planning agency.

The other thing Stossel discovered was that government regulations designed to save people from being taken advantage of often hurt the very people they are meant to help. The simple truth is that the crooks will always be able to game the system for their own advantage and care little whether or not they are following the rules. Honest people who are obliged to comply to an ever more complex system of rules and regulations find themselves at even a greater disadvantage against the unscrupulous. And one should keep in mind that it is all too easy for the powerful and well-connected to change the rules to benefit themselves against their less fortunate competitors. An inconvenient truth is that big business is not often really opposed to big government, if big government can help them crush the competition. Remember the anti-trust suit against Microsoft? Bill Gates’s enemies relished the opportunity to use the government to to take him down.

I would also consider the efforts to curtain the production of methamphetamines in this light. Here in Indiana you have to show an ID to buy any cold remedy that contains pseudo ephedrine, an ingredient of methamphetamines. There are limits to how much you can buy, etc. This is an inconvenience to anyone suffering from a cold but has it worked? It seems that the police are discovering a new meth lab in our county every week. Obviously the meth dealers are having no trouble getting around the law.

I don’t get to watch John Stossel on television much any more, but I have read his first two books. He has just now come out with another one called No They can’t. Maybe I’ll download it when my kindle arrives.

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