Why I don't support Ron Paul
Update: I cross-posted this over at Donklephant, where the comment count is up to 83 and counting.
Caracarn, a regular Midtopia reader and commenter who I've known for a long time and greatly respect, took me to task in this post for curtly dismissing Ron Paul as a nutty libertarian. It's a fair point, so I decided to go into detail about why I think Paul is too far out there to be considered a good presidential candidate.
I think Ron Paul is great in some respects. I've got enough libertarian leanings that I voted for Jesse Ventura, and I certainly respect Paul's commitment to principles. But I think he often follows those principles out the window. Further, he's a strongly conservative libertarian, with whom I disagree on substantive policy issues.
Let's just go through the positions he admits to holding, on his campaign web site:
He opposes free-trade agreements as infringements on American sovereignity. He specifically sees NAFTA as part of a master plan to form a North American Union with Canada and Mexico. He opposes the International Criminal Court, World Trade Organization, GATT, etc. He in effect opposes any practical agreement that will work in a multilateral world, where the only way you make progress is if you get buy in -- and enforceability -- from dozens or hundreds of nations. He also opposes nearly all forms of foreign aid, which besides providing humanitarian benefits is a crucial diplomatic tool.
He's strongly anti-immigration, which is fine, and his proposals aren't actually nutty. But he elides over the cost of his plan, and I think his proposal to "eliminate welfare for illegal aliens" will have unintended and self-damaging consequences, particularly because he defines "welfare" as using hospitals, schools and roads, as well as social services.
DEBT AND TAXES
He supports low taxes and low spending, but he fetishizes the former as an absolute good and doesn't spell out how he's going to cut spending. He opposes the Federal Reserve system, mirroring conspiracy and gold-bug arguments that misunderstand the nature and function of the system and the money supply. He would return us to a gold standard, which is good for retirees but bad for economic growth unless it is jiggered to be essentially a fiat currency system like the one he decries.
Paul would abolish the Dept. of Education and end all federal involvement in funding or regulating public education, except for offering a tax credit to pay for private school -- essentially a direct federal bribe to pull kids out of public school. Stuff like that makes it appear that he opposes public education in general, despite some statements to the contrary. Never mind that a consequence would be an increase in education inequality, with kids in poor states and poor areas receiving far worse educations than those in rich states or rich areas -- which can afford to fund their schools properly.
Here he takes a swat at Caracarn's favorite issue. A quote: "The key to sound environmental policy is respect for private property rights." While he does support renewable energy, opposes logging on federal land and doesn't believe in subsidizing polluters, his solution to environmental issues would be to let property owners sue each other over environmental damage.
That is not really a solution, being expensive, time-consuming and impractical. It ignores the hassle of suing, the difficulty in placing a monetary value on environmental harm, and the fact that environmental harm can be small on a given parcel but large in aggregate, or can affect a commons rather than an individual private property. Or that harm may not become apparent until it's too late, as with overgrazing or loss of topsoil. It also ignores the history of land use and degradation, which has shown way too many people willing to make a short-term buck in exchange for long-term harm. It doesn't address side issues, either, like how to save endangered species, or problems like preserving water quality where there's often no single, clear culprit available to be sued.
He opposes universal health care, which is fine. And he has some good ideas here, like making all medical expenses tax deductible and making health savings accounts easier to use. But that won't help the people who can't afford health care in the first place: they either don't make enough period, or they don't pay much in taxes anyway. It won't address the problem of your health care being tied to your place of business, with many small employers (the engines of economic growth) either not offering it at all or offering expensive plans that provide lousy coverage. He ends up railing against bogeymen: HMOs, big drug companies and government bureaucrats. That's a screed, not a reasoned analysis.
That's his term, not mine. It mostly means doing away with the FDA to as great an extent as possible and preventing it from having any power over "alternative" medicines and treatments. I support his opposition to forced vaccinations, even though I think that in most cases refusing to get vaccinated makes no statistical sense.
He will protect the right to home schooling, and demand that home-school diplomas count just as much as regular diplomas when it comes to college-admission and scholarship time. That's fine as far as it goes.
But he opposes any federal regulation of home-school activities or national standards or testing for home-schooled kids.
So he demands parity, while opposing any means of determining if they are, in fact, comparable. Never mind that his commitment to guaranteeing admission parity amounts to federal interference in a private decision (a college deciding whom to admit), something he claims to oppose everywhere else.
LIFE AND LIBERTY
Or, as we say in the rest of the world, "Abortion." He opposes it. He would repeal Roe v. Wade and leave such decisions up to the states -- while also authoring bills that would define life as beginning at conception. Such contradictions aside, it's a pretty standard anti-abortion stand.
NO TAXES ON TIPS
This is a minor issue, but the philosophical aspect is interesting. He, rightly, criticizes the unfairness of taxing estimates of tip income. But his solution is simply to exempt tips from federal taxes. Considering that wait staff, for instance, typically are paid a sub-minimum-wage hourly rate and make most of their money on tips, his solution would create a special class of worker whose income is largely tax-free. I'm curious to know why he thinks such people deserve such special treatment.
PRIVACY AND PERSONAL LIBERTY
This is Paul's strongest area. He opposes a national ID card, and wants tighter control on medical and financial information. He strongly opposes the Patriot Act. All good things, but he's an absolutist about it. For instance, one of the things he opposes is the rule that banks must report currency transactions of $10,000 or more -- a law that has proved very useful in uncovering fraud, money laundering, drug rings, terror financing and the like. I support greater privacy rights, but I think Paul takes it too far.
He opposes abuses of eminent domain, which is good. But he's vague about where he draws the line. Many dogmatic libertarians, for instance, think zoning laws are a violation of sacred property rights. If your neighbor wants to put up a 24/7 metal-shredder on his property, your only recourse would be to sue him -- on what grounds I can only guess, because there wouldn't be any law prohibiting him from doing so. That's a recipe for clogged courts, well-paid lawyers and completely chaotic community growth.
I agree with nearly everything he says here, although I think government has a role in combating racism: They can't legislate attitudes, but they can criminalize the most damaging expressions of racism so that minorities do not suffer unnecessarily for their skin color.
Here, oddly, is a program that Ron Paul doesn't just accept, he defends it like a lioness defends her cubs. Well, sort of. He says a "sacred promise" has been broken, and we're underfunding Social Security. So he'll propose laws ending taxation of SS benefits and requiring that SS taxes only go to fund SS -- in other words, the "lockbox" idea that would prevent the government from borrowing the surplus.
He also would prevent illegal aliens from getting SS benefits -- which is a fine idea, except that that's already the law, and illegal aliens almost certainly pay far more into the system than they take out.
But then it gets weird. Because he would also cut payroll taxes and let younger workers invest some of their SS payments in the private market.
This, then, is essentially Bush's plan for partly privatizing Social Security. Paul doesn't explain how he'll protect that "sacred promise" to retirees while also cutting payroll taxes, nor does he mention the $1 trillion to $2 trillion transition cost that would result.
He's a gun-rights absolutist. He opposed the assault-weapons ban, which is fine, and has sponsored various bills to allow guns in specific situations: national parks and airline cockpits.
But he also would repeal the Brady Bill -- the one that requires background checks before you can buy a handgun. He would also repeal the 1993 Firearms Licensing act, which required that recipients sign a receipt when receiving firearms in the mail and tightened licensing requirements for gun dealers, both moves intended to close loopholes that could dodge the Brady Bill requirements. He lumps in his efforts to end our membership in the United Nations, viewing them as a major threat to gun ownership.
WAR AND FOREIGN POLICY
He says, rightly, that we shouldn't go to war without a Congressional declaration, and that too often our foreign policy has led us to support despised rulers, such that we, too, became despised.
He opposes foreign aid, because it has backfired on us before.
He would bring all of our troops home from wherever they are.
He seems to think it's easier to fight wars that are thrust upon us than to dispatch troops overseas to prevent wars before they reach us. He also completely ignores the diplomatic and political benefits of providing financial and military assistance to friendly countries.
Or the military realities: had we not intervened in South Korea, for instance, North Korea would have overrun its neighbor. Had we not remained there for decades, they might have done it again. These days, South Korea is an economic tiger and has a large, modern, professional military. So it's completely reasonable to discuss whether it's time to bring our troops home from there (my answer: yes in isolation, but no if you take into account our interest in keeping tabs on the growth of Chinese power in the region). But Paul's isolationist enough that I'm not sure he would have intervened in the first place, much less kept troops there for more than a couple of years afterward.
In my opinion, being fully engaged in the world is a requirement for our own security, and serving as the world's policeman is a calling to which we are uniquely suited. Our challenge is to pick our battles and conduct ourselves in such a way that we do more good than harm, and do not simply throw our weight around for our own selfish interests. Paul would simply turn his back on the whole thing, which is appealing in its simplicity but would be appalling in its consequences.
All of the above is why I dismiss Paul as a serious candidate, and classify him more toward the nutty end of the libertarian spectrum. Some of his ideas have a certain resonance to them, particularly in a nation fed up with partisan bickering, perpetual crisis and a host of nagging problems that have no easy solutions. But he's vague on unpleasant details, and many of his ideas sound good in theory but would be disastrous in practice.
I look forward to the hail of rabid Ron Paul supporters who will show up to call me a dunderhead once this post hits the search engines....
Ron Paul, politics, midtopia