So I think I made the jump from being a Conservative to being a Libertarian, and I think a certain representative from Texas had a lot to do with it. Other factors would include Milton Friedman, some of my good friends, and a lot of time to rethink past positions, but Ron Paul’s Revolution: A Manifesto was definitely the leading cause. I picked it up on my Kindle when I was back in my home state of Pennsylvania, and read most of it on the flights back to California.
Three areas of his manifesto surprised me, and especially made me think.
Ron Paul echoes the advice of the early American political theorists to treat the nations with equal friendship, but to refrain from entering into military alliances. I’m not sure if Dr. Paul opposes all foreign intervention – his description of overseas adventures that he thinks were bad ideas seems to leave out Korea – but his overall theme seems to imply that. We certainly agree that American foreign policy is something of a disaster, though I have some reservations about moving to complete non-interventionism. Ron Paul’s point that non-interventionism does not by any means require isolationism is a good one, but I do wonder what he would think about the first Gulf War. There is certainly an argument for using American troops to protect American interests, but do we have a duty to go beyond that? I might wish peace and friendship with all men, and entangling alliances with none, but if I see a thug attack one of my neighbors without cause or provocation, I would think I would have a personal duty to come to my neighbor’s aid. Things get more complicated when the President is not rushing to the front lines of Kuwait himself, but ordering “our boys” into the fray, but we do have an all-volunteer army. Dr. Paul makes a lot of excellent points, and I especially appreciate his support of the requirement that we declare war when committing forces, but I’d want the President to do something the next time some short man in Europe decides to make geography easier.
“Pro-choice” is always a deal-breaker for me. Any politician who sanctions the elective murder of our unborn citizens is not worthy of my respect or support, regardless of his other positions. Given that many libertarians are apparently pro-choice, I was interested to see Ron Paul’s position on abortion. The Defender of the Constitution did not disappoint, citing a new-to-me passage from the Articles allowing Congress to set the jurisdictions of the various courts, apparently including the Supreme Court. He cites the Congressional removal of court authority over Reconstruction as precedent. The issue of abortion would then revert to the states, which have shown greater moral fortitude on this issue than our highest court. However, I have some concerns about the use of this power. Some of its past uses have been less than moral. Toward the bottom of the wikipedia page on jurisdictional stripping, there are a few examples of its more recent employment – note the one on detainee rights. The Supreme Court cannot be stripped of its original jurisdiction, so I don’t believe that this could ever be used by Congress to remove the enumerated rights we more-or-less still enjoy. I am somewhat uncomfortable with the power, but it is in the Constitution, and if there was ever cause to use it, that cause is abortion.
Revolution also has a lot to say about our monetary system. Ron Paul submits the writings of the Founding Fathers and the rampant inflation since the removal of the gold standard as a two-point indictment of our current fiat monetary system. He cites Hayek’s work on the unequal effects of inflation on the populace. I agree that the current fiat currency system has some very undesirable traits, in particular the diminishment of real savings when the government runs out of money and decides to fire up the Xerox at The Fed. While Paul’s solution of removing the ban on contracts that specify payment in gold and let Americans choose between the paper and the metal, the idea of having stayed on the gold standard raises some interesting questions for me. Since advances in manufacturing processes and efficiencies gained from economy-of-scale considerations drive down nominal prices of most goods over time (even in our inflationary fiat-money system), gold standard monetary systems must be deflationary. A corollary of this is the fact that sticking money under one’s mattress has a real – if not nominal – return on investment. I haven’t done the math on this, and I suppose this particular ROI would be very low, but it feels off that the effective value of ones savings could increase over time, even if that savings is never employed as rented capital. Perhaps this wouldn’t be any sort of problem, or perhaps my misgivings simply step from having grown up in an inflationary system, but it has made me think a lot recently.
He brought up a lot of interesting points, and won me over on most of them. Even here, when I list my contentions and misgivings, my disagreements are few. The book is well-written, well-informed, and well-argued. I would highly recommend it.
Coming up will probably be some sort of spiel about the Ames Straw Poll and the recent GOP debate (transcript here). Next on the short-term read/review queue is the Theology of the Body, so some of that might trickle in as well.