I’ve been meaning to blog about this Paul Krugman vs. Ron Paul debate for quite a while. First of all, while I side pretty much with Krugman, do think it’s kind of cool that Representative Paul was willing to debate him. Do you think we’ll ever see Romney debate Krugman?

A few points:

  1. For the most part, they talk past one another. It’s not really a back-and-forth except for a few snarky remarks, (e.g. Krugman’s Diocletian quip). They just say their ideas without responding to the other guy’s.
  2.  Krugman got Rep. Paul good on the question of what Milton Friedman said about the Fed.
  3. On the other hand, he kind of let Paul’s “competing currency” scheme go. There was a lot of currency competition among the thirteen colonies and in the early U.S.  And it didn’t last. Also, what was the Congressman talking about with “legalizing currency competition”? What about BerkShares?

How did I not hear about this sooner?

Curses! They knew my one weakness! Now I’ll have no choice but to vote for Ron Paul. Even if he’s not actually running as an independent come November, I’ll still have to write his name in.

Okay, I’m just kidding. Don’t worry. But really, this is bizarre. It figures to easily surpass Deus Ex as the best video game for Ron Paul fans, I’ll say that much. I don’t know if it’s a joke or not, but in my opinion, it doesn’t really do wonders for the Paul’s image as a “serious” candidate.

Read more about it here.

It was suggested in the forum by a person named Santorum

That the people would vote for ‘im if on the Bible he would run.

Another sought to bring rich people’s cash, and having which,

This man called Gingrich had once thought he’d all but won.

And at this time the call for “revolution” went up all

Among supporters of Ron Paul who were so sure they had struck gold.

And all the time was omnipresent the suspicion that Mitt Romney

Only could keep folks from needing their misery and poverty consoled.

There’s a scene in the video game Jade Empire when the character Sagacious Zu is warning the protagonist about the ruthless tactics of the evil Lotus Assassins, and after he’s done describing them, he concludes, in shame and anguish:  “I should know. I… I was one”. I have always loved the way Robin Atkin Downes says that line, and it’s been running through my head as I’ve been thinking about libertarians lately.  I don’t mean to imply that libertarians are evil. They have a lot of good ideas. But they aren’t as brilliant as they think.

What set me thinking about this was reading this article at Fox News by Wayne Allyn Root about the “Ron Paul phenomenon”. It’s a rather weird article, but Root is pretty much right when he describes what the young people like about Congressman Paul, writing: “Like Ron Paul, young people want government out of their bedroom and wallet. They crave economic and personal freedom.”

True, but it deserves a little elaboration. Having been one, I am pretty sure I know what’s going through the minds of those young people who are supporting Ron Paul. It’s something like this:

Well, the Democrats and Republicans are both corrupt. I’m not gullible, so I’m not going to buy into either side of this false dichotomy. I am more sophisticated than that. I am going to choose a different way, a way that is like neither of the parties, but new and different. I am a rebel! 

Yes, I remember it well. I thought I was a genius for figuring out that the Democrats and Republicans were not perfect, and that blind allegiance to either would not do.

Of course, it doesn’t do have blind allegiance to the trendy thing that everyone who’s too cool for the two party system is doing, either. It took me only four or five years to figure out that it was suspicious how mainstream we supposedly radical libertarians were. And also how little impact we had.

My first thought on considering this was a predictable conspiracy theory about the libertarians being used on an ad hoc basis to give whichever party was out of power a credible group to ally with, without actually giving that group anything in the way of a share of power.

I think many a cynical libertarian would agree with me wholeheartedly about this. And I still believe it to be true. However, my real break with the libertarians came next, when it occurred to me that the reason this happened was not because we libertarians were pure martyrs, cruelly tricked by the denizens of a fallen world, but rather because we really were just a bunch of people who thought we were much cleverer than we actually were for combining the Republican economic policy with the Democratic social policy, and worrying about the government’s power all the time.

I admit it took me awhile to get here. Like most libertarians, I read Ayn Rand early on in my college career. Unlike most libertarians, who are usually quite impressed with her at first, and only later qualify their admiration, I knew from the beginning something was amiss with her philosophy. Lest I sound like I’m bragging, I don’t think it was because I was smarter than anybody else; I think it was more that I have an instinctive rebelliousness that tells me to say “not X” to anyone who forcefully tells me “X”. And what Ayn Rand forcefully told me was “$”.

But, that was just the beginning. Not all libertarians believed in the “almighty dollar”. Most of them did not, actually, and were much more reasonable and accommodating than the strident Rand.

Unfortunately, it gradually became apparent to me that, in their present form, most libertarian policies did lead to the tyranny of the almighty dollar, even if they didn’t quite see it that way, or even mean for it to happen. Or as Oscar Wilde said:

“For the recognition of private property has really harmed Individualism, and obscured it, by confusing a man with what he possesses. It has led Individualism entirely astray. It has made gain not growth its aim. So that man thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know that the important thing is to be. The true perfection of man lies not in what man has, but in what man is. Private property has crushed true Individualism, and set up an Individualism that is false.” 

A beautiful sentiment–ultimately wrong, of course, but beautiful. Wilde misdiagnosed the problem in his society almost as badly as we libertarians did in ours, but in completely the opposite way. Private property is not the problem, as Wilde thought. And it’s not the solution, as libertarians think.

This is the heart of the matter. The libertarian policy is implicitly that private property–particularly money belonging to corporations–is the most important thing there is. However, experience will show that while it is an important thing, it is possible to construct a scenario in which private property rights are never violated and yet have a dysfunctional society. Which suggests that there are other things that are also important. (A good example of this is the debate over the 1964 Civil Rights Act.)

Of course, the reason we all got into this private property craze was that if private property rights could be violated by the government, it gave the government a lot of power. And the government, we reasoned, could abuse that power. Well, well, it’s been known to happen, so it’s not a bad thing to fear.

Unfortunately, the libertarian policies seemed to me to lead into situations where private-property is overvalued. (This phenomenon is closely related to the way the “neoliberal project has embraced the commodification of literally all human interaction”, as Freddie DeBoer so brilliantly put it.)

It is true that, if I were forced to choose a President from the current GOP field, I’d still probably vote for Ron Paul, even though I think those newsletters released under his name are quite disgraceful and his economic policy is insane. This tells you something about my opinion of the rest of the field. But the fact is, I’m not forced to choose from among the GOP field, and thus there’s not much reason to consider it further.

So, right now, it seems like Mitt Romney is probably going to be the Republican nominee. As I see it, the person who seems to have the best chance at challenging him is Ron Paul.

And, as has happened before, I find that only Claude Rains as Mr. Dryden in Lawrence of Arabia can assess the situation properly: “One of them’s half-mad – and the other, wholly unscrupulous.”

I switched back and forth last night between the Republican debate and the track meet that people tried to pass off as a football game. My impressions based on what I saw of the debate were:

  • Ron Paul is a lunatic, but some of his ideas are better than anything the rest of them offer.
  • Huntsman is trolling.
  • Rick Perry’s just zis guy, you know?
  • An analysis of Newt Gingrich may be found here.
  • Rick Santorum has by far the most appeal to the rank-and-file.
  • Mitt Romney doesn’t like hypothetical questions.

None of them seem particularly charismatic, although Paul, Perry and Santorum all seem reasonably amiable.

And lastly, not that it matters, but I got a kick out of Gingrich, Romney and Santorum all screwing up their chance to seem like “regular guys” by getting the date of the college football championship wrong. I don’t blame them, though, because I don’t particularly want a President who spends his leisure time on that. (Also, the game should be played on Saturday. Why on earth do they play it on a work night?)

I loved Paul’s answer about the economics books, though.

UPDATE: Forgot to add one other thing: at one point, Rick Perry said:

“We’re going to see Iran, in my opinion, move back in [to Iraq] at literally the speed of light.” [My italics.]

This sort of thing irritates me. “Literally” means it is actually true, no exaggerations. Perry meant to say “figuratively” which means “not literally”. Now, some people will say that I am just being a “word Nazi” or something. (I prefer “authoritarian linguaphile”.) But look, it’s a perfectly fine figure of speech, but it is not literal!

It is true that Perry is far from the first person to do this. Using the word “literally” to mean exactly the opposite has gone on for quite some time. But it seems to me like a silly practice, since we already have a word that means the opposite of “literally”, to let it have two different and opposite meanings. It’s more of what I was talking about here. Am I wrong about this?

The Republicans/Tea Partiers are really beginning to show their true beliefs on this WikiLeaks thing. You know, you’d think they would be worried about “too much government power”; but no, they’re calling for imprisonment (or more severe punishment) for Julian Assange.

In contrast to this, Ron Paul said: “In a free society we’re supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, then we’re in big trouble. And now, people who are revealing the truth are getting into trouble for it.” (It’s good to have an actual libertarian around so people know what one is like, as opposed to the Tea Party crowd.)

Don’t get me wrong; I think these leaks pose a damned serious National security threat, and we ought to put a stop to it. But I also think that “WikiLeaks-must-be-destroyed, violently-if-need-be” is an odd stance to take for people who keep saying that “the government that governs best governs least”.

Ron Paul: Barack Obama is Not a Socialist.

He says: “In the technical sense, in the economic definition, he is not a socialist,”

I’m not sure what definition Paul is using here; but I think Socialism is so broad it’s hard to say for sure that Obama isn’t one. Obama may secretly wish to have the State take ownership of all the factors of production but he hasn’t done it yet, though, so we can’t call him a Socialist on that basis. That said, I’m pretty sure Obama does believe that the income which accrues to private firms and individuals must sometimes be redistributed in the interest of the “greater good” or, more technically, to “maximize social welfare.”

Obama is probably a market socialist of some sort. This is not a terribly unusual position for a U.S. politician; in fact, Paul is probably one of the few politicians who doesn’t fall into this category. Of course, none of them would ever dare describe themselves as such–generally, when they’re advancing Socialist/redistributionist ideas, politicians tend to use the language of the Bible. (Hence Obama’s frequent use of the phrase: “I am my brother’s keeper.”)

One huge mistake people make is to act like Obama is the first guy in U.S. history to ever advocate redistributing wealth for what he thinks is “the greater good”. He’s not close to it. Theodore Roosevelt was a progressive corporate regulator type. FDR implemented Social Security. Lyndon Johnson had his Socialist “Great Society”, a term which ought to give any individualist a fright.

 Republicans cheerfully point this stuff out to show how the Democratic Party is all secretly a bunch of Socialists. But here’s a little something they might want to think on: What’s more radical than market Socialism? Non-market Socialism! That’s where the market isn’t even involved in determining prices. Who imposed price
controls in the United States? Republican President Richard M. Nixon.

Back to Ron Paul for a minute: He says: “[Obama’s] a corporatist,”  and “[He takes] care of corporations and corporations take over and run the country.”

That sounds like something Michael Moore would say. And it’s incorrect. I think he must be thinking of George W. Bush. But it leads nicely into my point about how Republican economic Socialism works.

When Republicans redistribute the wealth for the “Greater Good”, it generally involves giving it to either corporations or particular kinds of Churches, rather than other entities–individuals, non-profits, etc. They are particularly fond of paying money to corporations that make weapons, or, in one infamous instance, secret mercenary corporations.

Some may debate whether this practice is technically Socialism or technically Fascism. In my view, Fascism is nothing more than a particularly militaristic brand of Socialism, so it makes little difference. The point is that both sides are redistributing wealth in order to serve society as a whole.

I’ve quoted him before, and I’ll quote him here:

“If we allow that Socialism (in the ethical, not the economic, sense) is that world-feeling which seeks to carry out its own views on behalf of all, then we are all without exception, willingly or no, wittingly or no, Socialists…. All world-improvers are Socialists.”–Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West.

To which I would add only that if you already have a Socialist “ethic”, and you become a powerful politician who can influence aspects of the economy, it is virtually impossible not to become an “economic” Socialist as well.

What bothers me about the quote from Paul is that he’s poking around the edges of a very deep insight into the truth of how the American political parties really act, whatever they may claim they believe. But he has somehow gotten things completely backwards.