Suppose Paul Wins

The reputable London gambling firm Ladbrokes is offering odds of 40/1 against Ron Paul winning the White House (click on Specials > US Presidential Election), so true believers in the Paul campaign might do well to pony up a grand then pocket a handy $40,000 in November next year. That could be one benefit of a Paul victory. But what else?

It's not easy to see, because sadly his website is about as bland and platitudinous as they come. He favors lower taxes (along with motherhood whether wanted or not and, presumably, apple pie) but makes no commitment about how much lower nor whether the income tax is a fraud (even though elsewhere he's said it is) and whether it would be scrapped, and if so, whether any new tax would replace it in part or whole. His web site mentions no campaign book to compare with Harry Browne's outstanding Why Government Doesn't Work written for his 1996 bid, which showed in great and credible detail how Harry would have slashed the federal government to a tiny fraction of its size over an eight year period. Paul appears to be stating general principles (many of which are quite good) while avoiding specifics that might resemble any kind of contract with voters or burden him with responsibility. He comes across, in other words, as a regular politician--albeit one with a very honorable voting record, including an almost unique opposition to the Iraq War from the get-go.

Those general principles are often good, but not always so. His segment on abortion emphatically reveals an intent to reverse Roe v Wade, so his commitment to "liberty" unambiguously places the freedom of the fetus above that of the mother. Libertarians hardly need reminding that there is a powerful alternative view, but I may need to recall that when Paul ran for President as a Libertarian in 1992, he promised the Party he would faithfully represent its pro-choice platform and mention the anti-choice position only as his personal opinion. I saw and heard him break that promise, when addressing a packed house of students in Trinity College , Hartford , CT --and I heard the students groan in disillusion and walk out in disgust.

Paul's principled belief in liberty takes another hit in his web site's segment on "Border Security." Savor this: "We must secure our borders now. A nation without secure borders is no nation at all." Exactly so; hence, President Paul would emphatically strengthen the structure of the State, and punish humans who crossed a line on the map drawn by governments. Some freedom!

This arguably fatal flaw was well examined by Marc Stevens here, fully 17 months ago.

So: suppose he is able to morph his early and encouraging success in Internet straw polls into an outright victory next year. What would America be like, by 2012?

It would as above still be a State under governance, with armed thugs manning its gates and with the miseries of back-alley abortions once again marring society, but let's give Ron Paul a lot of benefit of doubt and suppose that the vague half-promises published on his web site do in fact lead to lower taxes, lower spending, smaller government, a withdrawal from the UN and other dangerous treaties, an abolition of the Federal Reserve, an easier time for home schoolers, an abolition of Eminent Domain, a big increase in privacy and an end to foreign intervention. If his administration achieved all that, there can surely be no doubt: on balance this country would be a far more agreeable place to live.

There is no space here to repeat the rationale for a society with no government at all, but that is certainly the end result I would like to see from any pro-freedom activity, and those unfamiliar with that rationale might care to start with a visit to The Anarchist Alternative. Given that as the ultimate objective, then, does the above scenario at the end of President Paul's first term help or hinder its achievement? The scenario might be described as a "useful first step towards freedom." Is it?

In a word, "no." Here's why.

(a) We've already been there, and it failed. There was a time not too long ago when America had no central bank, was not building a foreign empire, when its governments taxed and spent five times less of the national product than they do now, when the UN didn't exist and when the USA declined to join its predecessor, and when there was almost no government schooling at all. There was Eminent Domain (that's written into the Constitution, which Paul says he supports) but otherwise the 19th Century (and even the early 20th) quite well resembles the kind of America to which Ron Paul would be leading us. What happened?

What happened was that all the mechanism for the obscene growth of government was present (and it had been ever since 1783), and so the obscene growth of government went ahead and took place. The fiction that a voter can obtain something for nothing was already current, and gradually over time and with ample encouragement from the power-seekers who would benefit most, they took advantage of it. I cannot see any reason, once the euphoria of a successful Paul first term has worn off, why that process would not be repeated--since not one of its roots would have been stricken. The best that he would achieve, therefore, is a pause or temporary respite from the headlong rush into despotism and decline.

As Spooner so well said, "The Constitution has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it," yet an America governed more closely by Constitutional principles is the best that Paul has to offer. To repeat what has already failed so abysmally is one symptom of lunacy, as Doctor Paul ought to know very well.

(b) It would convince some that government "works." The 1996 Browne campaign set out to prove that government does not work; if Paul succeeded as above, he will have gone a long way towards proving the opposite in the shallow mind of the average voter. No, that "proof" would not be systematic or valid, but to the ordinary voter in the street (of whom, more below), that's the way it would look; he would suppose 'Hey, the system works! We can vote for more freedom and get it!'

This incorrect conclusion would be widespread and hard to eradicate because whoever takes up Paul's cause in 2012 will emphasize it over and over, calling for even more votes for freedom and so extending the myth. The institution of government would be reinforced even while campaigners promised its reduction. Yes, in the 2012-16 administration there could even be a further shrinkage of government (conceivably so much as to reduce it to the 1/5th level of a century ago), but for every success of that kind, the fiction that a constitutional democracy can maximize liberty and prosperity would receive a boost that will last another generation or two. And that, in my opinion, would be a disaster.

(c) It will do next to nothing to re-educate the population. By 2012 the average voter's mind will be just as shallow as it is today; he will have learned nothing whatever about freedom--except that false lesson that it can be obtained by pulling a lever.

A true free society is one that is understood and desired by every participant. Otherwise, it could not possibly function. If by the waving of a magic wand government were zapped by breakfast time tomorrow morning, by evening it would be back in business--for few if any would know how to live without it. Government is the most powerful drug in the world, upon which the whole US population is hooked.

Accordingly, a substantial program of universal education is required in economics, ethics and philosophy, before a real free society can begin and expect to survive its first night. This is quite obvious when we think about it, yet it's received hardly any emphasis anywhere and none at all in Ron Paul's political campaign. I have written of it here and of course Robert Lefevre started to put it into practice some decades ago, and in a sense, everyone who writes a book favoring a zero-government society (Rothbard, Tannehill, Friedman fils...) is engaged in education; but the recognition that at least the level of understanding gained from The Anarchist Alternative is prerequisite for success is a bit sparse.

Now, an improvement in peace and prosperity by 2012 that results from a Paul victory next year would contribute nothing at all to that needed re-education--not even if somehow the negative effect just noted under (b) were somehow avoided. At best, therefore, a Paul victory would be irrelevant to the real task at hand and more likely, it will have that negative effect.

There's more.

The whole theory of democratic voting is that the majority prevails and the losers submit. This is the very antithesis of freedom (in which, thanks to the market, everybody wins). There is no way that "freedom" can or should be forced down the unwilling throats of a possible 49% of voters who do not want it--to say nothing of the other 180 million American adults who may want it but not enough to vote for it. To the limited extent that a Paul victory did implement some aspects of freedom, therefore, a truly free society would be hindered--perhaps for a long time to come. If it is not universally desired, it is not a free society.

Finally, if it's really possible for ~30 million voters to elect Ron Paul to implement freedom, there would be no need for him to be elected President. Reason: those 30 million would presumably be poised and ready for a proper re-education in the free market, and if 30 million can learn it in short order, the remaining 220 million US adults can be induced to learn it in the few years following; "few" being probably less than four and certainly less than eight. Once everyone understands and desires freedom, all they need do to get it is to walk out of any government job they hold, and the colossal superstructure will collapse, exactly as de la Boetie predicted five centuries ago.

It really is high time we paid that Frenchman proper heed.

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