The following is the first paragraph of Barry Germansky’s op-ed Tea Party Heroes Ron and Rand Paul Make for a Bitter Brew, from earlier this year, interspersed with my rebuttals from within the last few days.
BARRY GERMANSKY: Ron and Rand Paul advocate a form of free market libertarianism that is not only highly contradictory in nature, but is falsely appropriated by this father-son duo in an attempt to hail their extremist ideology as a fixture of the United States Constitution.
HENRY MOORE: Ron (but it seems no longer Rand) Paul’s brand of libertarianism is not only not contradictory, it is wholly compatible with the Constitution. That is not to say that his ideology is the only one compatible with that document, but that in and of itself it neither contradicts the Constitution nor its own principles in attempting to adhere to the Constitution.
You see, Ron Paul is a firm believer in the Non-Aggression Principle. Say what you will about this being a contradictory concept, such that adhering to it is impossible without somehow violating it. Any example of this given will still include an exercise of one choice over another. Ron Paul is also a gradualist, someone who believes in reform as opposed to revolution, secession, or asceticism. The gradualist that adheres to the NAP does so because to him the other options either require or are likely to lead to some initiation of force. Whether this is true or not may depend on various factors, but even if gradualism ends up being an incorrect premise, it is not impossible to act on it without violating the NAP. Revolutionaries, secessionists, and “ascetics” that adhere to the NAP do so because to them, the option of slow reform leaves the coercion in place too long. To them, it is better to be done with it (either through violence, a declaration, travel, or personal self-discipline), even at the risk of causing a violation the NAP, than it is to risk never getting rid of something else that is a greater cause of those violations because gradual reforms against it might be overturned. Once again, it is not inconsistent to adhere to both gradualism (or one of the others) and the NAP if there is no intention to cause a violation of the NAP, even if one does occur.
Part of Ron Paul’s gradualism is his adherence to the original intent of the United States Constitution. Simply the fact that his preferred economic system is not mentioned by name and described in detail in the Constitution is not enough to render it unconstitutional. The Constitution was suggested, proposed, debated, written, debated further, amended, signed, adopted, ratified, and made law not to impose any one economic system on the states comprising the Union, but to provide a basic framework within which laws apply equally to all citizens (the definition of which, unfortunately, did not include slaves and untaxed indians). States were free to trade with each other as well as with nations outside of the Union. Commerce was regulated in the sense that it was made regular, i.e., not impeded by any one state’s economic protections. Individuals were intended to be left alone by the Federal Government in the original rendering of the Constitution.
Such a Constitution is compatible with any number of nation-wide or state-particular economic systems, provided that interstate Commerce was not made irregular. The Constitution allows for things such as war, tariffs, public works, endowments, debt-financing, standing armies, and even quasi-monopoly status in currency. Ron Paul denies none of this, but most of these things also happen to be his greatest foes. The reason he can do so and remain a Constitutionalist is because, while these things are allowed for, they most certainly are not mandated. Also, even these unlibertarian things that may actually be constitutional in and of themselves, can be done in unconstitutional manners, either because they do not follow the legal prescriptions in the Constitution to the letter, or because they violate the spirit of the text, usually by trampling on enumerated rights found in the Bill of Restraints (Bill of Rights). So, even when something is technically constitutional because of what it is, e.g., a post office, it may not be constitutional in the way it is established or the things that it does, e.g., through mandates that stomp out competition, as was done to Lysander Spooner and his competing postal service in 1851. Free-market libertarianism is NOT incompatible with the US Constitution. A brief examination of the document and its sources/inspirations (this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this) will show this.
BARRY GERMANSKY: Far from representing the individual as they pride themselves in doing, the Pauls endorse big businesses and neglect every other facet of human thought other than economics.
HENRY MOORE: Ron Paul is not one to do things in a prideful manner. He is human, he misspeaks, he makes jokes, he gets angry. But a humbler man in American politics I challenge you to find. The fact that he is not so boastful as a typical Republican, and not so beguiling as a typical Democrat has drawn as many people to him as his ideology has.
There is no political ideology more conducive to the individual than “libertarianism,” of which there are as many variants as there are adherents. Pure libertarianism, in theory, is voluntaryism. There is no individualism outside of voluntary interaction. That is not to say that people are coerced into being individualistic, for communal/collectivist societies can also be formed voluntarily. It all comes down to preference. And no economic theory is inherently individualistic or collectivistic. Any that claims to be is not an economic theory, but a political ideology. Economics is primarily about observations. Austrian Economists often do advocate a pure free market, but this is because they are also libertarians, not because Austrian Theory is synonymous with Libertarian Theory. It is therefore possible to be an Austrian and a statist. An Austrian simply accepts certain premises about how the economy does work. For example, he might understand that certain economic interventions cause distortions yet still advocate for those interventions for one reason or another. Fortunately most Austrians are indeed libertarians.
Human Action, that is, voluntary and spontaneous action on the part of individuals is the centerpiece of Austrian Economics. In the aggregate it organically aligns resources, capital, and labor to the needs and desires not only of society as a whole but of the individuals that are its constituent pieces, including, yes, those entrepreneurs who rise to the top through their own ingenuity and industry. The subjective theory of value, wherein near-rational individuals, rather than uninformed, ignorant, or malign bureaucrats, regulations, and monopolies (which owe their status to the state, not the market) determine the prices which optimize productive capacity and allocation of resources to those sectors to which they are needed, is also highly individualistic. Unlike state/corporate fiscal, regulatory, or monetary price fixing. The Austrian Theory has also come a long way in exposing the effects of coercion and planning that libertarians would say are negative.
The free market is all at once the most democratic and the most meritocratic economic system. Every person has some say so long as they have something to offer, their labor, their knowledge, their skills, their services, their property, their assets, their resources, their working capital, their savings, their pocket change. The most ingenuous and industrious have even more of a say.
Ron Paul does not blindly endorse big business, for he understands that much monopolistic and corporate control is indeed antithetical to the free market. Most monopolies are the result of some officially recognized status or favor granted, not market forces. Those “monopolies” that do arise in the market are often temporary and exist only so long as they do indeed provide the best services at the lowest cost. When the state subsidizes corporations, protects them from competition, or picks who to grant permits and licenses and charters to, only then do monopolies commonly occur and last, and are their deleterious effects made manifest. But to say that all big business got that way by disenfranchising the individual, small business, or society, rather than through recognizing a niche and providing a valued service, is the utmost of economic ignorance. The notion that utilizing a competitive advantage is somehow exploitation is a purely moral judgement that has nothing to do with whether the system actually benefits society in the long run, which is a greater test of its economic and moral worth than that which is immediately seen, the rich getting richer.
BARRY GERMANSKY: It is through their reliance on the free market as an umbrella paradigm that their views on different societal sectors become distorted.
HENRY MOORE: And the free market is not a paradigm. That would be like calling a void an object. The free market is not the presence of a societal model, it is its absence. And that is because it caters to individual choice, rather than imposing a specific set of rules. It does not posit, it negates. It creates no distortions, as all occurrences within it lead to exactly what they are supposed to. Trade, consumption, saving, investing all interlock in varying degrees according to the free and near-rational decisions of the individuals involved. Any apparent distortions are nothing more than fads or reflections of actual needs, not miscalculations made by experts who adhere to the Broken Window Fallacy. I can not say it enough: Individuals make their own decisions in the free market. Again, there is no paradigm to scape-goat for perceived distortions because each person determines their own way. Individual responsibility is not a paradigm! Alignments are not distortions. Resources, capital, and labor are allocated to where they are most desired, when, where, and in the way that they are desired. A voluntary system of exchange is not to blame for the mistakes of irrational or misguided actors.
BARRY GERMANSKY: The Pauls cater to naïve utopian ideals, in which all humans are as perfect and bland as numbers on a page.
HENRY MOORE: The Pauls do not envisage any form of Utopia. Utopians seek to eliminate all the sorrows and trials of the world without consequence. People who seek a system, in this instance, a free market, but do not claim it will solve all the world’s ills, are clearly not utopians. People who acknowledge that the flaws in any given system are not caused by the system itself, per se, but human nature, are clearly not naive. As I have said before: you could hand mankind the most flawless model for governing society imaginable, yet, because man is not perfect, he would still manage to spoil it!
Humans are not seen as bland. They are all seen as full of potential and free to reach it. There is nothing boring or common about someone who creates things, either for himself or for others, and then uses this advantage to increase both his living standard, whereby he can enjoy life the fuller, and his productive capacity, whereby he can create bigger and better and more numerous things. A system that makes people out as mere pieces of information would be a system that forces them all to use the same unit of exchange, judges their worth with strange letters and numbers, charges them fees based on their ability to make the world a better a place, and then spends that money on things that supposedly promote the “general welfare,” even where it obviously does not, and even where he finds those things being bought immoral or unnecessary.
BARRY GERMANSKY: Since economics is the language of the free market, economics becomes their only lens on society as a whole.
HENRY MOORE: As you no doubt know, economics is not a language, nor is it somehow exclusive to the free market. It is, quite literally, the study of household management, from the Greek oikos, “house” and nomos, “custom.” Does it get any less impersonal and detached than that? While many “economists” tend to muddle things by drawing strict lines between the micro and the macro, and graphing boring charts with boring statistics and formulae, it is a huge mistake to separate economics from other “sectors,” for it indeed covers virtually everything. Name some things people find relevant to their lives that have nothing to do with either where they live or how they live and you will have described a “sector” that can be efficiently managed without considering the factors of production (supply) and consumption (demand).
BARRY GERMANSKY: These Tea Party poster boys have a giant kettle of political poison and are spewing it across the American landscape.
HENRY MOORE: You are right about one thing, however. Ron and Rand Paul are indeed Tea Party poster boys. Ron Paul held the first modern day Tea Party, admittedly a fundraiser more than a protest, on December 16th, 2007. It was the 234th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, and the funds raised topped all previous 24 hours in presidential fundraising history, coming in hot with a whopping $6.04 Million. After he suspended his campaign on June 12th, 2008, Ron Paul used some $4.7 Million in campaign surplus (most campaign’s go into debt) to create what should be considered the very first Tea Party organization, Campaign for Liberty. Campaign for Liberty and its affiliate, Young Americans for Liberty were among the chief organizers of Tax Day protests up to a month before Rick Santelli’s amazing rant went viral via Drudge.
The Tea Party has since been co-opted by everyone from Grover Norquist, to the Koch Brothers, to Glenn Beck, to Paul Ryan, to Newt Gingrich, to Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, all of whom have been on good or cordial terms with Ron Paul at one time or another, but none of whom are near as principled or consistent in their beliefs or actions.