By Nicholas Wapshott
With Ron Paul now running neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney in the latest Iowa polls, exactly where the “father of the tea party” and his libertarian policies could lead the United States becomes a question of considerable importance.
For the disenchanted dissenters, who make up much of the tea party, and their anarcho-capitalists friends who want to dismantle almost the whole government, Paul is more than a crabby guy who chides opponents for being compromising wimps. He’s the real deal: A former Libertarian Party presidential candidate who draws his politics from the texts of the counter-Keynesian Friedrich Hayek; the Austrian scourge of creeping socialism Ludwig von Mises, and the libertarian supervixen Ayn Rand.
Paul’s policies would mean turning the clock back two centuries, to a time when the United States was a trading nation but otherwise blithely cut off from the world. It would mean an unregulated free market economy that Charles Dickens would have recognized, where big businesses would rule the roost. Most public services – including city governments – would be run by private companies, and representative democracy – the U.S. system that libertarians deride as “the tyranny of the majority” – would be cut to a bare minimum.
Paul is for: firing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and abolishing the entire Fed; withdrawing U.S. troops not only from Afghanistan, but also Germany, South Korea and Japan; ending of the new health care regulations and the winding down Medicare; halting all U.S. subsidies from Arab states as well as Israel, and closing all but three federal government departments – unlike Texas Gov. Rick Perry, he has no trouble remembering which. Paul also advocates enhanced states’ rights, outlawing abortion and the legalization of recreational drugs.
Instead of the Fed, which Paul blames for inflation, he would relax laws restricting ownership of gold, silver and other precious metals. The result would likely be a run on the dollar – as investors and exporting businesses sought refuge in hard currencies or gold.
Without the Fed pumping money into the economy, inflation would be kept in check, but banks would be allowed to fail. Americans would be subjected to a regime of material austerity they have not endured since the early days of the Republic. With the world’s largest economy on short rations, it would risk tipping the rest of the globe into a second Great Depression.
Would this be catastrophic for the U.S. economy? Paul will, no doubt, explain why not.
Bringing our boys back from Afghanistan would be popular. But Paul wouldn’t stop there. He blames 9/11 on U.S. interference in the Middle East and would lead a wholesale military retreat from the rest of the world. Would that encourage failed states to arm terrorists? What would happen to our brave service personnel after they are demobbed? Paul should tell us.
He also wants to draw down U.S. foreign aid. “Why do we have this automatic commitment,” Paul asks, “that we’re going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel?” Will his policy make it more or less likely that Hezbollah will invade Israel or Iran nuke Tel Aviv? And with these policies, how does he expect to win in New York and Florida? We await his explanation.
Medicare and the new health care reforms? Gone. Paul insists 80 percent of the federal government, including education, is unconstitutional? As Groucho Marx sang in “Duck Soup,” “No matter what it is or who commenced it, I’m against it.”
Will retired people need to find jobs to pay medical bills? Will we become a nation of home-schoolers? And will this retreat from teaching make America a prosperous, fully employed nation? He must spell it out.
Paul is an ob/gyn doctor, and boasts about bringing 4,000 babies into the world. He believes life begins with conception and wants to outlaw abortion, perhaps state by state. Does he look forward to an America where women who choose to terminate a pregnancy have to fly from city to city to stay within the law? Does he relish the thought of backstreet abortionists springing up, practicing rough-and-ready methods? Women will want to hear what he has to say.
And what about legalizing marijuana? That could prove popular. But the doc doesn’t stop there. “Government should not compel or prohibit any personal activity when that activity poses danger to that individual alone.” Does that mean he would allow over-the-counter sales of cocaine and heroin?
Paul is a serious man, who has obviously thought long and hard about such questions, so we await his answers with keen interest. In the meantime, I’m off to take all my dollars out of the bank to buy gold.
Nicholas Wapshott is the author of “Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics.”