Thursday, April 23, 2009

Start the Revolution without me

A little follow-up from my last post will dovetail nicely into today's topic. A new poll finds that half of Texas Republicans favor secession from the United States. I hope they get their wish.

Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas this week offered support for the principles of secession, calling them "very much American."

I like Ron Paul. I appreciate the fact that he's not afraid to criticize the Republican Party line. I was particularly amused by his "alternative convention" in Minneapolis last year for conservatives who had grown tired of the Bush/Cheney/McCain neo-conservative nightmare.

This post is my review of Ron Paul's The Revolution: A Manifesto. This slim volume was published last year at the (rather steep) retail price of $21.00.

The Revolution is Paul's libertarian plea for a return to "the principles of our Founding Fathers: liberty, self-government, the Constitution, and a noninterventionist foreign policy." Much of this book is good, much is not so good.

The book gets off to a really strong start. Chapter one is a searing indictment of the Bush Administration's foreign policy. Paul astutely notes that our conflicts in the Middle East are not due to a hatred our of freedom by the Muslim world. Instead they are the natural outcome of American policies. "People grow resentful," Paul points out, "when your government bombs them, supports police states in their countries, and imposes murderous sanctions on them," and, "about the only thing that can hold together the very loose coalition that Osama bin Laden has assembled is a common Muslim hatred for the impact of U.S. foreign policy." He also points out that if the American media were actually liberal, it would have challenged the Bush Administration's "intelligence" before the War in Iraq. Finally, he calls for a draw-down of our overseas commitments that currently require taxpayers to support 700 military bases around the world. Good stuff.

Unfortunately, most of the rest of this book is off the mark. He's very much against the Federal government coercing anyone to do anything, but if local government wants to tyrannize you, that's pretty much okay with him. He suggests that the issue of prayer in school was never meant to be decided by federal judges, because America is based on the principle of local self-government. So apparently, if your local school board wants to coerce children to pray in public school, that's just fine. Thanks Ron, very libertarian of you. If we logically continue this same line of thought, I guess the South should be free to re-instigate racial segregation if it so chooses.

Having suggested that the federal government is not legally entitled to do much of anything, Paul next suggests that it's also not capable of doing anything competently anyway. The examples he uses are premises to this argument are not good at all. He condemns the National Endowment for the Arts because it offers grants equally to all those apply. This in his mind is inferior to private support of the arts, which is more likely to give support to only "the best artists." So apparently, the only art worth funding is art judged worthy by the very wealthy. I disagree.

Paul's views on social security and medicare also make no sense to me. He claims that, "we do not have the resources to sustain these programs in the long run." The fact is, every other leading nation in the world provides old age pensions and health care for their elderly citizens, and few of them are as wealthy or productive as the U.S.

The balance of his views on American health care really scare me. He notes that Americans are unsatisfied with HMO's, but he blames this on the federal government, as it endorsed the creation of HMO's in the 1970's. He seems to believe that the greed and corruption to be found in the HMO industry are somehow the government's fault rather than the fault of the HMO's themselves. As the solution to America's health care woes, Paul endorses private, tax-free health care savings accounts for non-catastrophic care. He makes no mention however of how such a system would cope with the fact that many if not most Americans are not capable of saving a lot of money just for the day when they will need cash-and-carry health care services.

Many of Paul's economic arguments are based on an incorrect understanding of historic fact. For example, he seems to long for the Gilded Age of the 19th century, before the trust-busting federal government decided to interfere in the free market. Paul says that American history books claim that, "Alleged 'monopolies' dictated prices to hapless consumers. Laborers were forced to accept ever-lower wages. And thanks to their superior economic position, giant corporations effortlessly parried the attempts of anyone foolish enough to try to compete with them." But, he says, "Even single aspect of this story is false." I'm sorry, but it's Paul's beliefs that are false. Before the anti-trust laws began to be enforced during Teddy Roosevelt's administration, it was standard operation procedure for the leaders of every industry to destroy all innovative competition, while at the same time fixing prices and wages, and as financier Jay Gould said, "hire one half of the working class to kill the other half."

Paul rounds out the book with two more topics, civil liberties and monetary policy. In the chapter on civil liberties, he provides a good summary of the ways in which the Bush Administration threw the Bill of Rights out the window. The chapter on monetary policy however, is kind of a rambling mess. He sure doesn't like the Federal Reserve. He thinks the policy of injecting more money into a sagging economy is extremely inflationary. Well, the Fed is injecting money like crazy into the economy right now in 2009. Are we seeing runaway inflation? No.

The most chilling argument I found in this section of the book was Paul's suggestion that the activities of the Fed, "prevent the liquidation of bad debt and the elimination malinvestment and overcapacity," which helps to, "keep financial bubbles inflated and make the eventual collapse all the more severe." So apparently, if financial markets are crashing and the economy is headed for recession or depression, we should just let the crash happen and do nothing. This was Hebert Hoover's approach from 1929-1933, and it did not work, to say the least. By contrast, FDR's approach of government investment restored America's Gross Domestic Product to 1929 levels in just four years.

To summarize, I agree with Dr. Paul on the principles of a non-interventionist foreign policy and on civil liberties, but I disagree with him on everything else. Still, I'll take his brand of conservatism over that of Bush-Cheney and McCain-Palin any day of the week.

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