The Practical Idealist
[Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom • By Ron Paul • Grand Central Publishing, 2011 • 352 pages]
Sometimes Ron Paul seems too good to be true. For decades he has championed the cause of liberty and sound monetary and geopolitical policy. He has done this in the very heart of the Leviathan state even as the federal government has accelerated its expansion in the postwar years. Further, Dr. Paul has repeatedly presented his case in print in clear language. Liberty Defined is the latest timely addition to those efforts.
The format is one we've seen before in books like Libertarianism, from A to Z. In Liberty Defined, the introduction lays out the overarching principles of liberty and antiauthoritarianism. The book itself then devotes each chapter to an individual issue, starting with abortion, then moving through things like Austrian economics, capital punishment, evolution and creation, global warming, hate crimes, Keynesianism, taxes, unions, and much more. The chapters are fairly short at just a few pages each, written in clear language that seeks to discuss and educate. Each chapter is a delight to read, particularly for lovers of liberty; but even when you don't fully agree with Dr. Paul, you'll find his position compelling and his honesty and consistency incredibly refreshing.
"The phrase 'Austrian School' or 'Austrian economics,'" Dr. Paul writes,
is not something I ever expected would enter into the vocabulary of politics or media in culture. But since 2008, it has. Reporters use it with some degree of understanding, and with an expectation that readers and viewers will understand it too. This is just thrilling to me, for I am a long-time student of the Austrian tradition of thought.
And no doubt many readers will share Dr. Paul's joy. They will also note that it is Dr. Paul himself who has been tirelessly campaigning for the free-market principles of the Austrian School for the past several years. He tells about the founder of the Austrian School, Carl Menger (1840-1921)
who wrote that economic value extends from the human mind alone and is not something that exists as an inherent part of goods and services; valuation changes according to social needs and circumstances. We need markets to reveal to us the valuations of consumers and producers in the form of the price system that works within a market setting.
Dr. Paul notes that Keynes's "entire agenda presumes the existence of a wise activist state that is involved in every level of economic life. Liberty was not an issue that concerned him."
The Austrian School, however, believes that "we are not cogs in a macroeconomic machine; people will always resist being treated as such."
Liberty Defined is certain to make people on both sides of the left-right political debate uncomfortable. Dr. Paul decries the welfare state beloved by those on the Left, but repeatedly shows that such a state is just the other side of the coin of the interventionist foreign policies of those on the Right. Dr. Paul himself is a man of religious and spiritual conviction, but he also doesn't shy away from analyzing how the neoconservatives of the modern Right adulterate religion and patriotism to garner support for their imperialist adventures.
Instead of religious beliefs being the cause of war, it is more likely that those who want war co-opt religion and falsely claim the enemy is attacking their religious values. How many times have we heard neoconservatives repeat the mantra that religious fanatics attack us for our freedoms and prosperity? Neoconservatives use religion to stir up hatred toward the enemy.
Dr. Paul also isn't given to idealism. He admits, for example, that a truly libertarian position would have porous borders, but he points out that that just isn't possible right now. He notes that even in a stateless society, all property would be privately owned and those property owners at the borders would have the right to decide who can cross their land. Dr. Paul handles the issue deftly, and his proposals of work permits and conditional green cards as opposed to deportation, among other things, struck even this anarchocapitalist-leaning reader as reasonable.
And Dr. Paul is certainly no anarchist, but he is close enough for me. He is the kind of politician even an anarchocapitalist could love. Dr. Paul is well versed in the dangers of governments and their tendencies to grow; yet he thinks there is room in the world for a minimal amount of government. It's a delicate balance. He pulls it off with aplomb. In the chapter on prohibition he says:
Government should not compel or prohibit any personal activity when that activity poses danger to that individual alone. Drinking and smoking marijuana is one thing, but driving recklessly under the influence is quite another. When an individual threatens the lives of others, there is a role for government to restrain that violence.
The government today is involved in compulsion or prohibition of just about everything in our daily activities. Many times these efforts are well-intentioned. Other times they result from a philosophic belief that average people need smart humanitarian politicians and bureaucrats to take care of them. The people, they claim, are not smart enough to make their own decisions. And unfortunately, many citizens go along, believing the government will provide perfect safety for them in everything they do. Since governments can't deliver, this assumption provides a grand moral hazard of complacency and will only be reversed with either a dictatorship or a national bankruptcy that awakens people and forces positive change.
Liberty Defined is layered with a practical view of the political realities, but it never fails to stay true to its moral core. Dr. Paul repeatedly points out that many of his solutions — which ultimately come down to the federal government getting out of the way — simply won't be applied because the federal government is just too intertwined with the problem.
But Dr. Paul never wavers. With the fearlessness for which he has become famous, Dr. Paul continues to assault all the bad central-planning policies and popular misconceptions that allow them to continue even in the face of failure.
Something did change with the publication of The General Theory. Keynes gave the governments of the world a seemingly scientific rationale for doing what governments wanted to do anyway.
On unions and government labor laws:
Union power, gained by legislation, even without physical violence, is still violence. The laborer gains legal force over the employer. Economically, in the long run, labor loses. …
If only it were so easy to help the working class. Just dictate wages and everyone will be financially better off. Unfortunately, this leads to disastrous results, whether it's the prolonging of the economic mess as it did in the 1930s or the tragic results in American industry that we're witnessing today.
What good is it to mandate a $75 per hour wage if there are no jobs available at that price? What good is a minimum wage of $7.50 if it significantly contributes to overall unemployment?
The reaction to the economic argument explaining the shortcoming of labor unions and minimum wage laws is that it's heartless and unfair not to force "fairness" on the ruthless capitalists. But true compassion should be directed toward the defense of a free market that has provided the greatest abundance and the best distribution of wealth of any economic system known throughout history.
The chapter on taxes, however, is probably the best (and certainly this reviewer's favorite). It sums up so many of the important themes: private property, liberty versus coercion, public education, economic misallocation, and the voracious appetite of the state.
Taxes are the price we pay for civilization," according to Oliver Wendell Holmes. This claim has cost us dearly. … If we as a nation continue to believe that paying for civilization through taxation is a wise purchase and the only way to achieve civilization, we are doomed.
I am tempted to quote the chapter in its entirety; but at this point I would simply urge you to buy the book so you can read it there along with the rest of this wonderful work.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.