Recently by Susan Westfall: The War on Ron Paul
Recently, I was asked to explain whether or not it was "a common libertarian belief that any government is bad." This sticking point was one that in the questioners’ own words caused them to "lose interest," and despite being "in agreement with a lot of libertarian thinking…talking about deregulating everything," turned them off. I was asked this because of my support for and recent article about Ron Paul, who despite decades of serving as a Republican Congressman, is still consistently labeled as a libertarian in almost every media interview with him or discussion about him. The subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, implication by the media is that either the word libertarian in and of itself (or perhaps just the idea of being a libertarian) is somehow not quite right, maybe even unacceptable, and most certainly not electable.
At this point I would like to make it clear that the people posing their questions seemed genuinely concerned with simply understanding better the issue of greatly reducing the size of government and not with deriding libertarianism. In fact, they assured me that they "like a lot of libertarian principles," but deregulation and "pursuing an idealized notion of a free market," is not an answer they understand and this, I assume, could affect their vote in 2012. However, their wording of the overarching question first asked shows how successful the media campaign against libertarian ideals over the years has been. The application of the label "libertarian" to someone’s political character these days insinuates that said person is not only promoting an absence of any government whatsoever, but is almost eagerly awaiting the advent of anarchy and its chaotic and bloody results. Somalia is often used to demonstrate how such kooky libertarian ideals will end.
Libertarians, as with any other group, have beliefs that are wide and varied. I won’t pretend to know them all, or purport to having done a deep or intensive study of the matter. "Libertarian ideas are like stones dropping into a body of water, making waves in so many directions that no one is sure where they come from," says Lew Rockwell in The Case for Libertarian Hope. An exact list of what libertarians believe in, stand for, or wish to attain might theoretically be compiled, but in reality would not be applicable to all its advocates. That said, there are at least two basic concepts that appear to be foundational to libertarianism: individual liberty and doing no harm. Everything else, in my opinion, is just extrapolation and lends to a general confusion that inevitably dilutes their strength.
Individual liberty is based on two concepts: life and property. Your life and your property are yours, and yours alone. You are free to do with them what you will, as long as you don’t harm another with your doings. We exercise the choices we make regarding life and property through an ideal held dear by ALL people, no matter the political or religious label attached to them: that of free will. We choose what to eat and drink, where to live and how, what to think and believe, who to befriend or not, whether to be honest or lie, if we will act morally or immorally…the list could fill tomes. All individuals, regardless of race or gender, are born with this gift by which, at the very least, they are able to think, rationalize, and create. It is an accepted fact that free will is dictated by no person other than the one exercising it. If people are religious, they exercise their free will to adhere to God’s laws. However, I doubt any of them seriously believe that a bolt of lightening will shoot out of the Walmart ceiling tiles to strike them dead should they decide to shoplift. God does not compel mankind through force to follow His laws regarding morality, the treatment of fellow man, or any other of His dictates. God gifts mankind with individual liberty and extolls us to use it to exercise our free will, follow His guidance, and choose wisely in all things. If we choose unwisely, we and we alone will suffer the consequences — not our parents, not our neighbors, and not the rich people who have more than us. Does government then deem itself more powerful, more all-knowing than God? It must. Through legislation written by Congress the federal government: denies us the liberty to exercise our free will and dictates our choices for us; takes our wealth through taxation and redistributes it to others; and forces us to comply with its dictates through threats of imprisonment and/or fines. Pretty presumptuous, not to mention overbearing. As Ron Paul is fond of saying, "It makes no sense whatsoever." It makes even less sense to label people who believe in the right of individual liberty to exercise free will as kooks, anarchists, or extremists.
So since government is most assuredly not God, what is the role and purpose of government? Thankfully, we have a document that lays out just exactly those things. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution enumerates specifically the 21 duties the federal government is authorized to perform. Unfortunately, the legislative branch ignores it, the executive branch appends it, the judicial branch undermines it, the States are remiss in their duty to guard against all of the latter, and the people have forgotten that they ARE the government. So instead of a Constitutional Republic that would restrain bureaucracy, protect liberty, and enforce laws, we now have a ‘democracy’ that is so gargantuan in size that it is unsustainable. One grows dizzy trying to count the number of departments, programs, bureaus, divisions, sub-departments, and offices instituted to enact all the unconstitutional legislation written over the last one hundred years to regulate and restrain the people. But will Congress cut it back? Not unless the people insist, and too many still don’t understand that most of what government does is not really beneficial, but in actuality detrimental to the peoples’ well-being and in direct opposition to the general welfare of their Republic.
The mere mention of cutting government back to a Constitutional, and thus affordable size, gives rise to immediate cries of doom, gloom, and destruction. Without the benign munificence of whatever sacred department or program targeted for removal it is intimated that: old people will be dropping like flies in the streets; no one will have a home; all our children will starve; the country will be overcome with unbearable pollution; everyone will die from poisoned food and bad medicine; and so on till the cows come home. Used to fuel the peoples’ fears and maintain the status-quo, reporters seldom question whether any of these programs or departments are efficient or even worthy of expending scarce tax dollars on. Take for example the Environmental Protection Agency. This hallowed body purports to protect us from polluting corporations through tough regulations without which, supposedly, America would be wallowing in untold amounts of toxic pollution and all life would perish. In reality, its very policies often encourage corporations to continue polluting. If it costs less to pay a fine for polluting than it does to make renovations needed to meet regulation standards, then corporations will pay the fines and continue polluting. The government collects the fine money, no reform occurs, and the pollution continues on for years. What marvelous protection! If the EPA really wanted to protect the environment by enforcing tough regulations, there would be no optional fine payments or the fines would exceed renovation costs. And why do we need an agency for this anyway? Constitutionally, that’s what the court system is for…to protect property from pollution or any other damage and to fairly decide compensation and punishment. Strictly and properly enforced court decisions would soon force corporations to curtail bad habits they are now actually encouraged to continue, by the very same agency supposedly protecting us.
Another fine example of government proficiency is the Food and Drug Administration. It ensures that we have safe medicines and food. Right? Surely it’s worth the expended dollars to keep us safe from death and injury. Economist Randall Holcombe begs to differ. "The policy experts who have evaluated the costs and benefits of drug regulation have almost uniformly concluded that the costs of the regulations are not worth their benefits," quotes Thomas Woods in his book Rollback. Shouldn’t we at least listen to these experts on FDA policy? It’s not like, as Mr. Woods says, "a free people would…stand around scratching their heads…[wondering] what to do about [food and] drug safety." He proposes, and rightly so, that private firms such as Underwriters Laboratories could easily take over the job of informing customers of safe products, and at no cost to the taxpayer. In addition, at recent hearings on the Hill arguments were heard regarding the FDA’s over-regulation of medical devices and an approval process that stifles innovation. Once again we find government is not always efficient. Why expend tax dollars on something private companies and the market could probably do better?
Even if people don’t always agree why, in light of the fact that there is simply no money to continue funding them, the need to cut many of these regulating bodies is fast becoming an accepted norm. However, since the answer to the question "But, but how would we protect everyone?" is often the free market, another hurdle is quickly rolled out by the media for people to stumble upon. Horrors! The free market is the harbinger of all disasters that have befallen us, both old and new. As such we certainly can’t trust it to regulate anything. Hogwash! "The free market" has not been free since 1913, when the FED began centrally planning our economy and intervening in the market. Any intervention in the market disrupts the natural balance maintained by demand and production. The market, if left to operate free of restrictions, reflects real consumer demands for goods and services. This in turn is used to set the price of goods based on ease and speed of production. If we understand that economic value can only be placed on an object based on whether consumers need or want it enough to pay for it, and that needs and wants change arbitrarily with social circumstances and can’t be predicted accurately, then the idea that any regulating body could possibly out-perform the natural balance the market achieves is ludicrous. As soon as any restrictions are placed on the market, either through legislative regulations or central planning controls, the balance shifts away from the consumer towards the producer. This imbalance quickly leads to big businesses and corporations rapidly beating a path to Congress to purchase special favors that will benefit them, but never their consumers. No wonder government jumped so quickly into the Keynesian fueled vehicle for intervention provided by his scientific rational for central economic planning. It placed them firmly in the driver’s seat, big producers in the back seat paying the fare, and consumers in the trunk…if they were lucky. More often than not the consumers find themselves choking on dust at the road side. "The free market protects consumers and restrains government and big business," Ron Paul articulates when asked how free markets could protect us. Big government advocates were more than happy to throw off those restraints and invite their cronies along for the ride.
The federal government’s role in the market is to ensure that trade in goods produced remains regular and unrestricted between whatever parties want to have commerce, and to enforce and uphold contracts between those parties. It is not to control through legislation what can be produced in the name of regulating commerce. Nor is it, or has it ever been, to legislate into being an entity to plan the economy for the general welfare of the people. Intervention in the free markets by government created bodies based on Keynes’s theory for central planning is the actual harbinger, and true culprit, of all our present woes. This understanding is becoming clearer to people, and is evidenced by a growing resurgence of belief in the idea that more government seldom translates to better government. One need not believe in any particular political theory to find the idea of smaller government attractive. In fact conservatives, republicans, constitutionalists, independents, and tea party people, as well as many dreaded libertarians, easily find common ground in advocating for smaller government. When asked about the size of government recently on the Diane Rehm show, Ron Paul commented, "[It should be] as small as possible." During that interview he further explained, "There is nothing wrong with describing conservatism as protecting the Constitution, protecting all things that limit government. Government is the enemy of liberty. Government should be very restrained." Growing support at the polls for Dr. Paul demonstrates that people are not finding his defense of liberty and small government such unacceptable ideas, despite his being labeled a libertarian by the media. In fact, judging by how frequently we now hear similar platitudes pass the lips of many a politician who previously derided Ron Paul for his stance, I would say his ideas are very acceptable to a majority of people. So much so that it seems quite sensible to proclaim that, "If we believe in having the liberty to exercise our free will and if we believe in smaller government, then perhaps we are all libertarians now."
Susan Westfall [send her mail] is a mother, a libertarian, and an educator.