Lemann of the New Yorker on Ron Paul: A Critique
by Walter Block: Closing
of the New
Yorker wrote a particular ill-manned, nasty and ignorant
dismissal of Ron Paul and his campaign for the Presidency of the
U.S. (It is dated 1/9/12, but I first saw it this evening, on 1/3/12).
I shall subject his vicious screed to a line by line, well, more
often, paragraph by paragraph, criticism. I will do so emulating
Henry Hazlittís intensive response
to Keynesí General Theory. Why should I spend so much time on such
unimportant drivel as this, written by an author of no particular
distinction? Iím not sure. It is by far not the worst of the smears
about Congressman Paul. There are more objectionable pieces out
there, far worse ones. Maybe it is because I am originally from
New York City, and I used to regularly read the New Yorker.
Maybe it is because, as I write, the returns are coming in from
Iowa, and I donít have the capacity to pen anything original; it
is far easier to react to an author than to blaze a new path. And,
I just canít sit here, eyes glued to the results, as they slowly
come in. (Wait a minute. Iíve got to go and check how Ron is doing.
Ok, Iím back. Ron is still in first place, but he is hanging there
by a thread.) I really donít know. All Iím aware of is that this
New Yorker essay really stuck in my craw, and the only way
I know how to alleviate these feelings of helplessness at the unfairness
of it all is to write about it. Thatís my way of kicking butt. So,
here goes. (My comments are in italics, following these marks <<.)
Enemy of the State
Lemann January 9, 2012
For the past
six months or so, the Republican-primary electorate has had a polite,
patient, reliable, steadily employed suitor chatting with Mom and
Dad in the parlor, while a series of more exciting but less appropriate
rivals have come knocking at the back door. Mitt Romney will probably
win in the end, but each of his serially surging competitors enjoys
more immediate access to some essential region of the Republican
soul. Herman Cain is the tough, no-bullshit businessman, Rick Santorum
the devout pro-lifer, Rick Perry the hypermasculine cowboy, Michele
Bachmann the evangelical populist, Newt Gingrich the swashbuckling
far so good. No real criticisms, yet. (But wait; Ron is now in second
place! Oh, woe.) I didnít much like that crack about "Mitt
Romney will probably win in the end," but I am nothing if
not generous; so Iíll not pounce, yet. But, I canít resist. Why,
in 2012, still mention Cain? Did he not drop out of the race a while
It seems fitting
that the final surge should belong to Ron Paul, who speaks most
directly to one of his partyís deepest emotions: hostility to government.
At seventy-six, Paul has aged perfectly into his personality. Heís
a white-haired, wide-eyed prophet Ė itís easy to imagine him in
white robes, instead of a business suit Ė who must rail against
the outrages he has witnessed. To a pinched, stressed, war-weary,
declinist nation, he offers the clearest program of any of the candidates.
Five federal departments gone in Year One. Ten per cent of the federal
workforce laid off. Income tax abolished, along with the I.R.S.
Regulations and social programs repealed. No more foreign wars;
no more foreign aid; not even very much foreign policy.
is not "hostile to government." He does not reject
the state per se. He is not an anarchist. Rather, he rejects excessive
government; out of control government; large government; un Constitutional
government. Congressman Paul supports a limited role for government.
That business of "Ten per cent of the federal workforce laid
off" sounds as if it would increase unemployment. The very
opposite is the case. (Oh, no! Ron has now fallen to third place.
The horror! But, at least he is within a percentage point of the
other two.) How can this be? It is due to the fact that we should
only count a job as real "employment" when the worker
actually creates goods and services that people want. Call that
"positive employment." But, suppose, as Keynes famously
mentioned, workers only dug holes and filled them up again, and
at the end of the day we the people had no more toys and food than
we had at the beginning. Call this "neutral employment."It
doesnít reduce poverty, but it doesnít increase it either. Now consider
the scenario where goods and services actually fall as a result
of a given "job." That would be in our lexicography "negative
employment." How could this be? Simple. The employment slot
consists not of creating anything, nor of coming out even, but of
preventing other people from working, or reducing their productivity.
These are the kinds of government jobs Dr. Paul would eliminate.
So, paradoxically, by doing so, we will have more real goods and
services with fewer workers toiling away. That is not unemployment;
that is an increase in productivity. Those workers who are fired
will be able to find "positive employment," provided,
of course, that we follow Austrian Business Cycle Theory, and allow
the market to throw off the present depression; more about this
to the self-selected group that comes to the Iowa Republican caucuses,
Paulís positions are pulse quickening. If you are antitax, Paul
has that sentiment nailed more than any other candidate. If you
are antiwar, Paul is right there with you. If you fear for your
personal freedoms, Paul has you covered. And if you want a sweeping
philosophy, deeply grounded in fundamental texts (Hayek, von Mises,
Rothbard), Paul is your man. Nobody has a better claim to be a protest
candidate. Heís the only one who has ever run for office from a
third party. Heís not about passing bills; heís about root-and-branch
change. His popularity, even if itís temporary, demonstrates that
all politics isnít necessarily local Ė that big ideas can exert
a pull on voters, too.
Paul is not "antitax." He opposes the income tax, but
would not eliminate all taxation. Nevertheless, this is a pretty
good paragraph. I especially appreciate the authorís mention of
Rothbard. All too often mention in the mainstream media of the "fundamental
texts" written by Austrian authors is limited to Mises and
Hayek. I regard Rothbard as far more important in this context than
Hayek, and, roughly equal to Mises.
obsession is with currency: President Nixonís decision, forty years
ago, to take the United States off the gold standard is what brought
him into politics. His hatred of the Federal Reserve Board is related
to a mistrust of currencies managed by governments. Underlying everything
is, of course, a larger mistrust Ė the sense that in some hushed
Washington conference room highly consequential arrangements are
being made that will help a few privileged insiders and hurt ordinary
Americans. Although Paul has spent most of his life directly benefitting
from one or another federal payroll or program, starting when he
served in the Air Force, he isnít just striking a pose when he describes
government as the enemy of freedom. He means it.
Paul is not "obsessed" with the gold standard. He is concerned.
He is pretty level-headed about this. If there is any "obsession"
going on in the race for the presidency of the US in 2012, it is
on the part of all the other candidates, and it has nothing to do
with monetary policy. Rather, it concerns blowing up hundreds of
thousands of innocent people abroad who are citizens of countries
that have never attacked us, and are incapable of invading us, in
any case. Another error: Nixon only closed the gold window for foreigners
in 1971. FDR gets the blame for a far bigger step away from gold
in 1933 when he prohibited the use of it for money on the part of
U.S. citizens. Nor does the Congressman "hate" the Fed.
Dr. Paul is not much of a hater. He sees this institution as a destabilizing
force in the economy, leading from depression to inflation and back.
Yes, of course, the good doctor "mistrusts Ö currencies managed
by governments," and with very good reason. Nor can it be denied
that these "arrangements Öhelp a few privileged insiders and
hurt ordinary Americans." Lemann sees Paul as "benefitting"
from his military service. This is more than passing curious. Presumably,
this New Yorker author, then, would interpret the non-service of
all those chicken-hawk armchair generals running for the presidency
as somehow more noble. They, at least, didnít "benefit"
from their contribution to the army, navy, marines or air force.
And, yes, the Texan certainly "means it" when he sees
not "government," but rather out of control government,
as the "enemy of freedom."
The other candidates
ignored Paul until he looked like a serious threat, and then they
began attacking him. He doesnít care whether Iran has nuclear weapons.
He wouldnít have killed Osama bin Laden. Heís the only Republican
candidate who is not an ardent supporter of Israel. He suggests
that the 9/11 attacks were comeuppance for our misguided interventionism,
and doesnít think they justified a declaration of war. He has given
at least silent assent to full-on paranoia and racism among his
supporters. Gingrich has declared Paulís views to be "totally
outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American."
is a blatant and outright lie to say that Dr. Paul "doesnít
care whether Iran has nuclear weapons." He cares very much.
He opposes that situation. Why? Because such devices are
necessarily invasive. They cannot be pinpointed
at the guilty. Ron Paul stands against any country wielding them.
But, he maintains that there is zero chance of Iran using this ordnance
against our own country, and that therefore that situation is none
of our business, a concept alien to the thoughts of our mainstream
media. He would too have presided over the execution of bin Laden,
if a court decreed that verdict (although he now opposes the death
penalty as unfair to black people). He would want this murderer
to be treated in roughly the same manner as were the high-ranking
Nazis at the end of World War II; e.g., the Nuremberg trials. What
is so bloody awful about treating bin Laden in that manner? By the
way, the entire point of water-boarding and other such torture is
to gain information. Why then was bin Laden summarily killed before
he could speak about what he knew? Dr. Ron Paul most certainly is
He thinks that this can best be done, however, by respecting their
sovereignty, not by treating them as a naughty child. He opposes
giving massive amounts of foreign aid to all nations, certainly
including the enemies of Israel, as well as the much lower rate
of largesse bestowed on that country. This the Texas Congressman
argues, will be to the relative benefit of the latter. By allowing
Israel to attain her sovereignty and thus control over her own fate,
she will be in a far better position to protect herself. Ron Paul
doesnít only "suggest" that the "9/11 attacks were
comeuppance for our misguided interventionism," he demonstrates
the truth of this claim. I note that this New Yorker author contents
himself by merely listing this litany of complaints, as if they
were Godís given truth. He doesnít bestir himself to defend these
charges against the counter evidence that has been put forth. He
acts as if there could not possibly be anything to be said in Dr.
Paulís defense. This applies, too, to Lemannís correct statement
that in Paulís view, the horrid events of 9/11 did not justify "a
declaration of war." Against whom it might be asked?
Should we have warred against Saudi Arabia, since 15 of the 19 terrorists
responsible for this despicable act emanated from that country?
One might as well declare war against New
York State since Timothy McVeigh was born there. No,
instead, statesman Paul favored the use of Letters
which would enable us to pinpoint our reaction on the guilty parties.
But why utilize the Constitution, when instead we can inaugurate
undeclared wars against innocent people, and use this sorry episode
so as to export "democracy" at the point of a gun? I wonít
dignify yet another linkage of Dr. Paul and "racism" with
a response, but I will say that "Gingrich" and "decent
American" do not belong in the same sentence. (Uh, oh, it looks
as if Ron will come in third in Iowa; I can just see tomorrowís
media reports: "The Iowa caucuses Ďcountí after all. Santorum
and Romney were virtually tied. Gingrich and Perry took fourth and
fifth.") Note: I have not placed "decent American"
in the previous sentence.
Yet what is
and isnít part of the mainstream is something that political campaigns
determine. And the truth is that Paulís vision reveals Ė with candor
and specificity Ė what the G.O.P.ís rhetorical hostility to government
would mean if it were rigorously put into practice. A minimal state,
without welfare provisions for the unemployed. A quarter of a million
federal workers Ė as a first installment Ė joining those unemployed.
Foreign policy and national defense reduced to a few ballistic-missile
submarines. The civil-rights legislation of the nineteen-sixties
repealed as so much unwarranted government intrusion. As for the
financial crisis, Paul would have countenanced no regulation that
might have prevented it, no government stabilization of the financial
system after it happened, and no special help for working people
hurt by it. This is where the logic of government-shrinking leads.
insurance increases unemployment, and lengthens its duration. Whenever
you subsidize anything, you get more of it. UI subsidizes unemployment.
QED. National defense would not be "reduced." With President
Paul at the helm, it would be increased, and vastly so. Instead
of poking sticks in hornetís nests all over the world, and then
wondering why some of them come back here to bite us -- hint: it
is not because of our freedoms Ė under a Paul administration our
soldiers and sailors would come back to our shores to protect
us. Think in terms of a gigantic and powerful Coast Guard, with
of course, more "ballistic-missile submarines,"
if President Paul thought them necessary. He would have additional
funds to do so, if soldiers were pulled out of not only Iraq and
Afghanistan but from all over the world. What is the U.S. military
doing in Germany and Japan for goodness sake? Did we not conclude
wars with those two countries a while ago? Ron Paul fervently supports
those aspects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended Jim Crow
legislation with its government mandated discrimination. However,
he opposes those elements that violated private property rights,
another phrase seemingly not in the lexicon of sophisticated New
Yorker writers. Dr. Paul opposes "Ö regulation that might have
prevented Ö the financial crisis?" Why, Ďtwas the Fed, and
onerous regulations emanating from Fannie, Freddie, HUD, etc., that
caused it in the first place. Congressman Paul is against
"Ö government stabilization of the financial system after it
happened?" That was precisely what FDR did in the 1930s, and
that only increased the severity and duration of the Great Depression.
It would appear that Obama is channeling this hero of his, and is
emulating him to the greatest degree possible. In contrast, no one
ever hears of the depression
of 1921, when the "magic of the market" was
allowed to bring back the economy after only a short disturbance.
Our future president does not see the need for "Öspecial help
for working people?" The non-working people of this
country donít need any "help" from the government. What
they most need is to get this institution off their backs. The unemployment
rate is so high because of the minimum wage law, out of control
unions, and the fear of Obama-care in the offing. Employers are
not adding to their payrolls, in part, because they donít know the
full extent of their financial responsibilities for any new hires
under new socialized medicine.
Even if Paul
wins in Iowa, his campaign will almost surely falter; donít count
on seeing him deliver a prime-time address at the Republican National
Convention. Still, Paulís brief heyday will Ė like the Tea Party,
itself a rather Pauline affair Ė have an effect, on both parties.
For the Republicans, the question is whether Paulís enumeration
of the minimal-state particulars will entrench the appeal of government-bashing
or serve, instead, as a vaccine that protects the Party against
taking politically disastrous stands in the future. Would a President
Romney be able to operate under the rules that applied to Ronald
Reagan and the two Bushes Ė as long as you say youíre for limited
government, you can expand government freely as the need arises
Ė or would the lingering effect of Paulís campaign curtail his options?
the powers that be within the Republican Party had their Ďdruthers,
Ron Paul would never get within a million miles of a podium at the
Republican National Convention, or anywhere else for that matter.
However, if they have any sense, they will smile and invite him
to deliver a prime-time address there. Why? So as to decrease the
likelihood that he will run as a third party candidate. So that
at least some of his followers will vote for tweedle dum or tweedle
dummer, the winner of the Republican primaries, if it is not him.
But it is quite premature to assume that Dr. Paulís campaign will
"falter." His money raising "bombs" will finance
his continued run until November. His army of inspired followers
will get many more chances to demonstrate their enthusiasm. Even
if the media continues to ignore him (they had threatened to ignore
the entire state of Iowa had he won their caucus election), a close
third place finish there gives him plenty of momentum for New Hampshire.
When Gingrich was the front runner, Ron Paul advertisements (remember
"serial flip-flopper") brought down that worthy. The Paul
campaign will now demonstrate that both Romney and Santorum are
big-government, left-liberal, flip-flopping, chicken-hawk war-mongers.
For the Democrats,
Paul presents a different problem. In politics, thereís the small
set of issues that draw public attention and then thereís everything
else Ė ninety-five per cent of what happens in Washington. When
anti-government rhetoric meets big issues like war and economic
disaster, itís usually good for the Democrats, because they can
make the argument for action without being hypocritical. On the
small issues, though, the triumph of anti-government rhetoric has
been a real impediment for President Obama. It gives the Republicans
a justification to oppose, by rote, every appointment and every
expenditure, which helps make their belief in public-sector inefficiency
self-fulfilling but otherwise doesnít do anybody much good.
"For the Democrats, Paul presents a Ö (gigantic) Ö problem."
If and when he becomes the Republican standard bearer (take that,
Hannity, Trump, Fox News, OíReilly, Gingrich) he will roll right
over Obama. I give Paul only a 50% chance to get that far, but a
90% chance of winning the presidency if he does. Why? Because Paul
appeals to that "old right" Taft wing of the Republican
Party that values peace and defense rather than offense.
He will couple that with Independents and Democrats sick of all
the wars, all the death. He will have a field-day exposing the gigantic
gap between Obamaís promises and his actual policies. He will garner
the votes of people who oppose Obamaís militarism, SOPA, NDAA, drug
policies, unemployment, the list goes on and on. There are numerous
pundits with impeccable leftist, progressive, and socialist (it
is hard to keep up with these people, they keep changing their name
so much) credentials, who are seriously supporting Ron Paul, or
at least contemplating doing so. See especially here,
but also here,
Obama will be both
out left-flanked and out right-flanked.
it must be tempting for Obama to let Ron Paulís moment play out
as long as possible: it usefully draws attention to the less seemly
aspects of Republican political culture. But silence doesnít solve
the problem of day-to-day, full-bore Republican resistance. Obama
would do well to take Paulís success as an opportunity to engage
in a debate about fundamentals. Heíll have an easier time governing
in practice if he can defend governance in principle.
debate? Without a teleprompter for Obama? Paul will make minced-meat
out of him.
Block [send him mail] is a
professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior
fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending
the Undefendable and Labor
Economics From A Free Market Perspective. His latest book
Privatization of Roads and Highways.
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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