by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
This is the foreword to the forthcoming Mises Institute book, The Economics of Freedom, by Ron Paul.
Congressman Ron Paul has been working for decades to bring economics to the forefront of political life. In doing so, he has raised topics that nearly everyone else in public life wants buried.
But isn't economics a dull topic, interesting only to Wall Street traders and government bureaucrats? Isn't it just about math and graphs?
Not in Ron's view. He has an intensity of passion for the discipline of economics that follows up on what Ludwig von Mises believed. Economics is the pith of material life. It is the core body of knowledge that seeks an explanation for all material phenomena as it is affected by human choice. Economics is as unavoidable in politics as gravity is in the natural world. It is a ubiquitous reality whether we speak about it openly or not.
Therefore everyone should be interested in economics. The choice we make about our economic system will determine whether we rise or fall as a people, whether our families will thrive or die, and whether the future itself has a future.
The cause-and-effect relationship between bad policy and bad economic outcomes, however, is not always obvious. We need teachers and public intellectuals to point out the connections between the money supply and inflation, between regulations and slow growth, between protectionism and lowered living standards, between public ownership and the decline of innovation.
The relationship is most clearly spelled out in the Austrian tradition represented by Carl Menger, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Henry Hazlitt, Hans Sennholz, and Murray Rothbard, for here we have a body of economic logic that refines and improves classical doctrines to permit us to understand cause and effect in economic life. Dr. Paul has read these authors in detail, and learned from them. He has gone further, in a pioneering way, to apply them to political life. In so doing, he has earned for himself a high place in the annals of history.
There are easier roads to political success than using every opportunity to speak on economic issues. Why did he choose this path? Not merely to spread knowledge for its own sake. He believes that public awareness and knowledge is the key to establishing and keeping freedom, which is the basis of civilization itself. Without a deep and abiding love of freedom in all spheres of life, the government can ravage the human population. But for a people who love liberty, no power is strong enough to finally take away the right to pursue happiness.
Others who came before Dr. Paul in this respect are people like Cobden and Bright in England, Frédéric Bastiat in France, and Thomas Jefferson in America. All of them spoke the great unspeakable truth that there are forces operating in the world more powerful than the whims of the political class. Every effort at centralized planning, and every attempt to legislate political dreams, bumps up against economic law. Economics is the great brick wall, a thousand feet thick, that limits the maniacal dreams, benevolent or malevolent, of the political imagination. We ignore these economic forces at our peril.
In Dr. Paul's view, if we seriously paid attention to the teaching of economics, and the population understood those truths, the central bank would be closed, the bureaucracies would be shut down, taxes would be repealed, spending programs would be abolished, and regulations would be stripped from the books — for all these efforts to manage society not only fail to achieve their stated objectives; they also reduce our living standard and artificially restrict the scope of freedom in our lives.
So there is a reason why politicians ignore the problem of economics, and why they prefer to characterize it as a narrow field dominated by number crunchers who care only tangentially about issues that impact the rest of society. Instead, officials speak vagaries about leading the country into the future and meeting human needs because this sort of language empowers the political class.
I have no doubt that the contents of this book will make even some of his supporters uncomfortable. The right imagines that it supports free enterprise, but even in the area of trade and money? Even to the point at which the state is denied permission to undertake tasks such as imposing sanctions on unfriendly foreign regimes? The left might like his antiwar positions, but what if giving up war mongering also requires rethinking the merit of the redistributionist welfare state?
Dr. Paul writes that freedom is all of a piece. You can't pick and choose. Moreover, it is impossible to speak of the future or of human needs without trusting economic freedom and disempowering the state to intervene in every area of life. Without sound money, there is no protection for savings and property, nor capital accumulation, nor long-term investment, nor entrepreneurship, nor social advance. Without the right to own and control property, we have no real say over our lives. Without the freedom to make contracts, to take risks, and to live in whatever peaceful way we choose, there is no hope for the future.
A state strong enough to redistribute wealth at a whim will not hesitate to wage war, impose sanctions, take away privacy, and violate core human rights. A state strong enough to wage war will not think twice about redistributing wealth and running a cradle-to-grave welfare state. These are truths that the right and left need to deal with. Nor are half-way measures a permanent fix. Real Social Security reform returns the financial responsibility for old age to the institutions of a voluntary society. Real reform in foreign policy means eliminating all restrictions on trade.
We have to consider the courage it takes to speak this way in times when the common belief is that the government can and should do all things. Ron Paul dares to ask us to rethink the way the world works, to have confidence in the ability of society — meaning the millions of individuals of which it is constituted — to manage itself. He is uncompromising not because he is inflexible or unthoughtful, but because he has vision and faith to see the unseen benefits of freedom and to ask us to do the same.
In this volume are collected the wise statements from the nation's leading teacher of free-market economic principles. One is struck by his consistency and willingness to state the truth, even when it is unpopular to do so. He is right to believe that the most important step in this struggle is to state the truth, openly and without fear.
In many ways, these speeches and essays amount to a chronicle of incredible failure: for the state has failed in a million ways to protect and defend our material well-being, and its very attempt has come at great cost.
But it is also a chronicle of hope that if we are willing to listen and learn, we can choose a different future for ourselves, one that removes responsibility for economic well-being from the government and gives it back to those to whom it belongs: the people in their capacity as living, choosing, creative human beings. Now that is leadership, properly construed.
November 28, 2007
Copyright © 2007 LewRockwell.com