Anyone But Obama

This post is dedicated to everyone who feels obligated to vote for a mainstream GOP candidate solely to get Obama out of office, yet who insists that Republican policies, rhetoric, and tactics are fundamentally different from what the Left has to offer.

Flashback to 2004:

Listen. If the main qualification most voters look for before casting their vote is that someone is *not* somebody else, then this election is probably going to go about as well for the GOP as the 2004 election went for John Edwards, Howard Dean, John Kerry, and all the other “not-Bush’s” who considered themselves shoe-ins against an unpopular Chief Executive.

Ironically, I seem to remember all the right-wing aficionados on talk shows and Facebook criticizing the Obama campaign for running on a “platform of change” four years ago. “‘Change’ is not a platform,” they said. I agree. But how is all the “anybody but Obama” rhetoric broadcast daily on Facebook and talk radio different in any way?

How long until we start seeing campaign slogans like this from Romney, Santorum, or Gingrich?

Maybe not long at all…

If you have a principled reason to vote for Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum, then please, by all means, do it! Just don’t vote for one of those guys as the “lesser of two evils” (i.e., still evil) or because of “electability” (which I’ll address in a more reasoned post soon).

Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” ~ John Quincy Adams

Why Most Conservatives Won’t Vote for Ron Paul

Ron Paul is a kook.” “Ron Paul is crazy.” “Ron Paul is an isolationist.” “I like Ron Paul except on foreign policy.

We’ve all heard this before, right? Shoot, four years ago, you might have heard it from me. During the 2008 election cycle, I was all aboard the Paulwagon until I allowed myself to be talked off of it by talking heads who told me that Paul’s foreign policy was dangerous. Unfortunately, I was too lazy to look into it myself, believing instead the misleading summaries of his political opponents (and the pundits who supported them).

Having now rectified that situation, reading and listening in-depth to his own explanation of his foreign policy, it has gone from being the only reason I didn’t support him to being perhaps the primary reason I do support him.

For those of you who find yourselves today in the position I was in four years ago — appreciating Ron Paul’s economic policy but hesitant to buy into his foreign policy — allow me to show you what changed my mind. This may challenge many of your presuppositions, but I hope you’ll look into it with an open mind.

Warning: If you have fed yourself a steady diet of Hannity, Levin, Beck, et cetera, and actually believe that they are providing you with objective and factual information, this probably won’t help you. (But keep reading anyway, just in case!)

Isolationism vs. Noninterventionism

There are many reasons why people disagree with Paul’s foreign policy, but I think they fall into a few general categories. The first is a misunderstanding between the concepts of “isolationism” — which is how Paul’s position is often characterized by his opponents — and “noninterventionism”, which is the term Paul himself uses. Many of us remember the following exchange from one of the 2008 Republican debates, which, in a political culture that values sound bytes over sound policy, was probably a huge victory for the eventual nominee:

Wow… people like Ron Paul caused World War II? That is a scary thought! But is it true?

The implication behind the assertion that America “let” Hitler come to power through an “isolationist” policy is that Ron Paul’s foreign policy would allow evil men to come to power unchecked by the threat of violence from America’s world police peacekeeping forces. But let’s forget for the moment that Hitler came to power in a society wrecked by economic sanctions by promising to make Germany prosperous again, or that Japan was deeply and negatively impacted by American tariffs put in place during the 1930′s (interestingly enough the subject of Ben Stein’s economics lesson in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off), or that as recently as yesterday our President was pleading his case for economic sanctions against Iranjust as economic sanctions against Iraq were part of the foreign policy of Bill Clinton and both George Bush’s. The question we should be asking is that, if American foreign policy was responsible for WWII as many believe (a supposition I’m not necessarily willing to grant), is this the policy actually advocated by Ron Paul?

In fact, his position is nearly the exact opposite of that policy. See this excerpt from his book The Revolution:

It is easy to dismiss the noninterventionist view as the quaint aspiration of men who lived in a less complicated world, but it’s not so easy to demonstrate how current policies serve any national interest at all. Perhaps an honest examination of the history of American interventionism in the twentieth century, from Korea to Kosovo to the Middle East, would reveal that the Founding Fathers foresaw more than we think.

Anyone who advocates the noninterventionist foreign policy of the Founding Fathers can expect to be derided as an isolationist. I myself have never been an isolationist. I favor the exact opposite of isolation: diplomacy, free trade, and freedom of travel. The real isolationists are those who impose sanctions and embargoes on countries and peoples across the globe because they disagree with the internal and foreign policies of their leaders. The real isolationists are those who choose to use force overseas to promote democracy, rather than seeking change through diplomacy, engagement, and by setting a positive example. The real isolationists are those who isolate their country in the court of world opinion by pursuing needless belligerence and war that have nothing to do with legitimate national security concerns.

A week after his interaction with McCain shown above, Paul gave a more detailed explanation in a town hall meeting:

In a way, McCain was correct. Isolationism probably was a factor leading up to World War II. But today, it is the rest of the GOP candidates (not to mention the current administration) who advocate a similar foreign policy… though the nation-building is an added twist.

The Bipartisan Empire

Another reason that many Conservatives avoid Ron Paul is that they have been hoodwinked into thinking that you have to be a “Liberal” in order to be opposed to “preemptive” war. In other words, if you oppose social issues typically associated with the political Left (abortion, welfare, etc) then you must support wars of aggression as part of the Republican platform. Tom Woods did an excellent job addressing this in a video I posted yesterday, so I won’t go into much detail on this point.

One needs look no farther than Barack Obama — who authorized preemptive military action in Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, while escalating the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan — to see that being Liberal doesn’t rule out preemptive war (campaign promises to the contrary). The fact is: Empire-building is a bipartisan affair.

Whatever reasons one may have for supporting the expansion of the American Empire (to those who object to that term, what else can we call it when we have over 900 military bases in 130 countries?), the fact is that it is unsustainable. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Economic — It is almost amusing that with so much talk of the need for budget cuts, it is political heresy to even consider cutting spending on the military. Yet with 60% of our 2012 budget going toward “National Security”, cuts coming only from the other 40% aren’t going to get us out of our economic woes.
  • Historical — No empire in history has survived for long being as widespread as we are (not that anyone has ever gotten close to the worldwide military presence we have). Whether from without or from within, empires always crumble, and there is no reason (other than blind nationalistic pride) to think that America would be any different.
  • Security — Many Americans seem to think that we need a vast network of overseas military bases to “keep America safe”. Assuming that at some point everyone would have to admit that there is such a thing as spending too much on “security”, one must ask when we will reach that point? Will it be when 100% of our budget is on security, or less than that? For me, at the very least, it would be some point long before we spent more on the military than every other nation in the world combined. I haven’t even touched on the idea of blowback (see video below) yet. It is very likely that our militarism actually makes us less safe. (This is also a good place to point out that Ron Paul differentiates between “defense” and “military” spending, and wants to actually increase spending on defense.) What will it take for you to feel “safe”?

The Dispensational Distortion

Evangelicals are particularly likely to steer clear of Ron Paul due to a perceived lack of support of Israel. Thanks to the relatively modern advent of dispensational theology, wide swaths of Christians (almost exclusively in America) have the notion that Scripture compels us to ally ourselves with the nation of Israel, to a fault. As I have written previously, I reject this idea, while remaining open to the acknowledgement that there may be many other reasons to support a political alliance with Israel.

Regardless of one’s views toward Israel, there remains the practical consideration of whether American Zionism is actually beneficial to Israel. Our current relationship has fostered such a dependency on America that we have undermined Israel’s sovereignty. Meanwhile, we continue to provoke Israel’s neighbors with our rhetoric and military presence, while providing Israel’s sworn enemies with seven times as much foreign aid as we give Israel. By what definition does this qualify as “support”?

Military Keynesianism

While the above three categories are reasons that “average” Conservative voters might have a problem with Paul’s foreign policy, this is the reason that the political establishment rejects it (and misrepresents it to the rest of us). The big-government spending philosophies of both parties require a constant stream of revenue flowing into the military-industrial complex. There exists the idea that war leads to economic prosperity as it provides jobs for a great many people, but the truth is that war never creates; it always destroys. The “prosperity” of wartime exists only because it creates a demand for products (bombs, bullets, bases, and many things that don’t start with “b”) that does not occur naturally within the market.

Ludwig von Mises once said, “War prosperity is like the prosperity that an earthquake or a plague brings.” An earthquake puts builders to work. A cholera outbreak means more business for morticians. But are these a net benefit to the economy?

Our Keynesian drive to “stimulate” the economy through military spending requires perpetual war. Because of this, the American people have been trained to see vital threats to our national security around every corner. “Get them before they get us” has become our mantra. Anyone who says otherwise is accused of “not supporting the troops”.

Click to enlarge.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our troops know it. That’s why they support Ron Paul more than all the other candidates combined. History proves it. Every former enemy with which we trade freely is now an ally. Morality demands it. Any foreign policy that fails to account for the human cost of war and economic sanctions is a deeply flawed policy. Economics will force the issue. As our debt spirals out of control, with military spending leading the way, something’s got to give. Our currency is being devalued by the rampant inflation necessary to maintain the status quo. There’s no such thing as something for nothing, and eventually our creditors will come calling — unless the Americans whose wealth is being stolen to fund the Empire first rise up and force our government to stop.

Bottom Line

Here’s the deal: You can’t say you agree with Ron Paul on economics but not on foreign policy. They are one and the same. If you’re wondering how someone can make so much sense when he talks about economics while being totally off base on his foreign policy, then you probably don’t understand his foreign policy. I don’t blame you: It’s complex, and you’re not often going to get the opportunity to hear it accurately represented by the mainstream media. So here are a few bullet points to help summarize it, followed by some suggested further reading:

  • Ron Paul is not anti-war. He agrees with the Constitution that war must be authorized and declared by Congress, and that once war is declared we should get in, win, and come home again. Every military conflict since WWII has been an unconstitutional use of force, expanding the power of the Executive at the expense of the Legislature.
  • Ron Paul is not anti-defense. He agrees with the Constitution that it is the role of the Federal government to “provide for the common defence”, but disagrees that aggressive, preemptive, undeclared wars fall into that category.
  • Ron Paul is not an isolationist. He agrees with our Founding Fathers that we should have “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.” (Thomas Jefferson)
  • Ron Paul is not naive. He understands that there is such a thing as evil in the world, but believes that peace and liberty are better tools for overcoming it than war and tyranny. “The glory of victory in a senseless war should never replace the dignity of peace in a sane world.” (from Liberty Defined)

For further reading, I suggest Paul’s books The Revolution: A Manifesto and especially A Foreign Policy of Freedom: Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship. But since you can’t read those before voting in tomorrow’s primary, this video serves as a great “crash course”!

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” ~ James Madison, Political Observations, 1795

The Greatest Moral Failure of Our Time

Abortion.

If you’ve known me or followed my blog for any period of time, you’ll know where I stand morally on this issue. If you’d like a recap of my views on the morality of abortion, read this article and especially its followup. Today’s post presupposes that abortion is an evil practice, and will focus on candidates’ strategies for ending it.

How Did We Get Here?

Before getting into the pragmatic considerations, I think it’s important to get a little historical perspective. Before trying to figure out how to make abortion illegal, we should understand how it came to be legal in the first place.

First of all, it is important to note that the moral debate over abortion long predates the founding of America, and religion has always played an important role. John Calvin explicitly forbade abortion for theological reasons during the 16th century. Early Christians and Jews opposed abortion, though it was an accepted practice across the Roman Empire (along with infanticide and the abandoning of unwanted newborns).

There was never a time in our nation’s history when abortion was not practiced. During the colonial period, laws regarding abortion were varied and non-specific, but for the most part, it was considered to be murder.

Abortion is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, though many conservatives (including myself) interpret the Fifth Amendment’s clause that “No person shall be deprived of life… without due process of law” to implicitly protect the life of the unborn (one of the reasons why the debate over personhood is so important). Rather, this issue, like all criminal and civil matters, was left in the hands of the states via the Tenth Amendment.

Early on, abortions were rare, restricted primarily by the widespread belief that abortion killed a living person. As the nation expanded, morality relaxed, and abortion became more prevalent. The first laws explicitly restricting abortion were passed (by state legislatures) in the 1820′s. By the end of the 19th century, the rate of abortions was decreasing. Though most states had enacted legislation regulating the practice, abortion opponents realized that laws were not enough. They were  primarily focused on education and religious conversion (an apparently effective strategy).

The tide turned back again in the early 20th century. Public sentiment began to sway in favor of abortion, helped in large part by copious amounts of money being spent on advertising by those who were getting rich off of abortions (just one of the many ways in which abortion and economics are closely related concerns). The laws on the books were largely unenforced, and fewer and fewer people spoke against the practice.

By the late 1960′s, a majority of Americans wanted legalized abortion. State after state passed legislation legalizing abortion (the first signed into law by California Governor Ronald Reagan). Then, in 1973, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade overturned all state legislation, providing abortion on demand in all 50 states.

By that time, those advocating the right to life of America’s youngest citizens were vastly outnumbered. Though Catholics strongly opposed Roe v. Wade, few other Christians stood in the way. Even the Southern Baptist Convention passed resolutions recognizing the legitimacy of abortion in some circumstances; a position that, thankfully, began to change in the 1980′s.

Over the last three decades, the abortion debate has grown increasingly heated, becoming the single most important item on any politician’s platform in the eyes of many voters.

Much of this information comes from Marvin Olasky’s book Abortion Rites, summarized and excerpted here.

What Are Our Options?

Let me be clear… I do believe it is the government’s duty to criminalize abortion. Government is necessary because evil is a reality. Government is a blessing from God intended to restrain evil (Romans 13:3-4), a category into which abortion certainly fits. But there is, as they say, more than one way to skin a cat (also evil).

Ever since the political fight over abortion hit Prime Time, most people within the Pro-Life movement have sought a Federal solution: something that would instantly make abortion illegal in all 50 states by way of Congressional legislation or conservative nominees to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. This is the position of most within the mainstream GOP, just as it was for our last Republican President — who, by the way, was not able to make this happen despite enjoying six years with a strong Republican majority in both houses of Congress.

Ron Paul, on the other hand, advocates removing the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to rule in this matter and returning the issue to the state legislatures. He has taken flak from many conservatives for his stance on abortion. He is often accused of not being “pro-life” enough because he does not favor a federal abortion ban. It is commonly claimed (even by those who supposedly favor small government) that the states could not adequately restrain abortion; only a national solution will do.

On the contrary, claims Paul in his 2010 book Liberty Defined (my review here):

I believe it is a state-level responsibility to restrain violence against any human being… Demanding a national and only a national solution, as some do, gives credence to the very process that made abortions so prevalent. Ending nationally legalized abortions by federal court order is neither a practical answer to the problem, nor a constitutionally sound argument.

Certainly states are capable of effectively enforcing laws criminalizing violent behavior. There is no Federal law prohibiting rape or murder, but both are crimes in all 50 states. In America, if you kill somebody (who has been born), you will be prosecuted not by the United States, but by the state in which the crime took place. In fact, the only crimes prohibited by the U.S. Constitution were treason, piracy, and counterfeiting. Slavery was added to that list by the Thirteenth Amendment.

Why are we so opposed to the idea of returning jurisdiction of abortion to the states? Do we have so little confidence in our ability to govern ourselves locally?

I suspect the real reason is that we realize that in order for abortion to become illegal in all 50 states, we would have to engage in the difficult work of winning hearts and minds in the court of public opinion — something requiring much more dedication and perseverance than merely casting a vote for a candidate who claims to be pro-life. Few have the fortitude to engage in this duty, which is the fruit of generations of Americans who similarly neglected this responsibility.

It is time for us to realize that Dr. Paul is correct in agreeing with the 19th century pro-life advocates as he writes: “Legislation… will not stop all abortions. Only a truly moral society can do that.” We will never have a “truly moral society” until Christ returns, but we can reverse the moral decline of our nation, if only we realize that the solution is the Gospel, not the GOP.

Who Can We Trust?

Tactics aside, which candidates can we reliably trust to defend the unborn? Surely we aren’t just taking them at their word. After all, even Barack Obama has said (repeatedly) that his desire is to reduce the number of abortions in this country. All four GOP candidates say they oppose abortion. Which have consistent records to back that up?
Newt Gingrich — whose unrepentant serial adultery ought to cast plenty of doubt on his moral judgment — does not generally emphasize the abortion issue. Though he now says that he opposes abortion in all cases, he stated in 1995 that he supported federal funding for abortions in cases of rape, incest, and to protect the health of the mother.

Mitt Romney has similarly (and famously) changed his views on abortion. After previously supporting abortion “rights”, Romney began to describe himself as pro-life. Romney, like Paul, opposes a federal abortion ban, preferring to leave the matter to the states.

Unlike Gingrich and Romney, I do not doubt Rick Santorum’s personal convictions on this matter (though his wife’s views have certainly changed). I admire his willingness to take a stand against abortion. I just think his tactics are poor. Furthermore, I think his record of big government spending reflects a basic lack of understanding of how economics is inseparable from other ethical issues. This is evidenced by his recent defense of (and even bragging about) his vote to fund Title X family planning services. Though he says that his vote was to provide non-abortive contraceptives, the fact remains that funds are fungible, and that one of the beneficiaries was Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in America.

Ron Paul was pro-life long before it was cool. His strong convictions stem from an experience during his residency as a young OB/GYN in the 1960′s, in which he witnessed a botched abortion. The baby survived outside the womb, but was left to die by the medical personnel. This deeply troubled him, and led him to conclude that there could be “no consistent moral basis to the value of life” in a society that allowed abortion. As a libertarian physician, he urged other doctors to refuse to participate in abortion regardless of its legality, and to resume the practice of taking the Hippocratic oath, which includes a pledge not to do abortions, and which his med school graduating class (like so many others) had ignored.

From the beginning of his career as a politician, he has repeatedly asserted that personal liberty is impossible where abortion is condoned. This is most notable in his book Abortion and Liberty (available free online here), published way back in 1983, and in this 1981 short essay entitled “Being Pro-Life Is Necessary to Defend Liberty”. His strong (yet unheralded) Christian faith and track record on abortion, combined with his pragmatic, Constitutional plan to restrain violence against the unborn ought to give every lover of life and liberty cause to rally behind him.

Where Should We Go From Here?

There is no doubt in my mind that abortion is the greatest moral failure of our time. It is to our generation what slavery was to William Wilberforce’s. It is our culture’s ethical blind spot. If we hope to see the practice end in our lifetime, we must have men like Wilberforce. Principled, charismatic men with unwavering focus, willing to stand up for what they believe in the face of constant ridicule and scorn, able to recruit political allies while rallying passionate grassroots support, understanding that laws are useless to restrain evil that is not recognized as such by the people.

Sound like anyone we know?

Like Wilberforce’s struggle against the slave trade, it may take decades to win the philosophical battle. In the meantime, there are some  practical matters which do fall under the Constitutional authority of the President and Congress which have a much better chance of reducing the actual number of abortions than the GOP’s standard operating procedure. Here are a few bullet points that I think may be within reach in the next few years:

  • A majority vote in Congress combined with the President’s signature can remove the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court from ruling on something Constitutionally delegated to the States, which is much simpler than repealing Roe v. Wade or passing a constitutional amendment. Abortion would still be legal in some states, initially, but this is a good first step.
  • Legislation that would define “life” as beginning at conception and the term “person” as including all human life (such as the Sanctity of Life Act introduced by Congressman Paul in 2011200920072005, etc.) would provide immediate protection for the unborn under the Constitution without requiring an Amendment.
  • Deregulate the adoption market, making it easier to provide options to mothers with unwanted pregnancies.

For further reading, I highly recommend reading Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue by R.C. Sproul, and Ron Paul’s chapter on abortion from Liberty Defined. This chapter is available for free online here, and I have summarized it here. It’s only a few pages, but is perhaps the most articulate, succinct moral defense of the sanctity of life beginning at conception I have ever read. You might also like this video:

The tenth amendment is the foundation of the Constitution.”
~ Thomas Jefferson

Greed and Virtue

“I place economy among the first and most important virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers to be feared. To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. If we run into such debts, we must be taxed in our meat and drink, in our necessities and in our comforts, in our labor and in our amusements. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labor of the people, under the pretense of caring for them, they will be happy.” - Thomas Jefferson

In the last week I’ve written about what I see as the purpose of Government, and why I favor a small government. Today, I’ll state the case for why I am a Capitalist, and why the study of economics is so crucially important.

Capitalism is a pretty big buzz word these days. People either love it or loathe it. Unfortunately, most people seem to have very strong convictions one way or the other without having much of an understanding of economics. I know, because I was one of those people for a long time.

Several years ago, I started reading a lot about economics, and I find it absolutely fascinating! I’m certainly no expert, but I am much better informed, more articulate, and have much stronger convictions. I don’t want to go into a whole lot of detail in this post, but I do want to highlight a couple major points that I think are worth considering, and then I’ll point you to some resources where you can do some more digging if you like.

Economics is a Moral Issue

This is one of the biggest things I think conservative Christians overlook. In politics, we tend to think of things like abortion and homosexuality as “moral” issues, while economics is a secondary concern. Therefore, those who are often classified as “values voters” focus most of their time (and opinions) on these emotional issues, giving economics a backseat.

Our liberal friends, on the other hand, understand very well that economics is a moral issue. Many of them rightly show concern for the poor, seeking things like economic prosperity and health care for the marginalized. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that, by and large, their intentions are good, but I tend to differ substantially with them on how best to improve the condition of the poor.

The net result is that in large part, Progressives have successfully framed the great economic “bottom up” vs. “top down” debate in their own moral terms. It seems that most people — including many professing Capitalists — have accepted the idea that capitalism favors the wealthy, while things like welfare and universal health care favor the working class. I would argue that, in reality, it is the elite who ultimately benefit from Socialist economics, while free markets are in the best interest of all citizens, regardless of their economic class.

What I would like to see is for many more conservative Christians to give serious study to economics. When they do, they will see that abortion, gay marriage, and all the other “social” issues they care about are really inseparable from economics, which I’ll address in upcoming posts. We need to be able to clearly articulate not just the differences between Marxist, Keynesian, and Austrian economics, but also to be able to tell people what kind of Capitalists we are. Which leads me to my next point…

Greed is Bad

One would think this should go without saying, but it doesn’t. Many capitalists, even Christians, agree with Gordon Gekko from the 1987 movie Wall Street:

Where does this sentiment come from that greed is good; that capitalism is based on greed? Basically, it comes from a misunderstanding of what the 18th century economist Adam Smith called “self-interest”. On first reading, there may not seem to be much difference between “self-interest” and “selfishness”, but in reality there is a world of difference. Smith’s philosophy, outlined in his book The Wealth of Nations (published in 1776), was very nuanced (here’s a good introduction), and included a robust understanding of ethics and virtue, in which altruism went hand-in-hand with self-interest.

Another influential philosopher, 20th century author Ayn Rand, contributed heavily to the idea that greed is good. She perverted Smith’s concept of self-interest. In her philosophy of Objectivism, altruism and faith are a detriment to society, and selfishness is a virtue. Her books continue to gain in popularity — particularly her novel Atlas Shrugged, which was made into a movie last year. While there is much that is good in Rand’s defense of capitalism, her philosophy is totally incompatible with the teachings of Christ.

Conservative Christians need to be able to state the moral case for compassionate capitalism, which stands in stark contrast to the greed and cronyism rampant in the government and many corporations today. Jay Richards’ book Money, Greed, and God (my review) makes this distinction clearer than any other resource of which I’m aware. Ron Paul also contrasts his view of economics with Rand’s Objectivist philosophy in his book End the Fed.

“We’re All Keynesians Now”

This phrase originated in the 1960′s with economist Milton Friedman, but is popularly attributed to President Richard Nixon. The phrase refers to the economic philosophy of John Maynard Keynes, and is probably correct. Nowadays, though, most people don’t have a clue what Keynesianism is.

Economics in the 20th century is largely defined by the debate between Keynes and Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek (both of whom were capitalists, by the way). In a nutshell, Keynes believed that the best way to stimulate economic growth was for the government to control interest rates, and pump money into the economy to stimulate spending (think TARP). Hayek, on the other hand, believed that such government actions caused artificial economic “bubbles” which would inevitably burst, leading to a “boom and bust cycle” ultimately detrimental to the economy. Instead, he wanted markets to be totally free. Failing businesses must be allowed to fail, and there must be a predictable system of risk and reward for savings and investment.

The great irony today is that nearly everyone is a Keynesian, of some sort or another, including the vast majority of neo-conservatives and “Tea Party” candidates. The 2010 elections brought many representatives to Congress who vowed to cut spending, end the bailouts, and promote free markets, but nearly every one of them advocates military expansionism and interventionism (Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum all fall into this camp as well). What many fail to realize is that this is merely Keynesianism in a different form. One of the biggest parts of Keynes’ philosophy was that military spending was one of the greatest ways to bring a country out of a recession. In his chapter on Keynesianism in his book Liberty Defined (my review), Ron Paul pushes back strongly against this:

Most conservatives in Congress don’t think of themselves as supporters of Keynesian economics. But in truth, most are strong advocates of a special kind of “military” Keynesianism while being critical of liberal Keynesian politics of taxing, spending, and regulating the domestic economy. This involves another kind of stimulus of spending money on the military-industrial complex rather than purely domestic sectors like schools and infrastructure… Military Keynesianism is every bit as harmful as domestic Keynesianism.

Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum (and Barack Obama, for that matter) can all truly claim to be Capitalists, but they are just different shades of the Keynesian variety. On social issues they have some differences, but none of them are willing to make any significant cuts in our nation’s budget — especially not where it might damage the powerful military-industrial complex. The more I read about Austrian economics, the more convinced I am that it’s time we all stop being Keynesians! Part of this means realizing that we can’t claim to favor small government and free markets if we insist on trying to maintain our worldwide military empire.

Educate Yourself

If you’re in my generation, chances are pretty good you didn’t study economics in high school or college. If you did, you almost undoubtedly were taught the Keynesian model. If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this post, it’s a desire to immerse yourself in the study of economics, particularly the Austrian school. But there’s a lot to wade through… where to begin?

First off, if you haven’t seen them, these videos made by the folks at EconStories.tv are an excellent (not to mention catchy and humorous) primer to the debate between Keynes and Hayek. Watching them will be 15 minutes VERY well spent!

After that, if you only read one book, I’d suggest the Richards book I mentioned above, Money, Greed, and God. I really can’t recommend it highly enough!

If you really want to learn, though, you need to go to original sources. Read the Austrian economists. Most of their work is very well written, and easier to understand than you might expect. I’d start with these, in this order:

When it comes to the current election cycle, I think it is worthwhile to read books by the candidates. I’ve not yet read Rick Santorum’s book, but have checked out books by Romney, Gingrich, Obama, and Paul. From an economics standpoint, there is no comparison. Ron Paul is not a great speaker, but his understanding of economics and his ability to lay out a clear and plausible plan for economic recovery is exponentially greater than any of his opponents, and comes through brilliantly in his writing. You owe it to yourself to read his books, especially Liberty Defined and End the Fed. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did, even if you don’t agree with him.

“If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains rest lightly upon you and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.” - Samuel Adams

Too Big, Or Not Too Big? That Is the Question (and Has Been for Centuries)

As I wrote a few days ago, I believe that there are certain “high ideals” which nearly all Americans share, regardless of their political affiliation. The Framers of the Constitution called these ideals the “Blessings of Liberty”.

Today we proceed to one of the most basic ways in which people disagree over how best to “secure” these blessings.  What is the role of government in securing them? Is this a passive or an active sort of security? In other words, does the government exist primarily to protect liberties that citizens already have, or to provide them for us? There may not be hard and fast line dividing the two.

Typically, when we talk about the size of the government, this is what we are talking about. At the risk of oversimplification, a “big” government takes a more active role in the daily lives of citizens, seeking to provide for them the best possible quality of life. A “small” government puts more responsibility on individual citizens to provide for themselves, and is limited to activities (such as national defense, uniform laws, and fixing a “Standard of Weights and Measures”) meant to ensure that citizens are as free as possible to pursue their own best interests.

The debate between large and small is certainly nothing new. This was the struggle between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists before the ratification of our Constitution. The Federalists wanted a strong central government (though I doubt any of them envisioned anything like the monstrosity we have today), and believed that the vast powers enumerated to the three branches of government in the Constitution were “the necessary means of attaining a necessary end”, as James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 41.

The Anti-Federalists, on the other hand, believed that the Constitution did not sufficiently restrain the government. They warned that a strong central government would grow unchecked, infringing on individual liberties. The lack of a Bill of Rights topped their concerns. They also feared that the wording of the Constitution (particularly the clause under Article I, Section 8 that granted Congress the power to make all laws deemed “necessary and proper”) would allow elected officials to justify nearly anything in the name of “promoting the general welfare“.

While history shows us that the Anti-Federalists were right about a great many things, it was ultimately the Federalists who won the day. After a compromise led to the addition of a Bill of Rights (our first ten amendments), the Constitution was ratified, and the great American Experiment began anew. While there have always been Libertarian holdouts emphasizing small government and personal liberty, our nation’s central government has had a trajectory of growth since the beginning.

Recently, however, there has been a resurgence of small government advocacy in response to the exponential growth of our government in the last three decades. The so-called “Tea Party” has brought the debate back to the forefront, but today, just as with the Anti-Federalists, the small government message lacks organization, consistency, and a rallying figure. (Which is consistent with a Libertarian streak of decentralization; centralization lends itself to organization.) Small government advocates are people without a party.

As we have seen since the 2010 elections, the Republican Party has tried to market itself as the best political fit for Tea Party voters. Many people today consider the GOP as the party of small government. In today’s political culture, it is true that the Republican platform is smaller than the Democratic platform, but that’s sort of like saying that Saturn is smaller than Jupiter. Relatively speaking, one is smaller, but both are gigantic balls of gas.

This shouldn’t come as a shock. The Republican Party has always been a “big government” party. It was our nation’s first Republican President who freed the slaves through an Executive Order. This is, by the way, one argument in favor of government as an instrument for imposing morality. Once we decide that this was the right way to try to end American slavery (contrast this with the approach of William Wilberforce in England), though, we must also be aware that this is the exact same reasoning that drives Republican voters to seek a unilateral solution for making abortion illegal, and that our current President has given for the many executive orders he has issued. We can’t say that, on the one hand, this power in the President’s hand is good (as long as he is imposing our morality), while on the other hand it’s bad (when he is imposing something else). Doing so leaves us with no standard for morality other than popular opinion. It’s the “tyranny of the majority” that the Founders of our country (both Federalists and Anti-Federalists) were trying to avoid.

I’m not saying the slaves shouldn’t have been freed, of course, but this does provide an example of what I was talking about when I said that these were hard issues. Could there have been a “small government” solution that could have led to the end of slavery? Would it have led to better circumstances for Freedmen than the 100+ years of segregation, discrimination, and racial violence that followed emancipation (in both the North & South)? Would the 13th Amendment have been possible without Civil War? These questions are all rhetorical at this point, but worth asking in light of our country’s most pressing current moral crisis. They are the same sort of questions that we must ask if we ever hope to see the end of abortion.

Allow me to share a quote from Pastor Voddie Baucham, who perhaps frames this debate more simply than I have:

“The Federal Government must be held within the confines of its enumerated powers. This is important for Christians because we will not always have people in the White House with whom we agree (in fact, politicians will always let us down). What happens when we send a man to the White House with the express purpose of “changing the moral standards” of America in our favor, then, down the line we have a president who uses the same un-checked powers to promote moral standards with which we disagree? How’s that workin’ for ya?”

In the specific context of abortion, he continues:

“If there are issues we wish to address on a federal level, we have a federal remedy, and it is not the election of a President; it is the amendment process. This is less favorable to those who do not wish to do the hard work of changing hearts and minds in the marketplace of ideas [again, think Wilberforce]. However, the alternative is a quasi-monarchy (or oligarchy) that changes with the wind, and a view of the presidency that is both unbiblical and unconstitutional.” [comment mine]

While there are certainly some policy differences between our current president and most of this year’s crop of GOP presidential candidates, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum all agree in principle with Barack Obama (and every U.S. President in my lifetime… and then some) in one very significant way. All of them believe in a large government approach. All of them believe that the three branches of our government should work together to advance a political/moral agenda. The politics and the agendas are different, but the philosophy is the same.

A vote for any of these candidates is a vote for the status quo. I agree with Pastor Baucham that this philosophy is not working. Unfortunately, most people in our country – even those who say they want to reduce the size of our government – plan to vote for a candidate that will continue America’s trajectory of growing government and shrinking liberty.

Ron Paul is the only candidate who truly advocates a smaller government, and has the voting record to prove it. While he is by no means a perfect candidate, and I do not agree with him on every point, I do believe that a smaller, fundamentally different approach to government is the only hope of reversing our country’s descent into oblivion. This is why I cannot and will not vote for a large government candidate from either party.