Ron Paul

Having seen Ron Paul and Ralph Nader agreeing with one another in a cordial way on some video clip or other, I was prepared to take a closer look at Mr. Paul, without prejudging him. Having learned a little more, I have to say — the guy makes my skin crawl. He’s your worst nightmare.

I went over to ronpaul2012.com, his campaign website, and read through some of the pages outlining his positions on matters of public policy. What follows is all the analysis I could manage without throwing up.

The problem with conservative ideologues like Ron Paul is that they adopt positions based on abstract doctrine, without examining whether their positions are likely to lead, in the real world, to justice and happiness. Sometimes their doctrines may have this effect, but often their doctrines will surely lead to misery, or simply make no sense at all. Conservatives can’t tell the difference.

Ron Paul’s position on national defense is sensible (though I’m not sure about the idea of securing the national borders, which he strongly favors). He wants to end wasteful military spending and bring troops home. Good!

In every other area, unfortunately, the guy is a basket case. He’s a brainless turd. Let’s take a closer look. The quotes below are drawn from the ronpaul2012.com page, which presumably has his endorsement.

Energy

We should probably note at the outset that ronpaul2012.com has no Issues page on the environment. It’s not hard to see why. The results of letting private corporations destroy our air, water, land, and oceans are plain for anyone to see, but reining them in would require government action. It would mean a reduction in freedom — freedom, in this case, for giant corporations. Like other Libertarian-oriented conservatives, Ron Paul positively worships freedom. (Except when he doesn’t — see the section on Abortion, below.)

According to the web page, “…much of the ‘pain at the pump’ Americans are now feeling is due to federal policies designed by environmental alarmists to punish traditional energy production — like oil, coal, and natural gas — in hopes of making energy sources they favor more ‘economical.'” Shorn of rhetoric (the word “alarmist” and the quotation marks around “economical”) that statement is not too far off the mark. Yes, Ron — gas would be cheaper if it weren’t taxed. And yes, a modern nation needs a comprehensive energy policy that includes the development of alternate forms of energy production, even if they are not currently economical.

More than half of the gasoline and diesel tax, however, is levied by states, not by the federal government. And more than half of the federal fuel tax goes to pay for highway and bridge construction, as is, I’m sure, a good deal of the state fuel tax. Thus, if the federal government stopped taxing gasoline, the primary result would be that our highway system would become decrepit more rapidly than it is doing already. (The website has no statement on infrastructure maintenance.) We should also note that the federal fuel tax is not indexed to inflation, so in constant dollars it has been steadily declining for a number of years.

“As President, Ron Paul will lead the fight to remove restrictions on drilling, so companies can tap into the vast amount of oil we have here at home.” There it is, in black and white. Ron Paul wants oil companies to be able to rake in more billions of dollars in profit, while putting our coastlines at increased risk of disastrous oil spills. Freedom for Big Oil, the small fisherman will be out of business, and you won’t have a nice beach to stroll on. And it’s not just the coastlines. Running a pipeline down from Canada is a recipe for gigantic spills. The fracking business in the Northeast is causing major environmental damage. But Ron Paul has no problem with any of this.

Ron also wants to “eliminate the ineffective EPA. Polluters should answer directly to property owners in court for the damages they create — not to Washington.” I find this fascinating, given the widespread conservative drumbeat for “tort reform,” which is code for preventing individuals from bringing suit against large companies for damages. Ron seems at first glance to be siding with consumer advocates here. By getting rid of the Environmental Protection Agency, of course, he would release polluters to do whatever they want to the environment. Individuals whose land is spoiled (or whose lungs are riddled with disease — and you’ll notice that Paul doesn’t mention that possibility at all; he’s concerned only with damages incurred by property owners) would have the burden of gathering strong enough evidence against Exxon or British Petroleum that they could prevail in a court of law. The whole purpose of the EPA is to prevent pollution from occurring in the first place, so that fewer people suffer damages and illness and the courts are not burdened with an endless parade of lawsuits. But Ron wants to get rid of the EPA. He wants polluters to have free rein.

Right to Work

Ron Paul wants to break unions. He doesn’t like unions. Why? A cynic might readily conclude that Ron Paul favors Big Business interests — but just as likely, his position on right-to-work laws is motivated by a dogmatic insistence on an ideological principle, without regard to the damage inflicted when that principle is followed in the real world.

The concept of the right-to-work doctrine is this: An employer should be able to hire either a union worker or a non-union worker, at the employer’s discretion. A worker should be allowed to accept a job without joining a union.

Well, my goodness — that’s freedom, isn’t it? How could freedom be a bad thing?

The problem with this doctrine is that it ignores the fundamental economic inequality between the individual worker and the employer. The employer typically has far greater economic resources than the employee. As long as the employer treats his or her employees fairly, this is not a problem. But there are many, many situations in which employers find it advantageous to treat employees not just unfairly but despicably. An employer may demand that the employee work longer hours for no increase in pay, or actually reduce wages arbitrarily. An employer may ask the employee to work in unsafe conditions. An employer may favor one worker over another for reasons having nothing to do with job performance. An employer may deny the worker vacation time or sick leave, or fire a worker for no reason. Abuses of this sort were extremely common in the 19th century.

The remedy is to allow employees to band together and form a union. The employer contracts for labor not with the individual laborer, but with the union. The union has more economic resources than the individual worker, and thus is better able to stand up to abuses by employers. The union is in a position to insist that all employees be treated alike, and that that they all be treated fairly. Though far from perfect, the union system is the best system we have for insuring that ordinary people are not abused by the rich and powerful. And a union can only do this if the employer is required to contract for laborers through the union. The concept of right-to-work destroys the ability of unions to be effective. It returns all power to the employers — that is, to rich people.

Home Schooling

Ron Paul is a big supporter of home schooling. At almost every point, his position on this topic is weird.

“Ron Paul believes no nation can remain free when the state has greater influence over the knowledge and values transmitted to children than the family does.” That’s very debatable. What if the families are ignorant? We have, in the U.S., millions of families in which the parents deny the reality of evolution. Shall we let them pass their ignorance on to their children without interference? On the other side of the coin, it’s perfectly true that governments quite often use the school system to indoctrinate children with propaganda — but not all governments do so. Paul’s statement is presented as an absolute. It lacks context and nuance.

“One-size-fits-all central planning simply does not work.” This is another absolutist position — and it’s demonstrably false. In all likelihood, you live (as I do) in a community where the fire department is administered and controlled by the government. The fire department is precisely a one-size-fits-all, centrally planned government institution. And it works splendidly. Likewise, in this country we no longer have private toll roads. The streets and highways are maintained (though not always well maintained) by a central planning agency. Nobody is seriously suggesting that we turn over the maintenance of our streets and highways to private enterprise. If there is a salient difference between the structuring of the fire department, police department, and highway department on the one hand and the handling of the school system on the other, Ron Paul needs to demonstrate that difference. He cannot rely on a dogmatic, one-size-fits-all doctrine.

Under the heading “Tax Credits for Homeschooling,” the website says this: “In many cases, homeschooling families must forgo the second income of one parent, as well as incur the costs of paying for textbooks, computers, and other school supplies. And with combined taxes taking almost 50 percent of the average family’s income, there is little left over for low- and middle-class parents to even consider other educational opportunities. That’s why, during his time in Congress, Ron Paul has introduced legislation to: (a) Help parents better educate their children by providing parents with a $5,000 per child tax credit for tutors, books, computers, and other K-12 related educational needs. (b) Ensure that the federal government treats high school diplomas earned through homeschooling the same as other high school diplomas.” [Condensed into a single paragraph for convenient reading.]

This proposed tax credit is presented as a benefit that will help lower-class parents undertake homeschooling. A parent who works 40 hours per week at a minimum-wage job will earn about $17,000 per year. That’s not very much — but how realistic is it to expect a lower-class family with two working parents to forgo $17,000 per year in exchange for a $5,000 tax credit? In all probability, if they try to subsist on the income of one wage-earner, they will be paying little or no income tax, in which case a $5,000 tax credit won’t benefit them at all. Though it’s presented as a benefit that would help lower-class families, this proposal would actually benefit only families who start out with a good deal more wealth and earning power.

The second idea, that the government should treat homeschool diplomas as equivalent to public-school diplomas, is deeply problematical. How are we to judge whether the homeschooling has been adequate? Through a standardized test, administered by the government? Such a test would lead straight back to the defects (or supposed defects) that Ron Paul is attempting to get rid of. Shall we simply accept parents’ assertions that their children have been well schooled at home? If so, the high-school diploma becomes not only meaningless but actively misleading.

“Congressman Paul wants parents to have the freedom to choose the best educational options for their children….” That seems a noble idea at first glance, but it’s not. Here’s the problem: Only rich parents will be able to take advantage of this freedom. Poor parents will continue to send their children to public school, as they do now. The homeschool movement and its cousin, the charter school movement, set up a very deleterious two-tier education system, in which rich kids are likely to get a much better education than poor kids. As the tax base of public schools is eroded by charter schools and homeschooling credits, the quality of the public schools will decline even further.

Is this what we want? Or would our nation be better served by an educational system in which all children, rich and poor, share exactly the same opportunities? The advantage of insisting that all children attend public school is precisely this: If rich parents want their children to have a decent education, they’ll have to get involved in the administration of the local school system — and their active involvement and advocacy will benefit ALL children, not just their own children.

Abortion

Does a woman have the freedom to control her own womb? Not if Ron Paul has anything to say about it. Somehow he can’t quite bring himself to admit that the federal government has no business forcing women to bear babies. This is in direct contrast to his position on union membership, of course. When it comes to unions, the government has no right (Paul insists) to force workers to do anything they don’t want to do. But when a woman gets pregnant, Paul feels the government has EVERY right to step in and take charge of her medical decisions.

His website makes no mention of any exception for women who have been raped or who are the victims of incest. The web page says, “During his [Ron Paul’s] years in medicine, never once did he find an abortion necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman.” So it would appear, by implication, that he also opposes an abortion that is undertaken to save the life of the woman, because he doesn’t think that type of abortion exists.

He explicitly supports the idea of “life as beginning at conception.” Of course it does — but so what? When you squeeze a pimple, the white blood cells that come out are alive, but that doesn’t mean we should pass a law against squeezing pimples. I’ve read that a substantial percentage of human pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion. If you believe in God, then it’s simply obvious that God approves of abortion — He causes millions of abortions every year! (God also approves of cancer, but let’s not get into that.)

Though the page on abortion makes no mention of any underpinning religious doctrine, if we click over to the Statement of Faith page, we find this quote from Ron: “I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior, and I endeavor every day to follow Him in all I do and in every position I advocate.” That being the case, it’s not hard to see where his position on abortion, which runs so directly counter to his usual insistence on individual freedom, originates.

In sum, this guy is a menace.

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3 Responses to Ron Paul

  1. Terry Cox says:

    Ah Jim, some of your examples just don’t fly. For example 71% of all fire fighters in the US are volunteers, and thus not directly government controlled.

    Toll roads –yup, there are lots of them, and they are building more every day. Check out the mulitstate EZPass at ezpass.com.

    All that aside, the guy *is* a menace, and a relatively popular one.

    • midiguru says:

      I’ve read comments about volunteer fire departments before. I haven’t researched it, but it’s not at all clear to me whether the volunteer fire departments are free of government control. I think that’s a separate question. If there are three competing fire companies in a given county, and they’re privately controlled, I’d be very surprised. Far more likely, rural counties set up the administrative structure (as a government monopoly) and purchase the equipment, but can’t afford to maintain a full-time firefighting staff, so the department is staffed by volunteers.

      Are the toll roads you’re referring to private, or are they publicly owned and operated? Here in California we have toll bridges (publicly owned and operated) and electronically monitored pay-for-use commuter lanes. I know there are toll highways in upstate New York. But I find it hard to imagine that anyone would be able to muster the resources, or come up with a viable business plan, to construct a privately owned automobile highway in the 21st century, if for no other reason than because a private road company wouldn’t have eminent domain, so they wouldn’t be able to acquire the necessary land. Railroads are of course an entirely different beast — but most of the rail right-of-way in the U.S. dates back to the 19th century. New railroads today (like BART in the Bay Area) tend, I’m pretty sure, to be public entities.

  2. Terry Cox says:

    Around here the volunteer fire companies are privately incorporated non-profits, and operate according to enabling legislation. They fund much of their own equipment through bingo, raffles, etc. They try to respond when summoned, but often require aid from nearby fire companies. Only the biggest cities have paid firefighters.

    The toll roads here are a mixed bag — some of the governments condemn the land, then contract out for a fixed number of years for a company to build, operate and maintain the toll road. Once in a while the government will try it on their own. Most of the government toll roads have been either privatized or leased out.

    Now they are even contracting out some police services — running jails, and worst of all running the speed limit enforcement camera systems. The contractor gets a percentage of every fine… so you know that they are totally objective…

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