And thus hold the crazy positions
These are the supposedly evil and vile and stupid ideas of Ron Paul (and by extension, his libertarian, quasi-libertarian, constitutionalist fans)
1) Eviscerate Entitlements: Believes that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are unconstitutional, and has compared the failure of federal courts to strike them down to the courts' failure to abolish slavery in the 19th century.
I'd say comparing taxation to slavery is a little extreme, and there are utilitarian grounds on which public health and retirement do have externality costs and especially free rider problems that need to be attended to. But the systems that we have are not especially good at doing so and replacing them with something like mandatory allocations would probably be more efficient. In particular with retirement. Given consumer transparency problems in the health care market at present and that health care benefits are owned by employers rather than individuals, health care is trickier. Basically it's a market failure caused by government and replacing government interventions with some simple regulatory structures would work a lot more smoothly. The main reason to oppose these however is the public cost rather than the rights conversations. If governments wish to offer some sort of public provisions in competition with private market solutions or to subsidize the additional costs to provide rights for the poor, I'm not obstinately and philosophically opposed, but right now medicare and social security operate largely as middle class entitlements rather than as social insurance. This is therefore a dumb idea, and clearly its a tremendously popular one. As with many of these ideas, the problem is that the status quo position is popular, entrenched, and does not work, certainly not for the cost that we must pay for it.
2) Lay Off Half His Cabinet: Wants to abolish half of all federal agencies, including the departments of Energy, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Labor.
I don't see a problem with this. HSA, USDA seem especially useless. Commerce does generate useful economic data and the census, but it does a lot of useless subsidizing. Same with Labor. I'm a little more skeptical about completely abolishing Education, Energy and HHS, but I don't think they're substantially useful either. Energy is mostly a DoD budget hiding spot, and then a lot of economically distorting and environmentally damaging subsidizing for coal and oil and eventually natural gas (along with ethanol), so gutting it is fine. EPA regulations come under other auspices I think, so perhaps it can go all together. Education should probably exist in some form (I'd say nominally to oversee individual tax credit transfers for school funding), but not the form it has taken.
3) Enable State Extremism: Would let states set their own policies on abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, and most other issues.
- States are already doing most of this anyway. Gay marriage for instance is mostly illegal. Abortions are strictly regulated and restricted in some states, particularly in the South and Midwest. I'm not sure how this is a different and extreme position as a result. Prayer in school does strike me as a serious federal amendment problem, but I get around it by just allowing people to fund schools that they want to fund. If those schools include prayer, then only those parents who want their children to pray in school will go there (or those that don't care). There are schools that already do this (private parochial schools, as well as many home schooled children), so this is hardly a radical shift. The principle problem with prayer in school as an issue is that the people who push for it are less interested in having their own children pray, but rather having other children do so. If the schools are free to set their own policies and appeal on those grounds to the consuming public of parents and students, I see no problem. However I also don't think it should be set by state law that schools or even teachers (much less the students) should be required to do it. That would strike me as an extreme position. I don't think that's the Paul position, but I'm unclear on his education funding ideas. He's been a little busy on other matters of government abuse (and some imaginary ones)
4) Protect Sexual Predators' Privacy: Voted against requiring operators of wi-fi networks who discover the transmission of child porn and other forms online sex predation to report it to the government.
Two points here. One, the crucial element for child porn ought to be the generation of it (where it involves actual harm to an actual child), so the consumption of it should not require invasive government monitoring services (with the one exception I can think of off hand that paedophiles should, on some condition of prison release, be required to turn over IP information to probationary officers or therapists for monitoring). In general, I'd probably take a much stronger stance on how we incarcerate actual sexual predators than we do at present. And two.. large numbers of our sexual offences that we do punish already seem to be counterproductive, and one such element is the transmission of things like sexting or nude photos distributed among teens. We haven't decided as a society how to approach these, but there are jurisdictions that have decided to crack down and treat this as the same as paedophilia. That does not seem to make sense. Teenagers exploring their sexuality is not the same as adults abusing young children and should not be treated the same in a criminal sense. Harms exist but they can be better dealt with by having more open sexual dialogues between parents and children. If we are dealing with mere IP information and ISP disclosure, I'm sure that information should be requested by police where they suspect criminal behavior and harm. It should not be required to be turned over. One behavior that does exist and would seem like a reasonable compromise is for police to set up their own websites, collect data on who goes there, and then request the identities of IP addresses for later criminal processing. But police already do this. A third ameliorating factor is that the actual child predator population is decisively smaller than is commonly believed, and where it does exist, it exists in actual harm forms, and more closely associated with the children involved, rather than as strangers and consumers of online child pornography. Such as teachers, priests, and adult family members having sex with children. It is largely a mythological population of random child predators and creating invasive systems of surveillance to capture them strikes me as overselling the issue.
5) Rescind the Bin Laden Raid: Instead of authorizing the Navy Seals to take him out, President Paul would have sought Pakistan's cooperation to arrest him.
How awful. A President who would be bound by international laws to extradite an accused criminal and hold him accountable in a court of law instead of assassination? As much as I'm not terribly concerned that we as the US follow our interests in order to kill enemies of our vital strategic interests, I don't think it would have killed us to put the guy on trial if we could have. This one doesn't strike me as batshit crazy either, but it does strike me as a little naive and possibly neglecting some facts on the ground from the operation itself that we are not privy to because the government has decided we don't need to be. To me that's a larger problem than that we killed the guy instead of arresting him. That the raid lacks proper documentation (video seems to be have been explicitly turned off) for instance introduces doubt to the official story that his death was a necessary outcome to protect the safety of the SEAL team. Of course, I am already rather skeptical of official stories where terrorism is concerned (given that very large numbers of accused terrorists have turned out to be nothing of the kind).
6) Simplify the Census: The questions posed by the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey, which collects demographics data such as age, race, and income, are "both ludicrous and insulting," Paul says.
- This is considered an extreme position? It should not be terribly difficult for the Census to cross reference with the IRS to gather income information. Age might be something worth gathering, but this is mostly because we have middle class entitlements for old people and is otherwise a statistically interesting fact about the country (for measuring life expectancy) but has little actual utility. On the face of it though, none of this information is necessarily important private information to the point that it should be considered "insulting" for the government to gather it for statistical purposes. It's just not very useful either to the government.
7) Let the Oldest Profession Be: Paul wants to legalize prostitution at the federal level.
This one and the next fall under "status quo is insane, reformers labeled as crazy". Most of the societal harms posed by prostitution come from either other public health problems (condom use, STD transmission) that can be better resolved with cultural shifts rather than vice squads or from its prohibition, illegality and prosecution by authorities. Its black market status makes practitioners more prone to sexual abuse, physical abuse, death, arrest, etc, as well as making it easier for teens to be entered illegally into it or women/children to be sold into sex slavery. These are problems that can be more openly dealt with in an open legal market than in a hidden black market one. Additionally, cracking down on things like Craigslist sex advertisements doesn't help anyone. The Internet's primary utility for sex workers has been its ability to render them more independent of pimps while still generating the additional income that might come from having a middleman to arrange for business. So to speak. All pushing women back to pimps accomplishes is that someone else gets a cut of illegal activity (ie, money), has incentives to do things like force teens into their ring, and potentially increases violence or risk of arrest toward the sex workers themselves. Woot says I. What a wonderfully effective policy... Speaking of which..
8) Legalize All Drugs: Including cocaine and heroin.
This one is a tough one to swallow for people. There's a slight distortion on both of these in that Paul's actual position is to allow states to decide for themselves if things like prostitution, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, et al should be legal. But leaving that aside, as with prostitution, large amounts of harm are effected by the prohibition and prosecution itself of drugs and drug trafficking. While there are societal harms effected by drug use and especially abuse, these are much smaller than the violence (both by traffickers and police) of a black market and the disruption of communities caused by both open air drug markets (ie, the violence again feeding into the movement of business away from criminal actors and the lack of jobs feeding back into the movement of young people in the drug trade) and the arrest and incarceration of large percentages of young (mostly black) men, which also feeds back by putting criminal records on people and stifling their job options further as well as breaking apart families. Where social conservatives claim to be greatly concerned with the nuclear family, they are quick to turn a blind eye to it once that family is a poor inner city (ie, black) one. See the disparities with crack and cocaine distribution sentences.
9) Keep Monopolies Intact: Opposes federal antitrust legislation, calling it "much more harmful than helpful." Thinks that monopolies can be controlled by protecting "the concept of the voluntary contract."
- This is a terrible distortion of the position. Opposing antitrust regulation by calling it "much more harmful than helpful" is not the same as saying "keep monopolies intact". Most current monopolies exist because of government sponsorship and less because of market domination and market failures. Examples of where government regulations protected monopolies are, for example, airlines and automobiles. Utility companies and especially cable and phone companies as well. Antitrust regulation at its face has other strategic interests to prevent the disruption of public supplies of necessary goods and services that might come from market contracts with large vertical monopolies in an industry, say oil or steel. But much government regulation, aside from antitrust, fosters and protects the existence of these very trusts rather than hindering them.
10) Lay Off Ben Bernanke: Would abolish the Federal Reserve and revert to use of currencies that are backed by hard assets such as gold.
- Paul's goldbug fascination does strike me as a little insane (not as crazy as Angle's chicken bartering scheme, but still). They got maybe 1 1/2 of the 10 so far and a couple where the norm is crazier than the proposal being offered.
11) Stop Policing the Environment: Believes that climate change is no big deal and the Environmental Protection Agency is unnecessary. Most environmental problems can be addressed by enforcing private-property rights. Paul also thinks that interstate issues such as air pollution are best dealt with through compacts between states.
- The first two parts do seem a little odd. I do however think that stronger private property protections relating to environmental damage would work pretty well. I'm not sure about the air pollution compact solution. Cap and trade worked pretty well for non-carbon pollutants as a minimal governmental solution in the free market (essentially all the government did was establish a market that did not previously exist). I don't think it would as well for carbon emissions, but I do think that private property protections do speak to a need for a basic carbon tax (and a hike in the gasoline tax) because there are significant externalities (public health for instance) even before one approaches the politically toxic climate change issue.
12) Not Do Anything, but Still...: Would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it was a "massive violation of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of a free society."
- I've been over this one. I think the CRA was necessary to correct for a government caused disaster of civil rights violations. But the key word there is "government". The southern states in particular imposed regimes of oppression upon all citizens and compelled them to prejudice their private relationships (anti-miscegenation laws), private contracts (laws restricting where blacks could live and work), and private associations (and where they could sit, eat, play, drink, go to the bathroom, etc). That's not to say that there was not public support among whites for this compelled bigotry. But whether or not it would have withstood opposition from more open-minded market participants who could exploit their bigotry for personal (and mutual) gain is an untested hypothesis. We must also have an understanding that these legal regimes could be imposed largely because the oppressed populations were also prevented, often harshly, from participating in construction of the legal environments under which they could live. It is mostly THIS gross violation of civil rights that had to be corrected through the CRA. The deconstruction of other civil restrictions requiring prejudice and bigotry was a natural consequence of destroying the architecture which allowed it to come into being in the first place.
13) Let Markets Care for the Disabled: "The ADA should have never been passed," Paul says. The treatment of the handicapped should be determined by the free market.
- I'm ambivalent on this one. I would think a more logical solution from the top-down perspective is to simply subsidize disabled people (as we do with school vouchers and SSI for instance). Or just go with a negative income tax, where someone who is disabled would have at least a guaranteed income level plus access to charity, family, etc. A downside risk of having governments involved in providing benefits to disabled people is the difficulty of attaining those benefits by having to jump through bureaucratic hoops. It also reduces potential market participation (ie, getting a job as a disabled person) by imposing new costs on employers. That is to say, the ADA is not without potential costs even for the disabled. It's possible that these are balanced with gains in rights and public standing, but we should not be quick to assume that legal structures and regulations are costless effects when assessing their utility.
14) Wants to end birthright citizenship. Believes that emergency rooms should have the right to turn away illegal immigrants.
- Both of these I don't agree with. Medical ethics violates the second one. A simpler solution is to allow immigrants (legal or not) to purchase health insurance. Illegals would simply not be able to do so with government subsidies. I don't think this actually drives up our costs as much as is believed. Terminal costs and care for the aged is far more expensive than the trumped up cost of a visit to the ER by someone with a cold. A better market solution still is to allow for less medical licensing and to put up more clinics or doc-in-the-box stations where medically trained people could issue a sort of triage and treat common ailments and injuries for the poor and thus reserving space in the ER for emergency cases. As far as birthright citizenship, I don't see how this proposal resolves any real problems. The supposed problem is that there are people dropping babies across our borders. The real world situation is that most immigrants (of the illegal variety) have lived here a while and start families while they are already here. The real world solution is to examine the possibility that our immigration laws are already too ridiculously overdone with bureaucracy, red tape, and impose considerable costs on potential immigrants, especially of the variety of trained and educated potential workers, who often end up in Canada or Europe or Australia instead where immigration can be easier. Possible compromises between the open-borders position (the most economically sensible one) and the xenophobic silliness of walls and changes to the 14th amendment include things like auctioning off immigration visas and removing the government's current legal intrusion into why anyone would wish to buy one (ie justifying that a skilled worker should be hired by a business, regardless of their country of origin).
15) Diss Mother Teresa: Voted against giving her the Congressional Gold Medal. Has argued that the medal, which costs $30,000, is too expensive.
Congress does a lot of idiotic and harmful things for symbolic reasons (drug laws for instance). This is at least not odious and obviously harmful, but it's still a waste of money designed to get a couple of Congressmen on TV. It's politically symbolic as opposed to societally so.
Basically I see 2.5 to 3 batshit crazy points versus about half a dozen where the status quo, populist position is the truly crazy one that makes no economic or social sense. I have my own misgivings about Ron (and Rand) Paul as opposed to Gary Johnson, and I understand that neither is likely to garner any reasonable press attention because their positions often require explanations rather than soundbytes. But really, would we prefer that say, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich as examples are the GOP nominee? What do they really offer? How are their positions more reasonable and sane?
Sunday assorted links
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