I’m late getting to the essay on libertarianism by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch from Sunday’s Washington Post. Leaving definition three in the sub-title aside (I am not infatuated with Ron Paul because he is not a libertarian¹.), the opening paragraph is a useful path to a broader discussion of libertarianism:
How to make sense of the Ron Paul revolution? What’s behind the improbably successful (so far) presidential campaign of a 72-year-old 10-term Republican congressman from Texas who pines for the gold standard while drawing praise from another relic from the hyperinflationary 1970s, punk-rocker Johnny Rotten?
Among several positions held by Rep. Paul that I find objectionable, his fondness for the gold standard is silly. The value of gold is subjective, just as the value of dollars or euros or whatever other store of value we’ve agreed upon is subjective. I don’t like gold, aesthetically. I don’t wear jewelry. The only reason I’d need gold is because other people find it valuable. That it possesses value is strictly arbitrary.
I like Jason Kuznicki’s eloquent conclusion (from an unrelated analysis of goldbugs) as a better way of stating why gold isn’t the issue:
… Gold — its weight, its luster, its aura — seems to endure. It may or may not be a technically feasible as a money any longer, but as a throwback to a more certain age, it’ll obviously do. The modern-day goldbugs have all of the anxieties provoked by Austrian economics, but none of its epistemic complexity. Those who wish to preserve something of value should be partisans not of gold, but of the civil society and the market that make money of any type worth holding.
That last sentence, especially.
P.S. Title reference here.
¹ For example:
But his philosophy of principled libertarianism is anything but negative: It’s predicated on the fundamental notion that a smaller government allows individuals the freedom to pursue happiness as they see fit.
Rep. Paul believes in a smaller government. He does not connect that with individual liberty. On several fundamental rights, he is content to allow states to interfere as long as it’s “democratic” interference. But the root of libertarianism is liberty. Smaller government generally makes liberty more likely, but protection of rights must be primary. If a state seeks to deny rights to the minority at the whim of the majority, the federal government’s power to prohibit that is legitimate.
To be fair, I think Rep. Paul encourages useful debate. I just wish he weren’t incorrectly labeled something he is not.
17 thoughts on ““I love money. I love money more than the things it can buy.””
If a state seeks to deny rights to the minority at the whim of the majority, the federal government’s power to prohibit that is legitimate.
What do you do when the federal government itself is guilty of denying rights to a minority as it has done with infant boys?
Protecting the rights of minorities is a commendable objective, but when the feds apply the law in an arbitrary and inconsistent manner (as they always do), it’s hard to see how their actions are any different from a rogue state that arrogantly tries to impose its will on a weaker neighbor.
What do you do when the federal government itself is guilty of denying rights to a minority as it has done with infant boys?
Ideally, that’s where the courts come in. They haven’t, which is an indictment on our courts, but that’s how it should work.
Also, I’m not arguing that the federal government is good. In too many ways, it’s not. But one of its legitimate purposes is to protect rights. Ignoring discrimination because it results from federalism pushing it down to the states misses the point of our Constitution and liberty itself.
To your example, under Ron Paul’s brand of “libertarianism”, the fundamental right to an intact healthy body could be violated, as long as it’s voted on by the citizens of a state. The federal government shouldn’t intervene. I reject that, which is why I reject Ron Paul as a candidate.
With federalism, there is a shot of making one state free, since each state will have the right to be different from the others. Consider the Free State Project, for example — if they start repealing laws, under your preferred “central government controls every detail” system, the Federal government merely outlaw at the Federal level what the Free Stater’s inlaw. A losing proposition!
But if we return the Federal government to it’s constitutional bounds, we have a chance of being permitted to live as we desire somewhere in America. If the price for that is that somebody in some other state has to drive a couple hours (or move to a freer state) to have an abortion, I’m not going to give up the freedom I could have over it. If it’s important to her, she can move someplace free.
There are three alternatives to Federalism: Secession, Civil War, and Flight:
Secession: I suspect that if we tried to secede from the union, we would die trying.
Civil War: I suspect that if there is a civil war, we will lose. The US has been listening to Socialist propaganda for so long that we would probably end up in worse shape then we are in now.
Flight: Show me where I can be free, and I’ll go. I’m not holding my breath, though. The US is getting worse every year, but it’s still the freest nation on earth. Mostly because the rest of the world is getting worse just as fast.
Given those options, doesn’t agreeing to disagree with the other states seem pretty sensible?
If not, and if your faction gets control of the United States government, will you advocate going to war with every nation on earth which does not embrace your brand of Libertarianism?
I’ll take Ron Paul and Peace over and endless war to impose Libertarianism on the whole world, any day.
By the way, it doesn’t much matter whether money in a given society is gold, or silver, or copper, or oil, or anything else. The important thing is that it not be worthless, as our current dollars are. All it takes is for the government to increase production of paper dollars to create absolute havoc in the market. Money of value cannot be so easily inflated, and therefore would not cause the boom-bust business cycle we have been suffering under for the last ~100 years, as the dollar lost 96% of it’s value.
“The value of gold is subjective, just as the value of dollars or euros or whatever other store of value we’ve agreed upon is subjective.”
The fact of the matter is that nobody – ever – “agreed” upon a fiat standard in currency. History is replete with examples of governments debasing currency, defrauding citizens, and repudiating contracts. Our experiment with paper money is no different, and it is something that did not occur through transactions in the market, but instead at the point of a government gun. If for no other reason any consistent libertarian should object to the current monetary system for this fact, alone.
The federal government’s only certifiably legitimate function is to defend the states against foreign aggressors and that’s it. The rest of what it does is just plain old meddling as far as I can see.
It’s regrettable that our country’s founders didn’t opt for a mutual defense pact (a la NATO or SEATO) to provide us with the security we need instead of a federal army controlled by a federal government. I can’t help but think that we’d be better off than we are now under such an arrangement.
I haven’t said I prefer a “central government controls every detail” solution. Far from it. Central government should control as little as possible. Local government should control as little as possible.
What I am saying is that deferring the option to discriminate and deny fundamental rights may be federalism, but it is not libertarianism. While it may promote liberty, as in the free state argument, it does not guarantee it. That is merely one possible outcome, and with the populist mentality expressed so readily today, I’d say it’s hardly the likeliest outcome.
One of the federal government’s legitimate roles is to protect individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution from harm by other individuals or government. I may not punch you without permission. You may not punch me without permission. Congress may not legislate against free speech. Etc.
An example, similar to one I’ve given in the past: drugs should be decriminalized because the right to put or not put something into one’s body is fundamental. However, if one state wants to legislate a drug age of 18, viewing adults as the only persons able to fully exercise that right, that’s within reasonable bounds. Another state may decide to set a minimum age of 16 with no minimum age while under parental supervision. That difference is federalism.
But if one state denies a right to use drugs to all persons, that is an unconstitutional infringement upon individual liberty. The Constitution supersedes all else. Federal intervention to stop that is legitimate. It doesn’t play by the rules, for various reasons, but the solution is correcting the mistakes at each level, not pushing them to lower levels.
Government does many stupid things, so I’m not going to argue that money is different. My only point is that gold is a fiat currency, as well. There may be degrees involved when compared to dollars, but it’s only degrees, not objective versus subjective. Either is valid as money because we’ve decided it’s valuable. As Kuznicki’s quote illustrates, the market that requires a method of exchange is what’s important.
The federal government’s only certifiably legitimate function is to defend the states against foreign aggressors and that’s it.
It must also protect the individual citizen against harm from other citizens. Without that right, the FGM Act becomes illegitimate. Our demands for a federal MGM equivalent becomes illegitimate. That can’t be right.
It must also protect the individual citizen from harm against other citizens.
When it protects individual citizens in an arbitrary and inconsistent manner (as is always the case), that’s called favoritism.
Favoritism is not a certifiably legitimate governmental function.
Our [demand] for a federal MGM equivalent becomes illegitimate.
Washington couldn’t care less about our demand for a federal MGM equivalent.
We’ll either have a few victories at the state level (which is better than nothing) or we won’t have any victories at all….that’s my prediction.
I agree. Our government discriminates. I want to hold it to the proper, highest standard, although I know few politicians are interested in aiming for it.
“My only point is that gold is a fiat currency, as well. There may be degrees involved when compared to dollars, but it’s only degrees, not objective versus subjective.”
Tony, a pure specie standard is the antithesis of a “fiat currency,” which I understand to be a currency by a more-or-less all-encompassing legislative decree — a decree which stipulates that no one is permitted to enforce contracts denominated in any currency other than that decreed by legislative fiat.
I’m using “fiat” a little loosely, as short-hand for the underlying subjective nature that gold would possess if the United States returned to the gold-standard. In Ron Paul’s preferred world, the value of our currency is still dictated by what the government states.
I think your overall point is absolutely true. My intention here isn’t to defend the dollar as legislated by the government, only to refute the idea that replacing one subjective money for another subjective money isn’t the nirvana that some believe.
Going too much further into the economics, I fear I’d be over my head. Maybe I am already. Laziness in terms doesn’t help, but I think my underlying analysis about gold is correct. But please correct me if I’m wrong. I’m more interested in getting it right than being right.
Fair enough – your post reminds me of what Kip has to say about gold, to which I’ve been meaning to write about for quite some time. Sooner or later, probably later, I’ll get around to it 🙂
I look forward to it. And I have a few of those sooner or later posts floating around in my head, too. The cobwebs are collecting on them as I type.
A bit off thread by now, but I think that Paul dates himself too far back to be exactly a libertarian (or what a libertarian would now be concerned with), among other things, and this is typical of most of the candidates: “neo-con” doesn’t make any sense, unless by neo-con we mean “no-rights-for-united-statesers-not-actually-conservative-but cut taxes-dude”.
Reading a discussion like this reminds me that the fundamental issue for people who pay even the slightest attention (beyond newsbites) is an issue of civil rights.
All of these candidates are avoiding, or expressing a disdain for one, if not some or all, of these granted rights.
That was off-thread as well.
Anyway: Although Paul is a breath of fresh air on a CNN debate, he’s archaic when he starts thumping one of his weird almost metaphysical-sounding ideas–gold standard among them–thanks for letting me in on it.
…But you gotta love the guy’s fire.
Civil rights are the key. Paul gets some of them right, but he misses on too many issues, favoring state discrimination over federal protection.
As for Paul, his fire is good in the election. And in my assessment of the election, I would prefer him as our next president over the other choices. Not because I want him to succeed in office, but because I expect him to fail at achieving anything. That would be grand. Four years of Do Nothing government.
But I haven’t fully thought through that hope because his chances are nil.
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