Ilya Somin over at The Volokh Conspiracy, it seems, is no more a fan of Ron Paul now than he was four years ago. His criticisms remain about the same. This time around, though, he’s got a candidate to contrast Paul with in Gary Johnson. His conclusion? Johnson is a better libertarian than Paul. My first response to this was laughter. This is my second response:
To start, Somin nearly lost me in his first sentence when he suggested that Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was even on the radar for libertarians considering voting. If anyone thinks a hypocritical drug warrior, who might be most charitably described as untested on foreign policy issues (and much less charitably described as a propagandist for the Empire), should even be in the running, then they should probably be disqualified from commenting on the question of who the most libertarian candidate is. All that said, we’ll give him the benefit of his doubts about Daniels for now and move onto his criticisms.
Ron Paul’s Unlibertarian Positions?
Somin claims that Ron Paul “has very nonlibertarian positions on free trade, school choice, and especially immigration.” He goes on to criticize Paul’s views on the Fourteenth Amendment. He doesn’t spell these criticisms out in this piece, but rather directs us to an older article from 2007. We’ll take each one by one.
1. Free Trade
Anyone who knows about Ron Paul’s policy positions would be shocked to find this on the list of his deviations from libertarianism. Doesn’t Paul support complete, unrestricted free trade? Has he not always advocated this? Yes, and Somin admits as much in his 2007 article. But this is apparently not enough. Instead, Paul’s libertarian credentials are called into question due to his opposition to “free trade agreements.” These, Somin argues, must be supported because they are better than the status quo. But is this true? Somin fails to address Paul’s arguments that these are not “free trade agreements” at all – but that they are instead managed trade agreements. Instead, he merely dismisses Paul’s refusal to support NAFTA and similar agreements as some misguided focus on libertarian purity and perfection as the enemy of the good. But this is not so. As Murray Rothbard explained many times, managed trade agreements like NAFTA are not a step toward freedom, but rather an extension of government controls. So much for that.
2. School Choice
A similar story with school choice. Ron Paul, an erstwhile opponent of the government interfering with people’s educational choices, is thrown under the bus for opposing the reformist “solution” of school voucher programs. Somin’s objections to Ron Paul’s position here is the same: he admits Ron Paul has a libertarian position on school choice, but thinks that some attachment to libertarian purity gets in the way of Paul taking steps to improve things. And, again, Somin declines to address the serious and significant libertarian criticisms of this proposed policy. Laurence Vance has done excellent work covering this issue, and Ron Paul himself has voiced the same concerns. Stefan Molyneux has raised some major objections to the idea as well. Far from the obvious libertarian position being one of support for school vouchers, even just as a stepping stone, it seems that they might very well be a step in completely the wrong direction.
Here, you’ll find no objection from me on the criticism of Ron Paul’s position. I agree wholeheartedly with the libertarian critics of immigration restrictions and I make no excuses for Ron Paul’s position here, and I won’t go into wild speculation about whether he “really believes” what he says about immigration (given his change of heart since 1988). What he “really believes” is not my concern, rather I will focus on what he says, which seems to be that we must dismantle the welfare state before dismantling the statist border controls. This is an odious rationalization, and one that could easily be turned on almost any issue – we can’t end the drug war until we get rid of welfare and government-provided healthcare (as Ann Coulter says); we can’t get rid of the Patriot Act until we have stopped our foreign policy that promotes terrorism; we can’t get rid of welfare until we stop taxing and regulating the economy enough to provide everyone jobs; we can’t lower taxes until we pay off the national debt; and so on and so on. So, yes, Ron Paul’s position on immigration is indeed unlibertarian.
4. Fourteenth Amendment
I must admit, I do not know what to say about this. Mr. Somin claims that Ron Paul “thinks the Bill of Rights does not apply to the states.” This position, Somin thinks, is just “theoretically libertarian,” and only if one thinks that the Bill of Rights should apply to the states, but believes that, as a matter of fact, it does not. I won’t go into what the facts of the matter are (though I’m very skeptical of the claim that “virtually all libertarian constitutional law scholars” believe that the Fourteenth Amendment is rightly interpreted as applying the Bill of Rights to the states – Kevin Gutzman and Thomas Woods both come to mind as scholars who might take issue with that claim, I would be surprised if there weren’t many others), instead I’d like to ask: is it the obvious libertarian position that the federal government should be empowered to impose the restrictions in the Bill of Rights onto the states? Gene Healy, Roderick Long, and fellow blogger Stephan Kinsella all have argued to the contrary. Ron Paul’s position here, at the least, certainly has support amongst libertarian scholars regardless of the fact of the matter.
Is Ron Paul more libertarian than Gary Johnson on any issue?
Somin has one last argument to go. He writes, “I can’t think of a single issue where Paul is more libertarian than Johnson, though I’m open to correction by people who know more about their records than I do.” Well, I might not know more about their records, but I have a few in mind. For the sake of argument, I’ll disregard the points I had above and call it a wash, except for that of immigration, and we’ll count that in Johnson’s favor. Here are three issues where Paul is head and shoulders above Johnson: 1) war, 2) sound money, and 3) torture.
Gary Johnson looks like a pro-peace candidate. He talks like a pro-peace candidate. But when it comes down to it, he is open to “humanitarian wars.” See here and here for the interview. So, as admirable as Johnson’s opposition to the current wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya is, the difference between him and Ron Paul on foreign policy remains stark. From my point of view, this alone would be enough to put Paul miles ahead of Johnson – there is no issue more important than war. It cannot be repeated enough: War is the Health of the State. I take it, though, that Somin will not be joining me in this judgment, given that he wrote, “I don’t agree with Johnson on everything. For example, I’m significantly more hawkish than he is on foreign policy.” Yikes.
2. Sound Money
Ron Paul has made no secret of his opposition to the Federal Reserve. Indeed, it was the keystone of his 2008 campaign, and likely will play a major role in his 2012 run. He has brought the message of sound money to the masses and introduced the Austrian Business Cycle Theory back into the mainstream. On this most important issue, Ron Paul is the standard bearer. What about Gary Johnson? Admirably, he calls for an audit of the Federal Reserve, and should be credited for that. That puts him way above most candidates. But let’s not kid ourselves. Gary Johnson is not calling for the Federal Reserve to be abolished. Gary Johnson is not making the Federal Reserve into a focal point for his campaign. Despite the supreme importance of sound money in arresting the growth of the State, Johnson has given the issue very little time and supports what is, compared to Ron Paul, a marginal compromise position.
This is one I couldn’t believe myself when it happened. On Freedom Watch of all places, Gary Johnson said that he would not close the torture camp at Guantanamo Bay, an absolutely appalling position. What was his justification? If we didn’t have it there, we would just have to open one elsewhere. Incredible. Why not at least give these men trials? Why not at least house them inside the borders of the United States where they might be afforded even the most minimal legal protections? This is a disgusting position. A few of my fellow bloggers commented to me that this does not represent a deviation from libertarianism on the part of Johnson, but rather makes him no libertarian at all. I could not agree more.
I could go on, but these three issues alone are more than enough to overcome any doubt on this issue. Gary Johnson has some great qualities – he supports marijuana legalization, he seems very serious about dramatically cutting spending, and despite his squishy position on it, he’s generally anti-war (for now). But more libertarian than Ron Paul? Don’t make me laugh.