Friday, August 19, 2011

Calculation problem

"Ron Paul has done more for libertarianism than all of his critics, put together."

That statement, or some variant of it, has been a bullet point in pretty much every pro-Paul polemic since he kicked off his 2008 presidential campaign. This time it comes courtesy of Walter Block.

The thing about bullet points is that if they're repeated often enough, they tend to be uncritically accepted by some, and just sort of fade into the background for others. And there they sit, uncontested.

Well, I'd like to contest the claim, or at least suggest that those making it should provide some evidence for it.

Unfortunately, it represents a calculation problem insofar as it's difficult to capture, unitize and valuate the various aspects of Paul's activities, both positive and negative.

I think most of us who call ourselves libertarians with any credibility at all can easily accept Paul's strong non-interventionist position on foreign policy, and his use of a presidential campaign as bully pulpit to promote that position, as a positive.

Ditto for his position on the central banking, the Federal Reserve, and matters of currency in general.

Of course, not everything he does is positive for libertarianism.

Odd as I find it to have to remind a Rothbardian like Dr. Block of this, "no particular orderism" is an important strategic tenet -- one which Paul fails on badly, and at the expense of the credibility of libertarian ideas, when it comes to immigration.

And to boot, Paul's fantasized federal power to regulate immigration, found nowhere in the US Constitution and indeed explicitly considered and rejected by the framers, puts a ding in the reputation of political libertarian "constitutionalism."

Speaking of that "constitutionalism" -- one of Paul's campaign shibboleths -- how much do we deduct from Paul's value to libertarianism for his attempts to get around the Constitution's full faith and credit clause, as modified by the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause, with mere legislation (the Marriage Protection [sic] Act) rather than amendment ... especially since he pursues that agenda for the explicit and specific purpose of enabling states to infringe liberty?

And speaking of political libertarianism: Even if we accept that participation in electoral politics is a worthwhile pursuit with positive value for libertarianism, how does such value accrue to a campaign run within the historical party of big government, the GOP? Is it a net positive (using the Republican Party to "get the message out") or a negative (sullying the message by associating it with an organization whose anti-libertarian statist bona fides are impeccable)?

Yes, as a good Austrian, I know that value is subjective, and that Dr. Block may deduct fewer points from Paul's "value to liberty" for this or that than I would. Nonetheless, the question remains: How do we calculate how much Paul has done for libertarianism, how much he's done against it, and what the net balance is?

Fortunately, Dr. Block attempted to preemptively solve the problem for us in 2007 with this declaration:

In my view, the "Ron Paul question" constitutes a litmus test for libertarians. Simply put, the "Ron Paul question" consists of determining whether or not a person supports Dr. Paul. If so, as I see matters, he passes this test and can be constituted a libertarian; if not, his credentials are to that extent suspect.

So apparently you're only qualified to valuate Ron Paul on behalf of libertarianism if you already consider Ron Paul the highest value of libertarianism. Seems kind of circular, but it certainly wraps things up in a nice neat package.

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