It’s hard to put into words what Ron Paul means to me. In fact, it seems a little strange that someone who I do not know on a personal level has had such a big impact on my life. I guess the best place to start is from the beginning.
Back in college I was your typical neoconservative. I was a pro-war Republican who also gave passing, lackadaisical support to limited government and reducing spending. But limited government didn’t have much true meaning to me back then. It meant simply this: support reducing spending only to the extent that it can be used to criticize the Democrats and promote the Republican Party and its agenda. That’s a pretty shallow understanding, but it’s an understanding that had a firm grip on my mind back in those days. I was even the chairman of the College Republicans at my university! I’d bought into the whole canard hook, line, and sinker.
I can’t pinpoint the timing exactly, but somewhere around the end of 2005, I discovered Ron Paul. I think I stumbled upon a video of him on C-SPAN. I can’t remember exactly what he was saying in the video, but I remember being annoyed and disliking it a lot, which means it was probably against the Iraq War in some way. From there forward and for whatever reason, I couldn’t forget Ron Paul. For the first time, I was confronted with the idea that my worldview was internally inconsistent. On the one hand, I mouthed support for free markets and limited government; on the other hand, I supported pre-emptive war, like in Iraq. War, I was told by Ron Paul, was just another way to expand the size and scope of government.
From that point on, over the course of the next year or so, I followed a bread crumb trail Ron Paul had already left across the internet at that time. That trail led me to an obscure economist, one I’d never heard of before even as an economics major in college: Ludwig von Mises.
I then found the Ludwig von Mises Institute’s website; once that happened, there was a snowball effect. I read a lot of articles through the website and it caused me to purchase my first book by Mises through LvMI’s online store: Economic Policy: Thoughts for Today and Tomorrow. To this day, that little book contains one of my favorite essays of all time. It’s entitled simply “Capitalism.” It’s simple and to the point, and it caused me to begin to see the free market differently. The essay begins as follows:
Descriptive terms which people use are often quite misleading. In talking about modern captains of industry and leaders of big business, for instance, they call a man a “chocolate king” or a “cotton king” or an “automobile king.” Their use of such terminology implies that they see practically no difference between the modern heads of industry and those feudal kings, dukes or lords of earlier days. But the difference is in fact very great, for a chocolate king does not rule at all; he serves. He does not reign over conquered territory, independent of the market, independent of his customers. The chocolate king – or the steel king or the automobile king or any other king of modern industry – depends on the industry he operates and on the customers he serves. This “king” must stay in the good graces of his subjects, the consumers; he loses his “kingdom” as soon as he is no longer in a position to give his customers better service and provide it at lower cost than others with whom he must compete.
Up until this time, I saw libertarianism as an interesting political theory, but I dismissed it as too extreme and unworkable in reality. It was by reading the above and similar works by Mises that I began to think that libertarianism might be a tenable position.
By reading Mises, I was inevitably led to his student, economist Murray Rothbard, and I eventually purchased Rothbard’s book For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto and devoured it. I remember loving that book and being fascinated while reading it. I don’t think I had ever enjoyed reading what some would consider “dry” material so much in my life. In those pages, Rothbard describes how a completely free market would function. That is, he describes how courts, police, and the military could be provided through the free market, i.e. without government. Reading Rothbard’s defense of such a radical version of libertarianism (anarcho-capitalism) led me to the following conclusion: if the extreme views Rothbard espouses can be reasonably defended as logical and workable, then a more moderate version of libertarianism is surely defensible. I found Rothbard’s arguments very persuasive. In short, it was For a New Liberty that caused me to start calling myself a libertarian without reservation.
While all of my self-study was going on, I was still following Ron Paul. As a matter of fact……….