The Paul Phenomenon, Part Three: Youthful Arrogance

Ron Paul’s youth movement is driven by many things, from his iconoclastic status to his purism, but perhaps the most important and clearest draws are the simplicity and straightforwardness of his policies. Re-adopt the gold standard. Lower taxes. Bring our troops home. Eliminate or drastically downsize the Departments of Energy, Education, and more. Nowhere in Paul’s message do we find anything as complex as constructing a national health-care system or crafting a series of necessary, if distasteful, bank bailouts.

Gage Skidmore

Ron Paul supporters at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, in late December 2011.

On/Trac

Russell Madden: Libertarian Arrogance

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David Boaz: The Coming Libertarian Age

This simplicity is tremendously appealing to a generation raised on the idea that every one of them is uniquely gifted and talented. Well, sure, the reaction has always been, these policies make sense, so why don’t the idiots in Washington simply do what Paul says?

Purists are magnets for armchair theorists; the clarity of vision associated with having a singular purpose is absolutely irresistible once inconveniences like nuance and practicality are brushed away.

We discussed last week why several of Paul’s policies are unworkable, from the severe deflation implied by a return to the gold standard to the complete collapse of educational services that might result if the Department of Education were eliminated. For now, let’s focus on the supporters who listen to the gospel he preaches.

Remember that libertarianism was once the domain of old money, supported by those who could survive the drastic elimination of many government services. This is, in fact, the only rational reason an individual would support such policies: if he or she could be certain of surviving the fallout to reach the new, limited-government utopia.

It is therefore baffling that so many young people, armed with fewer financial resources than their better-established elders, support such policies. It is not clear how they could cover the financial shortfall resulting from a drastic reduction in government services, particularly with so many of them jobless.

If the only rational reason is ruled out, that means young libertarians are irrational. But what is the reason for this?

Simple: overconfidence and arrogance.

In an era marked by record-high unemployment rates for young, college-educated individuals, there is no logical reason for those same people to advocate an end to government services. They will, quite simply, not do well in that environment. Only an irrational confidence that things will somehow work themselves out in an unspecified manner, coupled with a youthful idealism that reaches the point of arrogance, can explain this behavior.

This is a dangerous pathology.

Say what you will about mainstream Democratic and Republican politicians, but they have an incentive to craft policies that appeal to intelligent voters attempting to make choices beneficial to their self-interest. Take the rationality out of this equation and the American political landscape is altered dramatically and negatively.

People are supposed to vote for policies that will improve their lot in life incrementally. They should not be swayed by policies that will lead to a long-term boon in exchange for dramatic short-term pain. To quote one of FDR’s closest advisors, “People do not eat in the long run. They eat every day.”

Sacrificing all of the political infrastructure currently in existence for a slim chance at a future utopia under a fundamentally different type of government would be such a class of policy. More than that, it would be a fool’s errand, one with the potential to damage America irrevocably.

Some might argue that cutting programs like Social Security and Medicare can only benefit the young. This may be true — Social Security and Medicare tax the young to finance benefits for the elderly — but given the powerful constituencies served by these programs, the libertarian crusade is more likely to take its toll on the government’s substantial investments in education and infrastructure — which directly benefit younger generations. Congress has already targeted the Stafford student-loan program this year. What’s next?

Paul will not be the one reaping the political benefits of an irrational electorate; that will fall to some future leader. It is unclear what the leanings of such an individual might be, but one thing is clear: letting the politics of America become an arena for warring cults of personality is a recipe for disaster.