Exceptions test the rule. Ron Paul is an exception. We might have to revise some rules.
One rule in politics is: Don’t obsess about arcana unfamiliar to voters; stick to issues they care about.
Ron Paul has long flouted that rule.
That’s one reason why mainstream journalists often dismiss him as a “nut.” He keeps talking about issues outside the scope of what journalists say we should care about. This makes his causes appear — to insiders and reporters and the like — ridiculous.
Specifically, he keeps talking about monetary theory in general and the Federal Reserve in particular.
Now, there are several good reasons why journalists don’t talk about monetary theory. Milton Friedman memorably declared (it’s memorable because I remember it) that monetary theory was the most difficult area of economics. And if Friedman saw it as difficult, you can be sure your standard journalism major is going to find it harder than getting a quotation out of J.D. Salinger’s dog Phoney.
So when Ron Paul moves from sexier issues like war, drugs, and taxes and on to the Federal Reserve and the gold standard, it’s hard not to shake one’s head.
I speak for myself, here. When I helped Ron Paul in his first campaign for the presidency, way back in the late 1980s, as the Libertarian Party nominee, I often shook my head. Could Dr. Paul skip the Fed talk, just once?
Hey, I knew something about how to get ahead in politics. And advancing unpopular, obscure ideas at variance with the folks at Harvard and Yale and a long retinue of economic advisors wasn’t the way to win national elections.
Now, it was not that I disagreed with Dr. Paul. I was familiar with the basic notions. I saw why gold and silver so often served as money from ancient times to the near present. I knew that the Federal Reserve was something close to a conspiracy of insiders working to advance . . . well, I wasn’t at all certain it was “the general welfare.” The founding of the Fed was a typical Progressive Era reform: allegedly a triumph of expertise, it was obviously a concoction by bankers, run for bankers. At first I merely suspected Ron Paul’s even darker view had at least something going for it. Later I came to agree more and more with him.
But still, why bring it up all the time? It was political death. It seemed like an effort in self-marginalization.
I was wrong.
Ron Paul was right.
Journalists and pundits and political experts were also wrong — big-time wrong.
Just look at the crowds of Ron Paul’s supporters. They don’t start yawning when his speeches earnestly wander away from the Approved Topics and into monetary theory. They maintain enthusiasm. The good doctor gets cheers, perhaps even more cheers.
And when Ron Paul triumphantly proclaimed, after his third-place showing in Iowa, that sometime soon the experts would proclaim “we’re all Austrians now,” his hordes of supporters got the reference to a Nixon-era aphorism about Keynesianism and were not in the least confused by a presidential candidate in America referencing, positively, a German-speaking foreign country.
Instead of backfiring and sounding lunatic, the moment almost reached Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” heights.
How wrong the experts were!
Just ask the young folks. Ron Paul’s supporters of all shapes and colors and creeds will emphasize the danger posed by the Federal Reserve. And the need to get rid of it. I have heard dozens — scores, maybe even hundreds — of just plain folks begin to discourse on the hazards associated with giving insiders special privileges in the money creation biz. I have heard explanations of Gresham’s Law; the usefulness of “hard money”; the dangers of credit money and the sheer perversity of fiat money; and the advisability of abolishing legal tender laws . . . as well as knowledgeable mentions of the Austrian School. These folks may not always understand that Austrian economics is not a univocal set of policy proposals, but a rich tradition of positive explanatory theory, instead. Still, the mere familiarity with a few of its doctrines is something of a surprise, especially from regular voters.
Well, maybe “regular voters” is not quite right. These folks are not old hands in either major party. They are often independents.
But they are special. They have been schooled by Dr. Ron Paul.
For Ron Paul has been in this for the long haul. He has been pushing monetary reform from the beginning of his political career, with Sisyphean persistence. Yes, the experts — including me — shook their heads, clucking disapproval. But he switched myths on us. He has become Prometheus. He has brought us fire.
Ron Paul was right to say that money is key. Monetary theory best explains the cycles of boom and bust, why they occur, and why the medicine employed since the beginning of the Great Depression doesn’t work, instead prolonging unemployment.
And never was a time more ripe for this truth than now. Ron Paul’s persistence is paying off, paying off in the enthusiasm of crowds and the formation of a new voting bloc.
Monetary reform, as an issue, is key for another reason: It helps demonstrate that Ron Paul is no standard-brand politician, looking only for the right grab-bag of issues that will “sell” to voters. It proves his honesty. It proves his prescience. It proves that the rules of politics-as-usual only apply when situations are usual.
In times of crisis, the old rule of play-it-safe/stick-to-the-ordinary doesn’t cut it. In times of crisis, a true educator can do what he set out to do, educate.
And, once we learn something, major change can come.
I don’t know how far this new force in politics will go to implement the ideas that have arisen through the agency of Ron Paul. But I can tell you this: it’s great to see the pundits proved wrong.
And I’ve never been so happy being proven wrong myself.
January 15, 2012
This column originally appeared at Townhall.com