Ron Paul Answers Questions From Freakonomics Readers (Encore)

Ron Paul

Back in 2008, shortly after the Presidential election, we solicited reader questions for Congressman Ron Paul, who had run for President that year. He happens to be running again this year and, in light of his strong third-place showing in the Iowa caucuses last night, I thought it might be interesting to republish his replies. They are well-considered and interesting throughout, and it is especially interesting to read them four years later in light of how political circumstances have shifted (or haven’t).

Q.What was your first thought when you found out McCain chose Palin as his running mate?

A. At first, I thought it was a pretty savvy choice from a political perspective. I also knew that she had said some nice things about me in the past. At the same time, I knew that to be on the ticket, she would have to toe the line on foreign policy and the war, so that tempered a lot of my enthusiasm.

Q. Who in Congress would you consider to be your closest peer(s)?

A. There are a lot of members who I work with on a variety of different issues. Walter Jones is a good friend and works with me on foreign policy. Often on spending, if there is a 432-3 vote, the other two congressmen voting with me are Jeff Flake and Paul Broun. A lot of times, I work with Democrats on civil liberties issues. I guess my point is that people from all over the political spectrum can side with liberty and the Constitution. The goal is to get a majority to vote that way most of the time.

Q. It was mentioned you were in favor of getting rid of the Department of Education. Is this true, and if so, how do you feel this would benefit the country?

A. I do believe in eliminating the Department of Education. First, the Constitution does not authorize the Department of Education, and the founders never envisioned the federal government dictating those education policies. Second, it is a huge bureaucracy that squanders our money. We send billions of dollars to Washington and get back less than we sent. The money would be much better off left in states and local communities rather than being squandered in Washington. Finally, I think that the smallest level of government possible best performs education. Teachers, parents, and local community leaders should be making decisions about exactly how our children should be taught, not Washington bureaucrats. The Department of Education has given us No Child Left Behind, massive unfunded mandates, indoctrination, and in come cases, forced medication of our children with psychotropic drugs. We should get rid of all of that and get those choices back in the hands of the people.

Q. What active steps would you take toward reducing the size of the government?

A. The first thing I would do, which could be done rather quickly, is change our foreign policy. If you add up all of our overseas expenditures, we spend nearly $1 trillion every year. We have bases in 130 countries, 50,000 troops in Germany, and our brave military men and women bogged down in two wars in the Middle East. By announcing that America will pursue a foreign policy of non-intervention, where we have trade, diplomacy, and travel — but where we don’t police the world and stay out of the internal affairs of other nations — we could cut that $1 trillion in half and still have a strong national defense to keep us safe. All that money we save could be used to address the entitlement system, making sure there will be funding there for people who have become dependent, while allowing young people to get out. Secondly, I would begin to reassert respect for the Tenth Amendment. The Constitution does not authorize so many things that the federal government currently does. I would look to phase out entire departments and return these functions to the states as the Constitution intended. The Departments of Education and Energy would be on the top of my list. Finally, I would look to our monetary system. Government can only tax its people so much before they say no. So the government expands the money supply when it has taxed and borrowed all it can. This inflation is a hidden tax that falls squarely on the middle class. Sound, honest money would go a great way towards reining in the big-spending politicians.

Q. Even before the primaries, you said you would not run in the general election. Why specifically did you not run?

A. I was running for the Republican nomination, and I would have run in the general if I had won. I had little interest in running third party due to the inherent biases against such efforts. I also signed legally binding agreements not run third party in 2008 if I failed to win the G.O.P. primary. That was the cost for ballot access in several states, 11 total I believe. So even I had wanted to, it would not have been possible to run in the general after I lost the primary.

Q. What would your plans for economic stimulation look like during this slumping economy?

A. Let’s start with what I wouldn’t do, which is make the problem worse. We can not solve our problems with what we’ve been doing — borrowing money from overseas and creating money and credit out of thin air. Distorting interest rates and inflating the monetary supply sometimes provides short-term relief, but it will only make the pain worse in the long run. During the presidential campaign, I released the following four-point plan, and would stick by it while at the same time listening to experts for advice on how to improve it: The Four-Point Plan 1) Tax Reform: Reduce the tax burden and eliminate taxes that punish investment and savings, including job-killing corporate taxes. 2) Spending Reform: Eliminate wasteful spending. Reduce overseas commitments. Freeze all non-defense, non-entitlement spending at current levels. 3) Monetary Policy Reform: Expand openness at the Federal Reserve and require the Fed to televise its meetings. Return value to our money. 4) Regulatory Reform: Repeal Sarbanes-Oxley regulations that push companies to seek capital outside of U.S. markets. Stop restricting community banks from fostering local economic growth.

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  1. Mike B says:

    If I could ask him a question it would be this.

    You are proud of pointing out that during your time practicing medicine you didn’t take $1 of government money, however you treated people without regard towards their ability to pay. While very admirable on an individual level, are you implying by this that spontaneous altruism on the part of the medical profession/industry is the answer to provide care for those that are otherwise unable to afford it?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 17
    • Shane says:

      Mike my understanding of Ron Paul’s beliefs is that the government and all governments are inefficient and things like helping the poor should be left to local communities. Essentially instead of the government redistributing the income and determine what treatment a person should get the local state/county/neighbors/church/community should take the extra money the government is taking and determine the best way they feel the money should be used. If Bob feels it’s worthwhile to give money to Jane, because she needs medical treatment then she gets it and if not then she does not.

      Essentially government creates inefficiency and abuse, but you can’t abuse your own money and you should be in complete control of how it’s used not the government.

      That’s at least my understanding of Ron Paul.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 38 Thumb down 3
      • Mike B says:

        First states, counties and localities are forms of government. Granted I don’t know what Mr Paul feels about them, but most libertarians I know don’t tend to differentiate.

        Regarding my question what I am really digging at is if he believes:

        A) The medical profession and charities in general will step up in the absence of government and meet the same or more of the need that is being met by government etc today.
        B) The need will not be met, but it doesn’t matter because healthcare is a matter of personal responsibility (or something like that).
        C) The need will be met because those in need will find ways to adapt to the new environment (beg, borrow, steal) since they aren’t guaranteed a handout.

        I wouldn’t even begin to try to change his mind on anything, I’m just interested in his line of thinking.

        What I find ironic is that a guaranteed right to basic human needs allows for the sorts of rabid individuality that Libertarians value so much. If you are reliant on your community’s personal decisions for any sort of charity (and that can happen to anyone) then it would be rather risky to act in non-conformist ways.

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      • Shane says:

        I apparently can’t reply to a lower level post. So this is to Mike B below.

        My understanding is Dr. Paul’s main focus is on the constitution and freedom and he has a strong belief in limited federal government, but believes the states should be able to do pretty much as they please.

        To answer your A,B,C question would be to answer a straw man. Again my understanding as I can’t answer for the man and my opinions differ from his is as follows.

        1) Individuals would step up and donate some of the extra money the government is no longer redistributing to non-profits who could then fund medical care for the needy. You know the donations that Americans are well known for (due to our tax code).

        2) With a proper medical climate of reforms doctors would be more willing to treat patients pro-Bono.

        3) Local communities would determine need instead of large inefficient governments. (Who better to prevent abuse then the people who know what’s happening instead of a distant authority)

        And to answer your last point about “What I find ironic is that a guaranteed right to basic human needs allows for the sorts of rabid individuality that Libertarians value so much”

        I think you have a distorted view of Libertarians. The main thrust of Libertarianism has nothing to do with individuality. The main thrust is each person should make his or her own decisions and they have to live with them. Each person should be free to do as he or she desires without large restriction from governments.

        The following is an excerpt from the wiki definition of Libertarianism.
        “In the strictest sense, it is the political philosophy that holds individual liberty as the basic moral principle of society. In the broadest sense, it is any political philosophy which approximates this view. Libertarianism includes diverse beliefs, all advocating strict limits to government activity and sharing the goal of maximizing individual liberty and political freedom.”

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      • Jack Skellington, ESQ says:

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      • twobeef says:

        “Essentially instead of the government redistributing the income and determine what treatment a person should get the local state/county/neighbors/church/community should take the extra money the government is taking and determine the best way they feel the money should be used.”


        An atheist / muslim / person of alternate faith cannot afford health care. Does the community pay for that person’s care?

        A Hispanic person cannot afford health care. He is in the country legally, but speaks Spanish as a primary language due to growing up around other Hispanics. Does the community pay for that person’s care?

        A man cannot afford health care. This man has an old debt that he has been unable to pay off on his working class paycheck, and the stress of staying on top of bills has turned him into an alcoholic. It is no secret to the local community that this man has a drinking problem. Does the community pay for this man’s health care?

        A middle class family has health care. The father in the family is the main wage earner. He runs a small business of which he is the only employee (perhaps he’s an independent plumber or mechanic), so he must pay for health care through an individual plan. The father develops a severe disease which will require lifelong treatment. Due to the costs of this treatment, the cost of the family’s health care plan goes up every year, on top of the many copays of his treatment. The family reaches a point where it decides it cannot sustain the costs of medical care, despite earning a comfortable salary. Does the community pay for that person’s care?

        A working class woman cannot afford health care. She is pregnant. Some members of the community hold her in disdain for having sex with her boyfriend despite not having a high enough salary to raise a child. A complication develops midway through the pregnancy, and the doctors in the emergency room tell the woman that if she brings the baby to term, there is a risk to her life. The doctor recommends terminating the pregnancy. Does the community pay for that woman’s care?

        Local government can be a clique. Local government can be elitist. Local government can be exclusionary. I’m sorry, but whenever people say that kicking a problem down to the local level is a solution, I cringe.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2
    • I think you mean... says:

      You mean the Hippocratic Oath?

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      • Mike B says:

        First I don’t think that requires pro bono care and even if it did (and was somehow enforceable) that is an awfully socialistic (give according to one’s abilities?) point of view if I might say so myself. Economic mechanisms (ie payments) must be used to allocate societies’ scarce resources, not altruism.

        If you want to live in a society where everyone has a RIGHT to a basic level of medical care, relying on good will ain’t going to cut it. If you want to roll the dice and live in a society where its every person for themselves, well then I won’t argue with you, but don’t try to kid yourself what that’s going to look like.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 7
    • Adam L says:

      People are charitable when they have more than they need and feel secure. That requires economic prosperity, which we simply don’t have right now. If government stopped taking the money out of the peoples pockets to deal with problems that charity would usually handle (Poverty, Sickness, Homelessness, etc.), do you think society would just let people rot on the streets? Not going to happen.

      But it’s all moot as people don’t have any sort of security that they won’t imminently lose their job, have their taxes go up, have food prices go up, have the value of their house continue going down, along with their investments? And we already pay for it! Thats what taxes are for!

      In a free market system, reputation is the most valuable asset you can have – Charitable people are respected. Respect begets success. Success begets wealth. It’s called a “self reinforcing positive feedback loop”

      Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3
      • Peter Lange says:

        Adam, honestly, yes I do think that much of society would allow people to “rot in the streets.” For example, during the housing bubble when people were foolishly using their home equity as an ATM machine, most of that money got reinvested in the home, or in start up businesses, or alleviating expenses.

        Everyone with a dollar in their pocket that isn’t earmarked to pay a bill or a debt, is faced with a choice between keeping that dollar for later, spending that dollar on something non-essential (but hopefully cool), or giving that dollar to someone else who needs it. But time and time again, we all (except for a few in monastic orders) make one of the first two choices and not the latter.

        Charity is a beautiful thing. I give about 10% of every invoice for my work to charity. I strongly recommend it to anyone with the means to make that choice themselves. But it would be foolish to believe that as a society we will all make that choice to a level that will replace the spending of the government.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 9
  2. Mike B says:

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    • felix says:

      There is no possibility for isolationism when when have created organizations as the UN and NATO for exactly that purpose. As a matter fact invading Iraq was a blatant violation of that principle. If anything interventionism is a relic on old era. China influence on the world of natural resource is not being done with military interventions but with money and influence. This creates a playing field that stays far from your imperialistic ideas while at the same time stop us us from involving ourselves in the houses of our neighbors and keeps boys from dying just so the banks can finance more wars and the industrial complex can make some money.

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    • Shane says:

      Mike I’m not sure your reading it correctly. I’m not saying it’s correct or incorrect.

      The article states that we spent $1 Trillion in overseas expenditures. It is not only referring to military spending it is referring to money we give other countries in aid and all overseas activity. And he claims you can save 500 million by closing bases overseas and stopping all other aid etc to countries.

      On a definition front I would propose that non-interventionist policies do not have to coincide with isolationism. As you can not interfere in other nations issues, but you can still trade and work with the rest of the world and form consensus and well not act alone. Of course taking action against a nation state does something that is such a detriment to the US that it is deemed worthy of action has nothing to do with non-interventionist policy.

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      • Mike B says:

        Here’s the budget.

        Total discretionary spending is only 1.3 trillion. Even if you counted the trade deficit you can’t get anywhere close to $1 trillion dollars being sent overseas on an annual basis. Peddling easy answers that foreign aid or black people are the root cause of the national dept is not going to solve the problem.

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      • Shane says:

        Correct Mike I agree with you my response was only that the wording you used to reference his wording was incorrect.

        If you want a full response to explain where Dr. Paul got his $1 Trillion number and why Dr. Paul is wrong and mistaken check out the following.

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  3. Jonas Holl says:

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    • Joe J says:

      People would rather have better education possibilities rather than standardized education possibilities.
      The DOE has only existed for 32 years, during which time, education in America has fallen greatly behind most other countries. If something has been failing steadily, getting rid of it is a wise choice.

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      • Travis says:

        While the educational plight of the US is well documented, I’m not sure dismantling the DOEd would improve the situation, or even maintain the status quo. I think there’s a risk in making these kinds of decisions in the name of cutting needless beauracracy.

        With that said I’m not even sure what the DOEd actually does, other than standardized testing which is basically pointless. So maybe it wouldn’t hurt to cut them off.

        Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
    • Shane says:

      I can’t speak of what Dr. Paul would say on this instance, but I can take a stab at ideas.

      Lets list some assumptions.
      1. Parents want kids to go to college
      2. Colleges want to only accept kids who can pass
      3. For colleges to accept kids they must of had a standard education

      One solution would be for a non-profit education standardization organization that is driven by college admission requirements. That can then be used to verify that schools meet certain criteria for education.

      This type of thing exists everywhere already and why could it not be extended to public school education?

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    • DaveyNC says:

      Our education has been thoroughly standardized across the nation and is a failure. The way that we educate is a perfect example of top down, central planning. The Dept. of Education exists for little reason other than to distribute money.

      California needs more students who can go to Silicon Valley and go to work. Iowa needs agricultural experts. Texas and Louisiana need petroleum engineers. Let each state decide what it needs or what it does best and then pursue what is important to it. Break up the Dept. of Ed. and send that money back to the states and let the states get on with things.

      Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4
      • Shane says:

        Careful education in that manner prevents upward mobility and leans society toward more class-ism as you are even more likely to be what your parents were.

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      • +Roger Burgess says:

        This is true only to the extent that you ignore the top-down educational systems of countries that are beating the pants off of us educationally.

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  4. Eric M. Jones. says:

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  5. Joe J says:

    Kind of an aside comment. I wish we did look more at what people said in the past, like this.
    Unfortunately the general public seems to have 0/0 hindsight with respect to politics.

    It being New Years season, many shows, were doing their yearly predictions by the “political experts” of what would happen in the next 12 months, what I would rather is see how well these experts’ old predictions held up.

    I had that in mind when I saw a Ron Paul speech from 2000, where he stated if we pass this idiotic bill in 5 to 10 years it would cause a devistating collapse of the housing markets.
    7 years later it collapsed, the experts who passed that bill were scratching their heads, trying to find someting else to blame it on.

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    • cbp says:

      Ron Paul lost a lot of respect from scientists and environmentalists when he declared global warming ‘a hoax’. To many it seems that a big problem with Libertarian philosophy is that it does not have a good mechanism for dealing with a problem like anthropogenic climate change, and so to save face Libertarians fall back on silly conspiracy theorizing and quack science.
      I would ask Ron Paul, if, hypothetically speaking, he did not believe there was a grand Communists conspiracy amongst scientists in regards to global warming, how his political ideas would solve the problem.

      Thumb up 7 Thumb down 6
      • Shane says:

        Did you read the article or would you link to the full context of what your claiming?

        Q. Do you deny global warming? Is Obama right to invest money in green technology? If you don’t deny it, and don’t think Obama is right, what is your solution?

        A. I try to look at global warming the same way I look at all other serious issues: as objectively and open-minded as possible. There is clear evidence that the temperatures in some parts of the globe are rising, but temperatures are cooling in other parts. The average surface temperature had risen for several decades, but it fell back substantially in the past few years.

        Clearly there is something afoot. The question is: Is the upward fluctuation in temperature man-made or part of a natural phenomenon. Geological records indicate that in the 12th century, Earth experienced a warming period during which Greenland was literally green and served as rich farmland for Nordic peoples. There was then a mini ice age, the polar ice caps grew, and the once-thriving population of Greenland was virtually wiped out.

        It is clear that the earth experiences natural cycles in temperature. However, science shows that human activity probably does play a role in stimulating the current fluctuations.

        The question is: how much? Rather than taking a “sky is falling” approach, I think there are common-sense steps we can take to cut emissions and preserve our environment. I am, after all, a conservative and seek to conserve not just American traditions and our Constitution, but our natural resources as well.

        We should start by ending subsidies for oil companies. And we should never, ever go to war to protect our perceived oil interests. If oil were allowed to rise to its natural price, there would be tremendous market incentives to find alternate sources of energy. At the same time, I can’t support government “investment” in alternative sources either, for this is not investment at all.

        Government cannot invest, it can only redistribute resources. Just look at the mess government created with ethanol. Congress decided that we needed more biofuels, and the best choice was ethanol from corn. So we subsidized corn farmers at the expense of others, and investment in other types of renewables was crowded out.

        Now it turns out that corn ethanol is inefficient, and it actually takes more energy to produce the fuel than you get when you burn it. The most efficient ethanol may come from hemp, but hemp production is illegal and there has been little progress on hemp ethanol. And on top of that, corn is now going into our gas tanks instead of onto our tables or feeding our livestock or dairy cows; so food prices have been driven up. This is what happens when we allow government to make choices instead of the market; I hope we avoid those mistakes moving forward.

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      • Max says:


        The Q&A is from 2008.
        After the “Climategate” emails were leaked in 2009, Ron Paul told Alex Jones, “It might turn out to be one of the biggest hoaxes of all history, this whole global warming terrorism that they’ve been using…”
        What a joke.

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      • Max says:

        My bad, Ron Paul said this on November 5, BEFORE the “Climategate” emails were leaked in late November.

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  6. Travis says:

    Whenever I read Ron Paul I think of the saying “Novelty is often forgotten antiquity.” (probably inaccurate). Or, as Shakespeare put it “What’s past is prolouge.”

    I don’t hate ALL of Ron Paul’s ideas, but unfortunately so many of them just seem like straight up bad ideas to me. I often feel like libretarians don’t account for externalities enough and run with some assumptions that I just can’t get on board with. Such as tax breaks for corporations.

    I think Dr. Paul is the only republican candidate I would consider voting for. At least the man is honest.

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  7. Jasper says:

    Here’s Milton Friedman on education:

    It should shed some light on Paul’s views on the topic

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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  8. Owen says:

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