Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Ron Paul and the Republicans

Republican Congressman Ron Paul

Ron Paul attracted a good bit of positive attention from critics of the Iraq War during the 2008 Republican primaries because of his antiwar positions. But his political viewpoint is what is politely known as Old Right isolationism. Which is, in a less polite formulation, hardcore anti-union, segregationist, hardcore opposed to government regulations of business, fond of conspiracy theories (especially ones in which Israel or Jews loom large), anti-women's rights and nationalistic/unilateralist/jingoistic to the point of opposing any concept of international law other than narrow trade regulations.

Ron Paul has also been one of the prime conduits through which ideas from the crackpot Bircher/white supremacist/"Patriot" movement far right have been "mainstreamed" into the Republican Party.

So I was interested though not especially pleased to see this piece by David Weigel Ron Paul’s Economic Theories Winning GOP Converts Washington Independent 05/05/09 on the subject of what purports to be Paul's growing influence among Congressional Republicans.

I was particularly struck by the references to what the "libertarian" right - which would be known in Europe as rightwing liberals, a concept that really doesn't compute in the American political vocabulary - call "the Austrian school" of economics, as represented in particular by Frederick von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.

I have a friend who holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Vienna. I asked her one day out of curiosity if she had studied what some Americans call the "Austrian school" of economics. She was unaware that there was such a thing. Although she did remember having heard of Von Hayek. Which made me wonder if maybe we shouldn't call them the "rightwing American school".

Jamie Galbraith has a cute anecdote about the "Austrian school" in the text of a portion of a debate he recently held with former House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey, reproduced in Causes of the Crisis Texas Observer 05/01/09. Jamie's father John Kenneth was the best-known liberal economist of the 1960s and the two or three following decades. Jamie said in his speech:

Leader Armey spoke to you of his admiration for Austrian economics. I can’t resist telling you that when the Vienna Economics Institute celebrated its centennial, many years ago, they invited, as their keynote speaker, my father [John Kenneth Galbraith]. The leading economists of the Austrian school - including von Hayek and von Haberler - returned for the occasion. And so my father took a moment to reflect on the economic triumphs of the Austrian Republic since the war, which, he said, “would not have been possible without the contribution of these men.” They nodded - briefly - until it dawned on them what he meant. They’d all left the country in the 1930s.
The Iraq War gave the Ron Paul-type Old Right isolationists to get a hearing on foreign policy among a wider audience than would have been attracted by the dystopian dogmas of "Austrian" economics. Antiwar.com and The American Conservative are two sources that have notably benefited from their antiwar stance while also producing extreme "free market" economic agendas.

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