For the past few decades, Congressman Ron Paul has been among America’s leading libertarian voices. He has represented Texas’ 14th District in Congress since 1997 and is notable for popularizing libertarian positions on foreign policy and the Federal Reserve. He has run for president three times: on the Libertarian Ticket in 1988, and for the Republican Party’s nomination in 2008 and 2012. He announced earlier this year that he will retire from Congress at the end of this session.
The Politic: Looking back on your career, what do you see as your greatest sucesses and your greatest failures?
I think the biggest success is getting people to look at some issues that nobody wanted to talk about, such as monetary issues, and allowing Republicans to once again think that they can still be patriotic and good American citizens without arguing that you have to get involved in every war that comes along. Also, I am very pleased with the fact that the young people, especially those who are on college campuses, have been very receptive to this message. In that sense I feel like it’s been quite successful. Since I’ve had was going to change the world — I have mostly positive thoughts about what happened, and I’ve never set my goals to such a point where I was going to become speaker or to run a committee, and therefore I don’t have that many dis- appointments other than the fact that I didn’t get Congress to move in my direction. You have to get the people to move in a certain direction before Congress will move in that direction, and I have to say, getting the Congress to move in my direction hasn’t been successful, but time will take care of that.
The Politic: What were your goals and expectations when you were running for president, and did you meet them?
My goals have always been the same when I ran for Congress and for the presidency, and that is to promote a philosophy of liberty where we respect the Constitution, where we understand what personal freedom means, where persons have their personal social liberties and their economic liberties, and also to change foreign policy. When I ran for Congress or worked in Congress or spoke out or wrote books, it was always to try to get people to think that this was the best way to go, and I think of course I reached more people in the presidential races than I did just running for Congress. Although the message was the during the presidential campaigns.
The Politic: Did you feel at home in the Republican Party, and do you think there’s a future for the libertar- ian movement in the GOP?
I never felt like I had to leave the party, because I sort of accepted the way things are, that the whole country has turned away from many of these beliefs as well as the Republican Party. It was not much of a concern to me, but certainly I didn’t believe that the leadership or the majority endorsing what I was saying. But I knew that and understood that. The laws are so biased against doing anything outside the major parties that it’s hard for a third party to gain recognition, and it’s hard to get on ballots, hard to get in debates. I look at it like we have one party. There are two divisions: Republicans and Democrats. You probably have a better chance of reaching people and persuading people dealing with those parties. But I strongly encourage people whether they’re on the left or the right or libertarians to speak out and try to organize and overcome the obstacles, even as they recognize the difficulties.
The Politic: What do you see as the future of the libertarian movement? now who can pick up your standard? Is there a groundswell of support?
There’s every reason to be optimistic. There’ll be more members of Congress sharing these views this time even with me leaving; instead of probably one or two going this way, my guess is there’s going to be eight to 12. But that is secondary to the change in viewpoints of people around the country. That’s where we should be optimistic. As far as leadership goes, I think everybody has a role to play. We don’t even know who’s out state representative or a state senator that years. It’s truly a philosophical movement that is not directed by one individual or one group or one campaign. It’s very universal in the sense that it’s spread around the country at different levels and age groups, and it won’t depend on two or three people in the U.S. Congress. As the revolutionary ideas go, you’ll see more and more people in Congress that will reflect these views.
The Politic: What are your plans for retirement? Are you going to continue to promote the libertarian movement?
I’m going to be very busy. I want to respond to the many invitations I get to college campuses. I will be speaking out. I have a couple educational organizations; I’m interested in promoting home schooling. I have lots to do, and I want to continue learning how to spread this message over the Internet, because that’s one way we can get around the conventional media. I’ll have a lot to do, and I’ll have probably every bit as much fun because I can do it on my time and not on somebody else’s.
The Politic: Will you be coming to Yale anytime soon?
Not that I know of, but I always have a very open mind to go to the campuses, because if you want to see change, it has to occur on the campuses before it occurs in Washington.
The Politic: If change has to occur on campuses and intellectually before it can become a reality in Congress, what made you want to go into politics?
I didn’t really decide to become a congressman because I decided I wanted to go into politics. I was just looking for a vehicle to talk about things I thought were important. The first time I ran , it was the worst Republican year in my lifetime. That was the Watergate year, when there was the smallest number of Republicans probably in 100 years. Nobody wanted to run as a Republican, and that’s when I became concerned about the total rejection of the gold standard, which I believe would usher in an debt. I just used that as a vehicle to speak our, and it was sort of a fluke or accident that I ended up getting elected. That happened a couple years later [in 1976]. It wasn’t so much that I decided to be in politics, but to use political employment and political opportunities to speak out.
The Politic: You’ve mentioned how you’ve sought to call attention to some issues that neither the Repub- lican nor Democratic establishments want to address, particularly monetary policy and the Federal Reserve. Why is monetary policy so important, and why does everyone seem to pay so little attention to it?
It was true — I think five years ago I would’ve accepted it — that nobody was paying attention; today a lot more people are paying attention. We actually got a bill passed in the House to audit the Fed. Even Romney, who didn’t care about the Fed, endorsed the idea, and they put it in the Republican platform. It is becoming much, much more important. People know that there is something wrong with the monetary system. The monetary system is important because the monetary unit, which is our dollar, is involved in every transaction that we do. If you want to pay for college tuition or buy a book, you have to use a dollar to do that, so the dollar is half of every economic transaction. That’s how significant it is. This is the reason we must deal with it, because if we turn the ability over to a secret central bank, the Federal Reserve, to create dollars out of thin air in order to accommodate congressmen who spend shouldn’t be doing, they will be facilitators. They accommodate spending, so you wouldn’t have debt and a deficit crisis if you didn’t have the Federal Reserve, because Congress would have to borrow the money, interest rates would go up, and it would all quit. Without the Federal you wouldn’t have the welfare state, and you wouldn’t have this debt. It is crucial, in order to get our house in order and get the economy working right, to have sound money.
The Politic: With regards to getting our house in order, what sort of reforms do you think need to occur to do you think these reforms can realistically be implemented?
No, they’re not going to be; they’re going to have a much worse crisis because nobody’s going to cut spending. In Washington, they don’t admit that the problem is bankruptcy and that they have to cut spending. There are no proposals on either side to actually cut anything. All they’re talking about is nibbling away a little bit on the automatic increases. A whole generation has to make the decision, and they’re not going to before a major crisis. Afterwards people are going to say, “Maybe we distorted the view of what our government should be like.” The people have to decide. Do you want a government that runs your lives? Do you want a government to run the economy? Do you want a government that polices the world? Do you want a Federal Reserve to finance all this? Or do you want a government that was more or less outlined by the Constitution? If we have any desire to have a sensible government, we actually have a pretty good blueprint, which is called the Constitution. That would be a good place to start.
The Politic: Given the current make-up of Congress and where it seems to be headed, what do you foresee happening in the United States over the next couple of years or decades?
The deficit’s going to get worse. They’re going to have to admit that. They won’t quit spending, and they won’t bring the troops home and quit fighting these wars until the dollar quits working. I expect a loss of confidence in the dollar. Even with the Fed printing money like crazy, interest rates will go up, and the economy grow to the point where foreigners will start dumping dollars, and that’s a major crisis. That could come, and that would end all of this spending. Within this administration likely to happen.
The Politic: Do you think that if the cuts don’t start happening now, they will be forced upon us later?
Yes, that’s exactly what’s going to happen if we don’t face up to it. But politically, it’s more difficult to say, “We’re going to cut your program.” I’m not very confident that current politicians in charge will do anything until they’re forced to do it, and they haven’t yet been forced to do it.
The Politic: What is it about libertarianism that you find so persuasive? Were there any books or thinkers that you found particularly influential?
Everybody has these libertarian instincts and they’re natural, and then they get beaten out of us because the status quo says, “That’s true, but you have to have government doing this and this.” I naturally was inclined to liberty as a young person, as so many are, and started through economics: when I discovered Austrian economics, it gave the moral free markets and contracts and sound money and how that could be connected to individual liberty. It just made so much sense. There was not one book or one person, but I do remember reading Hayek early on — The Road to Serfdom — and most of [Ludwig von] Mises’ stuff. I frequently talk about a little pamphlet called The Law by [Frédéric] Bastiat. They one thing. It was just my instincts that I wanted to be left alone, and the fact that there are many intellectuals who will defend that position for us.
Ryan Proctor is a freshman in Saybrook College