I do my level best to ignore Rand Paul, but since he’s now running for president, we have seemingly endless coverage. So, we get this piece in the Washington Post that concludes at one point:
The Paul political brand is not personality-based. It’s all about the ideas. And the key idea is that liberty cannot easily coexist with big government.
If this is an accurate presentation of his thought – and I’m guessing it’s pretty close given his libertarian background – it is utter crap. In fact, in the modern world, big government is the best friend liberty has.
There are two kinds of liberty. One is the right to be left alone – the right to use your own moral judgment and do as you see fit. The limit on this kind of liberty is that you can’t harm others while exercising your liberty. This is liberty in the classical sense, and it’s all well and good.
But there’s a second kind of liberty. It’s the liberty that comes from having the resources and capacities to achieve your aims. It’s the liberty that comes from having enough food and water, decent housing, a quality education, needed medical care, and financial security. One interesting thing about this second kind of liberty is that it can be measured – in dollars. The fewer dollars you have, the less of this freedom you can purchase. If you’re a billionaire, you’re very free indeed.
We live, in part, in a capitalist society. We allow markets to play a significant role in how our lives are organized. And it is a fact of markets that they tend toward concentrations of money. The few – be it individual billionaires or corporations (which are really just fronts for billionaires) – end up with most of the dollars, and therefore have most of the liberty.
And that’s where big government comes in.
As a society in the U.S., we have precious few tools to push back against concentrated money and ensure that its liberty does not unfairly impinge on everyone else’s liberty – that big money’s relatively enormous resources and capacities to not tread on the rest of us.
Unions are one such tool, but for many reasons, they have declined in significance. Really the only one left standing is democratic government. And to push back against big money, you need a big government. Local governments are helpless. How many towns have been destroyed by the departure of the community’s major employer? State governments aren’t in a much better position. How often have we heard the feuding between state governments as they grow desperate to lure big economic actors to relocate? No, only the federal government – the biggest government of all in the U.S. – has enough resources – has enough raw power – to go toe-to-toe with the biggest concentrations of money and preserve our liberty by ensuring that all of us get enough resources to live as free and autonomous human beings.
But even the federal government might not be enough. I would argue that we need to make an even bigger big government. We need to create real and powerful liberal republican international institutions that answer to the People. Some right-wingers like to wring their hands about a coming One World Government and lament the existence of the United Nations. Little do they realize that One World Government is already upon them, but it’s all tilted toward protecting the liberty of concentrated wealth. Through an increasing number of one-sided trade deals, big money is gaining the right to exercise its liberty across the globe, but without the hassle of countervailing democratic institutions. There is no Congress of the World with any real power to push back against globe-striding economic actors who would use their freedom at the expense of ours. The United Nations doesn’t have these kind of teeth.
Most certainly liberty and government – and even big government – can coexist. In fact, if the majority of us want to remain free, we have to ignore people like Rand Paul and take an active role in ensuring that our government works to preserve our liberty.