Free Market Fever Dream

Review of Rand Paul’s “Taking a Stand”

Review of Rand Paul’s Taking a Stand

One thing is clear from 2016 hopeful Rand Paul’s ambitious, wide-ranging attempt at defining a cohesive policy agenda for his presidential campaign— Paul really does think he’s Mr. Smith gone to Washington. So much so, in fact, he begins the first page of the first chapter of his new book with a quote from his 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination for CIA Director: “I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important” (p. 1).

There is, however, an overarching problem with Dr. Paul’s Prescriptions: he’s diagnosed some very real problems, but a slavish devotion to the market and its various invisible appendages means he provides readers with entirely the wrong medicine. Below are just a few examples of Dr. Paul’s problematic prescriptions for some of our country’s biggest problems:

The influence of big money: Paul is right that “cronyism creates special playgrounds and safe niches for a few connected individuals” (p. 76). If he were serious about ensuring that “no one can lobby for special breaks,” (p. 162) however, he would move aggressively to support measures that expose and limit the influence of big money in the political system. Instead, in one of the more ironic moments in Taking a Stand, Paul begins his chapter on wiretapping and Edward Snowden with an excerpt from his remarks at the Koch-affiliated 2014 Americans for Prosperity Freedom Summit (p. 79). That’s right, Paul opens a chapter on transparency with a speech hosted by one of the two biggest dark money spenders of the 2012 presidential election.

The shrinking middle class: Another winner for that Invisible Hand! According to Paul, the free market is “the engine that will pull the middle class from its rut and return to it the promise this great class of American workers once held” (p. 76). But rather than redistributing money to the already-rich via a series of tax schemes – a flat tax (pp. 156-157), suspended capital gains taxes (p. 158), and reduced payroll taxes (ibid.), to name a few –middle class Americans require courageous leaders to stand up for policies support working families: paid sick leave, overtime protections, a strong minimum wage, and more.

Health Care: Nothing new to see: “Health care is overregulated and in serious need of market reforms” (p. 38) and “there is no moral price” (p. 40) when it comes to health care costs – even for those who can’t afford coverage, even though almost 1 in 10 Kentuckians have taken advantage of the Affordable Care Act to access health insurance. And let’s not forget that it is in fact the Affordable Care Act that seeks to bring a truly transparent market to the health insurance industry.

Education: Get rid of Common Core, the “national curriculum” (p. 131) (actually a set of math and English standards developed by states – semantics!); while we’re at it, let’s see what those teachers are really worth since “We have no idea of the value of teachers because we’ve never really had a marketplace for education” (p. 129). Of course education should foster competition and innovation – but not without the guardrails necessary to ensure our students receive a quality education.

Income Inequality: Here’s the problem according to Dr. Paul: under President Obama, “the poor have gotten poorer, and the rich have gotten richer” (ibid.), and “failed Great Society policies… for too many years have chained the poor to poverty” (p. 167). But Paul’s prescription isn’t surprising: “What the Republicans offer is less tangible than a government check. The promise of equalizing opportunity through free markets, lower taxes, and fewer regulations doesn’t arrive in a mailbox at the first of the month” (pp. 109-110).

BOTTOM LINE: Free markets can be a force for good and for growth, but for markets to be truly free they must not be distorted by big business or big money. Paul’s pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps fantasy and blind faith in the invisible hand ignores the very real challenges facing working families. Readers – and voters – be sure to heed the warning label.

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