No presidential candidate since Grover Cleveland, who last ran for POTUS in 1892, captured gold bugs’ attention like Ron Paul did when he ran in 2008 and 2012. Dr. Paul lost the Republican Party’s nomination those years to John McCain and Mitt Romney, respectively, who each went on to defeat against Democrat Barack Obama. You know the story — you lived through it.
Gold bugs loved Ron Paul because he harkened back to the classical liberalism of the Democratic Party before it was taken over by Progressives in the 1912 election of Woodrow Wilson. Since then, the United States has essentially had two progressive parties — remember, Republican icon Teddy Roosevelt ran “against” Wilson as a third-party Progressive in 1912! (I put “against” in quotes because the two had remarkably similar philosophical outlooks: “Big government is good, and bigger government is better!”)
The gold standard was then and is now the ultimate bane of progressivism. Before the creation of the Federal Reserve (under Wilson), the gold standard put strict limitations on what the U.S. federal government could get done. Indeed, the gold standard had to be suspended during World War I in order to finance military ambitions. Before World War II, the dollar’s fixed exchange rate with gold was revalued, and private citizens were prohibited from owning gold; and during the Vietnam War, President Nixon “closed the gold window” and severed the buck’s last remaining tie to precious metal. It was the Republican Nixon who (allegedly) said, “We’re all Keynesians now.”
Should You Vote Strategically?
In 2008 and 2012, libertarian and Austrian economist Dr. Walter Block fervently supported Ron Paul for president in the Republican primary, but then backed Barack Obama against McCain and Romney — whom he described as “Republican maniacs” — in the general election. Why? Because Dr. Block saw Obama as distinctly better on foreign policy than McCain or Romney, and because he considers foreign policy more important than either economic policy or civil liberties. “Foreign policy is the dog that wags the other two tails,” in his words.
This year, Dr. Block supports Donald Trump. Indeed, Block is a charter member of the somewhat oxymoronic-sounding Libertarians for Trump. (I say “oxymoronic” because Trump is about as wrong on the vital libertarian issue of international trade as anyone could ever be.)
Nevertheless, Block advises libertarian-minded voters to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, if they live in states that are “safe” for either major party. In Block’s view, voters in so-called “swing states” should vote for Trump to help avoid the disaster that would be a Hillary Clinton presidency. Although Block is a great economist and libertarian theorist, I think his logic is faulty here: Voting “strategically,” in my analysis, doesn’t make any sense.
Your vote — no matter how you vote, or if you don’t vote at all — will not determine the outcome of the presidential election. This is a statement I can make with absolute certainty.
Austrian economics teaches us that humans act to achieve ends, and if your end is to determine the outcome of the presidential election, the act of voting is utterly irrational. This is a plain and simple fact.
Therefore, rational people need other reasons to vote. The most obvious, in my view, is simply to express your preference.
- No vote is a wasted vote if the voter’s end is to express his preference;
- Every vote is a wasted vote — no matter if it’s for the winner or a third-party non-contender — if the voter’s end is to determine the winner of a given election.
When I voted for Ron Paul, I did so not because I thought my lone vote would put him over the top and make him the Republican nominee (“and then to the White House!”). I did it because I wanted to express my preference for the one politician that promoted the philosophical views on which I base my entire life. I’m sure many readers felt the same way.
Two Biggest Issues: Monetary and Foreign Policy
That said, this article will offer brief sketches (with lots of links) of the five leading candidates for POTUS in 2016. This includes the major-party nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as the three leading minor-party candidates: Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party, and Darrell Castle of the Constitution Party.
Furthermore, we’ll evaluate the candidates from a classical liberal/ libertarian perspective, focusing on two key issues:
- Where do they stand on the Fed and interest rates?
- What is their general foreign policy outlook?
While Dr. Block says foreign policy trumps (no pun intended) economics and civil liberties, my counter-argument is that central banking, fractional-reserve lending, and Keynesian monetary manipulations are necessary for the type of illiberal, un-American, and destructive foreign policy that the U.S. has engaged in since WWII.
Normally, the consensus between the two major-party candidates on monetary policy makes them indistinguishable on those grounds, but this year is a little different… And of course, there are the minor-party candidates to consider, too; if we’re voting on the rational basis of expressing preference, rather than trying to “pick a winner.”
Donald Trump (Republican)
Donald Trump certainly has his pros and cons. He’s horrible on trade. He wants to increase military spending, even though the U.S. already spends more on “defense” than the next ten largest countries combined, but he’s much less antagonistic against Russia than his Democratic opponent. His skepticism of NATO, his repeated denunciation of the Iraq war, and his disinterest in removing Assad from power in Syria are other major distinctions from Hillary Clinton and the neoconservative Republican establishment. Indeed, Dr. Donald W. Miller, MD says that President Trump is our only hope for escaping World War III, and Walter Block opined (when Trump hadn’t yet clinched the GOP nomination) that Trump was the candidate with a real shot of winning the presidency that was closest to libertarianism — and that this was “mainly because of foreign policy.”
“We readily concede Mr. Donald Trump is no Ron Paul on foreign policy or anything else for that matter. However, compared to his Republican alternatives, the Donald stands head and shoulders above them. He has said, time and time again, things like ‘Look at what we did in Iraq. It’s a mess. Look at what we did in Libya. It’s a mess there too. And we’re going to repeat our mistakes in Syria? Not on my watch.’ Would Cruz or Rubio ever say anything like that? To ask this question is to answer it. And, very importantly, who is the one candidate who went out of his way so as to not antagonize Russia and Premier Putin? It is the Donald, that is who. Do we really want to fight World War III with Russia? With Mr. Trump at the helm, we minimize the chances of this catastrophe occurring.”
Trump caught the ears of gold bugs earlier in his campaign when he declared that the Fed’s low interest rates were creating bubbles. But later, he told Forbes that Janet Yellen was “doing a serviceable job” as Fed Chairwoman, and that he would only replace her because “she’s not a Republican.” He also sounded like a crony-capitalist when he said “I always like low interest rates, certainly as a developer.” Trump says he supports auditing the Fed, but Keynesian Jeff Spross (who says Trump is “shockingly sane” on the Fed — which is a bad thing, coming from him) doesn’t believe Trump’s heart is really in it. I think Spross may be right.
Regardless, Trump is a good deal better on the Fed and monetary policy than any major-party nominee has been since at least Ronald Reagan (who after initially supporting an investigation into returning to the gold standard quickly became an establishmentarian after he was shot in broad daylight) — this only shows how low the bar has been.
Hillary Clinton (Democrat)
While Trump has his “pros and cons,” Hillary Clinton is a pro (i.e., a professional criminal) who should be a con (i.e., in prison). But we’ll confine our review of her candidacy and person to the two major issues at hand: Monetary and foreign policy.
When it comes to the Fed, Ms. Clinton’s only criticism is that the body doesn’t have enough women and minorities. She doesn’t support an audit — but what would you expect from a woman backed by Goldman Sachs and other big Wall Street banks? As president, she would maintain the status quo, with only cosmetic changes in the name of Cultural Marxism.
Democrats are generally seen as being more dovish on foreign policy, but this modern appellation doesn’t apply to the “Queen of Chaos.” Democrats embroiled the U.S. in World War I, World War II, and Vietnam. The neocon Bushes, with their disastrous misadventures into the Middle East, briefly took the War Party mantle from the Democrats, but Hillary Clinton is every bit the warmonger that W. or even Dick Cheney (the real power behind the throne) ever were. Indeed, a young “Killary” worked for Republican nuclear-Armageddonist Barry Goldwater for president in 1964 — and you know it wasn’t for his views on states’ rights.
“Hillary’s record on foreign policy is atrocious. She is arguably the worst warmongering presidential candidate the United States has ever had. Americans are largely ignorant about these particular dynamics, and that’s pretty scary.”
And from the left, Diana Johnstone, author of Queen of Chaos, said:
“War creates chaos, and Hillary Clinton has been an eager advocate of every U.S. aggressive war in the last quarter of a century. These wars have devastated whole countries and caused an unmanageable refugee crisis. Chaos is all there is to show for Hillary’s vaunted ‘foreign policy experience.'”
Gary Johnson (Libertarian)
The Libertarian Party was founded in 1971 in reaction to Nixon’s imposition of price controls and closing of the gold window. Economically literate gold advocates Ron Paul and Harry Browne were the party’s nominees in three out of four elections between 1988 and 2000, and ’04 nominee Michael Badnarik was an outspoken opponent of the Federal Reserve, too. But in 2008 and ’12 — the same years Ron Paul massively increased interest in and understanding of monetary economics — the Libertarian Party has run away from its original opposition to central banking with establishmentarian, former GOP politicians as its presidential nominees.
Although Gary Johnson, who was also the LP’s nominee in 2012, says he supports auditing the Fed and that he would even sign a bill abolishing the central bank, Walt Thiessen opines that “the little [Johnson] has said about the economy convinces me that he doesn’t have the same degree of understanding of the monetary and banking system that Ron Paul has.” Thiessen also cites other statements from Johnson that undermine his alleged desire/ willingness to abolish the Fed.
Johnson’s main strength as a candidate is his “viability” — i.e., his appeal to non-libertarians turned off by both Trump and Hillary, which is a sizeable demographic. To this end, the former New Mexico governor selected former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld as his running mate, and “if elected” (as if!) Johnson says he and Weld would essentially form a “co-presidency.” The problem: Bill Weld is a center-left establishment Republican called “anti-gun” by the NRA, and not a libertarian by any reasonable definition.
Gary Johnson and Bill Weld are dragging libertarianism through the mud.
Johnson/ Weld reject authentic libertarianism — i.e., the philosophy based on the idea that the initiation of force is wrong, and which derives answers to all political questions from that principle. Instead, Johnson and Weld promote a dumbed-down “libertarianism” as a hodgepodge of “liberal” social views (i.e., Cultural Marxism) and “conservative” fiscal views (i.e., taxes and government spending should be x% lower than they are). In the words of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, “Gary Johnson and Bill Weld are dragging libertarianism through the mud.”
On foreign policy, Johnson considers the nothing-state of North Korea as the greatest threat in the world, prompting Reason magazine to question what planet he’s living on. Although Johnson says he opposes nation-building and policing the world, he also says he wants the U.S. to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan and “work with China” to remove the “threat” posed by North Korea. “Plainly put, the man is confused,” according to Antiwar.com analyst John Glaser. Still, in Walter Block’s view, “Gary is very weak on some aspects of libertarianism, but, relatively speaking, he is pretty good on foreign policy.”
The Others: Jill Stein (Green) and Darrell Castle (Constitution)
Jill Stein and Darrell Castle represent the far ends of the U.S. political spectrum, left and right. Ironically, they’re in agreement with one another on several issues:
- They both (rightly) criticize trade boondoggles like NAFTA, WTO, and TPP
- They both (wrongly) demonize foreign trade — they’re both protectionists (like Trump)
- They’re both anti-intervention and anti-war (especially Dr. Stein)
The Green Party’s Jill Stein shines on issues of war and peace. Paleo-libertarian Lew Rockwell, no fan of socialism, has called Stein a “socialist” but in the same breath championed her foreign policy as “libertarian.” Walter Block recently fielded a challenge from a reader asking why, if foreign policy is “the dog that wags the other two tails,” doesn’t he support Stein over Trump and Johnson. Block admitted Stein was better on foreign policy than Trump and Johnson, and that voting for her was worthy of consideration.
- Stein wants to cut U.S. military spending by at least 50%.
- Stein has argued that the United States “helped foment” a coup in Ukraine. She maintains that the Ukraine should be neutral and that the United States should not arm the Ukraine.
- Regarding disputes in the South China Sea, Stein has said that “it is wrongheaded for [the United States] to deal with territorial rights on the borders of China.”
- Stein has claimed that the United States “pursued a policy of basically encircling Russia–including the threat of nukes and drones and so on.”
- Stein has been highly critical of Israel, accusing the Israeli government of “apartheid, assassination, illegal settlements, blockades, building of nuclear bombs, indefinite detention, collective punishment, and defiance of international law.”
All good stuff.
The Constitution Party’s Darrell Castle, meanwhile, is clearly the best candidate on the Fed and monetary policy. From his website:
“I would end the Federal Reserve’s control of the United States’ monetary system by repealing the Federal Reserve Act. Interest rates would no longer be tampered with, as lenders and borrowers would set their own rates.
“I would remind the banks that there would no longer be a Federal Reserve to lend to them in an emergency so if a bank gets in trouble, it’s on its own.
“Then I would let the American people know that they are now free to use whatever currency they want. The dollar would again be exchangeable for a fixed quantity of gold and the U.S. Treasury would now accept any major currency, including bitcoin, in payment of taxes. As a result, the country would return to a traditional and sensible money system so people could decide for themselves what kind of money they wanted to use. They could save it, spend it, or put any price they wanted on it if they wanted to lend it out.”
What Does Your Vote Mean?
But the problem with voting for either Stein or Castle isn’t that they “have no chance of winning” — I’ve already refuted that argument by pointing out the futility of strategic voting. Instead, the problem with a vote for Stein or Castle is that your expression of preference for an anti-war (Stein) or anti-Fed (Castle) candidate is likely to be misinterpreted.
- Stein is impeccable on foreign policy, but she’s a socialist; and the “Green” Party is most noted for its anti-human environmentalism. Stein’s vote count will likely be interpreted gauging support for the Bernie Sanders agenda, of which foreign policy was only a miniscule part quickly sacrificed in the name of domestic welfarism.
- Castle is excellent on the Fed and several other issues, and very good on foreign policy (second only to Stein), too. But his Constitution Party is an explicitly Christian and anti-secular party with hardline views on pornography and gambling. Those issues are admittedly small beer compared to monetary policy and foreign policy, but with Castle having precisely 0% chance of victory, voters wishing to express their preference need to consider how that expression will be interpreted.
- A vote for Gary Johnson will be understood as a vote against both Trump and Clinton — most especially against Trump. Johnson is “the” third-party alternative, but in many ways this makes his candidacy a repudiation of Trump’s anti-establishmentarianism. A vote for Johnson, thus, could be seen as a vote for the Republican Party establishment of Bush-McCain-Romney, etc.
- A vote for Trump carries with it a strong anti-establishment message, but while Trump’s views on monetary policy and (especially) foreign policy are a welcome departure from the GOP/ Democratic mainstream, it’s his views on immigration and foreign trade — with the latter being especially undefendable — that have struck a chord with his blue-collar base. The neocons hate Trump for his foreign policy, but many of Trump’s supporters are ignorant of just how divergent their candidate’s views are.
- A vote for Hillary? Do we really even need to go there?
N.O.T.A. — None of the Above?
Of course, there’s always the option of casting no vote for president. Indeed, the reality is that you don’t vote for president at all, but for a slate of electors pledged to the president and vice president of a particular party. This just adds another layer of absurdity to the notion of “strategic” voting: Are you really going to be the one vote that makes the difference in the one state that swings the election one way or another? If so, you also have to count on all of the electors voting as they’ve pledged to vote — which in Trump’s case, is by no means a guarantee.
Some libertarians object to voting, period. But as Walter Block points out, this argument isn’t very sound:
“Suppose we were all slaves, and the master said we could have a democratic election; we could vote for overseer Baddie, who would whip us unmercifully once per day, or overseer Goodie, who would do exactly the same thing, but only once per month. We all voted for the latter. Is this incompatible with libertarianism? Would this make us worse libertarians? Anyone who thinks so does not really understand this philosophy.”
But just because it isn’t wrong to vote, doesn’t mean that it is wrong to not vote. I’ve thoroughly refuted the argument for voting “strategically,” while acknowledging the potential usefulness of voting as a means of expressing preference. But an “expression of preference” isn’t a solitary act — it needs to be meaningfully interpreted by others in order to have any value. If you determine your vote won’t be interpreted the way you want it to be, then consider leaving the top of your 2016 ballot blank — or if no candidate anywhere down the list inspires you the way Ron Paul inspired me, there’s no law (yet) against staying home on Election Day.