May 5/12

The Man to Beat



I like Barack Obama. Pretty hard not to, really: he's charming and very intelligent. He's not old, but he appeals to nostalgic America. In his own life he's a fantastic success (as is Mitt Romney, of course). If I'd been a Yank, I would have voted for Barack (although I like McCain, too). Since I'm Canadian, I didn't have to decide.

The reason Obama beat McCain, to me, is simple: Obama appeals to people's emotions, whereas McCain appeals to their brains. Trust a math/computer science geek here: you'll rarely beat a good emotional appeal, even with concrete facts. However, (and also the reason the math/computer science geeks persist) an emotional appeal can't usually solve a systemic problem. An emotional appeal might solve an emotional problem, but not a deficit. The deficit can only be solved by paying money - or else spending less.

Now, maybe you can motivate people to pay more taxes - but in that case, Obama's charm seems stymied. Too many Americans believe taxes should go down, not up. Their reason is simple: they don't trust the government. They think that even if they do pay more taxes, the government might take that money and waste it rather than apply it to the real problems. You can't really blame them: many Americans - especially right now - look to the federal employees with good-natured envy. To quote Robert Novak, I think it was: "When people make it to DC, they usually want to stay."

Every election could be said to come down to values. My father, the airman who spent twenty years monitoring Russian submarines, says there is only one viable value system: the gold standard. You can't print gold, he reasons, so a government on the gold standard can't really overspend - not long-term. If the government can only spend what it takes in, you have virtually 100% transparency: everyone knows how much gold got collected, so it's easy to track down where it all was spent. Therefore, everyone can tell what the government can afford. There's no point, then, in asking for the impossible. Furthermore, politicians can't promise what their voters know can't be delivered. Under the gold standard, the system is pure and almost boringly simple. Any society that stays with it - that is, lives within its means - can last forever.

Ron Paul supports the gold standard, but he's running last in the Republican race. I think everyone knows he's telling the truth - so why don't they just face the facts and vote for him? My Dad and I have discussed this question over coffee and wine. We answer it differently. I'll give my answer first; Dad will get the last word.

My reason why most Americans won't vote for Ron Paul is simple: his value system - whether it's viable or not - doesn't coincide with theirs. Most Americans, on the one hand, know the government shouldn't run deficits. On the other hand, they have a lot of expectations from it. A government on the gold standard, most people realize, couldn't do much. It could keep them secure, educate their kids (in the three Rs, anyway - I don't know about the other stuff), deliver the mail, and that's probably about it. Many roads and bridges would probably be toll. Health care would be up to the individual.

Government on a shoestring budget - that's what America's supposed to be about (according to the Founding Fathers). Ironically, where do you think they got the idea from?

In the late 1770s, England "ruled the waves". It had recently collected Canada from the French, and enjoyed the largest empire the world has ever known. Yet, its government was chronically short of money. Why? It didn't have the income tax.

The notion of a rich country with a hard-up government is romantic to many, but difficult to imagine today. In the developed world, the governments do seem much richer than their average citizens. George Washington and the boys, however, didn't want it that way. Ironically, they seem to prefer what England had to what America's government has become today. (Remember: the reason for the Revolutionary War was "taxation without representation." It wasn't because they thought the English system was all bad.)

Americans today don't want the consequences and personal responsibility that comes from having a minimal government. They know they could go on the gold standard, but they're hoping for more from their government. We're in an era of experimentation.

My father's reason that people don't vote for Ron Paul is different. He says that Americans don't understand the benefits of the gold standard, because the lesson has been kept from them. The more money the government spends, the more powerful it becomes - so why would the government want to be on the gold standard? People would rather the government run a deficit anyway - as long as some of it gets back to them. So goes my father's reasoning.

I can't say my father is wrong. The real question: if he is right, but then you educated Americans about the gold standard, what would they decide then? You be the judge.

We return to Barack Obama, who's caught in the crossfire. He knows people expect a great deal from him, but America's troubled these days, so he's finding it hard to deliver. For generations now, Americans have believed that their standard of living should increase every generation. They'll admit it doesn't always turn out that way,but overall they expect it to.

Obama won the election with a message that conventional wisdom may not always be right - that a new path, one of change, can lead to a better life than people thought they could expect. People's values coincided with his message. They, too, were ready to reject the old thinking in favour of faith in something better.

Question 1: Who's right - Ron Paul or Barack Obama? Question 2: Who's Mitt Romney more in line with - Barack or Ron?

Wikipedia was a source: here and here.

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