Slumped in a chair a few feet away from me last week, the former Georgia congressman tried to explain his position on the economy.
Along the way, he got bogged down in a string of his own subclauses. As soon as he got rolling on one idea, he would abandon it in favor of whatever new one sprang to mind, shifting directions mid-sentence.
It wasn’t going well for him: The day’s stocks had fallen about 500 points, and he was having trouble (in my opinion) justifying his hands-off economics approach with reality. It’s hard to champion deregulation when it’s so very visibly destroying the fabric of an entire nation’s economy.
“Bob the Builder,” as he christened himself, finally jumped that line of thought and instead tried persuading me we need to repeal the 16th amendment.
It’s a very Libertarian idea, after all, and he’s the party’s candidate for president, which is why he was sitting with me during a stumping pit-stop in Ohio. National polls show him with tentative support from about 4 percent of voters. He told me he expects to be on the ballot in at least 47 states, but he’s not expecting to win.
I wouldn’t expect him to, either. With the exception of his rather ardent opposition to the Iraq war and open-mindedness about legalizing marijuana, on most issues he comes across as distinctly neo-con.
He authored the Defense of Marriage Act, asked the Pentagon to ban Wicca in the military, is anti-abortion, wants to “secure our borders” (by which he means cracking down on immigration), is a former member of the NRA’s board of directors, and supports dropping pretty much all government programs except ones connected to national security.
During my few minutes with him, he got pretty heated about the banking bailout. His argument: Let failing businesses fail, no matter how many people will lose their jobs and homes.
“We’re really going to pay $700 billion to save these businesses? That’s not government’s job,” he said, grinding out the words in a Tony Clifton-esque voice. “We’ve got to get rid of this inequity between individuals and big companies.”
The framers of the Constitution didn’t think the government should be involved in the economy at all, he said.
Well, that might have been fine when building ships and exporting slave-picked cotton and tobacco was our economic forte, but things are a little different now. The economy is no simple machine and as much a free market idealist as I’d like to be, history’s proven that when it’s left to naturally balance itself without regulation the result is a lot of financial suffering for the nation’s poorest citizens.
What really got under my skin was how Barr transitioned from a laissez faire rant to pushing for a Fair Tax. Now, I’m no economist. And I haven’t been through the Washington hellfire like Bob Barr. But I don’t need Alan Greenspan perched on my shoulder to tell me a consumption tax is a bad mechanic.
If you really want to stagnate an economy, try attaching a heavy tax on purchasing goods and services.I know people who will cross county lines now to avoid a one-percent sales tax difference; what would happen with a 25 percent-or-so consumption tax?
Keynesianism is all about spending. Slap a high enough tax on, say, a Ford Mustang, and *BAM!* they’ll stop selling. When people stop buying, producers lose money and lay off workers. A nasty cycle begins.
When I raised the point, Barr looked at me as though I were a two-headed Gidra and told me it was no problem — businesses wouldn’t have to pay income taxes, so his plan should work.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get more muddled, Barr brought up the silver standard.
The supporters of metal-backed money seem to be very vocal these days, forcing my brow to wrinkle in frustration. Linking the value of money to a mineral supply is bad for so many reasons. I thought we’d figured that out in 1857.
What these nickle-heads don’t get is that fiat currency is pervasive and useful. Credit helps grow the economy by encouraging spending. It allows for upward mobility by allowing people to make investments in homes and vehicles. The sheer volume of money alone — thanks to electronic transactions like debit and credit cards — that exists today could never be covered by the silver supply. And that’s a good thing, because it allows for incredible liquidity and versatility.
If you want more on problems with gold- and silver-backed currency, just listen to FDR’s 1933 radio address about how it caused the 20th century’s worst banking crisis.
I left that room last week not much enamored with Bob Barr. He seemed a pleasant enough fellow, though a bit erratic, but he lacked any kind of presidential charisma. More importantly, I simply don’t think he has the intellectual capacity I would expect from the leader of the free world — or even the leader of a free economy.
But what bothered me most was that he also seemed to lack compassion. His viewpoints were couched so much in terms of moral and idealistic absolutes that I don’t think he was seeing the millions in this country who fall through the cracks. I fear that if he were president, he would zealously walk over the backs of many hurting Americans in the name of freedom.