Ron Paul’s “Plan to Restore America”

Political platforms tend to be vague promises for something better in the future, and deliberately so. Lots of people favor making things better than they are today, but far fewer will be in favor of any one specific alternative. That’s why “Hope and Change” was such a good campaign platform for President Obama. (I’m not criticizing the president here; I’m just talking about the nature of politics.)

In that context, it is refreshing to see that Ron Paul’s “Plan to Restore America” makes specific and detailed budgetary recommendations. His plan would immediately reduce federal spending to 17.24% of GDP in 2013, and to 15.5% by 2016. He lays out the budgetary details, saying he will retain Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans Benefits, and will transform other welfare programs like Medicaid into block grants to the states to allow them the flexibility to redesign them as they prefer. Some of the savings would come from eliminating the Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Interior, and Education. Other savings are specified in some detail on his website. He would cut the corporate tax rate to 15%, eliminate personal taxes on saving, and end the death tax.

Laying out specific proposals like this is politically risky, because even people who favor smaller government will tend to focus on details they don’t like. Environmentalists may oppose eliminating the Department of the Interior, and libertarians may object to retaining Medicaid, even as a block grant.

Other Republicans offer proposals that are much more vague. Rick Perry offers some general policy suggestions that sound good, but lack specifics. Mitt Romney offers many more words, including a 160 page jobs plan, but without budgetary specifics. Newt Gingrich tells us we need a new Contract With America, and Michelle Bachmann says we need to cut spending and government, but without specifically proposing how that would be done. While Herman Cain offers his 999 tax plan with some specifics, he is just as general as the rest of the field on most issues. The message of all of these candidates amounts to Hope and Change after the 12 failed Bush-Obama years.

I’m not criticizing candidates Perry, Romney, Gingrich, Bachmann, and Cain. Political campaigns tend to succeed when they steer clear of specifics, criticize the status quo, and say they will make things better. Ron Paul lays out a specific budget for doing so. Conventional wisdom is: Paul’s strategy is not the way to win an election.

With everyone, including President Obama, agreeing that we need to have a plan to reduce federal spending and bring down the deficit, Ron Paul actually has a plan. And, as I read Paul’s plan, it appears to be an eminently sensible way to actually balance the budget—not just reduce the deficit—while retaining those elements of federal spending that many people would most like to retain. In other words, it offers big cuts in the most politically popular way possible.

I am pessimistic about the prospect that Paul’s plan will make him the GOP presidential nominee. We can pretty much count on candidates running on vague promises rather than specific proposals, because that’s what wins elections. But after the election, I’d be happy if the winner, looking for some specifics, picked up some of the ideas Ron Paul is offering now.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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