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I was going to write a post called "What Could President Paul Actually Do?" until I realized I already wrote it four years ago.  Since it still seems current, I'm reposting it instead:


What would happen if Ron Paul actually became president? First, I'd have to write a $200 check to Walter Block. But what would happen next?

There are some major changes that Paul could make unilaterally. He really could recall U.S. troops from not only Iraq and Afghanistan, but all over the world. I believe he would really do so, and despite the radicalism of this change, I'm confident that these orders, however unpopular, would be obeyed. Perhaps there would be a 2% chance of a coup if he made the changes overnight, but that's about it.

Furthermore, there are a number of "executive order" policies that he could change with the stroke of a pen. If I understand the law correctly, the president could unilaterally end affirmative action in federal hiring (and the hiring of federal contractors). And he could probably stop federal prosecutions for the sale of medical marijuana.

So what else could President Paul do on his own? He certainly couldn't abolish the Federal Reserve or return to the gold standard on his own, so whatever you think about that plan, it's not going to happen. In fact, Paul could not abolish any law unless half of both houses of Congress went along with him. And since he is probably the most libertarian politician in either house, almost all of the laws Paul wants to abolish would survive his presidency.

What Paul could do is stop or dilute new laws, including the budget. If you want to abolish old laws, gridlock works against you; but if you want to stop new laws, gridlock works in your favor. No new law could pass unless 2/3 of both houses wanted it. Given Paul's extremism, his opponents would have to heavily moderate any new statist legislation to make it veto-proof. The same goes for the budget: Since Dr. No would probably veto any budget that Congress would pass, fiscal conservatives could and probably would hold out for substantial spending cuts. And this is on top of the massive peace dividend Paul's unilateral foreign policy changes would realize.

Bottom line: Even if, like Megan McArdle, you think that Paul is "utterly insane," anyone with moderate libertarian sympathies (and no desire to crusade against "Islamo-Fascism") would probably be pleased by the policy consequences of Paul's presidency. In fact, it would take a radical like Paul to get moderate libertarian change.

Gee, it's almost as if the Constitution had built-in checks and balances!


My main revision: President Paul probably would scare the Fed into becoming marginally more contractionary.  And I'm afraid that Sumner's right that this would seriously retard recovery.  Still, the net effect seems very good indeed.

Which is why it won't happen. :-(


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COMMENTS (18 to date)
cthorm writes:

>My main revision: President Paul probably would scare the Fed into becoming marginally more contractionary.

Don't be so sure. Paul is on good terms with some Fed officials in Dallas. His proposal to allow currency competition shows he is willing to moderate on the application of his Fed skepticism. I think he could be persuaded on Sumner's plan; it really is MAJOR reform of the way the Fed operates and would address some of Paul's concerns (discretionary power of the undemocratic institution, indefinite debasement of the currency [replaced with a system that allows de/disinflation outside of recessions]). I've been a donating Paul supporter since 2007.

steve writes:

The funniest event in a Paul Presidency would be the raising of the debt ceiling. Paul would almost certainly veto it. However, given the complete shut down of %50 of the federal government if it isn't passed a veto proof majority would probably be found. But, the howling from the press and politicians would be intense.

Andrew Slough writes:

What about the power of the pardon? I think I heard him say he would pardon or commute all non violent drug offenders.

Matt writes:

Love the sad face at the end, Bryan. Especially from a PhD!

Peter H writes:

The power of the president to not enforce laws (separate from repealing them) is pretty broad. For example, the president can hire an EPA director who orders all agency personnel to immediately cease all enforcement actions. The impoundment act prevents him from firing them all, but he can make them stare at their monitors doing nothing all day. Likewise, closing military bases can be done by military order. Again, even if if he can't fire them, he can order them to vacate overseas bases and return home. All of this is basically regardless of anything Congress can pass (even with 2/3).

And the 2/3 hurdle is quite high, particularly because of the need to pass a budget. If they can't pass a budget, then everything shuts down, and Paul would probably be ok with most of that getting shut down.

Leo writes:

But what if we have listened to you talking about immigration and have concluded that that issue is the most important? Even more important than pacifism or ending the drug war?

Henson writes:

There would have to be a VERY big political shift in American public for Ron Paul to become president... and it's certainly possible.

And Congress is certainly composed of expert politicians who got/stayed there by paying close attention to prevailing attitudes of the public -- especially any BIG shifts in those attitudes.

Therefore, a Ron Paul Administration would likely encounter a much more cooperative Congress than it appears now... and thus be able change many things in the Federal government that would previously have been considered impossible.

Thus, BIG shifts in American attitudes toward the Presidency (with an RPaul election) ... automatically dictate BIG shifts in American attitudes toward Congress. Congressmen notice such things.

Fears of a "powerless" President Ron Paul... due to a stubborn status quo Congress... are merely false projections of seemingly endless status quo politics .

Election of Ron Paul itself, by definition, ends status quo politics in Washington and the nation. He would therefore be well able to implement much of his agenda.

CF Harkins writes:

The president can dismiss any or all of the Fed's Board of Governors, including the chairman. For "cause", whatever that may mean.

Becky Hargrove writes:

I think about the possibility, and I smile!

Robinson writes:

Of course, another minor revision relative to your 2008 version is to except withdrawal from Iraq from the list of things he would (could) do.

Lars P writes:

The president pardon power is a very powerful thing.

Paul has said that he would pardon all non violent federal drug offenders, which is probably a 6 digit number of released prisoners.

jb writes:

Your point is so compelling that I just donated money to the Ron Paul campaign.

GregS writes:

His effect on the social consensus would be powerful. A lot of political ideas are off the table because “everyone knows they are off the table.” A Ron Paul presidency would turn a lot of private knowledge (“This policy everyone seems to love actually doesn’t make sense.”) into mutual knowledge (“Oh, I have a lot of company after all.”). If someone like him with a lot of contrarian ideas is popular enough to be elected president, that would be a strong statement and a shock to the status quo.

Also, I’ll second the point that an enormous pardoning of nonviolent offenders would be awesome. Four years of that would demolish the authority of the prosecutors enforcing these laws. I’m not sure if they could resume after he left, either.

Hume writes:

Bryan, Do you think Paul would buck the continuing trend towards the imperial presidency (as not in Posner and Vermeule's The Executive Unbound)? I think RP would have even more of an incentive to centralize political power in the executive branch due to his contrarian views and likely push-back from Congress. So we would get 4 years (unlikely two-terms) of a presidency characterized by sweeping increases in the power of the executive branch, followed by a Republican or Democrat administration.

Floccina writes:
the president could unilaterally end affirmative action in federal hiring

I am very libertarian but I support affirmative action for Government jobs because there is no motive to prevent discrimination in Government jobs. Also IMO it is stupid to just hire the top scorers on the civil service exam in some cases without regard to race. E.g. it might be good to have black a certain percent of policemen in an area with significant black population.

Also couldn't he tell the FBI etc. to not pursue any drug cases and not prosecute any drug crimes?

Ian Huyett writes:
I am very libertarian but I support affirmative action for Government jobs because there is no motive to prevent discrimination in Government jobs.

Therefore you want to practice discrimination in government jobs?

“E.g. it might be good to have black a certain percent of policemen in an area with significant black population”.

This will happen naturally – black cities elect black politicians that appoint black police chiefs.

Also, if anything, this is an argument for decentralizing power to local governments – not keeping power in the hands of the federal government.

Lester Hunt writes:

Excellent, Bryan! With Huntsman withdrawing, the subject of Paul winning, though still obviously a long shot, is no longer in the category of theoretically interesting problem cases. (PS I haven't been following Megan lately and wasn't aware of her contemptible "utterly insane" comment. History has already proved that wrong.)

RP supporter writes:

I think that congress, especially if it's taken completely over by republicans, will cooperate with Ron Paul on fixing the economy just so they can forever tell people that "republicans fixed the economy that Obama left so badly."

Never underestimate politicians wanting to get bragging rights!

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