Until recently, the millennial generation had been mostly quiet as the country struggled to deal with the most severe economic crisis that the nation has faced since the Great Depression. But in 2011, there was a surge of activism among this generation, highlighted by socio-political movements like Occupy Wall Street, with defining issues like the gaping chasm between the super wealthy and the rest of the citizenry.
While Republicans tend to be perceived as more sympathetic to the wealthy, Texas Congressman Ron Paul has not been sullied by that perception, since his campaign has been fueled by strong backing among 18-29 year olds. Although there are many aspects of his philosophy that appeal to the younger generation, Paul’s libertarian views not only fail to deal with the economic inequality, but could actually exacerbate it.
It is not difficult to understand why Paul could command such strong support among young people who inveigh against Wall Street. He was vocal in its opposition of the Wall Street bailout; he also made overtures and echoed the complaints of the occupiers. However, as a libertarian enthusiast, he holds the view that the federal government should have a much more reduced role. The size of the government cannot be reduced without a sharp reduction in its responsibilities. At a minimum, Paul wants to eventually eliminate federal student loans and abolish federal programs like the Department of Education. More importantly, at a time when the tax burden on the upper bracket has been sharply lowered, according to his plan, Paul wants to continue to maintain all the Bush tax cuts and get rid of the income tax, the corporate tax, and a host of other taxes.
The middle class is shrinking; millions are out of work and the ranks of the poor are swelling. Those economic policies espoused by Paul would, at the very least, preserve the status quo when it comes to the widening gap in wealth and incomes between the super wealthy and the rest of the population. This regressive tax policy would certainly be a boon to the well-off since their tax load would be further reduced. Moreover, the burden of shrinking the deficit would fall disproportionately on the middle class and the poor.
The Bush tax cut is responsible for the lion’s share of the current deficit. Thus, as the saying goes, there is no free lunch. In order to lessen the deficit, Paul would have to totally dismantle the government as it is currently configured. The bulk of the federal spending comes from defense, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid. Paul already made it clear that he would like to cut defense. However, cutting defense would not be enough. Since he wants to retain all the Bush tax cuts, entitlement programs would have to be severely curtailed. Millions of senior citizens and middle class Americans rely heavily on those programs. Thus, the weakening, if not the decimation, of the safety net would worsen the living standard of a great number of people. This erosion of the safety net would continue to hollow out the middle class.
The formative years of the millennial generation have coincided with the country’s involvement in two costly and protracted conflicts, namely the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As a result, they are more likely than past generations to support soft power over hard power or diplomacy over military action when it comes to foreign affairs. Paul is an ardent, consistent, and courageous critic of the nation’s many forays into foreign wars, so it is unsurprising that many war wary young people not only take notice, but strongly back his candidacy.
Unlike traditional conservatives who tend to inflame the kulturkampf, his “let live” disposition, which is a major strain in libertarianism, does appeal to, or is a major selling point for, millennials.
Paul’s views on foreign policy and many social issues have helped him attract a strong following among many young voters. However, on issues such as taxation, economic inequality, Paul’s stated policies of low taxes on the wealthy and big corporations, less regulation and the sharp curtailment of entitlement programs, the abolition of the Department of Education as well as the eventual elimination of the student loan program mirror the policies of a typical conservative candidate. Thus, although Paul has been willing to go against the grain in challenging much conservative orthodoxy on foreign policy and on some social issues, he is in-sync with traditional conservatives on most economic policies.
Hence, Paul’s economic policies would not address the most fundamental issue, namely the growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots that has galvanized many millennials. Under a Paul administration, the super wealthy and the big corporations would see their tax burden further lowered and there would be even less regulation on Wall Street. While the lives of the “1%” would remain largely unaffected, it would be a different story for the middle class and the poor. Since the revenue that the government would collect through taxation would be slashed dramatically, the programs (i.e. Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and government-funded health care programs) that constitute the core of the safety net could eventually wither on the vine. Without those vital programs, the number of poor people would skyrocket whereas the middle class would shrink even more. Consequently, Paul’s economic policies might well usher in a “Brave New World,” in which the economic realities would be much harsher on the average American.
Photo Credit: Jayel Aheram