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John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham developed an ethical framework emphasizing the idea that a morally right action is the action that ultimately yields the most good for all stakeholders (Driver 1). It must be made clear that utilitarianism is a variation of consequentialism, because the right action chosen by the policymakers is assessed based on the consequences produced (Driver 1). In other words, the appropriate application of this particular theoretical framework attempts to create not only the most good, but also to channel the same to the most number of people.
From a political standpoint, the application of utilitarianism urges politicians and the government to develop policies, and implement the same, in order to cause the greatest amount of good in favor of the general public. However, not all politicians share this view. In fact, former Congressman Ron Paul believes that in order to create the most good, the best strategy is to reduce the involvement of big government in the affairs of men (Blakeslee 166).
Ron Paul’s rhetoric calls for the reduction of the federal government’s capability to interfere with the free market, and this is how he indirectly uses the principle of utilitarianism to create the most good.
In the Beginning
Ron Paul admitted that as long as he can remember, he was always fighting against every form of government coercion. He was referring to what ordinary people call the Big Government or a Federal Government that has tremendous power to change policies, and interfere in the lives of the average citizen. Consider for instance how disconcerting it is for someone to discover that he or she is in the crosshairs of America’s Internal Revenue Service.
It is not a laughing matter to be in the hit list of the IRS. This particular government agency has the power to investigate business dealings and the spending habits of people in order to determine if they paid the correct amount of taxes. If the IRS discovers a discrepancy with a person’s reported income, and the goods and services he was able to acquire, this anomaly becomes the starting point of a government sponsored persecution. Ron Paul believes in the idea that an unfettered government wielded too much power, thus it makes the lives of common folks miserable. In the same manner of speaking, the US government has tremendous leverage when it comes to forcing young people to serve under the US Army in times of war.
Ron Paul is uncomfortable with the presence of a Big Government unhindered by the existence of appropriate checks and balances. He is also mortified whenever the federal government creates a policy that focuses only on the short term impact, and creates opportunities and benefits that only favors a select number of influential people and business entities. For example, in the year 1971, the Nixon administration imposed wage and price controls (Paul 48).
Paul saw it as a short-term solution to a more profound economic issue. The congressman remarked that the said policies benefited US-based companies, however, the long-term impact was disheartening to average individuals (Paul 48). The former lawmaker intimated that the imposition of government controls prompted him to run for a congressional seat. He decided to run for office, because he believed in the importance of reducing the role of government in creating an ideal society.
Ron Paul’s desire to curb the power and influence of the Federal Government is not a popular view. Nevertheless, a close inspection of his statements will reveal that the reduction of the Federal Government’s role in the lives of American citizens was his attempt to create the greatest amount of good. In other words, Paul laments the impact of Big Government, because it brings only heartaches and sorrows to the general public. Therefore, the significant reduction of the Federal Government’s ability to control the system brings prosperity and good governance to all people. In this worldview, Ron Paul was able to utilize the principles of utilitarianism.
Reducing the Federal Government’s Power and Clout
Ron Paul’s mindset regarding the role of the Federal Government in society requires greater scrutiny, because it is a radical worldview. However, it must be made clear that this is not a new idea. In fact, the former lawmaker, representing the 22nd district of Texas, acknowledged the fact that he borrowed extensively from the ideas promulgated by an Austrian economist named Ludwig von Mises (Paul 47).
Be that as it may, Ron Paul made the assertion that he already knew the importance of eliminating every form of government coercion, but it was through the theoretical framework developed by Mises that enabled him to explain his ideas in the most comprehensive manner.
Take a closer look at the rationale for opposing the wage controls set by previous administrations, and one can have a better understanding of how Ron Paul used utilitarian principles to create the most good. In the context of wage controls, the Federal Government compels businessmen under the threat of steep penalties to set the wage rate at a certain level. If the wage rate level was set at a value that is disadvantageous to the business establishments, then, the negative consequence is manifested in the form of high unemployment rate.
If the wage rate was pegged at a level that is disadvantageous to the workers, then, the negative consequence of such intervention strategy will be manifested in the form of high dissatisfaction levels in the workplace and high turnover rates within companies. In this particular example, the short term benefit was sought, but it failed to consider the wider impact and long-term consequences of the said government intervention policies.
Ron Paul argued that in a free market system, the employer and the employee understands the mutualistic relationship that they need to foster in order to achieve their respective goals. Employers are aware of the fact that if the wages are set too low, workers are forced to look for employment elsewhere. On the other hand, making unreasonable demands will force business establishments to declare bankruptcies, and it will not take long before workers realize the importance of maintaining a symbiotic relationship between their respective employers.
Ron Paul’s acerbic comments against the expanded role of the Federal Government is not only limited to wage and price controls, he also spoke against Big Government’s penchant to invade foreign countries and to utilize the country’s resources to fund these types of wars. In certain historical context, the former congressman’s remarks can be easily misconstrued as unpatriotic, however, the recent debacle in the Iraq War of 2003 underlined the foolishness of intervening in another country’s political affairs.
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A significant number of people are not in agreement with the ideas espoused by the said republican congressman. This assertion is supported by the fact that Paul made two unsuccessful attempts to become the next president of the United States. Nevertheless, the financial crisis that rocked the United States in 2008 and the embarrassing invasion of Iraq in 2003 justified Paul’s views regarding the danger of supporting a powerful national government that focuses only on short term gains.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was an act of war that requires serious justification. The justification for invading a sovereign state was made on the pretense that Iraq manufactured weapons of mass destruction. It was discovered later on that the justification to attack the Iraqis was made on faulty intelligence reports concerning the said weapons. With regards to the financial crisis of 2008, the Obama administration attempted to rectify the problem by bailing out the failed institutions through loans taken from taxpayer’s money. It was discovered later on that the same institutions begging for funds provided huge bonuses to some of its top executives.
Utilitarianism is an ethical framework that espouses the need to focus on creating the most good, and to find ways in sharing it to the most number of people. Utilitarianism is also the mindset to create policies that will make a positive impact in the lives of the majority. It therefore makes sense to create policies that the government will implement in order to bring about prosperity and development for everyone.
Politicians are familiar with this type of strategy, and for several centuries they used the framework of the Federal Government to provide services to the American people. It is also through the current government system that policymakers are able to empower government agencies to intervene for the purpose of creating the most amount of good for the most number of people. However, a rare breed of politicians like Ron Paul does not conform to the same mindset. Ron Paul believes that an effective and efficient application of utilitarian principles is only possible if policymakers are able to reduce the power of the Federal Government.
In his worldview, it is foolish to impose controls and enforce intervention schemes in order to implement short-term solutions to economic and political problems in America. Ron Paul advocates the eradication of any form of hindrance to the maturity of the free market system, and this is how he indirectly uses the principles of utilitarianism to create the most good for the most number of people.
Blakeslee, Nate. “The Swan Song of Ron.” Practicing Texas Politics. Ed. Lyle Brown. San Francisco, CA: Cengage Learning, 2014. Print.
Driver, Julia. The History of Utilitarianism. 2014. Web.
Paul, Ron. Pillars of Prosperity: Free Markets, Honest Money, Private Property. Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2008. Print.