Fame & Fortune: Ron Paul

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Texas Rep. Ron Paul has earned his nickname: “Dr. No.”

The lifelong advocate of limited government, individual liberty and fiscal responsibility refuses to vote for any bill not directly authorized by the Constitution.

For more than 40 years, the small-town obstetrician has been a major voice of opposition to big government in general and the Federal Reserve’s inflationary policies in particular. His latest book, “End the Fed,” continues his campaign to end federal fiddling with the monetary system.

His small-government platform has earned Paul a loyal following and respect from both sides of the aisle and across the generation gap. He has twice been a candidate for president, in 1988 as the Libertarian flag bearer and in 2008 as a Republican contender.

Bankrate caught up with the energetic 74-year-old doctor just minutes before he won a key House panel vote to (what else?) audit the Fed.

Bankrate: In “End the Fed,” you point out once again that the emperor, the Fed, has no clothes. Yet many Americans assume that only the Fed can lead us out of the current financial darkness and back into prosperity and light. Are they wrong?

Ron Paul: Yes, they’re wrong. The Fed got us into this mess; they can hardly solve our problems. All they’re capable of doing is inflating bubbles, creating price inflation and causing mal-investment. They cause a boom part of the cycle, but that’s only temporary, and people do feel good. But the boom part guarantees the inevitable bust part. So no, they can’t lead us out of this. Eventually, when the bubble gets so big, just printing money, and creating more spending, and keeping interest rates artificially low completely interferes with the market’s ability to correct all the mistakes.

Bankrate: You were ringside when President Nixon removed the gold standard. How did that portend our current financial quagmire?

Ron Paul: That’s a vivid memory for me: Aug. 15, 1971. It was a Sunday night, and he removed the last linkage to gold, closed the gold window. He put on wage-and-price controls and 10 percent tariffs. The astounding thing was, the financial community loved it. The stock market went up. But it ushered in the decade of the ’70s, which turned out to be a disaster, so my instincts were right.

From 1971 on, if you look at any charts on price inflation, expansion of the money supply, increase in debt, (you’ll find that) so many charts just explode from the early ’70s until now. Those curves are unsustainable. The economic laws are demanding that something has to give. The biggest concern I have is this easy money where central banks can accommodate politicians.

Bankrate: Why don’t our leaders rein in the Fed?

Ron Paul: Politicians to a large degree like it. They might complain a bit, but they like it because they can fight their wars and run their welfare state and not be responsible.

Bankrate: You are as close to a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” as we’ve had. You’re neither a politician nor a lawyer, but a small-town doctor. How does your perspective differ from your fellow congressmen?

Ron Paul: The most important thing that helps me is that being in Congress is very, very secondary. Therefore, I can say whatever I think is right; I don’t ever have to weigh it. People kid my staff and say, “Boy, you have an easy job. All you have to read is the first page of a bill, and if it’s not authorized, doesn’t make sense, or costs money, it’s a no vote.” The other staffers have to weigh it politically and economically, and occasionally constitutionally.

Bankrate: One would normally expect a doctor to be heavily involved in health care issues, not monetary policy.

Ron Paul: I stayed away from the medical legislation because I didn’t want to be seen as “Oh, there’s that doctor, he’s fed up because he knows that socialized medicine is coming,” and that would be my narrow interest. I wanted the much broader interest of the financial system — economic stability, unemployment, inflation and how we pay for our wars. I was much more interested in that than becoming an expert on medical legislation.

Bankrate: What do you think of the health care reform package?

Ron Paul: It’s a disaster! As a matter of fact, it was in the early ’70s when the Republicans started accelerating intervention and having managed care. That’s when the tax codes changed and there were mandates. It was the government all of those years that has participated in pushing the cost of medicine up and causing it to become bureaucratic and causing the charity hospitals to go out of business. Managed care has been around (since) about the same time as we lost the gold standard, and it’s managed care that we should blame.

The real problem with medical care is it costs too much. Nobody would complain if it didn’t cost so much. But it costs so much because of inflation plus the bureaucracy we’ve created.