Ron Paul's economic Rx: a Southern secessionist

Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 8:00 PM

The Republican takeover of the House put a chairman's gavel in the hands of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the gadfly GOP presidential candidate with a cult following. On Wednesday, he used that gavel for the first time - to remarkable effect.

The hearing itself was lively - based on Paul's desire to abolish the Federal Reserve and bring back the gold standard - but what really stood out was Chairman Paul's leadoff witness: a Southern secessionist.

The "short bio" the witness provided with his testimony omitted salient pieces of his resume, including his 2006 book, "Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe." But the subcommittee's ranking Democrat, William Lacy Clay (Mo.) did some homework and learned more about the witness, Thomas DiLorenzo of Loyola University Maryland.

DiLorenzo, the congressman told the committee, had called Lincoln "the first dictator" and a "mass murderer" and decreed that "Hitler was a Lincolnite." Worse, Clay charged, "you worked for a Southern nationalist organization." "The League of the South is a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second southern secession and a society dominated by European Americans."

At the witness table, DiLorenzo scoffed and waved his hand dismissively at Clay. But neither he nor Paul attempted to refute Clay's allegations.

Approached after the hearing, the witness said: "I gave a couple of a lectures to a group of college students 15 years ago that are associated with this thing called League of the South."

As it turns out, "this thing" called the League of the South Institute was listing DiLorenzo on its Web site as recently as 2008 as an "affiliated scholar." A secessionist Web site, DumpDC, identified DiLorenzo the same way last year when it published an interview with DiLorenzo in which he is quoted as saying "secession is not only possible but necessary if any part of America is ever to be considered 'the land of the free' in any meaningful sense."

DiLorenzo, a self-proclaimed historical revisionist, is entitled to say whatever he likes. But it raises doubts about Ron Paul and his causes if this is the best he can come up with for his first act as chairman of the Financial Services Committee's monetary policy subcommittee.

Paul appeared to be winging it as he sat behind the nameplate labeled "Mr. Paul, chairman." When it came time to give his opening statement, he took off his reading glasses and ad-libbed. "We probably have pumped in $4 trillion" to the economy, he complained. "I imagine we could've given everybody 60-, 70-, maybe $100,000 - I haven't done the calculations - just give 'em the money and we would've been better off."

The "calculations" using Paul's figures work out to $13,000, but who's counting?

Certainly not Paul's two witnesses, both from the Austrian School, a branch of economic thought associated with Friedrich Hayek, which holds that government intervention in the economy is futile or harmful.

An alternative was proposed by the second witness, Richard Vedder of Ohio University: "Our economy achieved economic supremacy in the world from 1871 to 1914 - a period of the gold standard, stable prices and no central bank." The current system, he argued, creates bubbles, although he declined to speculate about what sort of bubble would come next.

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