Senator Rand Paul and his wife Kelley promoted their new book, “The Case Against Socialism,” at an event hosted by Columbia University Libertarians and Colloquia Wednesday evening. Almost 300 students attended the event, where the Pauls argued that socialism is fundamentally harmful to society, claiming that its recent popularization by progressive political figures such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would fade.
Former Fox News anchor Kimberly Guilfoyle introduced the Pauls at the event sponsored by Turning Point USA, a nonprofit organization that seeks to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.”
During his talk, Paul emphasized that the current prominence of socialism in political discussions, especially among younger populations within the U.S., does not equate with moral righteousness. He cited historical leaders, such as Adolf Hilter, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong, as examples of corrupt socialist leaders responsible for the death of millions. Paul claimed that his underlying disdain for socialism is due to its disparate policies, which he viewed as treating people unequally.
“We have this belief in our country … that is equal protection under the law. That the law should treat everybody the same, no matter who you are,” Paul said. “And yet realize that if you have complete socialism and you have equal outcome for everyone, meaning you have the government equalize everyone, the problem is that we’re not equal.”
Rand and Kelley looked to Scandinavian countries to demonstrate what they consider to be downfalls of so-called “socialist” nations.
“They do have a huge welfare safety net, and for them it’s not really welfare because everyone uses it,” Kelley said. “They have free college and free healthcare, but nothing is really free. There is an enormous burden on the middle class.”
Kelley continued, noting that the middle class faces a 60 percent tax on income and a 25 percent value-added tax on all sales transactions to allow for the Scandinavian social safety net, which she claims results in low-income Scandinavians paying a higher tax rate than the rich.
In reality, Scandinavian countries have a progressive income tax system, though the various rates at which incomes are taxed are all relatively similar and all very high compared to the U.S.’s rates.
Further, Paul added that he disagreed with the self-identification of politicians such as Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez as democratic socialists, instead claiming they’re more akin to ‘democratic welfarists.’ Paul distinguished that ‘democratic welfarist states,’ such as Scandinavian countries, want to provide a large social safety net while democratic socialists advocate for a more authoritarian government.
Ultimately, according to Paul, the democratic socialists’ focus on income inequality through the lens of wealth distribution overshadows the emphasis on viable standards of living, which he argued could be achieved in every economic context.
“It really shouldn’t be about how rich people are. You really shouldn’t care about what other people make. It’s about what you make,” Paul said. “There’s a problem if you’re obsessed with what everybody makes.”
When Paul polled the audience at the beginning of the event to determine who in the audience viewed socialism favorably and who viewed socialism negatively, both stood about equal. Some liberal students attended to hear the perspective of the other side and better their own understanding of issues.
“So I came into it just trying to see what he had to say,” said Megan Rodriguez, CC ’22. “He’s not one of my least favorite politicians, I respect his issues with criminal justice reform and his anti-war on drugs. Beyond the economic perspectives that he has, I think everything else, you know, as a libertarian he doesn’t care what people do, which I think is more aligned socially with liberal values.”
Other students were longtime supporters of Paul, though some did not agree with everything he said and recognized some falsities in his claims.
“Rand Paul is a personal hero of mine, I sort of looked up to him in the Senate for a long time now. He’s one of the good ones amongst the Republicans. I support a lot of his policies,” Erik Skalnes, SEAS ’20, said. “It’s always interesting to see what people are willing to lie about and I was very impressed by how well he was able to hide things he was lying about. I was almost convinced by a lot [of] his lies.”
In his speech, Paul ended by criticizing both establishment political parties as too institutional to create the limited government that he wants.
“When you go to the voting booth, vote for none of the above. Really, it’s both parties’ fault—Republican and Democrats are equally guilty on the debt. The Republicans want unlimited military spending. The Democrats want unlimited welfare spending, and they have to get together if they want more spending they get together with the other side and vote for more spending for everything.”