We talked briefly last week about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who was asked about his "ideal" chairman for the Federal Reserve. The senator initially pointed to Friedrich Hayek, before the interviewed, Josh Green, asked for someone who is not currently dead. Paul responded that Milton Friedman "would probably be pretty good."
The problem, of course, is that Paul apparently doesn't realize that Friedman is (a) dead; and (b) someone who strongly disagreed with him.
With this in mind, The Atlantic's Matthew O'Brien had a terrific item last night, explaining that Friedman "would have hated Rand Paul."
[Paul] he knows the Friedman who championed free markets and tax cuts, but not the Friedman who championed an active central bank. Paul's mistake is assuming that because he agrees with Friedman on spending, he must also agree with Friedman (and vice versa) on the Fed. That couldn't be more wrong. But it's one thing to be uninformed, and another to be unempirical. Paul doesn't seem capable of processing information that contradicts his worldview. He saw the evidence that he was wrong about Friedman and QE, and ... just went on living his life like it didn't exist. Dogma won.The irony, of course, is that Milton Friedman was trying to save conservatism from people exactly like Rand Paul.
It's at this point that I imagine Rand Paul's supporters would suggest this is irrelevant, and does not necessarily reflect a superficial understanding of current events and public policy.
I strongly disagree.
Obviously, senators can't be expected to know everything about everything, and we all have plenty of policy blind spots. If an interviewer asked Paul, "What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?" and he didn't know, I wouldn't think any less of him. He hasn't expressed an interest in ornithology, so it wouldn't be fair to expect him to know stuff like this off the top of his head.
But the Federal Reserve and U.S. monetary policy are supposed to be issues Rand Paul cares deeply about. They are, in fact, staples of his fledgling "movement."
So the question of who his ideal Fed chair would be is arguably a soft-ball that Paul should be able answer effortlessly. But he couldn't -- the senator talked up Hayek, then mentioned Friedman, apparently unaware that they two are effectively on opposite sides.
As we talked about last week, it's one thing to be ignorant; it's something else to be ignorant about your signature issues. Paul isn't just confused; he's confused about the issues he claims to care about most.
We saw the manifestation of this confusion in March on the use of drones, and now we're seeing it again on the Fed.
As Rand Paul gears up for a national campaign, he's going to need remedial lessons on the basics of his own favorite issues. For his supporters, this should be rather alarming.