david stockman

David Stockman: the Next Ron Paul

by Clive Crook, Bloomberg.com  |  published on April 6, 2013

David Stockman first came to prominence as Ronald Reagan’s publicity-prone director of the Office of Management and Budget in the early 1980s. In the decades since he was fired from that job, his career in the leveraged-buyout business has been of no great distinction except that it included an indictment for fraud. (The charges were dropped and he paid $7.2 million to settle a civil case brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission.) Now here we are discussing his new book on the corruption of American capitalism, “The Great Deformation.”

The interest in his book and in the long column promoting it in the New York Times on March 30 are a tribute to something, I suppose. I’m not quite sure what.

Let’s see. Stockman has a reputation, acquired during that spell at the OMB, for speaking truth to power. That’s rare enough in Washington to leave a lasting impression. He’s unusually smart. His judgments of people he disagrees with, a group which includes almost everybody, range from memorably blunt to gratuitously offensive. That works, too. The main thing, though, might be the trait that has defined him all along and which is stamped all through “The Great Deformation”: Stockman is a man who loves a theory.

Universal Theory

Not just any theory. It has to be a theory of everything. William Greider saw this propensity in a famous article for The Atlantic back in 1981, “The Education of David Stockman.” That piece caused a sensation: The new OMB director was startlingly frank about the Reagan administration’s shortcomings as a fiscal manager — “None of us really understands what’s going on with all these numbers.”

Stockman told Greider about his evolution from far-left radical to moderate Republican to supply-side revolutionary to pre-modern fiscal conservative. (A lot of evolving for somebody who was still only 35.) “I guess I always had a strong intellectual bent, so I needed a strong theory of how the world worked.”

The new book is as full a statement as you could wish of where that strong theory now stands. It turns out to be Ron Paul libertarianism, give or take. Stockman is both impressive and infuriating in just the same way as Paul. He makes valid criticisms of many policies, but his ideas form a sealed intellectual system. Everything depends on everything else. Things can’t be improved here and there. Suggesting palliatives is missing the point — the entire body politic is sick and has to go.

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