Ryan Holiday’s Take on The Doctor

Why I Don’t Care About Ron Paul and Why He Has Nothing to Do with the Long Tail – November 21, 2007

Ron Paul is the one candidate able to unite the diverse elements in the Long Tail. His supporters range from strippers to evangelicals, from gun-totters to peaceniks , and yet his message is as mainstream as the Constitution. His libertarianism and federalism will drive crazy the busy-bodies on the left and the right who want to impose their vision on the rest of the country, but these same laissez-faire ideals will unite those in the Long Tail who simply want the federal government out of their lives.

Wishful thinking, but completely incorrect. The idealism here is admirable and yet the epitome of what causes most movements to fail. It’s too “inspired” to talk about strategy, or to look at facts, or to win with the help of reality–they’d rather die in spite of it. And it’s just total misinterpretation of the Long Tail. Because of this, not matter how much money he wins, Ron Paul is doomed to fail.

First, the Long Tail only applies when the fundamental market constraints have been removed. There is a reason that the Long Tail was recently published: It didn’t apply until the internet came along and created a new way to sell products. But it didn’t change the actual stores themselves. The Long Tail doesn’t exist inside Borders, it exist on the infinite shelf space of Amazon. The internet is not “abound with examples with the long tail” as the author claims, IT IS the long tail.

American politics faces the same basic problem. That we have just two dominant political parties has nothing to do with information costs or media attention or lack of funding–it is the physical constraints of the market. We call this Duverger’s Law. The principle states that in any plurality based voting system, elections eventually funnel towards two parties. Because of the district basis of the system, it is impossible for minor candidates to collect their small stakes in many communities into a significant voting block. Candidates win based on how many individual districts they can tally together, not how much overarching support they can garner. Third Parties exist as aggregates of minor factions spread throughout multiple constituencies but the electoral system doesn’t care about percentage of the whole, only percentage of the local. It is innately compartmentalized, tied to the part to the point where the whole doesn’t matter. Sound familiar? This is exactly what prevents a long tail economy from thriving in Borders or at a Tower Records.

On Amazon, the one person in every town that likes Finnish Death Metal can be aggregated into a sustainable consumer subset. Borders, however, can’t afford to stock product for a single fan. This naturally guides them towards products that appeal to blocs of people much in the same way that Durverger guides us to just Democrats and Republicans and leaves no room for Libertarians.

What works on the internet does not work in US political elections. That is what Ron Paul supporters don’t understand. They’re so accustomed to the new dimension that they are trying to project the new rules back at the old. It’s not that easy. The internet has empowered your voices but the system still disenfranchises your votes. The Cold War Kids might be selling fantastically on iTunes, but that’s only because the internet has allowed them to connect and collect people all across the country. The laws of physical reality remain unchanged–touring efficiently is impossible. The internet allowed Ron Paul supporters to connect, but their votes still face the insurmountable limitations of a SMDP (single member district plurality) system. To quote Nicholas Carr “You can try to change the structure, but if you can’t change the economics your efforts will likely go for naught.”

I’ll say it again for the 1,000th time. There is no honor in fighting a battle you cannot win. Your job as a revolutionary is to see the world where it is and then take it to where you want it to be. For Ron Paul supporters that means understanding the massive opportunities the internet offers along with its fundamental limitations. The goal is not always obvious victory. The Spartans at Thermopylae went in fairly certain that they would lose at the Hot Gates but win as their efforts unified Greece. The Polish Cavalry that charged German tanks, all they did was lose. See the difference? One was part of a campaign, the other was desperation.

Ron Paul supporters should be leveraging the media coverage and ability to efficiently raise money not to buy votes, but to force change from the candidates who can win. You are not encumbered with typical burdens of having to schmooze large donors or barnstorm the country. To attempt to compete head to head with Hillary Clinton or John McCain is the worst strategic error you can make–it is conceding to the dynamic instead of controlling it. That money can achieve a far greater ROI if you fight on your own terms, as a light-weight, unified and mobile unit. One that understands that goal is not to win districts but to seed discontent within the electoral system.

But from what I have seen, this isn’t about change, it’s about ego. “Finally we can get back at those people who have ignored us for so long.” That kind of mindset is inherently problematic. It leads you into believing your own rhetoric, overextending, not knowing when to retreat, trading potential power for personality—it does not breed victory in any form.

So fight this war on the terrain at which the battle has already begun on. Take the only victory that is possible on that field and use those gains to decide where you will fight the next war. In the case of Ron Paul, that means guiding the dynamic and opinion towards Libertarian policy as much as possible within the system. And then, maybe, you have a shot at changing the system; that is maybe, you can get rid of the Electoral College. Until then, it doesn’t matter. Your victory is literally impossible.

*I would like to note, however, that I don’t have any problems with Libertarian policy. I actually agree with most of his policies. But let’s be honest, he might be running in the Republican primary, but he’s doing it as a Libertarian, as a third party. So this isn’t a recycled argument or throwing your vote away, this is about analyzing the situation honestly and systematically. So even if he does win through some massive failure on someone else’s part, he hasn’t changed anything; a third party candidate would be no more viable four years later, all he’s done is change the guard in old model. He’s simply innovated instead of disrupted.


2 Responses

  1. Point well made.
    But you don’t have much for solutions.
    “Ron Paul supporters should be leveraging the media coverage and ability to efficiently raise money not to buy votes, but to force change from the candidates who can win. ”

    That’s about all your really suggest. So are you spending too much time writing a good article but not really making any difference?

    “But from what I have seen, this isn’t about change, it’s about ego.”
    Again, point taken, and to a certain extent I agree.

    I think that his running is indicative of the libertarian movement that has been growing. As well as the growing sentiment around the country that the people aren’t the sole party of interest which of course a nonpartican issue.

    “this is about analyzing the situation honestly and systematically”
    …and that’s why I am taking the time to resepond.

    “So even if he does win through some massive failure on someone else’s part, he hasn’t changed anything.”
    I take this is as the core importance of your whole posting.
    So it begs the question. What needs to be changed?

    I would love to hear more about the Electoral College.
    I am not convinced that solely removing it is a good idea.
    What would one replace it with?

    I think that if he did win, we would see changes. Much more-so in a positive way than if someone else wins.
    The problem is still among those that are in the senate and congress, of course, and that needs to be addressed with as much fervor as the Ron Paul Campaign has been.

    “He’s simply innovated instead of disrupted.”
    Paul like to repeat the sentiment of leading by example.
    I think it’s possible to innovate and ultimately have that lead-in to a ‘disruption of the system’ through the inevitable change that would ensue.
    How else could it happen?
    I’d like to hear more specific examples of what’s wrong with supporting Ron Paul and how one could be more effective towards change.
    If I’m wrong, tell me how, not just that I am.

    For anyone reading this that’s wants a direct counter argument….
    Ryan Holiday Doesn’t Care About Ron Paul

  2. I agree with you, I was just reposting something that happened to echo a few of my sentiments.

    I’ll start responding at the comment here:

    “So even if he does win through some massive failure on someone else’s part, he hasn’t changed anything.”
    I take this is as the core importance of your whole posting.
    So it begs the question. What needs to be changed?

    I believe the ideas of the two ruling parties needs to change. Its not possible to do that without MUCH more coverage by the media, and getting the general public to actually care.

    Even though Paul may get a bit of coverage here and there, it doesn’t change the opinion of the apathetic populace of America. Simple reason being that it doesn’t affect them, no matter who wins office. The change in politics with most candidates is very slim, from Hillary to Giuliani to anyone else, and people can’t get out of the two party frame of mind. This isn’t to say nothing would change, but very little. Reasons in politics are quite evident here.

    The President doesn’t make laws. Plain and simple. Sure, we would have a slimmer budget, but he couldn’t shut down the Fed. He doesn’t have enough of a following to get his issues through Congress.

    Like it or not, he represents a small number of people, mostly youths who have never experienced a political machine before. Just like the Ross Perot movement prior. Libertarians, although I personally identify, will never encompass enough people to make a majority.

    We also tend to forget that the internet is not a good identifier of real life. Sure there’s a Paul posting on just about every forum. But how many people out of the majority go and post on forums anyway?

    That disjointed opinion aside, I totally agree with the Electoral College argument. If it was replaced with a popular vote concept, then rural areas would NEVER get any face time. Its simply easier to canvas a few big cities than to cover our spread out rural population.

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