The Great Debate

Monetizing the marginalized

Five years ago, Ron Paul’s popularity was still surprising. Sometime in 2007, the former physician, longtime crank in Congress, and thoroughly fringe Republican had somehow turned his shtick into success — at least monetarily. Paul raised more than $31 million in the 2008 Republican primary even though he never actually won a contest where actual delegates were at stake. For a longshot like Paul, it wasn’t the chance of his success that drove people to donate; on the contrary, all but the deluded knew he would fail.

Now, in 2012, the idea of his success among the fringe is mainstream. And Paul’s alchemy — turning derision into dollars — isn’t exclusive to his corner of the fringe. The powers that be — politics, media, Corporate America — have refused to embrace causes from Occupy Wall Street to Elizabeth Warren. And yet these underdogs still find a way to succeed because marginalization has become incredibly lucrative. How else to explain the $150 million that the DIY funding site Kickstarter is expected to help raise this year, even though many of the projects it funds will do no better than Ron Paul?

As always, credit the Internet. Since the earliest days of altnet message boards, we’ve known the Web can build just as well as it can destroy. Its vastness allows for connections both obscure and passionate, while its anonymity creates hate both entropic and cowardly. This new economy of the marginalized is the child of the first dynamic — the one that can rally thousands to a cause with the smallest of sparks.

In the past, the spark has been all that was necessary, especially in politics. Remember when Joe Wilson yelled “You Lie!” to President Obama at the State of the Union in 2009? Until then Wilson had been a meek Republican congressman best known for his determination to support Strom Thurmond and keep the Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina statehouse. The media made him into a symbol of all that was wrong with Washington. Just as quickly, supporters made him — or his campaign war chest — rich. He raised $2 million in the week after the State of the Union. The Washington Post dubbed it, and every other controversial sound bite that takes on a life of its own, a moneyblurt.

But this most recent crop of marginalized parties is taking part in a more nuanced process than Wilson. These parties have used more than just controversy to raise money. They’ve used the promise of reversal.

How Ron Paul may have won — and lost — Maine

Washington County, Maine, is the easternmost point in the continental United States. This region of rocky shores and pinetree forests is populated by proudly independent — and defiant — citizens.

The Republicans in Washington County have supported such radical and underdog candidates as Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan in the past.

Too bad they didn’t get to participate in the Maine caucuses last weekend.

Do libertarians like Peter Thiel really want to live in America?

By Sally Kohn
The opinions expressed are her own.

It sounds like “Fantasy Island” meets “The Twilight Zone” — a privately funded island nation created for the sole purpose of escaping government.

In the olden days, corporate titans just hired pricey lawyers and accountants to dodge the watchful eye of government regulation and the law.  But thanks to record economic inequality that has enriched the already-wealthy more than ever, a group of investors has the spare millions to build an entirely man-made ocean-bound nation where they can make the rules up themselves.  It’s Libertarianism 2.0: the final, floating frontier.

In a recent profile by Details magazine, it was revealed that PayPal founder and libertarian activist Peter Thiel has contributed $1.25 million dollars to the Seasteading Institute, a plan hatched by the grandson of free market economist Milton Friedman to establish “new sovereign nations built on oil-rig-type platforms anchored in international waters — free from the regulation, laws, and moral suasion of any landlocked country.” The Details profile explains, “They’d be small city-states at first, although the aim is to have tens of millions of seasteading residents by 2050.”  Already, plans are underway to launch an office complex off the coast of San Francisco next year, adding full-time housing settlements on the island seven years later.

Will Jared Loughner discredit the gold standard?

By Chadwick Matlin
Matlin, a guest contributor, is a freelance writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

Jared Lee Loughner used the American dollar like the rest of us. He used it to pay for classes at Pima Community College, he used it to buy a handgun and he used it to pay for a taxi to the Safeway where he shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others on Saturday.

But apparently the dollar is a currency he despised. Loughner’s YouTube videos are consumed with the idea of creating a “new currency,” one that is nothing like our current, Federal Reserve-controlled greenback. In “Hello,” he writes, “my ambition — is for informing literate dreamers about a new currency.” (All of Loughner’s videos are composed of text or diagrams. He never appears.)