SCOTT SIMON, host: This week is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, was coordinating the national relief effort in Hurricane Irene's wake. Texas congressman and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul was calling for the agency's elimination. He said quote, "FEMA has one of the worst reputations for a bureaucracy ever. It's a system of bureaucratic central economic planning, which is a policy that is deeply flawed."
Now that statement drew attention. But it is utterly consistent with the congressman's libertarian philosophy. We spoke with Ron Paul earlier this week and asked him to explain that decision.
Representative RON PAUL: I got that impression from having lived on the Gulf Coast and been a congressman here for a long time, because if I add up all the phone calls and all the work I've had to do with all the agencies of government, FEMA has caused more problems than all the rest put together. And most of the time it's the fact that when FEMA comes in and there's a disaster they interfere with the local people. The local people, the landowners can't do what they want. And then when they're promised payouts they can't get it to, you know, they can't get their insurance benefits, so we always have to go to bat for them.
But I was opposed to it long time before I knew it was so inefficient and that was when they introduced the notion that the federal government should guarantee this insurance, because literally what that does, it eliminates the principle of insurance. And insurance is supposed to measure risk. And if the government takes care of it there is no more risk. As a matter of fact, it encourages risk. It encourages the moral hazard that people who like their beach houses are more likely to build there because what the heck, you know, can't get my insurance, the taxpayers will bail me out. But the government doesn't have any money. And, as a matter of fact, FEMA is broke. They're about twenty billion dollars in debt. So if you add all that up, it doesn't have a very good reputation and I think that there's other ways we could handle these problems.
SIMON: First, when you talk about insurance make it possible for people to build their beach houses back...
SIMON: I'm sure you would agree, you'd have to point out now there are a lot of people sitting on rubble in Vermont who never thought they had a beach house. Irene was a hurricane that spread widely beyond what would be, if I might refer to it this way, the traditional points of impact. And in a way isn't that also part of the whole idea of getting the federal government involved? Because these disasters don't know state boundaries.
PAUL: The question is why? Why does all of a sudden somebody in Vermont need to get insurance from you if you live in Alexandria? You know, I mean what is the moral principle there? I've lived in Texas for a long time, and I've had a fair amount of damage, and I call up my insurance agent. So people should have responsibility for themselves. Their neighbors should help. The state should help. The community should help. State Guard should help. And, you know, under extreme circumstances our Military can surely have assistance in rescue operations. But they can't if they're over there and fighting wars that shouldn't be fought.
SIMON: So when you were against foreign adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya, you call those foreign adventures, that's all part of the same philosophy of when you say that FEMA is a bad idea.
PAUL: Yeah. It's all the use of force. See, a person who truly believes in liberty rejects the use of force to change people, mold people, change the economy or tell other countries how to live. So I apply the same principle down the line. You know, I don't want to force people. They have to follow laws, but the laws are that you can't hurt other people. And fortunately for me, the little bit of a test we've had for that system it's been the most prosperous system ever known to man. So I approach it as a humanitarian. I'm convinced to be a humanitarian you have to believe in property and free choices, both individually as well as for the marketplace.
SIMON: Mr. Paul, you announced last month you're going to retire from Congress when you term runs out in 2012. Of course, it's possible you'll be elected president. Are you in any way handing off your political name to your son, the senator from Kentucky?
PAUL: Well, we've never talked about that at all. I mean he's very interested in his views and mine obviously are pretty close, so, but will he's a pretty independent person...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
PAUL: And I'm sure he'll, I'm sure he will continue. But I don't think you can hand reins off to anybody. You know, I hope he continues, you know, to do what he is doing, and I will probably in or out of office or whatever, because we believe that the principles of liberty are so important.
SIMON: You won a straw poll at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. You finished a close second in the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa. You're raising money may I like the federal government.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SIMON: Better than the federal government, perhaps at this point.
PAUL: We're very solvent, I'll tell you that.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SIMON: So how do you...
PAUL: No debt in my campaign.
SIMON: So how, do you have an answer for people who say, yeah, but he'll never be president?
PAUL: I'll say how do you know? I don't know that for sure. You know, nobody knows what the future will bring. So I don't worry about that. I'm running a race. I'm running hard and I know where the finish line is and we'll see what happens.
SIMON: Republican presidential candidate and congressman from Texas Ron Paul, speaking with us from Clute, Texas. Thanks so much, sir.
PAUL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.