Liberty and Death From Ebola: A Paul Family Debate

Father and son confront the libertarian implications of a global pandemic.

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U.S. Sen. Rand Paul talks to his father, then Rep. Ron Paul, during a news conference June 22, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul talks to his father, then Rep. Ron Paul, during a news conference June 22, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

A deep suspicion about the use of American power, along with professional interest in medicine, runs deep in the Ron and Rand Paul family. So the respective responses by father and son to Ebola are a fascinating lesson in the evolution of the family's libertarian views under the pressure of a crisis.

In his weekly column on the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity's website, the elder Paul traced the outbreak to the exercise of American power.

The people of Liberia and other countries would be better off if the U.S. government left them alone. Leave it to private citizens to invest in African business and trade with the African people. Private investment and trade would help these countries develop thriving free-market economies capable of sustaining a modern healthcare infrastructure.

The free market's invisible hand, he argues, is the best protection against the virus.

"Legitimate concerns about protecting airline passengers from those with Ebola or other infectious diseases can best be addressed by returning responsibility for passenger safety to the airlines," he writes. "Private airlines have a greater incentive than does government to protect their passengers from contagious diseases."

Rand Paul, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, had a related assessment of the crisis, but he shaded it very differently. Where his father seemed relatively unconcerned about its dangers, Rand Paul sounded almost alarmist, suggesting that government officials have downplayed the threat.

“I think because of political correctness we’re not really making sound, rational, scientific decisions on this,” the Kentucky senator said on "The Laura Ingraham Show" earlier this month. “It’s a big mistake to underestimate the potential for problems worldwide.”

Paul also expressed concern about President Barack Obama’s plan to send up to 3,000 troops to fight Ebola in West Africa.

“You also have to be concerned about 3,000 soldiers getting back on a ship,” he said. "Can you imagine if a whole ship full of our soldiers catch Ebola?"

Rand Paul has worked hard to put intellectual distance between his own views and those of his father, a three-time presidential candidate and former Texas congressman, Sergio Gor, a Rand Paul spokesman, declined to comment on Ron Paul's column or the broader Ebola topic.

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