Paul Ryan says "our rights come from nature and God, not from government."
He should visit the Congo.
At the Republican National Convention last week, Paul Ryan reiterated his unwavering opposition to taxes, government health care, economic stimulus, market regulation, abortion rights, gay rights and gun control. Ryan wants small government.
Congo's government is very small. And, perhaps to Ryan's surprise, it has already achieved many of those demands.
For one, taxes in Congo are negotiable. I should know: I lived for a year in the home of a Congolese tax officer, in one of the capital's poorest districts. Only the poor pay taxes in Congo, the officer told me (it was the reason for his poverty). And so the money of the wealthy is free to trickle down via the free market.
There are no national spending projects, no drains on the treasury that might raise the federal deficit. Universal healthcare is never a topic in Congo's parliament. There will be no 'death panels' of bureaucrats deciding whether citizens should die or live. Congo's president, unlike Obama, does not invest in infrastructure. The country has no 'shovel ready' projects. The government prefers austerity -- spending as little on the people as possible -- to economic stimulus.
Congo also offers the unprecedented opportunity to bear arms and form militias. The country has hundreds of militia groups, created by civilian populations, often to defend themselves against the national army. Precisely, some might say, as America's Founding Fathers had foreseen. Congo's government has no monopoly on violence.
There will no longer be the need to lobby politicians for gun rights, and the National Rifle Association of America can be safely closed. A Kalashnikov can be purchased on any Congolese street corner without permit or identification. Prices start at $40.
Religious conservatives will find themselves at ease. Gay and lesbian people have no havens in Congolese society. The powerful churches promptly excommunicate those who have chosen abortion.
If ever a country were run by the free market, it would be Congo -- to an extent that even Ryan might not imagine. The government operates like a private corporation, providing services only at a price, and then only to the highest bidder. After I was robbed at gunpoint of nearly $3,000 in the capital, the police said I should pay for their SWOT team to track down the thieves. I was shown a prospectus of the team's successful history. My investment, I was told, in much the same way a banker might assure a client, would be profitable.
State functionaries go unpaid for months (as was my tax-officer host), and are left to "cope" with their situations. Government is thus incentivized to generate its own profits. Paul Ryan would rejoice: this is a government designed to pay for itself.
Paul Ryan will also find camaraderie among the highly-entrepreneurial Congolese. When I traveled into remote areas of the rainforest, searching for a mine containing radioactive ore, the poor villagers I met asked not for money, free food or handouts -- as one might expect -- but for metal detectors. They sought to prospect for minerals, and to escape their poverty through their labor.
For all the public works that a government might normally conduct -- building roads, schools, parks -- private contractors are hired. State interference in private lives is thus kept to a minimum.
One even decides if one wants electricity or water in one's house -- the government takes nothing for granted, and will not wire or pipe your home unless you ask and pay for it.
Private companies, not the State (though in such a country it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between private and public), profit most from Congo's extensive mineral resources -- gold, diamonds, uranium, tin, tungsten and tantalum -- and also from its war. The majority of the economy is thus already 'deregulated.'
In fact the greatest regulatory pressures now come from abroad -- from initiatives like America's Dodd Frank act, which is trying to help clean up Congo's conflict minerals industry.
There is much work to be done in Congo. Many agree that what Congo really needs is great leadership. The Congolese, on a recent trip, told me: "The white man should come back and fix our country."
Paul Ryan could not only provide much-needed help, he would be warmly welcomed in this central African nation.
Almost every effort to aid Congo has failed. The violence continues; the government remains incapable of bringing order to the country. Solutions offered by experts are either piecemeal or so grand as to be unfeasible. But despite the hundreds of political parties that compete in Congo's elections, the one party the country needs may be missing. What if Ryan could come and resolve one of the greatest challenges of our time?
Instead of fighting it out in America, Ryan might discover in Congo a country that not only shares his values, but has gone a long way towards achieving his vision of a free, unrestrained society. Perhaps Congo might help Ryan reconsider whether rights really come from nature and God, or whether they come from government.
Follow Anjan Sundaram on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AnjanSun