There were two interesting posts about Rand Paul from Krugman and Mankiw:
Paul Krugman says there aren't enough libertarians in the U.S. to make a libertarian candidate like Rand Paul viable. I am not so sure about the paucity of libertarians, but even so, I doubt that Rand Paul is the best representative of that group.
Similar to Krugman, I would define a libertarian voter as one who leans left on social issues (such as same-sex marriage) and right on economic issues (such as taxes and regulation). I certainly put myself in that camp, and I don't think I am as lonely as Krugman suggests. I meet lots of students with similar views (though, admittedly, Harvard students are hardly a representative sample of voters).
Nonetheless, I think libertarian candidates face several challenges. In particular, the Republican party has traditionally relied on an uneasy coalition of economic and social conservatives. A libertarian candidate would need to put together a very different coalition.
Rand Paul does not seem ready to do that. He has come out opposed to same-sex marriage, for example. He is unlikely to put together a new coalition with that position.
Many libertarian voters I know (including those students) often vote for Democratic candidates because they weight the social issues more than the economic ones. I usually vote for Republican candidates because I weight the economic issues more than the social ones.
I tend to agree with Krugman rather than Mankiw on this one. It seems to me that Mankiw's definition of a libertarian is a little loose. So I went to the Libertarian Party website to see if Mankiw's definition of a libertarian was accurate (preview: it isn't). I thought a good place to start and end was the party platform (I was right). Consider the Libertarian Party's platform on the environment (section 2.2):
We support a clean and healthy environment and sensible use of our natural resources. Private landowners and conservation groups have a vested interest in maintaining natural resources. Pollution and misuse of resources cause damage to our ecosystem. Governments, unlike private businesses, are unaccountable for such damage done to our environment and have a terrible track record when it comes to environmental protection. Protecting the environment requires a clear definition and enforcement of individual rights in resources like land, water, air, and wildlife. Free markets and property rights stimulate the technological innovations and behavioral changes required to protect our environment and ecosystems. We realize that our planet's climate is constantly changing, but environmental advocates and social pressure are the most effective means of changing public behavior.
This is a free market environmentalism (i.e., taking the Coase Theorem zero transactions costs assumption to the extreme) statement that doesn't provide a place for Mankiw's Pigou Club. And here is the statement on government finance and spending (section 2.4):
All persons are entitled to keep the fruits of their labor. We call for the repeal of the income tax, the abolishment of the Internal Revenue Service and all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution. We oppose any legal requirements forcing employers to serve as tax collectors. Government should not incur debt, which burdens future generations without their consent. We support the passage of a "Balanced Budget Amendment" to the U.S. Constitution, provided that the budget is balanced exclusively by cutting expenditures, and not by raising taxes.
Mankiw, along with many economists, is in favor of revenue recycling -- taking the additional revenue from the Pigou Club's pollution taxes and using it to offset lower income taxes. Lowering the income tax, a conservative economic position, is not the same as the libertarian position of abolishing it.
Finally, if you want to see where you stand, take "The World's Smallest Political Quiz" which I found at the Libertarian Party's website at the "Are you a Libertarian? Take the Quiz!" link. The answer for me is no, I'm a centrist (i.e., moderate) "who leans left on social issues ... and right on economic issues ...":
I took the quiz again to try to get the definition of a libertarian (turns out it's easy, just agree with all ten statements). Here it is:
Libertarians support maximum liberty in both personal and economic matters. They advocate a much smaller government; one that is limited to protecting individuals from coercion and violence. Libertarians tend to embrace individual responsibility, oppose government bureaucracy and taxes, promote private charity, tolerate diverse lifestyles, support the free market, and defend civil liberties.
Moderates who lean left on social issues and right on economic issues are kidding themselves if they consider themselves libertarian.