mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Recreating The Great Depression”: Paul Ryan, John Galt, Gold And God

So far, most of the discussion of Paul Ryan, the presumptive Republican nominee for vice president, has focused on his budget proposals. But Mr. Ryan is a man of many ideas, which would ordinarily be a good thing.

In his case, however, most of those ideas appear to come from works of fiction, specifically Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

For those who somehow missed it when growing up, “Atlas Shrugged” is a fantasy in which the world’s productive people — the “job creators,” if you like — withdraw their services from an ungrateful society. The novel’s centerpiece is a 64-page speech by John Galt, the angry elite’s ringleader; even Friedrich Hayek admitted that he never made it through that part. Yet the book is a perennial favorite among adolescent boys. Most boys eventually outgrow it. Some, however, remain devotees for life.

And Mr. Ryan is one of those devotees. True, in recent years, he has tried to downplay his Randism, calling it an “urban legend.” It’s not hard to see why: Rand’s fervent atheism — not to mention her declaration that “abortion is a moral right” — isn’t what the G.O.P. base wants to hear.

But Mr. Ryan is being disingenuous. In 2005, he told the Atlas Society, which is devoted to promoting Rand’s ideas, that she inspired his political career: “If I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.” He also declared that Rand’s work was required reading for his staff and interns.

And the Ryan fiscal program clearly reflects Randian notions. As I documented in my last column, Mr. Ryan’s reputation for being serious about the budget deficit is completely undeserved; his policies would actually increase the deficit. But he is deadly serious about cutting taxes on the rich and slashing aid to the poor, very much in line with Rand’s worship of the successful and contempt for “moochers.”

This last point is important. In pushing for draconian cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and other programs that aid the needy, Mr. Ryan isn’t just looking for ways to save money. He’s also, quite explicitly, trying to make life harder for the poor — for their own good. In March, explaining his cuts in aid for the unfortunate, he declared, “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”

Somehow, I doubt that Americans forced to rely on unemployment benefits and food stamps in a depressed economy feel that they’re living in a comfortable hammock.

But wait, there’s more: “Atlas Shrugged” apparently shaped Mr. Ryan’s views on monetary policy, views that he clings to despite having been repeatedly, completely wrong in his predictions.

In early 2011, Mr. Ryan, newly installed as the chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, a hard time over his expansionary policies. Rising commodity prices and long-term interest rates, he asserted, were harbingers of high inflation to come; “There is nothing more insidious that a country can do to its citizens,” he intoned, “than debase its currency.”

Since then, inflation has remained quiescent while long-term rates have plunged — and the U.S. economy would surely be in much worse shape than it is if Mr. Bernanke had allowed himself to be bullied into monetary tightening. But Mr. Ryan seems undaunted in his monetary views. Why?

Well, it’s right there in that 2005 speech to the Atlas Society, in which he declared that he always goes back to “Francisco d’Anconia’s speech on money” when thinking about monetary policy. Who? Never mind. That speech (which clocks in at a mere 23 paragraphs) is a case of hard-money obsession gone ballistic. Not only does the character in question, a Galt sidekick, call for a return to the gold standard, he denounces the notion of paper money and demands a return to gold coins.

For the record, the U.S. currency supply has consisted overwhelmingly of paper money, not gold and silver coins, since the early 1800s. So if Mr. Ryan really thinks that Francisco d’Anconia had it right, he wants to turn the clock back not one but two centuries.

Does any of this matter? Well, if the Republican ticket wins, Mr. Ryan will surely be an influential force in the next administration — and bear in mind, too, that he would, as the cliché goes, be a heartbeat away from the presidency. So it should worry us that Mr. Ryan holds monetary views that would, if put into practice, go a long way toward recreating the Great Depression.

And, beyond that, consider the fact that Mr. Ryan is considered the modern G.O.P.’s big thinker. What does it say about the party when its intellectual leader evidently gets his ideas largely from deeply unrealistic fantasy novels?

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 23, 2012

August 25, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Echoes Of Ayn Rand: How The GOP Came To View The Poor As Parasites And The Rich As Our Rightful Rulers

Last week the Republican Party sounded two distinct voices. First we heard the angry demands of the Tea Party, speaking through its hardline conservative allies in the House, pushing the government to the brink of a shutdown. But then emerged the soothing tones of Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, who fashions himself the intellectual leader of the party, unveiling a budget manifesto he calls the “Path to Prosperity.”

Ryan portrays his goals in reassuringly pecuniary terms—he’s just the friendly neighborhood accountant here to help balance your checkbook. “I have a knack for numbers,” he chirps. ABC News compared him to a character in Dave, the corny 1993 movie about an average Joe who mistakenly assumes the presidency and calls in his CPA buddy—that would be Ryan—to scour the federal budget and bring it into balance. If he has any flaw, he just cares too much about rescuing the country from debt, gosh darn it!

In fact, the two streams—the furious Tea Party rebels and Ryan the earnest budget geek—both spring from the same source. And it is to that source that you must look if you want to understand what Ryan is really after, and what makes these activists so angry.

The Tea Party began early in 2009 after an improvised rant by Rick Santelli, a CNBC commentator who called for an uprising to protest the Obama administration’s subsidizing the “losers’ mortgages.” Video of his diatribe rocketed around the country, and protesters quickly adopted both his call for a tea party and his general abhorrence of government that took from the virtuous and the successful and gave to the poor, the uninsured, the bankrupt—in short, the losers. It sounded harsh, Santelli quickly conceded, but “at the end of the day I’m an Ayn Rander.”

Ayn Rand, of course, was a kind of politicized L. Ron Hubbard—a novelist-philosopher who inspired a cult of acolytes who deem her the greatest human being who ever lived. The enduring heart of Rand’s totalistic philosophy was Marxism flipped upside down. Rand viewed the capitalists, not the workers, as the producers of all wealth, and the workers, not the capitalists, as useless parasites.

John Galt, the protagonist of her iconic novel Atlas Shrugged, expressed Rand’s inverted Marxism: “The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains.”

In 2009 Rand began popping up all over the Tea Party movement. Sales of her books skyrocketed, and signs quoting her ideas appeared constantly at rallies. Conservatives asserted that the events of the Obama administration eerily paralleled the plot of Atlas Shrugged, in which a liberal government precipitates economic collapse.

One conservative making that point was Ryan. His citation of Rand was not casual. He’s a Rand nut. In the days before his star turn as America’s Accountant, Ryan once appeared at a gathering to honor her philosophy, where he announced, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.” He continues to view Rand as a lodestar, requiring his staffers to digest her creepy tracts.

When Ryan warns of the specter of collapse, he is not merely referring to the alarming gap between government outlays and receipts, as his admirers in the media assume. (Every policy change of the last decade that increased the deficit—the Bush tax cuts, the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—Ryan voted for.) He is also invoking Rand’s almost theological certainty that when a government punishes the strong to reward the weak, it must invariably collapse. That is the crisis his Path to Prosperity seeks to avert.

Viewed as an effort to reduce the debt, Ryan’s plan makes little sense. Many of its proposals either have nothing to do with reducing deficits (repealing the financial-reform bill loathed by Wall Street) or actually increase deficits (making the Bush tax cuts permanent). It relies heavily on distant, phantasmal cuts. During the debate over health-care reform, Ryan insisted that Medicare cuts used to finance universal coverage might add up on paper but they’d never stick—they were too far down the road, and Congress would just walk them back when people complained.

But Ryan proposes identical cuts in his own plan. What’s more, he saves trillions of dollars from Medicare by imposing huge cuts on anybody who retires starting in 2022. So not only has he adopted the cuts he claimed would never come to pass because they’re too harsh and too distant, he imposes far harsher and more distant cuts of his own. Indeed, Alice Rivlin, the fiscally conservative Democratic economist who endorsed an earlier version of his Medicare plan, called his new plan unrealistic. (Ryan nonetheless continues to imply that she supports it.)

Ryan’s plan does do two things in immediate and specific ways: hurt the poor and help the rich. After extending the Bush tax cuts, he would cut the top rate for individuals and corporations from 35 percent to 25 percent. Then Ryan slashes Medicaid, Pell Grants, food stamps, and low-income housing. These programs to help the poor, which constitute approximately 21 percent of the federal budget, absorb two thirds of Ryan’s cuts.

Ryan spares anybody over the age of 55 from any Medicare or Social Security cuts, because, he says, they “have organized their lives around these programs.” But the roughly one in seven Americans (and nearly one in four children) on food stamps? Apparently they can have their benefits yanked away because they were only counting on using them to eat.

Ryan casts these cuts as an incentive for the poor to get off their lazy butts. He insists that we “ensure that America’s safety net does not become a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency.” It’s worth translating what Ryan means here. Welfare reform was premised on the tough but persuasive argument that providing long-term cash payments to people who don’t work encourages long-term dependency. Ryan is saying that the poor should not only be denied cash income but also food and health care.

The class tinge of Ryan’s Path to Prosperity is striking. The poorest Americans would suffer immediate, explicit budget cuts. Middle-class Americans would face distant, uncertain reductions in benefits. And the richest Americans would enjoy an immediate windfall. Santelli, in his original rant, demanded that we “reward people [who can] carry the water instead of drink the water.” Ryan won’t say so, but that’s exactly what he’s doing.

By: Jonathan Chait, Senior Editor, The New Republic

April 11, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Deficits, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, Financial Reform, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Health Reform, Ideologues, Income Gap, Journalists, Media, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security, Tea Party, Uninsured, Wall Street, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

%d bloggers like this: