Republican Congressman Paul Ryan worships Ayn Rand and makes any new staff member read “Atlas Shrugged.” His campaign to abolish safety net programs has little to do with a desire to balance the budget and everything to do with his political philosophy based on Rand’s hatred of the state. How his plan to privatize Medicare will go over in the election remains to be seen. He also wants to abolish Social Security in gradual steps.
Yet Ryan, who comes from a wealthy family, received his college education at Miami University in Ohio, a state research institution. He benefitted from the low tuition that a state-run university was able to provide him. Would he abolish Miami University? Someone should put that question to him. In this respect he is not unlike the Tea Partiers who demand that the government keep its hands off their Medicare.
In a larger context, the underlying issue is what does “smaller government” mean? Does it mean creating a much more efficient government that makes better use of taxpayers’ money or does it mean abolishing the safety net. Libertarian hero Noble Prize-winning economist F.A.Hayek supported Social Security. What he opposed was a centrally planned economy, which is quite different from abolishing Medicare and Social Security. There are ways to increase funding for these programs without gutting them, such as extending upward the income level at which Social Security taxes are collected making those who make their money from buying and selling securities pay Social Security taxes and raising the Medicare taxes on those who can afford to pay more.
Ryan’s position is untenable. He would cut back or abolish essential programs while keeping the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The
argument for his position is the old Republican “supply side” economics that was tried and failed. This is all Ryan has to offer and it will not work. Under Reagan and Bush this approach created huge deficits and this will be the result once again. Obama’s deficits have been designed to prevent a depression and he is amenable to cuts to the budget to bring it under control. Instead of working with him, Ryan advocates policies that will harm average Americans. That, of course, doesn’t mean they won’t vote for it. As Churchill once remarked, “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”