Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ryan's Mentor

The OP-Ed section of Sunday's NY Times contains a great article by Bill Keller, entitled "The Republican Id", that explains a lot about Paul Ryan's "philosophy."  It is the result of an interview that Keller had recently with William R. "Rich" Hart, a professor of macroeconomics at Miami University (Ohio) who is the closest thing to Ryan's intellectual mentor. He is, according to Keller, "a voluble, passionate supply-sider and self-described 'hard-core libertarian'." Listening to Hart, Keller asserts, "you can imagine that you are hearing what Paul Ryan might say if he were not inhibited by the demands of electoral politics." He is best known for his frequent criticizing of his university for what he regards declining academic rigor "coddling" of students in its relentless pursuit of "money, money, money." He proudly reports that of the 112 students who took his latest Principles of Macroeconomics exam, 56 failed and 27 received Ds. No "coddler' he.

Hart and Ryan share, according to Keller, "an astringent kind of Republicanism that rests on the conviction that government assistance leads to crippling dependency." In Hart's world, the 2012 presidential election will answer the question," Do we want to become a sort of European socialist welfare state?"  He has decorated his office with Elvis and Nascar memorabilia  and uses Paul Krugman's economics textbook as a doorstop. "Or, Hart continued, do we want to be a free-market capitalist economy where people who are productive get rewarded for working hard and creating wealth?" In a European welfare state, Hart argued, everybody is "equally poor," so that "I much prefer a little income inequality." (One wonders if he has ever taken a course, or even read a book, on international or comparative economics?)

More specifically, he favors rolling back environmental regulations that slow development of natural gas and coal. ("Not green energy," he said with disgust, "fossil fuel energy." He also favors entrusting health care for the poor, and just about everything else, to the "mercies of the states," having Medicare compete in a voucher market and cutting marginal tax rates. What really alarms Keller, however, is "not the policies but the fervor and the deep suspicion of the other side's motives." It is not Ryan, et.al., who don't care about the poor, but rather the Democrats "who would make them wards of the state. And just write  them welfare checks." This "enslavement," as Hart styles it, does not come from just unintentional, but wrong-headed bleeding hearts, "but from cynical self-interest by liberal groups " Hart's view of the NAACP, for example, is "that you can't represent a group of downtrodden if you don't have a permanent group of downtrodden to represent." Ryan's goal, Hart concludes, is "to make those people [emphasis mine] productive members of society where they can lift themselves up." Although he grudgingly admits that having a federal agency to coordinate relief efforts after a national disaster, he quickly adds that my bet is that FEMA, like most government agencies, is too big-bloated and could coordinate relief efforts with (far) fewer resources than it currently receives from taxpayers".Asked if he felt that Romney was really much more moderate than Ryan and would attempt to govern accordingly, Hart replied that "I just don't think Paul would have gotten on the ticket if he didn't get some kind of commitment."

Lest anyone think that Ryan is merely his mentor's clone, Hart did admit that his protege's ideas on such social issues as abortion rights and same sex marriage contradicted his strict libertarian ideals: "I want the Democrats out of my damn pocketbook, and I want the Republicans out of my bedroom." So don't ever think that Ryan can't sometimes think for himself. 


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