In 2010, Christopher Beam reported that Rep. Paul Ryan (WI, R) required his congressional staff to read Ayn Rand’s Objectivist tome, Atlas Shrugged (now a
major motion picture). Ryan has made no secret of his admiration for Rand’s philosophy, and has cited her as “the reason I got into public policy.” (He’s not the only one. Kentucky’s aptly-name, big-oil-glorifying Senator Rand Paul is another.) Whether Ryan still makes his staff slog through Rand’s work, is anybody’s guess. But his latest budget proposal — unanimously approved by House Republicans, and embraced by all-but-inevitable Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney — makes it clear that he and the rest of the GOP want very much to make the rest of us slog through a world redesigned according to Rand’s worldview.
What exactly is that worldview? And what would a world designed according to its dictates look like? I’m glad you asked.
I’m even gladder that Gary Weiss has provided an answer, so I don’t have to attempt to digest any more of Rand’s philosophy than I already have.
The shape of a future Objectivist world has been a matter of public record for the past half century, since Ayn Rand, the Brandens, Alan Greenspan, and other Objectivist theoreticians began to set down their views in Objectivist newsletters. When he casually defended repeal of child labor laws in the debate with Miles Rapoport, Yaron Brook [President of the Ayn Rand Institute] was merely repeating long- established Objectivist doctrine, summarized by Leonard Peikoff as “Government is inherently negative.” It is a worldview that has been static through the decades, its tenets reiterated endlessly by Rand and her apostles:
That’s a passage from his book, Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America’s Soul, which I should and probably will read (though I’m sure it will keep me up at night). In an excerpt posted to Alternet, Weiss goes on to describe what an America based on that worldview would look like.
No government except the police, courts of law, and the armed services.
No regulation of anything by any government.
No Medicare or Medicaid.
No Social Security.
No public schools.
No public hospitals.
No public anything, in fact. Just individuals, each looking out for himself, not asking for help or giving help to anyone.
An Objectivist America would be a dark age of unhindered free enterprise, far more primitive and Darwinian than anything seen before…
In an Objectivist world, the reset button would be pushed on government services that we take for granted. They would not be cut back, not reduced — they would vanish. In an Objectivist world, roads would go unplowed in the snows of winter, and bridges would fall as the government withdrew from the business of maintaining them — unless some private citizen would find it in his rational self-interest to voluntarily take up the slack by scraping off the rust and replacing frayed cables. Public parks and land, from the tiniest vest-pocket patch of green to vast expanses of the West, would be sold off to the newly liberated megacorporations. Airplane traffic would be grounded unless a profit-making capitalist found it in his own selfish interests to fund the air traffic control system. If it could be made profitable, fine. If not, tough luck. The market had spoken. The Coast Guard would stay in port while storm- tossed mariners drown lustily as they did in days of yore. Fires would rage in the remnants of silent forests, vegetation and wildlife no longer protected by rangers and coercive environmental laws, swept clean of timber, their streams polluted in a rational, self-interested manner by bold, imaginative entrepreneurs.
It’s the kind of world view that progressives like to poke fun at — myself included — because it seems so absurd. I mean, c’mon. Yeah, conserva-tarians on the right have this weird, post-apocalyptic, “Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome” fantasy they want to make real. But it’s just crazy talk, right? After all, it can’t happen here.
Yeah, but here’s the thing: they really mean it. No. Listen. They really, really mean it.
Paul Ryan’s not just a member of the Ayn Rand fan club. He’s a member of Congress. Because his party holds a majority in the House, he’s also chair of the House Budget Committee. In was in that capacity that Ryan presented his latest budget proposal, which has since been passed by the Republican majority in the House, and embraced by GOP presidential front runner Mitt Romney (whom Ryan just endorsed). So, really, it’s not “the Ryan budget” anymore. It’s much bigger than that. It’s the Republican budget, and practically a mission statement for the GOP itself.
Essentially, the Republican budget spends about $5.3 trillion less than the President’s budget. What we’re really talking about here is $5.3 trillion in cuts. Half the cuts in the Republican budget come from changes to health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid. On top of that, there’s another $2.2 trillion in cuts to just about everything else.
The Republican budget:
- Converts Medicare to “premium support”
- Cuts Medicaid by a third, converts it to block grants, and gives control to the states
- Cuts “income security” programs for the poor by 16%
- Cuts transportation spending by 24%
- Cuts “general science, space and basic technology” by 6%
- Cuts “education, training, employment” and social services” by 33%
- Cuts spending on “natural resources and the environment” by 14%
Third Way connected the the dots to paint a bleak picture of the real world consequences of the recent debt-ceiling deal. It should give you a pretty good idea of what Paul Ryan’s Republican-approved, Romney embraced budget would do.
In fact, according to Third Way, Ryan’s budget would “end Medicare as we know it” — along with a lot of things government does to benefit the other 99 percent of us.
Alternatively, we can look at what specific cuts might ensue in the very near future. Third Way has tried to game out the impacts of Congress’s recent debt-ceiling deal on specific government programs. The cuts to domestic spending, if applied across the board, would lead to fewer food inspectors, fewer air-traffic controllers, and so forth. That would mean more delays and cases of food poisoning, and so forth. And Ryan’s budget, for its part, goes even deeper than the debt-ceiling deal.
I asked Third Way’s budget expert David Kendall if he could update some of his numbers for Ryan’s budget. Under Ryan’s plan, for instance, spending on transportation would be 26.1 percent lower in 2014 than it is today. If that size cut was applied to, say, air-traffic control programs, Kendall notes, “there would be 3,092 more flight cancellations and 68,683 delays annually. At the U.S. average of 49 passengers per flight, that’s enough to strand 151,503 more people at the gate and make 3,365,685 more people late every year.”
Likewise, spending on natural resources and the environment would be 14.6 percent lower under Ryan’s budget in 2014 than it is today. Assuming those cuts hit all programs in this category equally — and, again, this is for illustration purposes — then this is how it would affect weather forecasting. “Our weather forecasts would be only half as accurate for four to eight years until another polar satellite is launched,” estimates Kendall. “For many people planning a weekend outdoors, they may have to wait until Thursday for a forecast as accurate as one they now get on Monday. … Perhaps most affected would be hurricane response. Governors and mayors would have to order evacuations for areas twice as large or wait twice as long for an accurate forecast.”
Now, obviously, Ryan’s budget may not lead to these exact cuts. Perhaps Congress will go out of its way to shield weather forecasting while cutting something else in the environmental budget even more. But when the budget is this tight, Congress can’t shield everything. And Kendall’s analysis is a useful way to make those spending reductions a little more concrete.
As depressing as that sounds, it’s nothing to the total body count on jobs. The Republican budget would actually cost us around 4.1 million jobs through 2014.
Paul Ryan’s latest budget doesn’t just fail to address job creation, it aggressively slows job growth. Against a current policy baseline, the budget cuts discretionary programs by about $120 billion over the next two years and mandatory programs by $284 billion, sucking demand out of the economy when it most needs it and leading to job loss. Using a standard macroeconomic model that is consistent with that used by private- and public-sector forecasters, the shock to aggregate demand from near-term spending cuts would result in roughly 1.3 million jobs lost in 2013 and 2.8 million jobs lost in 2014, or 4.1 million jobs through 2014.*
Speaking of body counts, the GOP’s 45% cut to Medicaid would leave leave 19 million without coverage, and eliminate plans to provide coverage to 33 million people who are currently without it. GOP budget would also repeal the Affordable Care Act. (An attempt to beat the Supreme Court to the punch?) Assuming that conservatives are more enthusiastic about “repeal” than “replace” when it comes to health care reform, that would leave millions without without coverage — including 2.5 million young people under 26, who can now be covered by their parent’s insurance. (Never mind that some parents won’t have health insurance to cover anymore anyway, once their jobs are gone.)
Who are the beneficiaries of all this? The wealthy 1 percent would benefit from $4.3 trillion in tax cuts over ten years — on top of capturing 93% of all income growth in 2010. The military, the only department of government that gets an increase in spending under the Republican budget, would benefit.
For the rest of us, the Ryan/Republican budget would “render the United States unrecognizable” in short order.
If the foreign adversaries and competitors of the United States imagined a future that would fulfill their most ambitious objectives, it might begin with a government crippled by the House Republican leadership’s “Ryan budget” released on Tuesday. Followed to its absurd conclusion, this document would lead America toward a withered state, approaching the point where Marxian dreams and Randian dogma converge.
Or at least that’s the view suggested by the sober analysts at the Congressional Budget Office, whose report on the Ryan budget shows debilitating cuts to nearly every department of government today, from law enforcement and border patrols to scientific research, food safety, environmental protection, federal highways, national parks, weather monitoring, education and all the other essential functions of a great country. There would not be much left for Medicare and Medicaid, either. Social Security would continue in some form, and defense — of course — would increase.
But in a nation stripped of science and infrastructure, with a people demoralized by insecurity, unemployment and inequity, exactly what would be left to defend?
Certainly Ryan and his Republican colleagues will deny that their new budget — like their old budget — would cripple the federal government and render the United States unrecognizable over the coming decades, if implemented. Yet the calculations released by the CBO, a nonpartisan arm of the Congress, permit no other conclusion.
It’s no coincidence that what Joe Conason describes above sounds a lot like the Randian dystopia in Gary Weiss’ excerpt. For 99 percent of Americans, Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” leads America redesigned according to vision of his the Republican party’s — favorite “political philosopher.”
Ryan’s budget stand no chance of becoming law, if only because there’s still a Democratic majority in the Senate, and a Democrat in the White House. But that doesn’t matter to its proponents in the long run. For now, it serves to set Republican agenda for the 2012 election year, and perhaps beyond — if, after the election, Republicans find themselves in possession of a Senate majority, and an obedient president who can “hold a pen.”