The New York Times ran a front page story with the headline: “Conservative Elite in Capital Pay Heed to Ryan as Thinker.” The person most quoted attesting to Ryan’s great intellect was William Kristol. No that’s not Billy Crystal, from When Harry Met Sally, Analyze This, and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Billy with a C is comedy. William with a K is tragedy.
Willie K was a big supporter of the invasion of Iraq. He thought Saddam and Al Qaeda were connected. He was certain that after combat there would be a pleasantly secular society in which Sunnis strolled arm in arm with Shias. In 2003, he wrote: “The battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively and honorably.” Therefore, he urged, we should have more just like them. In 2005, he claimed that the Bush Doctrine had been vindicated. The Bush Doctrine asserts, “We gotta do it to them before they do it us.” Germany invaded Russia for precisely that reason. We called it the crime of aggressive war and hung people for it at Nuremberg. He said, “Barack Obama is not going to beat Hillary Clinton in a single Democratic primary” (Fox News, December 17, 2006). Then there’s this: “Bush pushed through the tax cuts of 2001 and especially 2003 by arguing that they would produce growth. His opponents predicted dire consequences. But the president was overwhelmingly right.” He was against building an Islamic community center near ground zero. He’s the guy who swooned over Sarah Palin like a junior high school boy who’d just gotten his first glimpse of a cheerleader’s panties and went on to sell her to the Republican Party. To top it off, as Karl Rove was known as George Bush’s brain, William Kristol was once known as “Dan Quayle’s brain.” (For those too young, or whose memory is failing, Quayle, as vice president from 1989 to 1993 under George H.W. Bush, was a laughingstock not just here at home, but around the world.)
Why would the New York Times use William Kristol as their primary source to declare Ryan a thinker worth paying heed to? Habit? Laziness? Ignorance? A perverse in-joke—the guy who loved Palin and Quayle says Ryan is smart, ha-ha-ha! I sent an inquiry to Annie Lowrey, who wrote the article, but she has not replied.
The article names two—count `em, two—intellectual influences on Mr. Ryan: Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand.
Republicans with intellectual pretensions are absolutely mad about Hayek. In part because he represents the “Austrian School” of economics, which somehow sounds like a more esoteric and rigorous form of fiscal thought, just as Austrian Army Calisthenics might be if they had their own set of exercises.
What primarily distinguishes the Austrian School is that it rejects empiricism. It claims that economics cannot be based on facts and their theories cannot be tested against facts. I am not making that up. It’s true. Republican economics—Austrian or not—operate the same way. They are not based on facts. However often they fail, they don’t acknowledge those facts. There is a deep spiritual kinship there.
The other reason Hayek is beloved is that he wrote a book called The Road to Serfdom. If you don’t read much beyond the title—or, better yet, don’t read it at all, just repeat what other “Republican intellectuals” say about it—it appears to say that participation by the state in the economy leads to socialism and that will turn us all into slaves of the next Stalin. In actuality, Hayek acknowledged, along with his friend John Maynard Keynes, that governments have to participate in economies, including funding public works; it was only a matter of kind and degree. In 1950, he came to America. But “he despised most Republican politicians, all cars, and practically everything else about life in America, including the absence of universal health insurance and government-sponsored pensions,” writes Sylvia Nasar in Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius. So Hayek left.
Ayn Rand is the pen name of Alisa Rosenbaum.
There is a style of art called socialist realism but it ought to be called, with more accuracy, Stalinist Heroicism, or, DC Comics for Communists. Heroic peasants and proletarians, muscles bulging, chins up, gazing directly ahead, move triumphantly into the future. Alisa Rosenbaum did the same, in the form of novels, for free market capitalism. The story in her most famous work, Atlas Shrugged, is that the millionaires get so irritated by not being able to keep all the money in the world that they go on strike. The world collapses without them.
This is at the heart of Romney, Ryan, Republican idiocy, the idea that no genuine entrepreneur or capitalist would work for a 5 percent return. If they can only hold on to one million dollars out of 10 million, they will sulk, and rightly so, and sit on their money until the world collapses.
Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957. The top marginal tax rate was around 90 percent. The CEO-to-average-work-pay ratio was under 20:1. Today, it’s between 400:1 (1999) and 200:1 (2008). So back then, the entrepreneur heroes should have abandoned American and rushed to Lichtenstein or Peru to build their mighty industrial empires while the collectivist freeloaders and leeches in the USA dragged down our nation under the weight of their sloth and ineptitude. That is, of course, the opposite of what actually happened. But the Austrian School rejects empiricism. The Ryan-Romney school of tax cuts to unleash the creative power of billionaires is splendiferous in its total disregard of facts.
The essence of Rand’s philosophy is that the only moral thing to do is to pursue absolute, unmitigated self-interest, the “virtue of selfishness.” Altruism is harmful and destructive. Money is the measure of virtue. This is what seems to have aroused Paul Ryan’s enthusiasm.
The same logic that took Rand there—valid or not—led her to atheism, belief in free love, and support for abortion rights. Ryan passed all that by like a shopper in the supermarket who grabbed the ice cream but ignored the broccoli and oatmeal. Which is fine for a politician, possibly acceptable in a college freshman, but not for an intellectual. A thinker has to explain why the theory works for the one but not the rest.
Let me give the final word to Mr. Kristol, who says Ryan is “a guy who, unlike 98 percent of members of Congress, can sit in a conference room or around the dinner table with 6 or 10 people from think tanks and magazines and more than hold his own in a discussion.” Holy Mary, Mother of God, are our congress people that totally, astonishingly, stupid? Apparently they are, and in the land of the witless and blind, a one-eyed moron is a thinker of stature.