Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Paul Ryan, Genius


We went down to Georgia last weekend to play fiddle for a dance. Did not see the devil anywheres, but only some very nice folks who love to shake a leg. I-85 was pretty much as it is, except less construction these days. Surely that'll change once the jobs bill is quickly voted in in a wave of bipartisan cooperation this fall.

Coming back I heard several times Paul Ryan's big new sound bite--that the idea that very wealthy people should have a higher tax rate than at present--was "class warfare." I know he's supposed to be the big Republican genius, but really. "Class warfare" is a cliche. It's tired, stale, and meaningless. It's a phrase that Limbaugh has been dragging out since 1991, when he accused Clinton of class warfare. You'd think Ryan, who is supposed to really understand our economic situation at a level mere mortals can only postulate, would come up with something better. How about "generational warfare"? He definitely gets that one.

It's also strangely ironic, given that Mr. Ryan's on proposed budget is an attack on American citizens who aren't bazillionaires, and who thought that simply doing their best would at least get them to a retirement that wasn't going to be accomplished in a cardboard box, under a bridge, with no teeth. Apparently it turns out that beyond being without any empathy, Mr. Ryan is also simply a dim bulb, a posture, much like his Confederate twin, Mr. Cantor. Surely these people have heard of "projection?" I realize that some day soon all Republicans are going to be graduates of the shadow education system that has been constructed by the far right, but somehow I doubt either Cantor or Ryan matriculated from Regency Law, or Oral Roberts U. Perhaps one can hope that as Ms. Bachmann circles ever downward in flames, the genius twins will follow?

The problem with the Rand position is that it is contradictory in application. Consider that on the one hand the goal is to support and encourage the entrepreneur, the brave citizen who has an idea and just wants the economic space to bring it to fruition, to the benefit of all of us dimmer worker drones. Now and then such an entrepreneur succeeds of course, even when taxes are still above zero. But of course we all know that most entrepreneurs do not succeed, and that their failure (to use a harsh and unfair word) is not due to tax policy, but to the luck of the Irish, the whims of the consumer, the various other entrepreneurs battling in the marketplace, the whims of the Chinese and Indian governments' industrial investment policies, and surely many other factors too numerous to mention.

Now, given that any sensible person in the Randian universe is going to try to invest for their retirement, and given that in the Randian universe there is no public safety net, because there is no such thing in the Randian universe as a "public" or "common" good. Why then should any sensible citizen in the Randian universe dare risk their future on what is by definition a low-percentage investment. In the Randian world, with no safety net, the sensible play is just exactly what parents of the Great Depression told their children--get a job, hold on to it even if your boss is an asshole and plays head games with you every day of the week, keep your head down, survive.

That is to say--in the Randian world it's actually only the small number of successful entrepreneurs who are lauded as examples to follow. The failed entrepreneur is a ruined man desperately in need of a safety net, at least if he's over 65. Talk to the gigantic failed entrepreneur class currently populating the US--that would be the guys who were doing just great building houses until 2008. They were not "wage slaves." In fact, almost all of them, every last nail banger, rock hanger, shingle slapper, pipe fitter, wire runner--the whole kit and kaboodle that made up the housing industry--all of 'em were sole proprietors, hard working entrepreneurs living the Randian dream in a world where housing prices always went up, because that way gravity points.

The reason why Americans built a government that could provide a safety net for its citizens was because Americans who did the building lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War. What has happened since then is that subsequent generations have forgotten that we all shared the load in those very dark days, and that as a result (and of course with some luck) we came out of the tunnel into the light. If you want sensible people to have the courage to try for their dreams, you need to cushion the possibility that they are risking losing everything in the process. Otherwise, sensible people won't take that risk.

The Randian dream is in fact an illusion conjured up by people who are already so rich that they have no risks. What they really dream of is a labor base so battered that they will take whatever jobs there are at any wage offered. This is how manufacturing will return to the US, if the Randians have their way--if Paul Ryan has his way. No safety net--no social security, no medicare, no anything--that creates desperation, not visionaries. The visionaries in that world are people with schemes--people who think they can saw through the gates of the gated at night and come away with their catalytic converters and central air conditioning units. People who figure out how to sell drugs to the children of the gated. Or get elected to sell mind candy to the muddled parents. That's Mr. Ryan's gig.

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