Mitt Romney has less than three months to convince American voters that he is the man to lead them (and the rest of the planet) out of the biggest fiscal hole it has fallen into since the Depression. While we don’t have people throwing themselves out of tall buildings, the degree of damage to wealth (UK GDP down by 23% since the halcyon days of 2007) is major. It will not be fixable by voodoo economics.
Yet that appears to be what Romney’s new running mate and the next LBJ—if Mitt succeeds and we have another Dallas 1961—intends. Given the continued love of personal artillery (and a history of using it to settle arguments) across the pond, then the donations that the NRA give to the Republican party make that scenario anything but far-fetched.
Paul Ryan is the most articulate and intellectually imposing Republican of the moment—no great accolade. But that doesn’t alter the fact that this earnest congressman from Wisconsin is preaching the same empty conservative sermon as his boss. His campaign rhetoric about shrinking Big Government and giving tax cuts to “job creators” (aka: the top 2% earners) will do nothing to reverse US economic decline or avoid fiscal collapse. It has been calculated that Romney would pay 0.82% tax rate if the proposals were enacted.
Mr. Ryan professes to be a defense hawk. But following that Republican doctrine since Ronald Ray-gun now saddle a bankrupt nation with a roughly $775 billion “defense” budget when the US has no advanced industrial state enemies and has already been fired (appropriately) as the world’s policeman for doing a Clancy Wiggum. That huge amount is half of Britain’s entire GDP.
Adjusted for inflation, today’s US defence (defense?) budget is double Eisenhower’s in 1961 (about $400 billion in today’s dollars)—a level Ike deemed sufficient to contain the Soviet nuclear threat in a post-Sputnik era. The Romney-Ryan school of attacking “Big Government” (always a winner among right-wingers there) is to increase an already outlandish warfare-state budget for sabre-rattling at an irrelevant Iran.
Far more urgent than environmental marginalia that Mitt Romney targets is that the giant Wall Street banks remain dangerous quasi-wards of the state—inexorably prone to speculative abuse of taxpayer-insured deposits and the Fed’s cheap money. Forget about “too big to fail”: these banks are too big to exist. They are too big to manage internally or to regulate externally: they need to be broken up.
Ryan’s greatest hypocrisy is his phony “plan” to solve the entitlements mess by deferring changes to social insurance by at least a decade. Instead of a sweeping, income-based eligibility test, which would reduce or eliminate social insurance benefits for millions of affluent retirees, the supposedly courageous Ryan plan would cut nothing from the $1.3 trillion-per-year cost of US Social Security and Medicare over the next decade.
Instead, it shreds a measly means-tested safety net for the vulnerable of America: $100 billion per year for food stamps and cash assistance for needy families and a $300 billion budget for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled. Shifting Medicaid costs to the states is make-believe if current federal financing to them is cut at the same time.
In his days representing Wisconsin, Ryan would give out copies of Ayn Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged” as Christmas presents. He described the novelist of heroic capitalism as “the reason I got into public service.” But Mr. Ryan’s youthful, feverish embrace of Rand and his clumsy attempts to distance himself from her now is more than the flip-flopping of an ambitious politician: it is a window into the ideological fissures at the heart of modern conservatism.
Though Mr. Ryan’s advocacy of steep cuts in government spending might have pleased Ayn Rand, she would surely have opposed his social conservatism and hawkish foreign policy. She would have denounced him—as she denounced Ronald Reagan,—for trying “to take us back to the Middle Ages, via the unconstitutional union of religion and politics.”
And when Ryan’s embrace of Rand drew fire from US Catholic leaders, he reversed course with a speed to make Mitt Romney proud. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he said earlier this year. “Give me Thomas Aquinas.” Mr. Ryan’s is a telling index how far American conservatism has moved from its founding principles. The creators of the movement embraced the free market, but shied from Rand’s promotion of capitalism as a moral system. They emphasized the practical benefits of capitalism, not its ethics.
Mr. Ryan’s selection as Mr. Romney’s running mate is the kind of stinging rebuke of the welfare state that Rand hoped to see during her lifetime. But Mr. Ryan is also what she called “a conservative in the worst sense of the word.” Like his new boss, Mr. Ryan has no serious plan to create jobs. America has some of the highest worker costs in the world; workers and business pay $1 trillion each year in their equivalent of PAYE/NI. Many argue for a national sales tax (a consumption tax, like our dreaded but efficient VAT) but neither candidate will have the gumption to create one.
Of the $1 trillion in so-called tax expenditures that the plan would attack, most would come from slashing popular tax breaks for employer-provided health insurance, mortgage interest, 401(k) accounts (savings via payroll deductions), state and local taxes and charitable giving. The plan seems devoid of credible arithmetic or hard policy choices. There is no element to face up to Wall Street, the Fed, the military-industrial complex, social insurance or even the present US fiscal calamity—not even a clear route to that American axiom of reviving capitalist prosperity.
They are like old-time fire-and-brimstone preachers doing a Canute—wading out into an unknown marsh and calling to their followers that faith alone will keep all their heads above water.