Saturday, August 11, 2012

Damning Paul Ryan with Faint Praise

To be extremely charitable to Will Saletan, it is, in fact, true that Paul Ryan is a DC Republicans who makes one of the more serious efforts to grapple with the policy problems facing the federal government.

It's also true that this is like saying he's one of the world's tallest midgets*.

As Ryan discovered when he was tasked with being the public face of the House GOP's 2011 budget plan, it's extremely difficult to balance the federal budget given current revenue levels. You have to assume that new job markets will crop up over the next decade. Paul Krugman thinks Ryan is bullish on unicorn spotting, but I'm personally partial to snipe hunting. Considering the trend in all industries except education and health care is to do more work with fewer employees, the assumptions built into Ryan's budget seem highly fanciful.

What's more, even with such optimistic employment assumptions, Ryan is forced to slowly abandon the federal government's commitment to Medicare. The Ryan budget limits government spending on "Medicare" -- which is abandoned in favor of vouchers, eliminating the state's monopsony buying power -- to overall inflation, even though health care costs have grown faster than either GDP growth or inflation for generations. The end result will be that seniors will either consume fewer health care services, dig themselves further into poverty and debt in an effort to stay alive, or both.

Now, Ryan is more honest about all of this than most Republicans, in that he's willing to put some of these ideas on paper in a form that you can argue with rather than just spout platitudes about low taxes and deregulation. So, that is to his credit, even if he he still had to elide lots of details. But the Ryan budget is not a centrist, technocratic, neoliberal effort to maintain the government's commitments to. It is a right-wing effort to maintain right-wing commitments to keeping taxes -- especially taxes on business income and capital, which are primarily forms of income that flow to the rich -- as low as possible for as long as possible. Don't be fooled.

* I have been looking for a more politically correct version of this quip but can't come up with any. I could go with "... like saying he's one of the more attractive girls at MIT", but that's highly problematic. So, if you have ideas on a more sensitive version of this schtick I'm all ears.

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