Paul Ryan: The Art of Emptiness

Ayn Rand Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan is a very articulate guy.  He can rattle off stats, anecdotes, defend his position on various issues, but in the end, what he says is full of emptiness.  He’ll find an artful way to say it, but he still believes that supply side economics works; that lowering taxes for businesses and the top one percent will somehow lure businesses to ramp up production, hire people, and start a virtuous economic cycle.  The problem for Ryan is that there’s a real case of a supply side/Ayn Randian economic Shangri-La — and it’s hardly a paradise. It’s a state called Kansas. The Governor of Kansas (Sam Brownback) has called his policies of increasing taxes on the poor and lower them for everyone else, “a real live experiment” in right-wing principles that will make Kansas more competitive for business.

Let’s look at the logic behind right-wing economics. If taxes are lowered for those at the top and somewhat lower for everyone else (except the poorest residents who get a tax increase) in a state, businesses will see such a place a prime area to set up shop and start employing people because the shackles of taxes aren’t an issue. Low taxes equal an ideal business climate. An optimal business climate means the local economy should boom. If the local economy booms, more people have money to spend. As the velocity of money-making flows through the economy at a rapid rate spurring consumption, the state government should, according to the logic of supply side economics, see a spike in revenue from sales taxes. Here’s the problem: the “real live experiment” in Kansas has actually created a $333 million deficit in the budget. Now, Paul Ryan isn’t a resident or even a representative of Kansas. He’s from Wisconsin — where the GDP percent change is marginally worse than Kansas. In Kansas it’s 1.9 percent, in Wisconsin is 1.7 percent. Both state governments are ruled by supply side Governors who believe that their economic theory works. Paul Ryan believes this, too. He was on my local NPR affiliate today (KQED) to talk about his new book, “The Way Forward.” If his book is anything like his performance on KQED, it’s full of code words that’ll appeal to the GOP base. Things like “the system is broken,” “We need to focus on outcomes,” “Taxes are too high for LLCs” and “the trillions of dollars parked off-shore will come home when we lower taxes to a rate that’s competitive with Canada.”

The thing is, Ryan has his talking points down so well that it’s difficult to have a real conversation with him — God knows host Michael Krasny had a difficult time conversing with him today. Ryan was like those customer service reps who have their script in front of them when you call to complain about your cable service. You can talk ’til you’re blue in the face about your specific problem, but they will only answer you from the approved script. Ryan is hardly the first politician to stick the script, but it’s such a old, worn out narrative about low taxes and kicking people from welfare rolls, that it’ll do well with his base. But as the 2016 presidential race starts to ramp up, you’re going to hear more and more about the miracle cure of supply side economics from people who don’t want you to see the burning building such theories were built on.  In short, if you want to see supply side in practice, just look to Kansas. Ryan certainly isn’t.