By Jason Brennan
Paul Ryan — possible future Vice President of the United States — calls Ayn Rand one of his principal inspirations. He once claimed (and later denied) that Atlas Shrugged was required reading for his staff. He even gives copies of Atlas Shrugged as Christmas presents, which is a touch ironic, since Rand was an ardent atheist.
Are we just one heart attack or gunshot away from an Ayn Rand presidency? No. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Paul Ryan’s voting record speaks loudly. He is no Randian libertarian. Rather, he is just another run-of-the-mill big government neoconservative. Ryan’s rise isn’t the ascent of Ayn Rand, but the return of George W. Bush.
Ayn Rand believed people should be free to anything they please, so long as they don’t trample on the rights of others. She advocated a minimal, night-watchman state. She believed a just government would provide protection, law courts to settle disputes, and nothing else. Rand didn’t advocate low taxes, but no taxes. She believed a just government would collect fees for services rendered.
Rand would regard our current government as an unjust, rights-violating, bloated monstrosity. It is a monster Paul Ryan helped create. Ryan may admire Ayn Rand. He may quote F. A. Hayek in interviews. Yet his voting record is right out of the neocon playbook.
Rand opposed government bailouts and subsidies. Yaron Brooks, director the Ayn Rand Institute, said the bailouts were “national socialism of the financial markets.” In contrast, Ryan voted for the bank bailouts. He broke with party leadership and the majority of his fellow republicans by voting for the auto bailouts. He supported TARP.
Rand famously opposed government welfare and social insurance. Ryan voted for Medicare Part D, which subsidizes prescription drugs for seniors. Thus, Ryan was instrumental in producing the largest expansion of the welfare state since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
Ryan supported the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Watson Institute at Brown University estimates that these wars have already cost the federal government $3-4 trillion. These wars will be paid for by taxes, which Ayn Rand regarded as theft. Rand opposed having the US act as the world’s policeman.
Ryan has a reputation as a hardcore budget cutter, but the House Committee on the Budget says his budget plan would still allow the federal budget to grow at over 3% a year. If Ryan’s plan would balance the budget at all, it would do so only by 2040, when our children have grey hair. So much for a Randian small government.
Libertarians like Rand believe immigration restrictions expose the world’s poor to abuse and exploitation, and condemn them to poverty and death. (Rand herself may have been an illegal immigrant.) In contrast, Ryan voted against the Dream Act. He voted in favor of making the border more secure and of expanding the fence on the Mexican border.
Rand, an ardent opponent of totalitarianism, would have hated the Patriot Act. Ryan voted in favor of the Patriot Act and supports making it permanent. Rand would have opposed creating the Department of Homeland Security, which Ryan helped create.
Libertarians like Rand are famous for their “legalize everything” opposition to the War on Drugs. Paul Ryan is a drug warrior.
On social issues, Ryan’s Catholicism dominates his Randianism. Ryan calls himself an “unwavering foe of abortion rights” and co-sponsored a bill that would grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs. Ayn Rand said, “Abortion is a moral right — which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered.” She said that for many of the struggling poor, “pregnancy is a death sentence… [which would] condemn them to a life of hopeless drudgery, of slavery to a child’s physical and financial needs.” She would say of Ryan what she said of Reagan, i.e., that Ryan threatens to “to take us back to the Middle Ages, via the unconstitutional union of religion and politics.”
Paul Ryan votes like a neoconservative, not a Randian. Neoconservatives, such as George W. Bush or Dick Cheney, talk the small government talk but walk the large government walk. They charge the US government with exporting democracy and the American way of life to the rest of the world. They charge the government with guarding the moral and sexual virtue of citizens. They want government to champion and support big business.
If you want to be scared by Paul Ryan, be scared of what he does, not what he says.
Jason Brennan is Assistant Professor of Ethics, Economics, and Public Policy at Georgetown University. He is the author of Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2012), The Ethics of Voting (Princeton University Press, 2012), and co-author of A Brief History of Liberty (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). He blogs at BleedingHeartLibertarians.com.
Image credit: Atlas Shrugged, first edition, book cover. Copyright Random House. Used to illustrate an article concerning the book in question. Source: Wikimedia Commons.