A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Catholic Randians and Prudential Judgments

Just to stir the pot a little... Catholic conservatives frequently distinguish between disagreeing with the Church's views on abortion/gay marriage/stem cell research and a departing from the Church's views on the death penalty/torture/war/economic justice. The idea, as then Cardinal Ratzinger laid out in his July 2004 letter on receiving communion, is that the former are intrinsically evil, whereas the evil of the latter positions depends on some degree of prudential judgment:

For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

There are lots of questions about this distinction that have been raised here and elsewhere. I don't want to get into those again in this post. My question is a different one. What are we to do when a Catholic politician seems to reject the principle underlying the prudential judgment? For example, there may be "legitimate diversity of opinion" about waging THIS particular war or applying the death penalty in THIS particular case. But what if the politician rejects the broader exhortation to "seek peace, not war"? Surely -- in the magisterium's view -- there is no room for legitimate diversity of opinion on that more general matter of principle. Similarly, while there may be a great deal of legitimate diversity of opinion concerning how best to promote the well being of the poorest, surely (on the magisterium's view of its own authority) there is no legitimate diversity of opinion concerning the mandate to structure social policy toward that end. Thus, a Catholic politician who said that he was structuring social policy precisely because government has no obligation towards the poorest, could not be said to differ from the Church on a matter of mere prudential judgment.I take it no one would disagree with the foregoing. Perhaps my next assertion will be more controversial.

I think it is fair to hold political figures to some standard of plausibility in the empirical assertions underlying their prudential judgments. And where their empirical claims are utterly lacking in empirical foundation, then it is fair to say that they are likely lying when they claim that their prudential judgments represent an effort to conform their reasoning to certain moral principles. I assume, for example, that if a Catholic pro-choice politician says that he accepts the Church's teaching on abortion but that he believes that legally prohibiting abortion will increase the abortion rate and so opposes legal prohibition for that reason, pro-life Catholics would argue that he is acting within the boundaries of a "legitimate diversity of opinion." At a minimum, I think they would require some significant empirical support to back up his claim before they would concede the good faith of his prudential judgment.On similar grounds, it seems to me that the Ryan plan -- and Ryan himself -- can plausibly be accused of simply disregarding basic principles of Catholic social thought, not just prudential judgments about how best to achieve those principles. At the most basic level, the structure of his plan -- cutting taxes for the wealthiest and for corporations while slashing benefits for the poorest and most vulnerable -- does not square with the Church's mandate to structure social policy in a way that is fundamentally focused on the well-being of the poorest, a kind of maximin principle. Still, the argument might go, this sort of restructuring of government's operations could be reconciled with Catholic principle if it were the case that massively cutting taxes for the rich and increasing the economic burdens on the poor would stimulate the economy to such a degree that the resulting prosperity would create a rising tide that would lift all boats. This was, I assume, the purpose of citing to the Heritage Foundation study predicting that the Ryan plan tax cuts would increase revenue and would produce incredibly low levels of unemployment. Now that the Heritage study has been pretty universally rejected, however, what is the case for structuring a debt reduction plan along the lines of the Ryan plan? Can the debunked supply-side logic of self-funding tax cuts and the associated trickle-down prosperity justify Catholic support for a plan with the features of the Ryan Plan as consistent with the preferential option for the poor? It seems to me that that can be the case only if we impose absolutely no burden of plausibility on the empirical assumptions underlying prudential application of those principles. [In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we should simply interpret the plan as intending to do what it does: improve the situation of the best off and then making up for that (and, in addition, reducing the debt over the long term) at the almost exclusive expense of some of the most vulnerable. And such an intent runs contrary to the principles of Catholic social teaching -- it does not reflect the prudential application of those principles.]And, frankly, as for Ryan himself, I don't see why we should give him the benefit of the doubt. As is well documented, the man is a ardent admirer or Ayn Rand. He requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged. And he has credited Rand with his decision to enter public service. Rand's objectivist philosophy rejects the notion that the government has any obligation to help the poorest. Rather, its purpose is to protect rights of private property and enforce market transactions in order to unleash the most creative and gifted among us.In trying to interpret Ryan's motives, we have a couple of choices. On the one hand, we can say that he's trying to help the poorest, notwithstanding any empirical evidence that his plan will do that. On the other hand, we can say that he's implementing Rand's anti-Christian objectivist philosophy, which he has credited with motivating him to enter public service. [He's either blinded to empirical reality by his ideological commitments and actually believes we make the help the poor by handing money to the rich and cutting health care for the poor, or he's intending to do what his plan straightforwardly seems designed to do -- reduce state-imposed burdens on the rich and let the poor fend for themselves.] It seems to me that, given the evidence about his admiration for Rand, the most plausible interpretation is the latter. There's no question that his plan, if implemented, would dismantle two of the pillars of the post-War welfare state (Medicare and Medicaid) while putting more money in the pockets of the wealthy. But if Ryan's purpose is to move us closer to the objectivist ideal espoused by Rand, then it seems to me that he is beyond the boundaries of legitimate prudential disagreement. He is applying principles that directly contradict those of Catholic social teaching.[I've updated the post slightly, with the substantive changes in brackets.]

About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Edouardo,Note: Maritain pointed out that in a democracy people with differing, even opposed principles can sometimes come to the same conclusion about what should or should not be done, and this is one of the reasons that a democracy can work even when people disagree about general matters.YOu ask, "What are we to do when a political party or politician seems to reject the principle underlying the prudential judgment?"Following Maritain, I don't think that we need agree with a politicians principles (e.g., Ryan's) to agree that his bill should be passed. The practical question should simply be: will this be a good law or a bad one? In other words, in politics prudential judgments are not about motives but about actions and ends. To over-simplify, the issue concerns the difference between a good will and a good deed. Politics is not about approving or disapproving others' moral principles and virtues. It's about doing good as we see it. On the other hand, if the question is about electing a candidate with objectionable principles, then his moral principles do, of course, become relevant because the reasonable assumption is that he will mainly vote according to them.. But sometimes our choices are between two equally immoral candidates or between candidates who talk one way but often vote another. So, again, prudence doesn't allow a hard and fast generalization.

I have a simpler explanation. Most politicians get their persona/values from movie characters... politics and role playing are cousins.. . Reagan played himself in that he would only play heroes. He morphed from a Democrat to Republican.. Paul Ryan, I would guess is just playing out the Gary Cooper role in Rand's Fountainhead. Tall, strong, all American look. If the TP sinks the GOP watch for a morph.

Thanks, Anne. I was very sloppy in how I framed up the question in the first paragraph. I was more interested in the question of the Catholic politician himself, not in support for his political program by voters (although, as I think the argument makes clear, they are not wholly separate). I agree with you that the motive of the particular politician is not decisive for assessing whether it is permissible to support his program. I've cleaned it up a bit to make the question more clear.

I take it no one would disagree with the foregoing.____________________Well, I disagree with part of the foregoing, which led me to not bother with the rest.Your premise is flawed, in part, and mischaracterizes the views of those you hold to be your opponents.In speaking of "Catholic conservatives," I assume you mean Catholics who happen to be POLITCAL conservatives, and I further assume that you mean the Republican Party, which many conservatives might align themselves with, but are not necessarily members of. Even so, to the extent that such political conservatives who are Catholic support the Republican Party (setting aside capital punishment perhaps), they do so with the good faith belief that the party does NOT depart "from the Churchs views on . . . torture/war/economic justice."It is a fallacy at best, and an intentional malicious lie at worst, to suggest that conservatives and the Republican Party are pro-torture or pro-war or anti-economic justice or otherwise want women and minorities and children to suffer and die.And by firing that broadside at the onset, in typical hyper-partisan fashion, it is pointless to continue any further discussion.

Bender -- I don't think anything in the post as originally written called for your interpretation -- I was just recounting arguments that have been frequently made, including by Cardinal Ratzinger as quoted. It's hardly hyper-partisan to just describe the distinction that has been made over and over by Catholic conservatives. In any event, in response to Anne's more charitable comment above, I reworded the opening paragraph to make more precise the point I was raising.

There is nothing sadder than a Catholic conservative who derides Catholic liberals as being "cafeteria Catholics." "Prudential judgement" is conservativese for "pick and choose."

" --- it is pointless to continue any further discussion."Does that mean that you are picking up your ball and glove and going home?

I think Rand's philosophy is completely at odds with a Catholic sensibility. While I am a fan of Nietzsche (influential for Rand), I am not blind to the consequences of some of his thinking and would have to qualify a lot of his thought to square with a Catholic approach.I am surprised that Ryan, a Catholic, passes out Rand to his staff. This is a consequence of poor Catholic education I think.Gilson argued that there is a distinctively Catholic philosophy (not necessarily Thomistic either) but a particular style appropriate for the Catholic faith.This was his position and not Church teaching. However, it is important, I think, that we consider that carefully in light of FR K's quotation from St. Augustine about "guardians".

And, frankly, as for Ryan himself, I dont see why we should give him the benefit of the doubt.Because he is a human being created in God's image.

"I am surprised that Ryan, a Catholic, passes out Rand to his staff" (GD)Absolutely. (But then, I'm also surprised when someone not a 17-year-old boy screamo fan claims Rand as a primary influence.) I'm quite curious how he rationalizes it. It's like a Scientologist handing out copies of "The Ego and the I'd" to his staff. Has anyone been able to find statements where Ryan explains how he squares his love for Rand with being Catholic? For me, this is important not because I need him to adhere to a particular religion, but because if he doesn't get there's a profound inconsistency and/or can't resolve it, then it raises questions about his intellectual character.

Drat that auto-correct. I'd is Id.

Or it raises questions about his ability to empathize with those who suffer.

That, too. We know altruism's off the table, if he's a good Randite.

The point of the post (if my umpteenth reading of it is correct, and frankly I have no idea) seems to be that, if the far left somehow can delegitimize Rep. Ryan, then it won't have to debate the merits of his ideas or defend the status quo.At the risk of repeating myself (though I don't mind if I do), Rep. Ryan's plan should be held to the same standard as any other. Defenders of the status quo have the same burden of plausibility. And there's no room for Hippocratic do-no-harm. We have an affirmative duty to do the best we can for posterity, and at the very least Rep. Ryan deserves credit for stimulating that discussion.By all means let's use empiricism. There's no dearth of empirical evidence that freedom works and socialism stinks. And there is zero empirical evidence that Jesus is losing any sleep over whether pointy-headed federal bureaucrats get to spend 21 percent of GDP or 22.

[email protected]:38pm -- Brava! The Rand fanatics creep me out, and I think that feeling is in fact something that unites many on the Christian (religious) left and right, from my readings. One salient fact that undermines Ryan's credibility (and deeply) are his votes for so many of the initiatives that helped sink the country into debt, such as Medicare D and the Bush tax cuts. How does that square with his sudden embrace of the principle of fiscal conservatism?

How does that square with his sudden embrace of...Gee, something tells me you're infinitely more forgiving of Senior Lecturer Obama's countless flip-flops in his very brief career, from the debt limit to public campaign financing to Gitmo to the Patriot Act to the War Powers Act to military tribunals to signing statements to offshore drilling to filibustering judicial nominees to health care mandates to the "public option" to manned space exploration to blah blah blah blah blah... He's been on all sides of every issue except for protecting the abortion industry.

Sheesh. Coulda saved a whole lotta typing if you'd just put, "I know you are, but what am I?" or "I am Rubber! You are Glue!" Same diff.

Rep. Ryan must be winning, because the attacks keep getting loonier and more desperate.

NPR:Ryan is often touted as the Republican with ideas. President Obama praised his road map for deficit reduction from the podium at January's Republican retreat in Baltimore. Ryan has been quoted in the past as admiring the objectivist philosophies of Ayn Rand, but, he says, he doesn't believe in a purely laissez-faire system. "I do believe you have to have a safety net in society," he says."The problem we have is the safety net itself is going bankrupt. What I do in this bill is repair the holes in the safety net." of another part of the plan might counteract the lurid scenarios currently under construction: the highest marginal tax rates in Ryans plan are higher than the Simpson-Bowles recommendations which were not savaged by the moderate left as give-aways to the rich. In any fair presentation its obvious that both Ryan and Simpson-Bowles close loopholes used by high income people and their plans achieve revenue neutrality or are revenue positive. They clearly adopt long-standing proposals which are widely popular across a good deal of the political spectrum to broaden the tax base, lower marginal rates for everyone, and increase efficiency by rooting out tax gimmicks.

Maureen Dowd chimes in on Ryan and Rand. in Sunday NYT"Nevertheless, Rand is blazing back as an icon of the Tea Party, which overlooks her atheism, amorality in romance and vigorous support for abortion." But it's great for the top 1.5%.Ryan's $15k vouchers for seniors Medicare won't take effect until I'm gone. But my children will have to make due w/$15k voucher a year after what age 65-68? [no carryover either.. year to year, unlike the cell phone business] So when they finally get ill Ryan 'guarantees' about 6 weeks of coverage. Anyone remember the dying rooms in the Italian documentary Mondo Cane?? They are on their way back. The only upside I see is the vigil candle lighting in Church will spring an uptick.

While, as Pealver says, a particular prudential judgment must be able to withstand scrutiny, nevertheless it is possible to lay out general principles regarding the limits of prudential judgment in this debate.- The appropriate level of taxes and spending always is a prudential judgment. Taxes and spending are not ends in themselves. There is no requirement that government consume any more of our productive output than is absolutely necessary to achieve legitimate ends. If an end can be achieved at lower public cost, that is to the good.- The appropriate balance of power between the United States and the several states always is a prudential judgment. Federalism is consistent with the Catholic principle of subsidiarity. There is no absolute requirement to apply a single solution in precisely the same way in all 50 states. Indeed, to the contrary there is a requirement to leave as much freedom as possible to the people of the several states to innovate and to devise solutions best suited to their populations.- The appropriate scope of a social safety net always is a prudential judgment. There is no requirement to transfer public resources to individuals irrespective of actual need. Indeed, it is a scandal to transfer resources to those who are relatively better off from the less well off and from future generations.- The appropriate mechanism for providing a social safety net always is a prudential judgment. There is no requirement for massive centralized bureaucracy. There is no requirement that solutions from long ago be perpetuated forever without reform. There is no Catholic position on vouchers or block grants, except to the extent that the principles of human dignity and subsidiarity dictate the maximum possible degree of self-determination.

Really, Ryan passes out Rand to his staff. This magazine finds the "good" parts of Marx. What's the difference?

There is a lot to chew on in this post, and gives a useful analysis. I have 3 quick responses:1. I still remain surprised and a little taken aback at just how much opponents of the plan seem to going after Ryan personally. I know I've been called out for being "thin-skinned" before, but I am amazed that it seems acceptable for liberals to call Ryan a "liar" or "disingenous" because of certain assumptions he's made. I just don't think such characterizations are useful in creating meaningful dialogue, and I continue to think they're unbecoming of a Catholic publication. Ryan (like Pres. Obama) is primarily a politician; thankfully (IMHO) they are more wonky than the usual politician, but that means they're BOTH still going to: A) make certain assumptions and "game" the numbers to make their side look better (the President does the same thing with his own numbers) and B) are going to make IDEOLOGICAL claims. Mr. Penlaver makes the statement to the effect that perhaps Mr. Ryan's "ideology" blinds him to empirical facts. Perhaps it does, but if the intent of this statement is to imply that Pres. Obama's plan is wholly free of ideology and based solely on "facts", that is, it seems to me, woefully inaccurate. It is true, as Luke Hill and I have discussed, that BOTH plans for controlling health care costs rely on ideological, and not factual claims: one, whether creating a market and subjecting health care to such market forces will "bend the curve", or whether an independnt board of physicians and economists can make all the rational decisions and "bend the curve." There is simply no factual evidence on EITHER side to make such a decision, it is an ideological leap in both cases. 2. As I said in the beginning, I appreciate the framework Mr. Penalver is working with. But I continue to believe that he allows his political commitments to unduly color his "description" of Ryan's plan. He makes it sound as if Ryan, and I assume by proxy Ryan's supporters and the Republican party, just doesn't give a damn about the poor, i.e. he is ignoring a basic tenet of Catholic teaching. I simply disagree with the descriptions of Ryan's plan. First of all, he himself has said his goal is to SAVE the social safety net for the most vulnerable. He has said this again and again and again. So I suppose if you've convinced yourself that Ryan is a liar, it makes sense not to take him at his word, but I happen to think Ryan means what he says: reform the entitlement programs in order to save them from certain financial ruin. Secondly, Ryan's proposal contains some (arguably) PRO-poor items: means-testing, for example. His medicare proposal also requries RICH old people to pay more for their health care; I see nothing wrong with this. I also think that a closer look at Ryan's tax plan shows that it is NOT just premised on cutting rich people's taxes, but reforming the code and BROADENING the tax base. I would think liberals would be in favor of such a proposal. Finally, Ryan's plan is aimed primarily at MIDDLE CLASS entitlements, which are driving up costs, not (primarily) programs for the poor.So while I find this post useful, I am unclear about its purpose: to the extent its gives Catholics a framework for analyzing issues it seems useful. But parts of this seem intended, again, to discredit Ryan's plan by discrediting RYAN personally. I cringe when the right tries to do it again the President, and I cringe at these efforts. I have no idea (does anyone) how seriously Ryan takes his Catholic faith; it sounds like he is a serious Randian, and I agree that is troubling. Unfortunately, CST seems a woefully ignored framework by politicians in BOTH parties. Maybe that's the best place to end - where I started. We are dealing with politicians.

The big difference between Rand and Marx is that Rand had no sympathy for the suffering nor any notion that we have obligations to them while Marx had tremendous sympathy for them. So who was closer to Jesus Christ? Sean, an assumption in your comment seems to be that to agree with a part of a philosophy is to agree with all of it, which is simplistic thinking in the extreme. If that is not your intention, then what is your objection to agreeing with just part of Marx?

Oops -- Marx both had sympathey for those who suffer and thought we have obligations towards them.

" assumption in your comment seems to be that to agree with a part of a philosophy is to agree with all of it, which is simplistic thinking in the extreme."Well, that pretty well rebuts Pealver's post, which is that we must discredit Ryan because he read a book (and encourages reading). Ryan clearly does not subscribe to the totality of Rand's thinking. For one thing, he repeatedly, explicitly and prominently supports the concept of a social safety net. And there is zero credible basis to believe that Rand would embrace Ryan's plan.Come to think of it, I believe the colloquialism for Pealver's post is red herring.

"For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion."-----------We should not assume that we know when or if we are "at odds with the Holy Father". He and his fellow bishops are under no obligation to let us know their real positions on anything, and they often/usually don't. E.g., we were told Rome was opposed to the Iraq war, but Rome's instructions/views on that were delivered to Bush in Pio Laghi's diplomatic pouch. How do we know what Rome really said? (Given Laghi's history in Argentina, why would we assume anything?) Would anyone make a decision about receiving Communion based on what s/he thought Rome wanted Bush to do or not do in Iraq?

It sure makes sense not to be with the pope when he ordered the Crusades and, especially, when he asserted that it was alright to kill to regain the Holy Land. So was it a prudential judgment on the pope's part or those who disagreed. The problem was, for those who lived at the turn of the millenium, that they might have their head cut off if the disagreed that to retake Jerusalem was more important than not killing someone. Gregory VII and Urban II, were monks who showed that taking a vow of poverty did not make one poor, were the first two popes to get the Crusades going. Finding justification in Augustine, who, I dare say, was not as crasy as these two. But, hey, prudential judgments covers a multitude of sins. The Crusades, of course , are the great promoter of that other Christian superstition---Pilgrimages. Which allow one to visit and enrich holy places by being promised a quick trip to heaven. We have the over INDULGENT hierarchy to thank for granting indulgences so that one could steal heaven rather than get their the right way, by living the gospel, or perish the thought, follow Christ Crucified. But we need to cease endless babbling and get some concrete plans going. To wit:1. Bar all Catholics from the Holy Land. This will save countless lives. 2. Strip all Catholics of weapons. Ditto.3. Get rid of all Cardinal and Episcopal apparel. This will facilitate humility.4. Get real jobs for all bishops and clergy. This will bolster the economy and health care. 5. Add to this list.

This whole Rand/Ryan thing strikes me as a sidebar at best. I have a copy of "Anthem," a dystopian novel I admire despite it's drippy love story, and nobody would call me any type of political conservative.The fact is that Ryan has offered a proposal to cut government that must be judged on whether it would fairly and effectively put spending on the right track.BTW, has anyone seen the new movie, "Atlas Shrugged"? Didn't know this was even in the works.

Lest people forget to read this in their eagerness to solemnize Ayn Rand's screeds and selfishness: was ancient history when I was a pup.

David Mills at First Things cites Buckley and Chambers on Rand:

Whatever you do, don't miss the review of Atlas Shrugged that David Gibson referred to above. The post at First Things includes a link to the review and a devastating excerpt from it. I'm tempted to reproduce the excerpt here, but that might be a breach of blog etiquette. So, go read it yourselves.

Ann,You say, "an assumption in your comment seems to be that to agree with a part of a philosophy is to agree with all of it." No, in fact I am saying the opposite. Eduardo seems to be saying it.I am not a "Randian" but I think many of her ideas have great merit. For example, that using the power of the state to control people's economic behavior can be destructive and disrespectful of human dignity. That you are more likely to acheive the common good (materially and pschologically) when free people are allowed autonomy than when the state imposes "fairness." Rand was reacting in part to Marx, who's "sympathy for those who suffer" when joined with the power of the state as a governing philosophy resulted in the slaughter of 10's of millions and the enslavement of 100's of millions more. As a Catholic, I would rather carry the baggage of agreeing with some of Ayn Rand's philosophy than Karl Marx's any day of the week.

Of course we'd all agree that one can admire aspects of a philosopher's work--we should, in Kenneth Burke's terms, "use all that is there to use." It is not that Ryan likes parts of some of Rand's work, it's that he calls her his primary influence and requires his staff to read her (as opposed to making them read any other book he could have chosen). He's not just carrying her baggage, he's rifled through her trunks and is walking around in her trench coat.

An interesting thread! Thanks, Prof. Penalver, for sparking it.As Stephen Colbert regularly jokes, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias". This was true of George W. Bush's fiscal plans in the 2000 election. It was true of the decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003. It was true of the 2005 proposal to privatize Social Security. It's true of the House Republican budget proposal for FY 2012. (YMMV.)@ Jeff Landry (10:54 am) Since Jeff brought me into this thread (and Jeff, that's fine with me), I want to restate, or perhaps clarify, my views on a couple of things he mentioned:*I don't agree that "BOTH plans for controlling health care costs rely on ideological, and not factual claims". The Democrats' claim that their plan, as embodied in the new Affordable Care Act, will control health care costs is supported by the nonpartisan number-crunchers at the Congressional Budget Office---and the CBO has something of a track record, built up over the past two decades, for erring on the conservative side when it comes to the budgetary implications of health care legislation. (We could say that the CBO has a "technocratic" ideology, and that may well be so. However, that's different than having a "liberal" or "conservative" ideology in the sense that we have been discussing Chairman Ryan's proposal (and President Obama's response) over the past several days.)Ryan's proposal, as in earlier threads, has not yet been turned into legislative language and submitted to the CBO for a formal "scoring". The budgetary analysis on which Ryan's proposal was based was done by the Heritage Foundation. First, the Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank with a track record of producing analysis that supports right-wing initiatives---analysis that has a track record of not holding up to independent scrutiny. Second, in this case Heritage's analysis has already been criticized as "flawed and contrived" by a firm like Macroeconomic Advisers (which makes its money as a consultant to businesses, not to politicians).*"Ryans plan is aimed primarily at MIDDLE CLASS entitlements, which are driving up costs, not (primarily) programs for the poor." I think there are a couple of things wrong with this sentence:1 - There's general agreement that rising health care costs (not middle class entitlements) are the primary domestic budgetary problem---for governments and for corporations. Medicare (which primarily benefits the middle and working classes) is a just a subset of the larger health care picture. 2 - Medicaid (which benefits the poor and disabled) is also a subset of the larger health care picture, and Ryan proposes major cuts in Medicaid---as well as food stamps and other programs that primarily serve the poor. The bulk of the savings from cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other programs in Ryan's proposal are used for tax cuts (which apparently will primarily benefit the affluent), not for deficit reduction.*It may well be true that Chairman Ryan "has said his goal is to SAVE the social safety net for the most vulnerable" and that "he has said this again and again and again." I think, however, it's accurate to say that most observers see Ryan's proposals to end Medicare, slash Medicaid, and cut food stamps in order to cut taxes to their lowest levels since the 1920s as further weakening the social safety net---both for the poor and for the middle class.I'm increasingly curious about what kind of debates are going on these days between "Randian" conservatives and "Burkean" conservatives. Can anyone shed some light on that (beyond the reviews of "Atlas Shrugged" linked above)?

If Ryan were a whole-hearted Randian wouldnt he be an atheist? No one is making that claim (but just wait). At worst, he is a cafeteria Randian, picking and choosing.This post reminds me of the kerfuffle of a few months ago. Some on the right argued that Obamas views derived from an un-American and African anti-imperialist mindset. The sensible response, IMHO, was that everything in Obamas program could be found in the academic hothouses of the American Left. The simple application of Ockhams Razor would discredit the exotic claims of Dinesh DSouza and others about the sources of Obamas philosophy.In like measure there is nothing in Ryans plan that cannot be found in dozens of (non-Randian) conservative policy papers in the last decade, and even in some liberal papers. What is distinctively Randian in the Ryan plan? Unfortunately the extreme Left and extreme Right are inclined to use the same tactics to cast their opponents out of the mainstream. If we want to play by those rules, lets expect to hear much more about Obamas Marxist views re sharing the wealth. There are some blood-curdling quotes from Marx about the need for redistribution. But why attribute 100% Marxism to Obama or 100% Randism to Ryan? If both Obama and Ryan were to disappear from the scene and if Marx and Rand had never lived we would be having the same debates over principles.

Patrick,It is one thing for people on the right to call Obama a socialist or a Marxist. Obama has never sung the praises of Marx or handed out The Communist Manifesto or Das Kapital to his staff. However, many on the right are avowed followers of Ayn Rand. If Obama called himself a Marxist, it would be more than fair for his enemies to call him a Marxist. However, Obama is not a Marxist, but many on the right, especially from the Tea Party, are self-declared followers of Rand. An example:

Conservatives with ties to the tea party are hoping a new movie version of a 1957 novel will help fuel their 21st century political movement.Tonight, the Heritage Foundation has scheduled a special screening of Atlas Shrugged, a film version of the Ayn Rand cult classic that made the late novelist a heroine to conservativesespecially, libertarian conservatives. . . ,FreedomWorks, the Washington-based tea party organization headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, has undertaken a massive campaign to push the movie into as many theaters as possible. So far, theyve lined up 63 for opening day in major cities nationwide; FreedomWorks hopes to push that number to 300.In a lot of ways this project reflects the ethos of the tea party, said FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe. You had both Republicans and Democrats who felt rejected by the establishment, and the same process is going to happen with Atlas Shrugged: Were going to build a constituency of people who believe in limited government and individual liberty.The Rand novel, about a dystopian state and the martyred industrialist who battles the degenerate government that controls it, already has a big fan base in the tea party. The opening line of Atlas ShruggedWho is John Galt?appears on signs and T-shirts at tea party events nationwide, and posters of Rand decorate FreedomWorks Capitol Hill offices. . . .

The movie of Atlas Shrugged is getting terrible reviews.

Patrick --You talk as if Marx were the only socialist, and that to agree with any part of his his philosophy is to become a total "Marxist". If the Founding Fathers hadn't picked and chosen ideas from among the sometimes radical thinkers of their day we wouldn't have the Constitution.

Just for fun, here's a thought experiment:What would have been the reaction if in, say, 1965, Time magazine published a profile of House Ways & Means chairman Wilbur Mills in which he revealed that reading the works of Karl Marx was the single greatest influence on his decision to enter politics and that he required his staffers to read "Capital"?This question occurred to me in reflecting on our conversations here. Doesn't Ayn Rand bear roughly the same connection to traditional conservative thought (Burke, Buckley, Chesterton, et al) that Marx does to traditional liberal/social democratic thought? (Note: This is a "talk to me like I'm stupid" type of question. I really don't know. All answers gratefully accepted.)

"Unfortunately the extreme Left and extreme Right are inclined to use the same tactics to cast their opponents out of the mainstream. If we want to play by those rules, lets expect to hear much more about Obamas Marxist views re sharing the wealth. There are some blood-curdling quotes from Marx about the need for redistribution. But why attribute 100% Marxism to Obama or 100% Randism to Ryan?"I agree with this entirely; as I said in my earlier comment, this post provides some useful analysis, but its overall intent seems to be trying to de-legitimize Ryan personally, as well as his plan. Again, I find this sort of thing just as distasteful when used against Pres. Obama for his Kenyan, anti-colonialist views or whatnot, as against Republicans. At this point, let's assume Ryan is a committed Randian (as is Alan Greenspan; but I don't see liberals rejecting his views on the Bush tax cuts because of his Randian commitments - but I digress), and I have no idea what Ryan thinks about Catholic social teaching, or about Catholicism at all. I give him (some) credit for not trying to torture his views into Catholic thought a la Nancy Pelosi on abortion.A more interesting question using the analysis set forth above is whether a Catholic voter inclined to support Ryan's plan can do so within CST? I am on record (for what little that's worth) as saying that while Ryan's plan is FAR from perfect (even from a conservative point of view), that his overall framework re: the necessary changes required to SAVE the safety net is convincing to me, and given that framework, that I find his proposals within the range of possible prudential judgments allowable under Catholic social teaching. I fear that if the argument is that CST requires Catholics to be committed to the CURRENT configuration of the welfare state, and rely ONLY on tax increases on "the rich", then CST as interpreted by progressive Democrats faces an existential challenge of a fundamental order given the impending fiscal challenges to some of these entitlements. I understand and fully agree that a Catholic thinking seriously about fiscal policy can come to believe that the New Deal/Great Society programs are required to aid the poor and create greater equality; but is that the ONLY possible outcome? Can another Catholic, equally serious about his/her faith, not also conclude that given the evidence of injury to equality and poor people of lifetime dependence on government programs and woeful public housing and education programs, not come to believe that programs with different incentives and limited benefits pass muster under Catholic social teaching? Or that taxation at 23% of GDP that slows economic activity that inhibits job creation be problematic? I think when you begin to consider these questions, Card. Ratzinger's view is sustained.A query for Commonweal editors: would you consider reaching out to Ross Douthat of the NY Times to write a piece on his views of Catholic social teaching and the welfare state? He is not only a heavy weight conservative opinion-maker, but a very serious Catholic.

William F. Buckley on Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged.

David,Do we really want to go down this road again? Need we discuss Obamas many less than wholesome connections with the Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers, etc.? If you are interested in Obamas connections with Marxism and socialism, see Stanley Kurtzs Radical-in-Chief, a more respectable treatment than that of DSouza. says he entered political life because of Rand. Hillary Clinton did so because of Goldwater. Its not impossible to believe that both have evolved in their views. Ryan, it is said, wants his staff to read Rand. Perhaps he wants them to read the Bible as well. I doubt if anyone on his staff was ever quizzed on either text. Surely his staff knows he identifies himself as a Catholic. Do they receive instructions on how to handle conflicts between Rand and the NT? Has anyone ever been fired for insufficient Randism? Do you automatically classify anyone who recommends reading Rand as an opponent of Catholic social thought? Might he not be saying that there is something to learn from Rand, just as there is something to be learned from Marx, as we are continually reminded, even on dotCom.BTW, do you see any distinctively Randian elements in the Ryan plan? I would expect you to agree that it's much more productive to debate the specifics of the plan rather than engage in heresy hunting.Ann - I agree that Marx is certainly not the only socialist. My argument was that Rand is not the only conservative. Why attribute influence to either Marx or Rand when it is so much simpler to find the sources of the current debate in so many other places right in front of us? My answer: it's easier to demonize Marx and Rand.

@Jeff Landry (11:22 am) Speaking just for myself, of course faithful Catholics using the Church's teaching can come to varying conclusions about how best those teachings should be implemented in any given society. Again speaking just for myself, I've never thought that "CST requires Catholics to be committed to the CURRENT configuration of the welfare state, and rely ONLY on tax increases on 'the rich'"; if I've given that impression, please forgive me.I admire your willing to express your doubts about Chairman Ryan's proposal, and the influence Catholic social teaching has had in raising some of those doubts. For me, one of the great benefits of the Church's teaching and history is the humility it enforces on my tendencies to be rigid and dogmatic in my views.For what it's worth, I endorse your suggestion that Commonweal publish a piece by Ross Douthat on this topic---perhaps paired with a piece by E. J. Dionne as part of an issue devoted to the topic.[An aside: Much as I often enjoy reading Douthat, I find columns like today's( ) exasperating. First, as economist Dean Baker caustically observes ( ), Douthat makes an elementary mathematical error that undermines his premise. Median family income (in 2009) for a family of four was $75,700...not $94,900. (Another example of reality's "well known liberal bias".) Second, he argues that a scenario in which a darker-skinned workforce in the 2030s pays higher taxes to benefit a mostly white retired population will "polarize the country along racial as well as generational lines". Wouldn't it promote social solidarity if that workforce knew that Social Security and Medicare would exist for them as it did for previous generations?]

"What are we to do when a Catholic politician seems to reject the principle underlying the prudential judgment? "It's already been pointed out, and worth reiterating, that Rep. Ryan, by his own statements, seems to accept the principles of Catholic social teaching that would seem to be applicable here, i.e. the preferential option for the poor. He has stated repeatedly that the purpose of his plan is to preserve the social safety net. That is not to say that his proposal is flawless, but I don't believe his intentions are open to question. Up until last week, I would have made a similar claim about progressives, btw: that their disregard for the health and stability of the government was so wanton that it is difficult or impossible to square with Catholic social teaching - essentially, that their profligacy was gravely sinful. Now that the President has been maneuvered (and shamed) into making a gesture toward fiscal responsibility, he has bought some time for progressives to demonstrate a genuine commitment to Christian stewardship. We have yet to see whether or not this commitment extends beyond a single broad, vague speech. My bet is, it doesn't extend as far as Democrats in Congress.

Here's another piece of the fact-based puzzle (as it were): Ten years ago Rep. Ryan was concerned that federal budget surpluses were too high:

@Jim Pauwels (12:02 pm) Looking back over the past generation, what evidence leads you to conclude that progressives' "disregard for the health and stability of the government was so wanton that it is difficult or impossible to square with Catholic social teaching essentially, that their profligacy was gravely sinful." As evidence against that conclusion I would cite:*the bipartisan Social Security fix of 1983;*the bipartisan Bradley-Gephardt tax code reform of 1986;*the Bush-Mitchell 1991 budget compromise;*the 1993 Clinton budget (passed without a single Republican vote);*the mid-1990s Clinton-Gingrich budgets;*the 2010 Affordable Care Act.These measures (among other things) cut spending and benefits, raised taxes, simplified the tax code, led to budget surpluses and reduced deficits. What's absent (to my knowledge) over the past generation is any deficit reduction effort undertaken by Republicans when they controlled the executive and legislative branches.

Do we really want to go down this road againPatrick,Whatever road it is, I am sure I don't want to go down it. But certainly you must acknowledge that to call people followers of Ayn Rand when they call themselves followers of Ayn Rand is quite different from calling people Marxists because you claim to detect elements of Marxism in their political stances. While you may be able to find things in Ayn Rand that don't contradict CST, her overall philosophy is about as antithetical to Catholicism as it is possible to be. If there were still an index of forbidden books (which thankfully, there isn't), her books would be very likely candidates to be on it. Speaking of National Review, read Whittaker Chambers' assessment of Atlas Shrugged there.

Is anyone aware of the original citation for Ryan saying this: "Rand makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism"? I run across the quote often, but never a cite.

Who are the true Randians? Heres Ayn Rand on abortion rights:An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).Abortion is a moral rightwhich should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body? pro-life votes hardly conform to Rands views. In fact its clearly the case that Obamas views on abortion rights are much closer to those of the esteemed woman who is supposedly the devil incarnate. And his views do not differ from the mainstream of the Democratic Party.And of course views on abortiion like Rands are even found among liberal religious circles. They apparently condemn some of Rands views but warmly embrace others.

The Tea Party's love of Rand gives a whole new meaning to La Palin's challenge to the GOP to start fighting like a girl...

@Patrick Molloy (10:17 am) I mostly agree that "If both Obama and Ryan were to disappear from the scene and if Marx and Rand had never lived we would be having the same debates over principles." There might be some variation in the exact principles, but we'd certainly still be debating.Likewise it may be true that "everything in Obamas program could be found in the academic hothouses of the American Left", I just want to observe for the record that:1 - Obama taught for several years at the University of Chicago Law School which is not generally considered one of the "academic hothouses of the American Left"; and,2 - Obama attended Columbia College which prides itself on its "core curriculum" which, at least in the 1980s, was distinguished by its heavy concentration on the Western intellectual and artistic tradition of the past 2,500 years (not by its openness to left-wing intellectual fads).

Luke Hill -I yield to no one in my admiration for the University of Chicago. I spent 4 years of graduate study there and am still benefiting from what I learned there, the finest university in the land, perhaps the world.Heres Richard Epstein, a colleague of Obama when he was at the U of C Law School. In Epsteins view Obama was almost entirely unaffected by the Chicago magic:He was actually a bad Chicago faculty member in this sense: He was an adjunct, and we always hoped hed participate in the general intellectual discourse, but he was always so busy with collateral adventures that he essentially kept to himself. The problem when you keep to yourself is you dont get to hear strong ideas articulated by people who disagree with you. So he passed through Chicago without absorbing much of the internal culture.. . . .He was always a tremendously engaging and charming individual, but hes not the kind of guy who likes to be pushed. He has a way of listening to you to make it appear as though youre the only person in the world who matters. And then when its all done, now what does he believe? Hes amazingly good at playing intellectual poker. But thats a disadvantage, because if you dont put your ideas out there to be shot down, youre never going to figure out what kind of revision you want. His mind is set in concrete. If he thought a stimulus would work in 2009, he thinks it today. no one seems to remember Obama from Columbia.

Reality-based reaction to Obama's speech last week from Bruce Bartlett at The Fiscal Times:

It is futile to try to solve America's problems by maintaining that Obama or the Democrats are the bad guys and Boehner or the Republicans are the good guys. It is equally futile to try to solve America's problems by maintaining that Obama or the Democrats are the good guys and Boehner or the Republicans are the bad guys. You can trash the Democrats or the Republicans all you want, but they represent the two major philosophies of government held by the American people. Those philosophies are irreconcilable, so the country will swing back and forth somewhere in the middle between them.All this finger pointing doesn't get us very far. Democrats and Republicans both must take responsibility for running up deficits, and both Democrats and Republicans must now arrive at a solution, because you can't have a one-party solution to a problem this big.

Luke and Patrick. re your posts.Who are these guys? You and the guys you quote are like the opposing fans who grumbled that Babe Ruth was out of shape. Maybe you are waiting for the GOP in 2012 to get a "He was always a tremendously engaging and charming individual' Get a chair, it will be a long wait.

Bill Mazella:In regards to your list,1. Bar all Catholics from the Holy Land. This will save countless lives.2. Strip all Catholics of weapons. Ditto.3. Get rid of all Cardinal and Episcopal apparel. This will facilitate humility.4. Get real jobs for all bishops and clergy. This will bolster the economy and health care.5. Add to this list,There appears to be an unacknowledged entity in charge of executing of said list. Who (or what) might that be, hmm?

@Luke Hill - May I suggest you replace your linked column from Bartlett with the following from The Atlantic? I find it to be much more reality-based than the kissing-up job being done by Bartlett in his piece, who seems more intent these days on sticking it those mean-old Republicans who disagree with him and proving his newly-found liberal bone fides.To attempt to characterize Obama's speech as fair and balanced is a bit too much to take. I think The Atlantic column is much more accurate:

Ten years ago Rep. Ryan was concerned that federal budget surpluses were too high:Well well. And this is the point. Democrat Bill Clinton balanced the budget for several years without support from the Republicans here and elsewhere. Clearly it is a matter of politics and not of principle. Bob, The entity should be all of us. But talk is easy and cheap. Instead of Rand and Mars, we might be discussing how the popes and some fathers of the church corrupted Jesus. That would be to the point. Instead we wax Canon Law and statements of the popes which are irrelevant.

@Jeff Landry (3:04 pm) Thanks for linking Clive Crook's piece. For me, Bartlett's critique of Ryan's plan is more substantive (and more persuasive) than his support for Obama's speech (since, in terms of numbers, Obama's speech wasn't that substantive). (In terms of framing the ideological and programmatic differences, I thought Obama's speech was more successful.)

"GK Chesterton once wrote that we should never tear down a fence until we knew why it had been built. In the calamity after 2008, we rediscovered why the fences of the old social insurance state had been built."There's just something about a Jewish Republican immigrant confessing his own ideological evolution and citing G. K. Chesterton to defend the social welfare state that makes me happy to be American and Catholic.This ( ) is from the last in a five part series by David Frum, responding to "Beyond the Welfare State" by Yuval Levin ( ).

Luke - You might be interested in this reply by Reihan Salam to Frum's pieces. I haven't seen Yuval Levin's reply as of yet. course, Frum is a figure associated with so-called "Big Government Conservatism" or "Compassionate Conservatism", which of course wrought, among other things, the unfunded Medicare Prescription Drug program. I think he ignores significantly the cultural impact on a society of something like $.40 of every dollar soon to be going to caring for old people rather than "investing", either by government or via private enterprise, in the young and entrepreneurs. I find Yuval's desire to retain the essential "economic dynamsim" of the American economy convincing, and believe that is not inconsistent with maintaining welfare programs targeted mostly at the vulnerable. I have to press you a little bit. You have denied advocating a "tinker and tax" approach, or desiring to keep the current configuration of the welfare state, yet I have yet to see progressives suggesting ANYTHING close to the proposals being debated among conservatives. This seems to suggest to me that conservatives have captured the high ground in this debate, and that makes me very happy as an American, a Catholic, and a conservative.

"These measures (among other things) cut spending and benefits, raised taxes, simplified the tax code, led to budget surpluses and reduced deficits."Hi, Luke, yes, we should praise both parties when they do the right thing and criticize both parties when they do the wrong thing. You're right to point out the responsible things that Democrats (and Republicans) have done in the past. I would note that, despite that list of good efforts and intentions that you provided, many of them bipartisan, nevertheless we find ourselves in the straits we're in. I believe Standard and Poors is now warning of a credit downgrade of the United States government, because of the perceived risk of the government failing to take the necessary steps now to reduce the long-term deficit.Btw - I would like to ask you about the Affordable Care Act. I note that you consistently list it as a budget-reducing accomplishment. I am puzzled because my understanding (which admittedly is quite superficial) is that, even if one accepts the CBO's analysis of the Act's budget-reducing potential at face value, the Act's ability to reduce deficits hinges on the restoration of the Clinton tax rates, i.e. by putting an end to the tax rates enshrined by the 'Bush tax cuts'. Given that Congress, with the President's cooperation, has already failed to restore the Clinton tax rates, isn't the CBO's analysis already obsolete? When one considers further that the pressure to retain the current rates will be enormous when they are next due for sunsetting in a couple of years (absent a fundamental reform of the tax code, which I see as a necessary step for deficit reduction), I am of the opinion that it is premature, to say the least, to claim that ACA is a budget-reducer. I am not asking this as a "gotcha" question; I'd welcome clarification/explanation on this issue." Whats absent (to my knowledge) over the past generation is any deficit reduction effort undertaken by Republicans when they controlled the executive and legislative branches."Both parties have been abysmally short-sighted. Let's give the Republicans credit for doing the right thing now, no matter how late it seems. Will you now slaughter the fatted calf for them? :-)

Mary,Atlas Shrugged is not some sort of full exposition of Rand's philosophy. It's a story. And it's primary focus is on the destructive nature of state intervention in private, primarily economic, affairs. It says nothing about religion or abortion or any of the other issues raised in these posts. A free-market advocate like Ryan is not some sort of robotic acolyte of Rand because he found this story, that deals almost exclusively with that issue, influential.It is fascinating to me that so many of the posters and contributers here have full-blown obeisance to the bishops and the Vatican when it suits them, and when the bishops themselves explicitly allow that there can be differences of opinion on the means to an end, but when it comes to issues of morals and faith, well we know how that goes.

Hi, Sean,(For the record, I've not characterized Ryan as a "robotic acolyte" and I find "blind obeiscance" more difficult than "bird of paradise" as poses go, so I've quit attempting both.)Ryan's self-description is that Rand is his most significant influence, he obviously thinks AS is more than just a good story. He and plenty of Tea Partiers waving "Who is John Galt?" signs are part of a larger reemphasis on Randian Objectivism in the political sphere, which I find troubling. Would I reject his budget proposal on the basis of his Randyness? Of course not.Yup, it's a story. But stories tell us how to view the world. There are plenty of novels that feature a critique of oppressive government, but Ryan chose this one book as required reading for his staff. I find that interesting. Why not choose Huxley, Gillman, Dickens, Wells, Orwell, Atwood, Doestoevsky, Koestler, Hugo, Voltaire, Piercy, Steinbeck, etc., etc.? That he thinks so highly of Ayn Rand's view of society above all other options tells me something important about his intellect and values, even if by itself it doesn't tell me to reject his budget proposal. Cheers!

@Jim Pauwels (1:20 pm) Thanks for your question about the ACA and the Bush tax cuts. It's my understanding that the CBO's analysis of the ACA is not dependent on the Bush tax cuts---meaning that on its own terms the ACA reduces deficits over 10 and 20 year windows while expanding health coverage to 30 million currently uninsured people. I could be wrong about that. If someone else knows, please jump in.I'm not prepared to slaughter the fattened calf just yet (but I will keep feeding it). Should the Republicans cut a deal with Obama the way the Democrats did with Reagan and Bush Sr. (i.e., a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes to reduce the deficit), I will slaughter the calf for the feast. :-) (For what it's worth---and just to have it on the record, it was congressional Republicans last December who insisted on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% as their price for advancing any other meaningful legislation, including extending unemployment benefits. The annual cost of that tax cut for the wealthiest 2% far exceeds the $38 billion in cuts to the FY 2011 budget agreed to last week. That's the kind of action that has a growing number of Democrats persuaded that Republicans don't really care much about deficits, but care much more about tax cuts---particularly tax cuts for the affluent. Rep. Ryan's proposal to use much of the savings from Medicare and Medicaid cuts to pay for tax cuts for the affluent are another example.)

@Jeff Landry (10:12 am) Thanks for the link to Reihan Salam's article. I think somewhere in these threads over the last few days I've outlined some proposals I'd support, or at least consider as part of a package to deal with the issue of long-term federal deficits: e.g., cut defense spending, return income taxes to Clinton-era levels, reform the tax code, pass cap-and-trade or a carbon tax with, say, half the money raised rebated to the citizenry and at least a quarter of it used to spur the development of renewable energy sources, implement the ACA and build on it to further control health care inflation. I do feel a bit like the boy saying "the emperor has no clothes" when it comes to Chairman Ryan's proposal.*It's a framework that hasn't yet been put into legislative language, let alone scored by the CBO or the JCT;*Its budget projections are based on analysis by the Heritage Foundation which has a track record of faulty (and partisan) analysis, and whose own analysts have already admitted to errors in their work on this proposal;*It doesn't reduce federal deficits over the next decade, and then takes several more decades to balance the federal budget (so it's not much of "deficit reduction" proposal, in the view of many);*It repeals the ACA which both reduces the federal deficit over 10 and 20 year windows, and extends health coverage to 30 million uninsured people;*It does not attempt to replace the ACA;*It is primarily a health care cost-shifting proposal (moving major expenses off the budgets for federal and state governments and onto the budgets of individuals and their families), and not a health care cost-cutting proposal;*Most of its spending cuts (which affect the poor in the short-term and the middle-class in the medium-term) are used to pay for tax cuts (which disproportionately benefit the affluent).There are several other deficit-reduction plans floating around Washington currently, almost all of which are (in my view) more serious about deficit-reduction than Chairman Ryan's proposal.All of this, and I haven't even gotten to the fact that with 8.8% unemployment the primary issue in Washington should be jobs! (Again, in my view. Though in my defense, that's what congressional Republicans said last year, and many of them campaigned on the promise that the issue of jobs would be "job #1" when the new Congress began.)I've linked to several conservative critiques of Ryan's proposal because it's my political judgment that, in the short term, the power to reduce long-term federal deficits is in the hands of the Republican party. And a large faction of the Republican party seems to have adopted a hard-line ideological stance against any tax hikes and against a governmental role to ensure some level of economic security for individual citizens in the face of an overwhelmingly powerful market. Absent a change in that position (or me being wrong---which is probably easier and more likely), I'm pessimistic about the short-term prospects for deficit reduction.If I thought congressional Republicans were willing to cut a deal on terms similar to ones you've suggested (e.g., that includes higher taxes---at least on the wealthy, and possibly for most people), then I'd be more optimistic.

Any "deal" without closing tax loopholes, simplifying the tax codes, and dealing once and for all with US corporations blatantly avoiding (yes, I know they're doing it legally - therein lies the problem) paying income taxes to the US, won't be worth the paper it was compromised on.

@Jimmy Mac (6:45 pm) and @Jeff Landry (9:59 am) Could you support:1) a deficit reduction deal that included some mix of spending cuts, tax hikes and entitlement reforms? and,2) a revenue raising package that included some mix of closing loopholes, simplifying the tax code, capping deductions and increasing tax rates?

I agree with Jimmy Mac's point: simply raising the individual rate on high earners or even creating a new "millionaire's bracket" is unlikely to squeeze out enough revenue to close the gap. And that should be the focus: raising revenue. This is a point the Republicans have hammered, again ignored by some who rather paint them as cold greedy and uncaring. The tax code is literally bleeding revenue, so we need to ask what reform is most effective at raising revenue, and I think closing loopholes, simplifying the Code and capping deductions (all Republican initiatives) is likely to be more effective than hiking rates (alone). Shifting some of the burden to consumption rather than income might also be worth considering.Of course if the goal is something other than or in addition to raising revenue ("stick it to the rich"), then hiking rates might be acceptable.

"Im not prepared to slaughter the fattened calf just yet (but I will keep feeding it). Should the Republicans cut a deal with Obama the way the Democrats did with Reagan and Bush Sr. (i.e., a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes to reduce the deficit), I will slaughter the calf for the feast. :-)"Me too. I can't help thinking that we may be in a moment here where the solution is within our grasp.From a political-calculation POV, and supposing that the party configurations of White House and Congress don't change significantly in the wake of the '12 election, I wonder if it is more likely that bipartisan deal would be reached post-election? Probably not. Politically, it seems there is never a good time to raise taxes.

"I do feel a bit like the boy saying the emperor has no clothes when it comes to Chairman Ryans proposal."Jeff --I'm sure, given your constituency, that has taken courage. I voted for Rep. Cao last go-round, the only Republican I've ever voted for save one, because of his integrity. You seem to be walking in his path. God bless you.

There seems to be some implication that I am an elected Congressman. That is not the case, although I do share the name with a Republican Congressman from Louisiana.

Oops -- Sorry, Jeff. Grant addressed you as "Rep.", so I assumed you were the Congressman from Lafayette.But good for you anyway for breaking ranks with those who seem incapable of change or compromise. it's the lock=step thinking on both sides that will be the death of this nation.

My apologies.

Luke @10:28. Reservedly - yes.The devil is always in the details. "Entitlement reforms" is open-ended and needs a lot of definition. One person's entitlements in quotes is another person's absolute necessities in order to survive.

I think that was an attempt at humor on his part.

This may be off topic (if so, apologies) but here's a new-to-me angle on the current discussion about deficits and debt reduction by Matt Miller in the Washington Post. points that jumped out at me from Miller's column:*the inconsistency with which House Republicans are threatening to vote against raising the federal debt ceiling while at the same time voting almost unanimously to add $6 trillion to the federal debt in the coming decade (per Chairman Ryan's budget plan);*his assertion that "it must be noted that the Congressional Progressive Caucus plan wins the fiscal responsibility derby thus far; it reaches balance by 2021 largely through assorted tax hikes and defense cuts)." (Granted, as Miller also notes, the CPC plan is not the mainstream Democratic proposal.)

A couple other things I've just run across.First is a back and forth over on the Mirror of Justice by Rick Garnett on this very post. I think it is very enlightening. second thing, and I know it is a minor point, but Mr. Penalver states a couple times that Ryan "requires" his staff to read Atlas Shrugged. That is apparently NOT the case. Again, minor, but since its been repeated a couple times in a couple places, I thought it worth bringing to attention.

ff Landry (10:12 am) Thanks for posting this. I see Mr. Hanson makes the common mistake of focusing almost exclusively on federal income tax. As a result, the unaware reader might go away thinking that nearly half of all Americans don't pay taxes, or that the wealthiest 5% pay 60% of taxes. Of course neither is true.By focusing solely on federal income taxes, Mr. Hanson ignores the impact of state and local income taxes, property taxes, excise taxes, sales taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes. When one includes all those with federal income tax to calculate total tax burdens, it turns out that the percentage of income paid in taxes is relatively flat across the entire income spectrum in the US today; and thus that the poor and middle-class bear a heavier tax burden (since we all have basic expenses for food, clothing shelter, and the other necessities of life), relatively speaking, than the fabulously wealthy and the merely affluent.Of course, one can still argue, as the House Republicans effectively have with their budget plan, that the best use of federal government money saved by cutting Medicaid and ending Medicare as we know it is to cut taxes even more for the wealthy and the affluent. It's just (in my view) best to be clear that is in fact what is being proposed.

I'm not sure he is ignoring that fact so much as responding to one particular argument: income taxes. I would imagine he's sophisticated enough to realize that people pay other taxes besides federal income taxes, but he is only responding to one argument: federal income taxes.

@Jeff Landry (11:49 am) Well, he may be. If so, I think he's responding to an argument few, if any, liberals, moderates or true deficit hawks are making. Most liberals, moderates and true deficit hawks that I'm aware of look at overall tax burden, not at federal income tax alone, when thinking about tax policy.The flip side to Hanson's argument (the wealthy and affluent bear too much of the federal income tax burden; the poorer half of Americans bear too little) is that, since total tax burden (as percentage of income) is relatively flat across the entire income spectrum, then the poor and middle-class bear too much of the burden of state and local income taxes, property taxes, excise taxes, sales taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes. That's accurate, but I fail to see how it advances Hanson's argument.

@Luke HillI just read this post by Ross Douthat. Its as good a summary of my view as any.

@Jeff Landry (4:19 pm) Thanks Jeff, I appreciate the candor (Douthat's and yours).Here's why I find "I suppose we'll find out" a somewhat disappointing conclusion from Douthat at this time:1 - he still claims "neither the president nor his party has showed any signs of being willing to match the Ryan budgets honesty about the scope of whats required". But:***Calling the Ryan budget honest when it's widely conceded (by Douthat and many conservative commentators) to be based on faulty numbers from the Heritage Foundation is---how to put this gently?---problematic. (The memory of W. Bush's faulty numbers used to pass the 2001 tax cuts and budget add to liberal and moderate skepticism about Ryan's intentions.)***The actions (not words) of the Democratic Party over the past 30 years demonstrate that it has consistently been willing to deal with the nation's fiscal problems: the 1983 Greenspan Commission Social Security reform, the 1986 Bradley-Gephardt tax code reform, the 1991 Bush-Mitchell budget deal, the 1993 Clinton budget, the mid-1990s Clinton-Gingrich budgets, the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The Democrats twice acted (at subsequent electoral cost) unilaterally, and several times participated in bipartisan solutions to problems. ***By contrast, the actions (not words) of the Republican Party over the past 30 years have demonstrated little concern about deficit spending: 80% of the Reagan and Bush Sr. deficits were initiated by/included in the presidents' budget plans; when Republicans held the balance of power in the 2000s they acted repeatedly (2001 & 2003 tax cuts, Medicare Part D, Iraq & Afghanistan wars) to turn record budget surpluses (inherited from Clinton) into record budget deficits. (Note: Rep. Ryan's been in the House since 1999, and he voted for all of Pres. Bush's major deficit-increasing measures, and voted against the (deficit-reducing) ACA.***If by "the scope of what's required" Douthat means balancing the budget, Obama's sketchy plan does so in roughly the same time frame as Ryan's sketchy plan, while the Congressional Progressive Caucus has a more substantial plan that, according to some reports, does a better job than either when it comes to deficit reduction. I apologize for going on in such length in response to Douthat's statement about "honesty", but statements like that---from conservatives who recognize at least some of the major flaws in Ryan's plan---add to liberal and moderate suspicions about conservative intentions on this issue.2 - It ignores the partisan record on health care reform: Republicans passed Medicare Part D without regard to its budgetary impact; Democrats passed the ACA in a version that reduces the deficit in both 10 and 20 year windows. In his criticism of Obama's Medicare proposals, Douthat glosses over the reforms included in last year's ACA, which passed despite unanimous Republican opposition. Douthat also ignores the longer history of conservative opposition to Medicare and Social Security, and that conservatives have made repeated attempts to end (not merely reform) both.3 - Douthat make no mention of Republican negotiating strategy during the Obama administration. Senate Majority Leader McConnell very skillfully united his caucus against any compromise on health care and energy legislation (as well as many smaller bills). In each case (Snowe on health care, Graham on energy) there was a Republican Senator who engaged in months of closed-door negotiations only to end up opposing any legislation. The results: What had been the mainstream market-based conservative alternative (exchanges with individual mandate) for health care reform a few years earlier received not a single Republican vote. What had been the mainstream market-based conservative alternative (cap and trade) for energy reform never even got to the Senate floor. (Oh yes, and partly as a result, Republicans retook the House and gained seats in the Senate. Excellent electoral strategy, questionable (at best) governing strategy.)Given that history, Democrats are (perhaps understandably) leery of what the "Gang of Six" will produce, and whether Republicans will support it should it come to a vote.4 - his reliance on peripheral arguments (e.g., "he imagine(s)" that the Gang of Six will produce a proposal that calls for revenue increases, he refers to Simpson-Bowles without noting Ryan refused to vote for it, he brings Social Security back into the picture when we all know i's not contributing to our current deficits, has only minor projected shortfalls starting 30 years from now, and the Greenspan benefit cuts are still being phased in), he criticizes Obama's position on Medicare without giving any credit for the ACA's deficit-reducing measures), while glossing over the heart of the objections to Ryan's plan: the numbers don't add up, and the spending cuts hit the poor (immediately) and middle-class (in a few years) while the tax cuts primarily benefit the rich and affluent, and it doesn't balance the budget (ostensibly its primary goal) for decades. (An aside: the record of the 2000s argues against Ryan's approach to deficit reduction and to economic growth, a fact neither Ryan nor Douthat reckons with.)Given all this, I find myself thinking of Paul Ryan as the Prodigal Son. He took his share of the family inheritance (the budget surpluses bequeathed to W. Bush by Clinton), and squandered it on wild living (tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the wealthy, growing income and wealth inequality, declining median wages) in far-off lands (2 badly-run wars, 1 (Iraq) unnecessary).After many years he realized the error of his ways and decided to return home to the true path of fiscal responsibility. While he was still a long ways off, his father rushed up to which point the Prodigal demanded his brother's share of the inheritance too. (In this twist on the parable--- great deal for the Prodigal, not so great for everyone else.)I, and I think many liberals and moderates, would feel more kindly disposed toward Ryan's (now the House Republicans') plan and more trusting of his intentions if he had presented it by:*acknowledging his own (in particular) and the Republican (in general) responsibility for rolling up huge deficits when in power over the past decade (and generation);*acknowledging the Democratic record (in particular the ACA and the 1993 budget) of fiscal responsibility over the past generation;*acknowledging that the record of bipartisan fiscal responsibility over the past generation shows the need for a combination of tax hikes, spending cuts and reforms to take action whenever there is (as now) a divided government;*basing his numbers on the work of a respected, nonpartisan team of analysts (as opposed to Heritage);*offering specific proposals for raising taxes and cutting tax expenditures in ways that would fall primarily on the wealthy and affluent---if Democrats will agree to spending cuts and program reforms as part of a larger deal;*proposing (this is a bonus point) that the debt ceiling immediately be raised by the amount necessary to accommodate his plan as a sign of how serious today's Republican party is about protecting the nation's fiscal health.Having said all that, I hope Douthat's most optimistic hopes about the congressional Republicans' willingness to cut a deal come true. I think it would be better for the nation if they do.

@Luke Hill - I offered Douthat's opinion as a kind of "wrapping" up my argument. I havent' digested your rather long response, but I can say that I've come away with the conclusion that you're confirming what I like about Douthat's view: we're looking at the same reality through different lens. But honestly I cannot take seriously an opinion that simply lays ALL the blame on the GOP or Ryan personally (a man who by all accounts is a serious wonk, something I'll take any day ove some hack politcian), or accuses them of "not being serious" about the deficit, or using the deficit as a means of attacking the poor. I fear comments like these undo a lot of goodwill built up in this conversation, but I'm also tired of the dogged partisanship I've encountered here (not primarily from you), so my patience for such simplistic black/white positions is worn down. I still say that Ryan, although impefectly, as put forward the most detailed plan yet, and taken on significant political risk in doing so. I have trid to acknowledge certain problems with Ryan's plan. I have not seen such concessions from any liberals writing on this issue about their OWN plans. The President and his (your?) party have not come close to providing the American people with a forthwright plan for addressing these issues except raising taxes on the "rich" and insituting a board of experts to cut "waste, fraud, and abuse". I think the President has failed to lead on this, as with so many other, issues. I see a laundry list of things you ask of Ryan; I would take it with more credibility if you offered up some of your own party's failings. Again, I think I'm just worn down by the Democrats Good/GOP bad; Obama good/Ryan bad dichotomy that has governed this "discussion". Perhaps after a break for the Triduum I can respond with more substance.

@Jeff Landry (11:17 pm) I fear I've said too much. A blessed Triduum to you and yours!

Thanks for the history lesson, Luke. Without even mentioning the New Deal, your history shows who it is that the GOP has historically protected -- the very affluent and rich. Such protection wouldn't be so bad, except the cost for it has been the quality of life for middle and lower income citizens.And thank you, Jeff, for some serious dialogue.Happy Easter to all :-)

Ann, if I changed your sentence above to read:"Without even mentioning Roe v. Wade, your history shows that the Democrats have historically failed to protect innocent unborn human life."Wouldn't you object to my making an unfair generalization that frustrated dialogue and understanding? Methinks you would. May I suggest that your sentence above is an equally unfair generalization?"Grant that I may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand".

Jeff --Generalizations about the past are quite different from generalizations about the present and prophecies about the future, and that's true of the generalizations about both Democrats and Republicans. So, no, I wouldn't object to your change in my sentence. I happen to think it's true and for the same reason that my original sentence is true.The past is settled (though our interpretations of it might not be), so it is possible to make confident generalizations about the past when the evidence is obvious and apparently complete and the historians are in compos mentis. Judgements about what is likely to be the case at present and in the future are another matter. The present and future are not settled, so it is impossible to generalize accurately, though some more or less probable statements can be made.Do consider the old saying -- those who are unwilling to learn from history are bound to repeat it.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment