US Conservatives Pile on the Excuses


Truth Out has Paul Krugman’s article US Conservatives Pile on the Excuses.

Thus someone like Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, starts by claiming to be a deficit hawk. Push him really hard, however, on why in that case he advocates big tax cuts, and he’ll shift to arguing that big government (as opposed to not-paid-for government) is the real problem. But if you push hard on that, it turns out that there’s yet another layer: the claim that policies like taxing the rich to help pay for social insurance are immoral, because people have a right to keep the wealth they created — which is why suggesting that no plutocrat is an island is heresy.

This onion structure is why you should never believe reasonable-sounding conservatives who say that you’re attacking a straw man, that “nobody believes” that wealth creators owe nothing to society.

Oh, yes they do — it’s usually hidden inside a couple of socially acceptable excuses, but at their core Mr. Ryan and people like him believe that they’re characters in “Atlas Shrugged.”

I think that last statement is key to understanding Paul Ryan, and is key to understanding the fallacy of their prescription for society.

Up until about sophomore year in college, I was a big fan of Ayn Rand and her books including “Atlas Shrugged”.  I thought that the book of fiction explained a lot of the problems our country faced in real life. The big, bad government hampered the marvelous efforts of the entrepreneurs.  The welfare recipients were just lazy parasites.

Then I undertook to write a research paper for an economics course that I was taking.  I don’t remember how I came to decide to write a paper focused on what was called back then “cultural deprivation”.  As I researched the subject, I came to understand that there were children who grew up in an environment that was lacking certain “cultural advantages” such as a home life where parents could devote time to reading to and talking to their children starting from infancy.  Statistically speaking, these children had much less chance of succeeding in education and careers that depended on education.  They did not come in contact with role models that could demonstrate the way that education could lead to a better life.  These children had no way of figuring out a way to a better life, and didn’t even have a clue that there was a way out.

You could not blame the parents for their children’s predicament either.  The parents were struggling so hard to provide for the basic needs of their children, that they could not provide cultural amenities such as books, magazines, and newspapers in the home.  Probably worse, was that they could not devote as much time with their children as they would have liked because they had to devote so much time to providing the bare necessities of life.  In earlier times, where generations of families stayed pretty much where they were born, older generations could provide backup for the younger, child rearing generation.  The way our industrial society was structured, more families had generations that moved to where the jobs were and severed the ties to their support systems.  The parents of children who were “culturally deprived” were probably “culturally deprived” as children themselves.

Of course, we don’t live in a binary world, where all people are characters from “Atlas Shrugged” or where none of the people are characters from “Atlas Shrugged”.   The problem with the world view portrayed in “Atlas Shrugged” was that it was more appropriate, perhaps, for the Communist, totalitarian societies in which Ayn Rand grew up, rather than in the Democratic mixed economies of countries like the United States.  There was no place in the “Atlas Shrugged” world for the idea that there may be deprived people who could be helped with some intervention from society.  Nor could she fathom that society could be improved by giving help to such deprived people.

So at about the age of 18 or so, I grew out of my infatuation with the Ayn Rand philosophy.  Unfortunately, their are people like Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney who never grew up.  They are suffering in their own way from a different form of “cultural deprivation”.  They have no clue as to the problems that certain people not in their “class” may suffer at the hands of people in their “class”.  The people in the Romney class want to set up a society that is based on an unrealistic view of the composition of people in that society.  What works to the advantage of the people raised with all the proper amenities works to the distinct disadvantage of the people who were not so fortunate when they were children.

You should not consign people to a place in society based on what they lacked as children. They were very unlikely to be able to overcome their disadvantage on their own.  Notice, I said unlikely.  There are always exceptional people in any population – the very idea is the foundation of “Atlas Shrugged”.  You cannot point to these exceptional people and claim that everybody in their situation should have been able to rise above their circumstances.  Sounds like Garrison Keillor’s description of Lake Woebegone where all the children are above average.

Notice also, that what I presented here is the point that President Obama was making when he said successful people did not make it entirely on their own.

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