Back with a whimper and Ryan Follies
from Peter Radford
Wow. I think it’s fair to say that the US economy is firmly adrift. If it’s possible, that is, to be adrift firmly. I have ignored the news for two weeks only to return and discover that nothing has changed. The same malaise. The same lack of leadership. The same problems. And the same intractable politics. Of course no one imagines that things will perk up any time soon, so why would they have changed while I was away? This is an economy where small inklings are major news, and where disinformation, gossip, and ideological trench warfare dominate any notion of discussion.
Let me see.
The few headlines worth paying attention to tell it all: manufacturing is slowing down; consumer confidence is up, but only by a little; inflation has disappeared; wage growth is next to zero or below; the Fed is dithering over whether to go through with QE3; but the Fed is riven through with ideological divisions, so it doesn’t do anything; unemployment is stuck; claims for unemployment assistance bounce up and down depending on arbitrary events, weather, and holidays; the drought is driving up food prices; and Congress is doing nothing, as usual. Oh. And the banks have been caught cheating. Again.
So nothing is new, and the economy festers while Washington indulges in sound bites and inanity.
The most inane inanity being the presidential election.
Has there ever been an election more skewed by money or more laden with lies? I don’t think so.
Voters seem to have decided very early about how to vote. All the polls have settled down. Volatility is minimal and the excitement is now restricted to guessing what kind of foul up Romney will manage to serve up next.
Has there ever been a more inept candidate?
He assures us his tax rate has never been less than 13%. As if that’s supposed to make us feel better. 13%? On mega-millions of income. It seems a tad low to me. Had he said 20% I could see how that could be both true and within the bounds of normality. But the only way he can get down to 13% is by deploying the very array of dodges and wheezes that so disgust the average taxpayer. How many Cayman bank accounts and shell companies does he need to squeeze his tax rate that low? Quite a few. Too many. Meanwhile the average taxpayer must feel a little disconnect at least from someone who can brag about how little tax he pays and think that he’s actually being a regular Joe.
Then there’s Ryan.
Oh dear me.
The man is a radical red meat reforming nutcase. In other words he typifies the modern right wing Republicans who so adore him. I have yet to figure out why the press takes him seriously. Then again, I have yet to figure most of the press out anyway. It seems to me that Ryan has been elevated to sainthood by serious commentators by dint of the lunacy of his peers. His budget, which is screaming farce at best, has been adopted as a badge of membership by the Republicans in the House. He thus has emerged as the intellectual face of the radical right movement. Perhaps they haven’t read it. Perhaps they ought to. Were it not discussed in hushed tones by the serious folk of the media whenever they drone on about our fiscal crisis – they all have bought the idea that such a crisis exists – it would be met with ribald and much deserved laughter. It is the Ryan budget that the media uses as an sensible example of how conservatives would deal with the so-called crisis. They pick and choose his programs and hold them up as brave, bold, and imaginative. Ryan, we are told, has broken the mold and come up with a conservative vision to re-energize America, bring down the debt, and set enterprise free.
It is never quite clear what enterprise is being set free from. Especially given the historic levels of profit being amassed at the moment. In any case the conservative vision is really the Ryan vision. It deserves close scrutiny now that he has plunged into the presidential race.
At which point it vaporizes.
This is the most maddening thing about Ryan. He hasn’t actually said anything. Or at least he has left gaping holes in what little he has said.
His plan seems to be the elimination of Medicaid as a Federal item – he shifts it to the states where it will be defunded by cash-strapped governments; the slashing of programs for the poor and students; a slew of minor discretionary cuts in programs that attract the ire of hard core religious maniacs; and a whopping tax cut for top wage earners and corporations. These are the things he has been relatively specific about. Together they knock a $4 trillion hole in the budget. In other words, the crisis is made worse. Much much worse.
So how come he gets air time as a budget balancing debt reducing visionary?
Because he offsets this $4 trillion hole by promises of other stuff. He assures us his program will be revenue neutral or better. His plan depends squarely on supply side magic. Those top wage earners, having been set free of the shackles of the tax they pay now, and realizing that American enterprise and ingenuity will, at last, be justly rewarded will pour themselves into profitable job creation. They will no longer simply punch the coupons of their bonds and collect dividends on their trust funds, they will take risks. They will invest. Here in the good old US and not offshore as they have been doing. And that great unleashing of the upper class will … balance the budget. Quite how all this will occur we are not told. It’s a mystery. It defies sharp thought and resides squarely in the shadows cast by right wing mythology. All we need to know is that it will work.
Anyway that’s the Ryan plan. Which is not really a plan but more of a vague sketch of a plan. Or even a happy dream dreamt by a mind that only Ayn Rand and her loopy followers can appreciate.
Taken seriously, as it seems to be by the commentariat, it is a total deconstruction of 20th century America. It is a libertarian paradise on earth. Which is to say it’s not on earth at all. The net result according to the Congressional Budget Office is that the Ryan plan eliminates just about all Federal spending. Taken at face value it manages to get discretionary Federal spending down to about 4% of GDP after a couple of decades. Which is remarkable considering that defense spending alone is higher than that now. How many of our serious analysts would take seriously a plan to cut defense spending by about a third were they actually to study that plan’s details? None. Especially those with a right wing bias.
See what I mean about this election?
If the next great vision for America is based on the libertarian hallucinations of a right wing Ayn Rand thumping extremist, the future is, indeed, bleak.
Then again we know that already don’t we?
Where’s the left when we need it?