[Update: If you’d like some evidence of what I’m talking about, take a look at the report on the 2017 House Budget from the Economic Policy Institute:
The cuts would take away affordable health insurance coverage from the millions that have gained it under the Affordable Care Act and then further erode the safety net with cuts to Medicaid, unemployment benefits, and nutrition assistance. Besides making the economic lives of vulnerable populations harder, focusing cuts on this group imposes a large fiscal drag, since these are households that tend to spend (not save) additional dollars of resources back into the economy.
It’s not a joke, people.]
So, yesterday, I saw a blurb from Slate on the ‘book about the possibility of Paul Ryan becoming the GOP nominee for President – he will be chairing the RNC in Cleveland, as Speaker of the House, of course – and so I googled the topic and found a piece from Politico about Boehner endorsing the idea. As of today, Paul Ryan is definitely not running, according to PBS Newshour. I’ve followed Ryan’s career as a legislator for some time – in part because he represents the sort of principled libertarianism that I think is really, really dangerous for the US. He scares me way more than Trump, and has for years. Ryan, unlike Trump, is disciplined, principled, and deadly serious. He’s not like the Ron Paul libertarians, who are basically just trying to get the Federal government to go away, except when it serves their particular interests. What Ryan is about is Ayn Randian market-oriented libertarianism. He believes in market justice. The Federal government is, in his view, a constraint on the economy. Social Security and Medicare keep the market from working properly, in his view, and should be privatized so that they would be more efficient. Unlike the Tea Party, or hard-line social conservatives, Ryan is more like a classical Liberal – an earnest believer in the power of capitalism to dissolve the injustices held in place by unenlightened political and theological traditions.
If anyone will be in a position of power next year, it will be the Speaker of the House. Any one of the five Presidential contenders will find themselves in direct conflict with Ryan. And I would like to point out here that the Speaker’s position is akin to that of the Prime Minister in the British Parliamentary system. The Speaker of the House is an enormously powerful person in the Federal government, and Ryan became Speaker almost by simply being the last man standing among the major establishment players on Capitol Hill. He has been something of a nemesis for the Obama administration too – as Chairman of the Budget Committee he has been a vociferous opponent of the spending priorities of the Executive branch. Not always because he necessarily opposes their purposes, but because he opposes Federal spending more or less on principle. The only real purpose of the Federal government, from a libertarian standpoint, is to enforce property and contract law. That’s it. Everything else ought to be left to the market.
One of the primary reason – perhaps the primary reason – I support Hillary Clinton is because I believe she has the best chances of defending the Federal government from Ryan. Once this election is over, he will move forward with austerity. That means cutting taxes and balancing the budget by cutting public services and investment. In the short term, this would basically mean a collapse of demand in the economy, and a deep recession. In the longer term, it could mean the Federal government will cease to be powerful institution that it has been for the past 150 years. It seems likely to me that the US Military will remain intact for the time being, and become a key provider of jobs and economic stability. Similarly, the Federal Reserve would probably go on as the crucial arbiter of the banking system. But mostly, the US would start to look more like Europe – a loose coalition of nation-states kept together by a purely technocratic administration with little to no democratic accountability.
What has hemmed in the Obama administration the most in the past seven years has been the limitations of the budget – you can’t get stuff done without money. At least, not in a capitalist economy. It doesn’t really matter what the President says or who they appoint to their cabinet positions if Congress won’t approve a budget allowing them to get things done. That’s how the system works. If Bernie Sanders got elected, he could propose all the public works he liked, Paul Ryan would see to that the money would not be there. Single payer health care won’t happen without changes made to fiscal policy, and fiscal policy is made by the Legislature. Donald Trump can swear up and down that he will leave Social Security as it is – Paul Ryan will very likely want to privatize it, and Medicare too, as soon as possible. And he would insist that the market will fix the problems, and the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute will publish reports implying that a golden age is right around the corner, and we just need to sit tight and believe in the market.
It’s a terrifying future ahead of us, no matter who becomes President next.