The Ryan Conundrum

There seems to be puzzlement around (whether real or fake, it’s hard to tell) about Paul Ryan’s bona fides as a fiscal conservative/budget hawk. As Reason’s Hit & Run points out, Ryan voted for “TARP, Medicare D and even George W. Bush’s wars, each a budget-buster of its own on the road to fiscal calamity.”

There are two keys to this puzzle: Ryan is (1) a Randian always but (2) a Republican Party hack above all. As Randian, he loves anything good for the rich and hates anything good for the poor; that’s why he wants to shred the social safety net and spend all of the proceeds on tax cuts for the prosperous, thus not reducing the deficit at all. As a partisan hack (and closet Keynesian) he knows that deficit spending stimulates employment; that’s why he supports it under Republican Presidents and opposes it under Democratic Presidents, independent of the state of the business cycle.

Footnote The good news is that there’s no need to fear (with Josh Barro) that Ryan (or Romney) would actually pursue deficit reduction in the face of recession, should the country be unwise enough to elect them. They would goose the economy as hard as they could. And of course the Democrats, who actually care about the plight of the unemployed, would have to go along.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.