Paul Ryan Is a Big Government Conservative

Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick is a friend to the welfare/warfare state.

Paul Ryan may be the conservative’s conservative, but understand what that means: He’s out to save the welfare/warfare state from its own intrinsic unsustainability. He’s no small-government man.

Ryan’s budget blueprint, at best, wouldn’t balance the budget for three decades and meanwhile would add trillions in debt. He would only slow President Obama’s planned spending increases. If Ryan got his way, spending as a percentage of GDP would fall only to 20 percent. It was 18 percent when Bill Clinton left office in 2001. Ryan also wants more military spending.

But there’s more to Ryan than his budget. In virtually all other respects he supports big government.

In the Bush years, Ryan voted for everything: No Child Left Behind (which increased the centralization of education), the Medicare drug entitlement, housing subsidies, unemployment-benefits extension, the bank bailouts, and the 2008 subsidies to failing Chrysler and GM. In voting for TARP (the Trouble Asset Relief Program), Ryan said, “Madam Speaker, this bill offends my principles, but I’m going to vote for this bill in order to preserve my principles.”

Ryan is equally committed to intrusive government in other areas. He supported Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, voting for all the attendant big spending. When the House took votes on winding down the occupation of Iraq, Ryan voted no. He’s an advocate of the American empire, which endangers Americans physically and fiscally.

His voting record on civil liberties is horrendous. He voted to make the USA PATRIOT Act, a collection of liberty-violating powers, permanent; he voted for warrantless surveillance after Bush got caught doing it illegally; and he voted for indefinite detention without trial or charge.

How, then, can we explain Paul Ryan? The fiscal crisis is the key. Unless the government reduces spending growth or raises more revenue (or does both), in a few years the federal government will be able to pay for nothing but interest on the debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, Social Security and Medicare are projected to account for over 40 percent of the federal budget by 2020—they’re at 37 percent now—and will continue to grow, consuming half the budget in 2030. Today, program benefits exceed revenues. (Until recently the programs produced surpluses, which the politicians spent.) Their alleged trust funds contain Treasury IOUs that will have to be repaid with more borrowed money and interest payments — the full debt already surpasses GDP. The 75-year unfunded liability of the programs now stands conservatively at over $30 trillion (PDF).

In other words, this can’t go on forever, and as economist Herb Stein said, anything that can’t go on forever will stop.

No politician can be happy with that prospect. A budget spent entirely on interest payments, Social Security, and Medicare would leave nothing for war, occupation, and the other elements of an imperial foreign policy. Nor would there be money to buy off constituencies at election time. A politician with no discretionary funds at his disposal is an unhappy politician, indeed. Hence the desperation to do something.

The politicians’ problem is that there is not a lot they can do. The public appetite for deep budget cuts is nonexistent. Even Tea Partiers say don’t touch Medicare and Social Security. Conservatives don’t like cuts in military spending. Mitt Romney’s choice of Ryan as running mate implies that he thinks people are ready for a seeming budget hawk (even though Ryan really isn’t one), but that may turn out to be a fatal error.

Nor can the government get out of its mess by raising taxes. Not only are higher taxes a bad idea in a floundering economy (and any other time), revenues as a percentage of GDP have been steady since World War II (not counting recessions), regardless of tax rates. That means higher rates merely stimulate avoidance, evasion, and leisure over income-producing activity.

Now we can see what Ryan stands for. At its most optimistic, his budget plan would merely stabilize the government’s fiscal condition at higher levels of spending without making any significant change in the welfare/warfare state.

Our freedom and prosperity, however, require that government be radically shrunk—which demands liquidation of the empire, respect for civil liberties, and conversion of entitlements to mutual-aid and other private organizations.

This article originally appeared at The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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  • John||

    Our freedom and prosperity, however, require that government be radically shrunk—which demands liquidation of the empire

    I love it when Libertarians get their empire on. Where the fuck is this empire? Do you plan to sell off Guam and PR?

    Liquidate the empire!! Zombie Murray Rothbard in 2012!!

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Funny thing is, more Americans would agree with libertarians on foreign policy if they'd stop with the frankly embarrassingly anachronistic rhetoric about empire and neocolonialism and such.

  • Gladstone||

    I've read that the libertarian rhetoric about empire and neocolonialism is heavily inspired by that great libertarian hero Lenin.

  • ||

    Free Republic is that way -

  • RyanXXX||

    "Empire" may not be the technically correct word, but we are NOT just a run-of-the-mill regional power. "Hyper-interventionist superpower" is boring, frankly. "Empire" get's people's attention

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  • ant1sthenes||

    We have all the infrastructure necessary for empire (a global military presence, not to mention several puppet governments). We just haven't leveraged it to get the full benefits of official empire. But we still have to pay the costs of that infrastructure whether we officially annex Iraq and make Germany pay tribute or not.

  • Silverlode||

    Any country purchasing US Treasury dept is already paying tribute.

  • ||

    The US has a string of military bases all around the world and is currently engaged in at least 2 wars and countless covert ones. It funds pro-American political parties in much of the world. It funds terrorism in many others.

    You would call any other nation that did it "aggressive" and "imperialistic". But you know that "empire" is a bad word, and you like it when America beats people up, so you don't think of America as an empire.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    You're a fool if you think that any of those conditions differentiate the US from any other regional power in a substantive way, or if you believe that a smattering of outposts in other nations are what people think of when they think, "empire". Almost every country -- no matter how big or small -- has a covert or an overt organization dedicated to espionage and PR efforts abroad. Most of these organizations are given wide berth to fulfill their prerogatives, up to and including terrorism.

    It gets tiring to see selective anti-American criticism which is then not applied to other nations.

  • Pro Libertate||

    We are not imperial by any real meaning of the word. Most of the world wants us to handle all of the police work and to get the honor of being a target after we intervene. You think Europe has demilitarized to nothing because they don't trust us? And, of course, we don't plunder resources or annex territory.

    However, it's worth noting that the Roman Republic started in much the same way, intervening by request or to stabilize a region, usually not fighting wars of conquest, etc. And that eventually evolved into something else.

    With the U.S., for instance, I could see us growing tired of constantly intervening in the Middle East and actually taking over direct control of much of the region. Not now, but a major war or two more might do it. Who knows?

    The question isn't whether the U.S. is an evil empire--it's not even close to that. The question is whether it's in our interest to continue this police work on our own and, of course, whether it's morally right to do so.

  • ||

    And, of course, we don't plunder resources or annex territory.

    The Indians say hello.

    The question isn't whether the U.S. is an evil empire--it's not even close to that.

    Kills tens of millions, enslaves millions more, props up evil governments, and funds terrorism. When exactly do you reach evil?

  • ||

    If that's a body count going back to the Mayflower and includes the civil and both world wars, neither of which the United States instigated and both of which it was dragged into by outside factors, your numbers *might* add up. Most rational people don't reach back quite that far in judging the modern actions of a modern state.

  • ||

    The US power spans the entire globe and has its fingers in all the pies. Australia is a regional power; the US is a global empire.

  • Pro Libertate||

    How? We don't completely control even the countries we directly occupy. We don't seize resources, we don't annex territory, we don't charge war indemnities when we defeat countries, most of our wars--even recently--have at least the tacit support of many other nations, etc., etc. We're not an empire.

    Not to say that I agree with what we're doing. I don't. But I think the hyperbole about the U.S. being imperial is counterproductive. I even think much of our interventionism is well-intended, but it's just like statism in general--forcing people to behave often fails to work.

  • ||

    We don't seize resources directly, but we fund dictatorial governments and train their secret police and torture squads. We make it clear that you sell in dollars on agreeable terms or you're out. For homework, figure out why the US hates repressive Islamic theocracy Iran and props up repressive Islamic theocracy Saudi Arabia.

    We don't seize territory. Right. We freely negotiated it from the Indians. True, mistakes were made, accidents happen...

  • ||

    Right. And Germany owes a blood debt to Italy for the Saxon conquest of the Roman British isles in the 5th century...

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    You guys are just fucking with John at this point. Might as well have something about Mary Stack in the lede.

  • Tman||

    The annoying part is that they've written the same article about 80 fucking times since Ryan was added to the ticket.

    Yes REASON, we get it. Ryan is terrible. He's like the worst of Bush and Obama all rolled in to one.

    At least Stossel was willing to listen to his reasoning regardless of whether he agreed with it, the rest of these hack writers have been regurgitating the same story for the last two weeks.

  • BakedPenguin||

    This article originally appeared in the Freeman.

  • Tman||

    So it's a template now?

    Well, that explains it at least.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    I wouldn't mind the editors having that opinion of Paul Ryan (he is after all a politician, and not even a libertarian one at that), if it didn't feel so contrived. Reason's coverage of Ryan up to this point has been mildly positive; now all of a sudden we're getting lazy "more libertarian than thou" pablum masquerading as serious analysis.

    So far the only insightful Reason article I've read about Ryan has been from Gillespie.

  • Proprietist||

    Obviously, they're trying to push John into a mental hospital.

    Or maybe they're trying to change widely held and demonstrably false public opinion. On the Left and in the media they falsely claim that Paul Ryan is libertarian (thus we get smeared for his big government, corporatist and hawkish policies). On the Right they wrongly claim that Ryan be a satisfying enough option for libertarians to join up with Team Red.

    Sometimes you just have to repeat things over and over before they become popular wisdom.

  • Gladstone||

    On the Left and in the media they falsely claim that Paul Ryan is libertarian (thus we get smeared for his big government, corporatist and hawkish policies)

    I thought the Left claims Paul Ryan is a libertarian because libertarians want old people, the poor, children and blacks to starve?

  • Lisa||

    Exactly. Why even debate liberals on their characterizations of people they disagree with when they are basically unable of providing a definition of their terms more intellectually rigorous than "he's a poopy pants"

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    Maybe they are trying to get people to vote for Gary Johnson. I don't understand why that is such a bad thing. I'm actually glad we have a guy to vote for and not be embarrassed about.

  • Gladstone||

    I don't what else to say except the fact that Paul Ryan is what passes for "fiscal conservatism" and that the Dems find that be to be nihilist racist anarchy is frightening.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Ryan is quite inadequate from a libertarian perspective, but there are certainly much worse options that were left on the table by Romney. He's an okay pick for a Republican, knowing that we weren't getting a Paul or General Zod.

  • ||

    Why is Reason dumping on Paul Ryan so much? He'a a lot better than a kick in the teeth from his opponent.

  • Proprietist||

    Not really. I fully expect Romney-Ryan to burn up any nominal entitlement "savings" they create with a shiny new full-scale war in Iran, Syria or North Korea. I doubt they're a more fiscally conservative option than keeping a divided government by, say, giving the Republicans the Senate and re-electing Obama.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Ah, but we get the war, whoever wins. Well, unless Johnson somehow wins. I suppose he could save some celebrity's life in some heroic manner, which would overcome the media's reluctance to acknowledge his existence. Or something. It's hard to imagine a scenario that allows him to win, really.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Obama is not going to war with Iran. That is why those scumbags Bibi and Adelson hate him.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Palin's Buttwipe,

    Obama is not going to war with Iran.


    And he was not going to war with Libya, remember?

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    We aided Libya in their quest to shuck off a dictator with not a single soldier there.

    Not a war - you idiot.

  • ||

    Soldiers flying billion dollar jets and dropping million dollar bombs not counting, of course.

  • Proprietist||

    I mean, we all mostly disagree with Obama's interventions in Libya, Syria and Uganda, but none of those are full-scale war commitments. If this streetfight between Israel and Iran gets bloody, I see Obama as being far more reluctant to run out there all guns blazing than Romney.

    Not saying it's avoidable, but then neither is the entitlement crisis. Anyone who thinks Romney-Ryan can get even marginally-serious entitlement reform without a GOP supermajority in both the Senate and the House is delusional.

  • ||

    I see Obama as being far more reluctant to run out there all guns blazing than Romney.

    In the sense that he wouldn't commit resources, or in the sense that he at least wouldn't bother wasting his time asking congress first?

  • OldMexican||

    Well, he may be better than, say, Zapp Brannigan, but that ain't saying much.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    In other word(s), Ryan is a Bushpig.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Palin's Buttwipe,

    In other word(s) [sic], Ryan is a Bushpig.


    You can't even count words, and yet you presume to lecture us on the Fed?

    At this stage of the game, everybody up there (from Team Red and Team Blue) is a Bushpig.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    If you are really a libertarian why do you defend Bush so much?

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Palin's Buttwipe,

    If you are really a libertarian why do you defend Bush so much?


    How clueless can you be? I'm not defending Bush, I'm attacking you, silly-willy.

  • T o n y||

    OM is a sage partisanship-free anarchist philosopher who is above it all.

    That's why Libya is equivalent to Iraq and Bush is equivalent to Democrats. Logic, definitely not thinly veiled partisan excuse-making, is what has taken him to such conclusions.

    Eh I'm overestimating him. It's not partisanship, just mind-numbing deontological ethical absolutism. Wrong is wrong, whether it's a penny in taxes or the holocaust.

  • ||

    Correct. Everybody else is just too stupid to see what you see, Tony. Because they just don't know Obama like you do. He's dreamy, and besides, his intentions are always pure. And that's what counts in the world of non partisan mind-numbing moral relativism. Wrong is wrong, except when the right people are in power.

  • OldMexican||

    Today, program benefits exceed revenues.


    That started back in 2011, when SS became (unofficially) broke.

  • OldMexican||

    The 75-year unfunded liability of the programs now stands conservatively at over $30 trillion


    That's pretty conservative, considering that the present value of the US fiscal gap is $222 Trillion.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    I'm reading a stack of bizarre responses to this article.

  • henryknox||

    The reason writers are continually forgetting to mention that the Ryan's budget is scored with static scoring. He admitted that using dynamic scoring should close the deficit in less than a decade. Not fast enough to most but it is a step in the right direction.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    bullshit.

  • ||

    One of shriek's more cogent analyses.

  • ||

    fukkkkkkkkkkk

  • NotSure||

    There clearly is a divergence of opinion in the Reason staff about this guy.

  • Azathoth!!||

    "It's just a jump to the left............"

    That's it. Nothing else. Just that jump to the left.

  • ||

    Somebody please tell me more about this Paul Ryan guy.

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  • Sonderegger||

    n the Bush years, Ryan voted for everything: No Child Left Behind (which increased the centralization of education), the Medicare drug entitlement, housing subsidies, unemployment-benefits extension, the bank bailouts, and the 2008 subsidies http://lyndatownsend616.blog.com/ to failing Chrysler and GM. In voting for TARP (the Trouble Asset Relief Program), Ryan said, “Madam Speaker, this bill offends my principles, but I’m going to vote for this bill in order to preserve my principles.”

  • Pippers||

    He just posted a press release him and Romney are against ANY military cuts, and hope to increase the standing troops 100k. So... Trillions more spending added. yay.

    Those automatic cuts if congress doesn't come to an agreement? Romney and Ryan want to remove anything having to do with the military from them.

    It's ridiculous that in this day and age of drones, we should be consolidating the military, removing soldiers and expensive planes in favor of cheap expendable drones.

  • Ardelle||

    His voting record on civil liberties is horrendous. He voted to make the USA PATRIOT Act, a collection of liberty-violating powers, permanent; he voted for warrantless surveillance after Bush got caught doing it illegally; and he voted for indefinite detention without trial or charge.

  • GGWW||

    So don't vote for him and live under Obama;s mandates for forever. Obama will proclaim himself leader for life.

    I'll take my chances with Ryan.

  • GGWW||

    Is there even ONE person on the planet that would please any of the media? Whoever runs is always dragged down by Reason Mag or the MSM.

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