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Ryan's farewell (too bad Paul Krugman wasn't his exit interviewer)

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan shown during an April 12 press conference.

On Sunday’s edition of “Meet the Press,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told moderator Chuck Todd that he “feels great” about his decision to retire from Congress after the current term.

Todd tried to ask hard questions – about Trump (Ryan claims they’ve worked well together); about whether Congress should pass a law guaranteeing that Special Counsel Robert Mueller can’t be fired by Trump (not necessary, Ryan says, because Trump won’t fire him);  about things that Ryan had hoped to accomplish but didn’t (he got almost everything on that list through the House, so blame the Senate, Ryan said); and about why he’s leaving in his prime (it’s about spending time with his kids before they grow up and fly the coop, Ryan said, and in no way even slightly about the awkwardness of the Trump era or the fear that the Democrats might take over the House and take away his speaker’s gavel).

(The whole 18-minute interview is here.)

Todd tried to ask tough questions but failed to discommode Ryan even slightly. Ryan is smart, nimble and a talented and unflappable communicator. I can’t recall seeing anyone really flustering him.

But oh, did I wish that somehow New York Times columnist (and economist and Nobel laureate) Paul Krugman had been the one asking the questions.

Krugman’s column reacting to the news that Ryan was departing called Ryan a “flimflam” man, a term Krugman has used consistently for about six years to describe Ryan and Ryanism.

What’s the flimflam? According to Krugman, I gather, the Ryan flimflam is to use scary debt and deficit numbers to justify big cuts to (or cuts in the future growth of) federal spending on things that help the poor and middle-class – especially the big entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and Obamacare — but then use all the savings, and more, to provide tax cuts to the wealthy so you end up with no improvement (or actual backward movement) in restraining the debt picture and the same thing (no progress) in reducing the gap between rich and poor, after taxes and entitlements.

Krugman has laid out this analysis of Ryanism several times over the years, with heavy reliance on his favorite word (“flimflam”) to describe it.

Here’s the full Krugman farewell to the flimflam man piece from last week, and here (just to back up Krugman’s boast that he’s been on this case for years) a 2010 rendition of it from Krugman’s column headlined just “The Flimflam Man.”

Krugman and Ryan are both very smart. But, as Ryan prepares to go home, wouldn’t it be great to watch and listen to them hash the whole thing out together.

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Comments (44)

The biggest flim-flam

I make no claim to elaborate research on this, but what many pundits and interviewers seem to leave out when they interview or write about Ryan is the basis of his ideology. I've no idea if Ryan claims to be Christian or not, but his secular religion is the utterly false promise of Ayn Rand's pure and heartless selfishness. Indeed, I'd love to see Krugman as the exit interviewer simply to see him ask about that. Ryan is no economist – I'm as much of an economist as he is – and his fiscal policy is almost entirely the product of the “objectivism” espoused by Rand in several mediocre novels in combination with a tortured interpretation of Friedrich Hayek’s work. Eric's characterization of Ryan's fiscal policy as "cut entitlements, then use the savings to cut taxes for the wealthy" is spot-on.

Most of the grownups in the room long ago discarded these ideas not just for their callousness, but because they don’t provide a workable – one might say ethical – basis for a stable society. The wealthy and privileged have, for centuries, seized upon any and every writer and thinker who’s come along with a justification for their wealth and privilege. Some of those justifications are more elaborate than others, but all of them boil down to “I deserve all I have and more.” The notion that someone’s elevated social and/or economic position might be due to simple good fortune, or – God forbid – the efforts of others who are largely unrewarded, is anathema to people like Ryan and his chief executive, who, like many, many before them, remain convinced that they’ve single-handedly pulled themselves up by their figurative bootstraps. It’s a common delusion of the well-to-do, and one that sustains what’s left of the Republican Party as it stands today.

“I deserve all I have and more.”

A nice summation of Ryanism.

For all his efforts to destroy Social Security as we know it, Ryan was able to put himself through college with the Social Security benefits from his deceased parents. He got what he wants, so it's time to move on.

Young Mr. Ryan was able to squirrel away those benefits because he is the scion of the Ryan Construction family. You know, the one that does so much business on federal infrastructure projects. After college, of course, he entered "public service" and agreed to work in the vineyards of Senator Kasten and former Rep. Jack Kemp (as a speechwriter).

Now, he is leaving elective office to "spend more time with his family," a concern that did not seem to weigh so heavily on him when he ran for Vice President.

Before the conservative commentariat here has their collective fit of the vapors over "flimflam man (Name calling! By a liberal!)," they might reflect that there are names that are far worse, but no less accurate, that could have been used.

The Sanctimonious Ryan

Ryan is a practicing Catholic. One who has been called out by bishops of his church, as well nuns. They have pointed out that the economic policies and budgets Ryan has proposed fall seriously short of the teaching of his church.

All budgets, whether family, government, or that of a private entity, are moral documents. the leaders of Ryan's faith have found his proposed budgets to morally lacking.

Ayn Rand was very hostile to religion, and preached the doctrine that doing what's best for oneself without any concern for one's brothers and sisters is best for society. From a Catholic Christian perspective, it's moral bankruptcy, as we are called to be in communion with each other, to be one's brother's keeper.

That did not keep Ryan from distributing copies of Rand's writings to young staffers, in complete contradiction of the faith he practices. While we all fall short of our church's teachings, not all of us are so brazen about as to publicly lecture our bishops that they are wrong. One might think that someone who lives in public housing would have greatly empathy for the least among us.

Let's not forget, either,

Let's not forget, either, that Ryan oversaw the decline in the functioning, and the reputation, of the U. S. House of Representatives, through its committees like the House Intelligence Committee.

There, Devin Nunes has been breaking into shards of dirty glass the honor and integrity of the committee, running back and forth to the White House with classified information and Trump's instructions, and generally ignoring the rule of law and refusing to take on Trump mismanagement and corruption (I mean, even Trey Goudy, the Bengazi-Forever guy who chaired the House Oversight Committee, has called it quits in the face of Republican leadership's ineptitude and duplicity).

Ryan has been passive, even supine, before the Trump administration's relegation of Congress to servant status, rather than an equal partner or branch of our Constitutional government. He's the weakest Speaker of the House that I can remember, and a true shameful politician.

Being more a part of his children's lives. Yeah.

Doubling down

To some extent, Ryanism is just Republicanism/Trumpism, where the core value is never admitting error. For Ryan, specifically & coservatives generally, it's the idea that Reaganism worked, despite the astronomical deficits. We're always on the high side of the Laffer curve. Government is always too big; taxes are already too high - nevermind the evidence. Never admit mistakes, never give in, never compromise.

Explanation of flimflam:

Krugman called Ryan's deficit-reduction plan flimflam because it wasn't an actual plan, it was just charts and a narrative with no calculation or causal reasoning behind them.

Ryan said he would offset cuts in tax rates by "broadening the base." That means he would tax more more people or more stuff and end lots of deductions. The press never asked him which people, what stuff or which deductions, because it wasn't going to happen anyway. Yet somehow tax revenue was supposed to rise fantastically from 15 to 19 percent of GDP. Nobody knows how, but it sounds good, so who cares?

On the spending side, Ryan's plan assumed that federal discretionary spending would be cut to impossibly low levels. He never said how, and the press never asked. Nor did his Republican colleagues.

It's flimflam because it never was a plan to reduce the deficit, it was just a plan to cut the tax rates for corporations and the rich. That's why the most recent budget bill had to be passed without any debate; pulling the curtain open would only ruin the illusion.

Precisely

The anecdote that explains Paul Ryan's career best was the time when he showed his concern for the poor by going uninvited to a soup kitchen where he rewashed the already clean dishes.

Consistency

At least the comments here are consistent in tone. Cheering one of the thought leaders of the Tax and Spend More Left Tribe (ie Krugman) for bashing one of the Tax and Spend Less thought leaders of the Right Tribe. (ie Ryan) Both these folks are too far Left and Right for my taste...

Overall I have liked Ryan's candor and style, I hope we see more of him once his kids leave home. :-)

Consistency

I think you have fallen into an easy ideological trap by calling Krugman "one of the thought leaders of the Tax and Spend More Left Tribe." From my reading of his work (i.e. the more in-depth stuff, not just the newspaper column or the blog), he is a fairly standard Keynsian who advocates more spending not for its own sake (does anyone really think that, apart from the caricatures of liberals?) as a way of stimulating the economy in a downturn.

Calling Ryan a "thought leader" is just not going to work. He is repeating the same-old, same-old we have been hearing for years from the right-hand side. THat is not leadership, it is recitation.

"Overall I have liked Ryan's candor and style," He has the candor of a three-card monte dealer, without the panache.Call him "Sylvester the eye-tester."

Same Old

Apparently the Keynesian same old same old is well aged also.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keynesian_economics

And Krugman is a Keynesian who reinforces the importance of government spending in an economy, which aligns well with Left leaning views. No surprise on either side.

Paul Krugman is Nobel

Paul Krugman is Nobel Prize-winning economist. Paul Ryan was a poli-sci major at Miami of Ohio.

"[T]he importance of government spending in an economy . . ."

I trust you don't mean to suggest that government spending is unimportant in an economy.

Saying that the "Left leaning view" supports government spending is an oversimplification that looks too hard for a balance with the Right leaning views. Conservatives (and correct me if I'm oversimplifying) regard government spending as inherently suspect. Spending and taxes should be low for the sake of being low. The predominant Left leaning view does not regard all government spending as inherently good, and does not favor high taxes or spending for their own sake. In other words, despite the caricature that circulates, there is no cabal of leftists cooking up ways to increase taxes, or trying to find ways to increase spending.

BTW, I've not read the Wikipedia entry on Keynesian economics, but did it not point out that high spending and deficits are counter-cyclical measures to be undertaken in a downturn? The time to balance the budget is during the good years.

The Problem

Speaking for Conservative is hard for me since the Right has been too foolish lately as I have noted.

The problem I have with much of the spending supported by the Left is that it involves transferring the negative consequences and risk from individuals to tax payers. Some examples:

- If parent(s) raise their kids poorly and the kids turn out delinquent and/or under educated. The Liberal view is that we should raise taxes on everyone to provide more welfare, police, prison, social services, Medicaid, etc

If a single Mom raising 2 kids on welfare gets pregnant again. The Liberal view is that we should raise taxes to give her more money every month to feed, house, care for, etc baby number 3. If she does it again... Just make the check bigger. Repeat...

- If people fail to learn, work, save, invest, etc for retirement... The Liberal view is that all of citizens should pay patrol taxes...

Now I think there is some excellent government spending: roads, bridges, education, job training, care for the truly disabled, national defense, law and order, etc...

However spending that removes the negative consequences from the individual who made errors and moving it to the shoulders of those who made good life choices seems counter productive.

I could make my daughters share their allowance when one does something foolish, but that would punish the 2 making the good decisions while minimizing the learning opportunity for the one that made a poor choice.

The Real Problem

Your first two examples, at least, don't support your claim.

What child makes the choice to be raised poorly or under educated? The consequences are not just to the parents (in fact, unless they are ashamed of themselves, there are few consequences to them at all). The consequences are borne by the child and, ultimately, by society. Unless a poorly educated delinquent child targets his parents, someone who was likely not involved in the bad decision-making will be the victim. Society should not penalize someone who did not make the bad decisions.

"The Liberal view is that we should raise taxes on everyone to provide more welfare, police, prison, social services, Medicaid, etc" Perhaps we should track down the bad parents and make them pay for the police and jails? Good luck with that (Did Martin Shkreli have bad parents? Can they afford to keep him in the federal sneezer for a few years?) Also, Medicaid is a consequence of poor parenting or delinquency? No kidding.

It is too facile to frame all government spending other than your "excellent" examples as cash transfers to the less-deserving. In fact, some of your examples are the consequences of bad decision making by individuals (law and order, and how many people are "truly disabled" through their own choices?). Spending on cash transfers to the poor is a small part of overall spending, as are other eye-rolling, "there they go again" examples like the NEA. Your "excellent examples," in fact, constitute most government expenditures.

"I could make my daughters share their allowance when one does something foolish, but that would punish the 2 making the good decisions while minimizing the learning opportunity for the one that made a poor choice." Taxes are not a penalty, but the price we pay for a civil society. Also, I don't like the comparison of a post-industrial society to children receiving an allowance, but whatever.

Actually

Actually most of my craziest ideas are regarding making sure almost all kids are raised well. When the parents and kids fail it is often too late.

Unfortunately no one likes my ideas. So here is the question.

Why does our society allow people who would never pass an adoption screening to make and raise babies?

Why do we pay them to do so? Then complain about the achievement gap?

Our nation’s children deserve better.

For a "small government" guy,

For a "small government" guy, where do you place the idea of a government that would decide who could or could not have children ?

A "child permit" before pregnancy ?

What happens with an "illegal pregnancy" ?

Only the "most worthy" allowed ?

Certainly, Mein Führer !! A master-race !

Been There, Done That

"Why does our society allow people who would never pass an adoption screening to make and raise babies?" We tried changing that system once. It's called eugenics, and it has fallen out of favor.

"Why do we pay them to do so? Then complain about the achievement gap?" Since the Clinton presidency, the government has been moving away from perpetual cash for reproduction.It also strikes me as a bit facile to link the achievement gap with welfare receipt by parents.

Don't Forget

When it comes to overpriced weapons systems, conservatives become Keynesians, yammering on about government spending creating jobs.

Not Just Weapons

Don't forget prisons. Now, THERE'S a gold mine for you.

Stop it. Just stop it.

There is no way on God's green earth any GOP politician in DC can claim to be part of the Spend Less tribe. Have you seen the new budget? Have you seen the tidal wave of red ink that makes the fall 2018 Blue Wave look like a rough day on Lake Nokomis?

That red ink is all over Ryan's hands, and it will never wash off. Which even more reason to get that guy out of the public housing that tax payers have been providing for him.

Preference

Would you have preferred a government shut down?

The House and Ryan had little say about the spending bill due to the limited majority in the Senate. The moderate folks in the Senate own the increased spending problem.

The poor GOPer's

The poor GOPer's dilemma--should we do something bad or something worse ??

Winner, winner--chicken dinner !!

Let's pass tax cuts that guarantee insolvency at a time when the economy is growing !!

That way the next economic crisis guarantees grandma will be thrown to the wolves...if she won't work for her benefits...she won't eat

GOP Victimhood

Stop blaming others. The GOP has the White House and Congressional majorities. Time for the Party of Personal Responsibility to take ownership.

Less than 60

With less than 60 votes in the Senate... Majority makes little difference most of the time.

No Problem

Ditch the filibuster. They've already done it part way, finish the job.

Since the tax bill will add about a trillion more to the defict

I think we can dispense with the myth that Republicans spend less money. In fact, considering that Reagan and Bush spent money like a drunken sailor and cabinet members like Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke seem to regard the American tax payer as their own personal ATM, it's actually become more of a punch line.

Tax Cuts

Tax cuts have been the foolish irresponsibility of GOP politicians since Reagan. They continually foolishly believe that if they reduce taxes, growth and revenues will soar. Which we clearly proved was wrong in the 1980's and the 2000's...

I disagreed with the recent tax cut, however I pray that the corporate tax rate change will pull more companies and jobs back into the USA. Now if only the US consumers would start buying American to help.

Please remember that I prefer a balanced budget and would have supported leaving taxes alone and cutting spending.

Hide the Hanky

The GOP does most assuredly not believe that reduced taxes lead to economic growth. It's way to condescending to believe that. It's a ruse, and they know it. All they really care about it tax cuts for the point one percent. If the resulting red ink leads to cuts in Social Security, Medicare and SNAP, that's just icing on the cake.

Actions speak far louder than words.

Curious

If it is all about benefitting the 1%... Why do you think so many people like myself vote for them? (~15th percenter)

And do you truly believe company and investor decisions are immune to tax rates?

Do you personally choose to buy things where the tax rate / cost is higher when there is a good less expensive option available elsewhere?

Personally I can assure you that I vote for the benefit of all of us, not just the 1 percenters.

Irrationality

Irrationality in humans is nothing new. Smoking cigarettes is costly and deadly, and when people start, they aren't addicted.

Consistency

In 2001, an Ayn Rand disciple by the name of Alan Greenspan sucessfully turned America away from paying of it's debt and toward the direction of economic collapse...

In 2017, an Ayn Rand disciple by the name of Paul Ryan turned Ameica again sharplytoward the path of ever-increasing debt and inevitable collapse...

And what economist believes in not paying off the debts when times are "good" ? Randians and Republicans.

As for candor, he was elected to the house 2 years (1998) before he was married and his kids are now 13, 15 and 16. Some might think the formative years are past at this point...

Curious

Have you ever read Atlas Shrugged and/or The Fountainhead?

I have them here on my bookshelf at work. There really was nothing in there about not paying one's bills. Quite the opposite: they cover in depth a value of learning, creating, working, saving, investing and adding value to one's society.

And as for people receiving salaries, ss benefits and medicare benefits. They are actually cases of one earning what they receive. I mean you had to work and contribute to receive them.

Where as medicaid, tanf, snap, afdc and other welfare programs have few improvement / performance requirements tied to getting that money. In fact if you just have another baby... You can get more money from your fellow tax payers. Whether you do a good job of raising our future citizen or not.

Sorry, but perhaps you should

Sorry, but perhaps you should read the non-fiction version of Ayn Rand--"The Virtue of Selfishness"--kind of explains itself in the title.

"Your problems are your own--I have no responsibility for yours", and that includes the ignoring of bills coming due in the future that you don't want to pay.

“No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation , an unrewarded duty or an involuntary servitude on another man.
There can be no such thing as " the right to enslave .”
― Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism

Anything In Rand's Books

About spending years railing against programs like Medicare and Medicaid, then, near the end of one's life, accepting such benefits under an amused name? Classy, very classy.

Difference

I disapprove of policies and yet I won’t hesitate to use them if they are offered.

Just as people who swear that tax rates should be higher typically do not write extra checks to the government.

And Medicare and Medicaid are two very different things.

Well...

The fact that Ryan used a Social Security death benefit to finance his college education and then had as his primary mission trimming back those benefits puts him in the Clarence Thomas "pull up the ladder behind me" kind of hypocrite that takes advantage of programs designed to help folks get a leg up, is successful in part because of those programs and subsequently uses their success to try and tear them down.

A whole team of psychiatrists are needed to figure out these self-loathers...

Mr. Bootstrap

Hard as I've tried, something I've never been able to forget about Paul Ryan (besides the obvious) is the fact that, for as gigantic a talker he has been when it comes to, "The uplifting power and righteousness of a life free of dependence on government," every single paycheck he's gotten since the age of 28 has come from none other than that very same government.

A dependence -- an addiction, a sad and enslaving government Jones -- amounting to a $170,000 per year ($3,300 per week, $450-a-day) habit for most of those years and $50,000 more per year (tolerance increase adjustment?) since becoming Speaker.

It will be interesting to see how high and far he and his spirit will be able to soar when he's finally free of HIS long dependence on the same soul sucking beast he's been working so hard to help (or is it tough love force?) others to break free of, no matter HOW insignificant their dependence has been compared to his own.

You Forgot

Ryan has been living in tax payer provided public housing. That guy is really on the dole.

Ryan is not done doing his damage!

I, for one, am not sure I should heave a sigh of relief that Paul Ryan has decided to leave Congress at the end of his current term. This is only a momentary detour for him - all part of a devious scheme to enhance his ambitious political agenda on both personal and public fronts. I see the following things happening ...

1 - Ryan has at least seven more months left in office. During this time, he can be laying the seeds or the groundwork for his obsession with the elimination of "entitlements" in the areas of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. At the same time, he probably will work hard for more and bigger tax cuts for the upper-crust economic class. Ryan's "flimflamming" will concentrate on the issue of the National Budget's huge deficit (1 Trillion dollars) over the next decade.

2 - He may be planning to join and maybe even run a conservative think-tank that would be approved by the Koch brothers and the like.

2- He will be prepping for a return to politics by raising funds, and focusing on a bigger target ... the Presidency of the United States! The current occupant of the White House is very likely to be a one-term President if things continue on their downward spiral for him. Paul Ryan will be well-situated for such an opportunity. He will present himself well-scrubbed and with a cleaned-up slate of his past record. No doubt, he will be counting on the short-attention span of the public!

Reality

1. The Senate controls what happens this year, not the House.

2 &3 . It will be interesting to see what the future holds for him. I hope we see more of him in the future.

Eric Cantor

Ryan wants to abandon the sinking ship. While Eric Cantor enjoys a rich 6 or 7 figure income, politically he's toast. Ryan did not want to be the next Cantor.

Ryan Shmyan

Again, the problem with Republicans for decades has been their anti-intellectualism and magical thinking. They have no capacity for real intellectual work, and regardless of appearance or demeanor they produce mean spirited policy based on stereotypes and magical thinking.

Ryan in most ways, like many of his fellow Republicans is just a better behaved Trump. This Republican tax "plan" has and will do what every Republican tax plan has done since the Reagan tax cuts in the 80s. Anyone with any intellectual integrity would have long ago realized that tax cuts are expenditures that balloon deficits and debts while delivering little if any economic benefits if not outright economic damage. It's taken decades but even the majority of Americans have FINALLY started to recognize the fallacies of tax cut promises, which is one reason the Republican party is now imploding- it's a one note band that's out of tune and losing it's audience.

yes....

It almost goes without saying that to point that anti-intellectualism is the dominant mentality of the conservative movement and the GOP, either as a politician or member of the media, is to automatically invite the charge of elitism. But, maddeningly, the pervasive problems of ignorance and lack of thinking ability are a root cause of most of our problems.

In two polls I've seen surveying scientists in the US, under 10% vote Republican. It's well known that in most university departments liberals and lefties outnumber Republicans and conservatives, sometimes by overwhelmingly wide margins--20 to 1, 30 to 1, or more. The claim that this is due to discrimination has not, to my knowledge, been demonstrated.

Many conservative academics are found at religiously affiliated schools, where affirmations of belief are required as a condition of employment--which is another way of saying that regardless of where your inquiry may lead you, you must wind up with the correct view on something for which there's no possibility of objective confirmation.

When you see the damage being done by the GOP, particularly at the federal level, the cost of this anti-intellectualism becomes apparent. The great bulk of the GOP base can't see the problem, because they too suffer from the same cognitive defects as their leaders--authoritarianism, dogmatism, narrowness of education, abysmal critical thinking ability, scientific ignorance, uncritical/rigid adherence to religious and ideological beliefs.

What to do?

Exactly... what to do?

After decades of considering this trend and trying to combat it, I've realized that centrism was our downfall. The idea of meeting idiots half way was a predictable fiasco. I know that sounds harsh but that's exactly what happened. So what to do? How do we reverse this trend?

We have to raise the intellectual bar somehow. We have to make credibility a functioning concept in public discourse. Just because someone manages to get on TV or the radio... doesn't make them "credible" in any way. We need to expose debate gaming for the anti-intellectual sport it really is. We need to make intellectual integrity a requirement. We need stop pretending that "stupid" is worth a try or that stupid ideas are better than no ideas at all. And most of all we need to have THIS conversation.