Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan, and an ideology never challenged
Michael Gerson has written a much-needed conservative Christian take-down of Ayn Rand up in his column for the Washington post: Ayn Rand’s adult-onset adolescence.
It’s an appropriate topic during Holy Week. Gerson outlines the conflict between Christianity and Rand’s “Objectivism” which could not be more fundamental. In Rand’s words, her ethics held “that man exists for his own sake, that his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself for others, nor sacrifice others to himself.” She disdained the Cross: “It is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors.”
Rand's novels sell more than 800,000 copies a year. Her influence goes far beyond “Who is John Galt?” posters and t-shirts at Tea Party rally’s.
Congressman Paul Ryan is a Rand devotee. He calls her “the reason I got involved in public service” and requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged. Indeed Ryan’s celebrated budget proposal reads like it was written by John Galt himself. It is one grand shrug of the wealthy--combining further upper income tax cuts with slashes to Medicaid and the conversion of Medicare to a shrinking voucher.
It is worth noting that Ryan is Catholic. I wonder if he knows that both his principles and policies are fundamentally opposed to the social teaching of the Church? Perhaps if his Rand-inspired libertarianism leads him to a pro-choice position, his bishop might take note. But otherwise, he will likely not only be free to pedal his society-shredding fiscal policies, he will never be challenged by his Church to consider the profound error of Rands views. This is a profound failure in teaching the faith.
One wonders if he even knows of the existence Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. It’s wisdom sounds so foreign in the contemporary climate.
354. Tax revenues and public spending take on crucial economic importance for every civil and political community. The goal to be sought is public financing that is itself capable of becoming an instrument of development and solidarity. Just, efficient and effective public financing will have very positive effects on the economy, because it will encourage employment growth and sustain business and non-profit activities to help to increase the credibility of the State as the guarantor of systems of social insurance and protection that are designed above all to protect the weakest members of society.
Public spending is directed to the common good when certain fundamental principles are observed: the payment of taxes as part of the duty of solidarity; a reasonable and fair application of taxes; precision and integrity in administering and distributing public resources. In the redistribution of resources, public spending must observe the principles of solidarity, equality and making use of talents. It must also pay greater attention to families, designating an adequate amount of resources for this purpose.
With libertarianism now fully embraced by a major political party and the social safety net being shredded in states following decades of Rand-ian tax cuts, this seems a worthy topic for the exercise of the Bishops teaching authority. Recall Glen Beck’s urging his listener’s to flee any church that preaches “Social Justice”?
One wishes it weren’t such a fantasy to imagine the Bishops Committee on Doctrine responding to such a widely influential ideology.
What a silly statement as if logic and reason just flew out the window. Let me make one thing very simple. The crash of 1929 was not the cause of the Great Depression. Unemployment at the time of the Crash was 5%. At the time of the Smoot Hawley law it was 6.3%. By year end it was near 10% and 2 years later it was 20%.
Got it. The Crash had its own causes and it influenced how some people thought for the next few years and those things contributed to financial problems. The Great Depression lasted to 1946. The stock market drop was a negative thing but not the sole or major cause of the Great Depression. It was coming back in 1930 till Smoot Hawley. The main causes of the Great Depression were the large drop in the money supply and the Smoot Hawley tariff's. The reasons why it continued after 1932 were the inept policies of the Roosevelt administration.
I find it interesting that people want to somehow defend protectionist policies which are anti Catholic as well as bad economic policy.
Well, that all depends upon who has the power to make the decisions about who gets exposed and whose livelihoods are being sacrificed on tha altar of globalization, doesn't it?
I'll tell you what... Once we have a * truly * borderless world; once people can move as freely across borders as corporations and capital can; once we have uniform and standardized rights for working people across the world like we do for international corporations; once we have uniform and standardized environmental laws worldwide like we do for financiers, * then * perhaps we can begin to talk about whether or not protectionism is anti-Catholic.
If a nation dumps its products on another at cost or below cost, just for the purpose of grabbing enough market share to put its competitors out of business, making up their profit margin either on the backs of their own people or by keeping the value of their currency artificially low, please don't talk to me about protectionism being anti-Catholic.
If those in positions of powere want to lift economic boats worldwide, let them put their own hides at risk instead of taking it out of the hides of people who are powerless in the face or impersonal global forces.
Suppose an executive lives in a 3500 square foot house.
He'd like to drive down cost enough to satisfy Wall Street so that he can earn that bonus to buy himself a 4500 square foot house.
To do that he lays off a bunch of guys making a minute fraction of his own salary who live in 2500 square foot houses. Nothing wrong at all with their performances, mind you, they were "just too expensive."
He turns around and gives those jobs to guys on visas who live in 500 square foot apartments while they are here, but can live in palaces once they go home.
Well, it's nice that some economic boats have been lifted worldwide, but please don't put a theological guilt trip on top of the guys who lost their 2500 square foot houses to foreclosure on top of everything else that's happened to them.
Yes, compared to other Fed chairmen like Ben Bernanke and Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan was a hack. At least Bernanke can make the claim that he has extensively studied the causes of the Great Depression. Greenspan really didn't have much in his resume to qualify him for the job, but was chosen more for his ideology.
At his first set of confirmation hearings in 1987, Senator William Proxmire called him out on his dismal record of economic predictions. You can read some of the exchanges here...
...many of which went along the lines of this.
Sen. Proxmire chided the candidate for a "dismal forecasting record" when he was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. (Greenspan was CEA chairman during the Ford administration.) In Proxmire's words, the forecasts made by the candidate were "way off." Of the interest rate forecasts made by the CEA, Greenspan's were "wrong by the biggest margin of any of the [CEA chairmen]." Proxmire went on: "There you broke all records for the entire period in error." Of inflation: "There again, you broke all records." The only CEA chairman to adorn the front cover of Newsweek estimated the consumer price index would rise 4.5% in 1978. It soared 9.2%.
Greenspan would control such quibbles in later years, but not this day. He replied: "That is not my recollection of the way the forecasts went." Proxmire, forecasts in his hand, read the dates to Greenspan. The candidate admitted: "Well, if they're written down, those are the numbers."
Once Greenspan saw the 2008 debacle, he (briefly, temporarily) came to regret his Randian views, saying "I have found a flaw. I don't know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact..."
Read also how Greenspan's stewardship at the Fed helped to drive one speculative balloon after another. He never had the good judgement to take the punch bowl away... didn't want to ruin the party on Wall Street.
Read Bill Fleckenstein's Greenspan's Bubbles: The Age of Ignorance at the Federal Reserve, and a suberb chapter on the Greenspan era in Matt Taibbi's Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America.
The running of the war should not be confused with the running of the country financially? My goodness, why is that? Why can't they be linked?
The GI Bill was a way to keep returning soldiers off the street for a couple years and it turned into a bonanza…? The GI Bill was only the greatest contribution towards social mobility and boost to prosperity in the history of the nation, that’s all. Before the war, there were only a handful of privileged people who went to college. The rest were pretty much stuck in place in the conditions into which they were born.
IMHO, the two Roosevelts were the greatest American presidents of the Twentieth Century, although Teddy had serious flaws in his imperialistic militarism and sense of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism.
Herbert Hoover was a brilliant man, and not as heartless as some people imagine him to be. He took some timid steps to address the Depression, but when he failed to keep Doug MacArthur from chasing the World War I bonus marchers out of Washington DC at bayonet-point, well, that was pretty much it for him...
The fact of the matter is, even though they called him a “traitor to his class,” FDR saved capitalism. He saved the capitalists from themselves. When they criticized him, he liked to say:
A man in a silk hat fell off a pier and was drowning in the ocean. A bystander jumped off the pier and saved him, but the drowning man's silk hat floated away. The bystander was thanked profusely by the man for saving his life. But three years later, the same man attacked the bystander for not saving the silk hat!
When the Depression hit during the Hoover administration, the conventional thinking was that the government owed people absolutely nothing. The huge masses of unemployed men, unemployed due to conditions outside of their control, were conditioned to believe that if they were without a job, it was entirely their fault. It represented a moral failing on their part, as titans of industry like Henry Ford constantly reminded them.
In the desperation caused by this, many people became frustrated by this hands-off approach on the part of the government, and people started to look elsewhere for succor. Many people forget today that the term “dictator” did not carry the same negative connotation back then that it does today. There were many thoughtful people in the 1930’s who were openly wondering if republics were finished. They wondered if capitalism had run its course, and if liberal democracy was going to be thrown on the trash heap of history, to be nudged aside by upcoming communism and fascism, which seemed to be “working.” There were many, including the influential Walter Lippman, who urged FDR to assume dictatorial powers when he became president. He even urged him to raise his own private army if he needed to. FDR resisted those voices and temptations.
In his Inaugural Address in 1932, he was most famously remembered for having said:
Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
This was not the line that drew the most applause in his speech. The line that drew the most applause was:
But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis-broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.
Another interesting aspect of the speech that you don’t hear about much today was the spiritual element in it. He called it a “day of national consecration”, and said the following, which surprised me. I wish some politician would say it today:
The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.
Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.
FDR did act quickly and decisively in his first 100 days, but he resisted the call to suspend the Constitution. He did get into some hot water in his second term for trying to pack the Supreme Court, but backed off in the face of his opposition. Foremost, he was not afraid to DO something. He experimented, and wasn’t afraid to try out new ideas. He was a man of great intellectual curiosity who wasn’t afraid to change course or to change his mind when presented with new information. A very stark contrast to the lack of effective leadership we’ve seen in recent decades.
Through the infusion of government capital, and the introduction of the WPA, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and massive public works projects, FDR was not only able to save the country from a fascist uprising and restore the pride and confidence of the public in putting people back to work, but the public works projects helped to modernize the infrastructure of the country. Dams, bridges, reforestation, highways, the Tennessee River Valley Authority… the evidence and the benefits of the projects are still with us today.
There’s a concrete and rebar bridge in my neighborhood that was built by the WPA in 1933, spanning a local highway. It is finally being rebuilt this Summer. It lasted a lot longer than it should have. Those guys did fabulous work. The civil engineers running those projects really knew what they were doing.
As for the capstone, Social Security, there was never a better measure to fight poverty. Even rock-ribbed Republicans came to love it. Let’s not let Wall Street steal it.
I am not trying to overturn anything I was taught by Jesuits. But what I often find here is not what I was taught.
''Nobody here is attacking the free-enterprise system.''
First, I do not agree with this statement that. I have found lots of attacking of free enterprise here by authors and in the comments. Lots of dishonesty in both concerning this topic. Sean Winters more than occasionally went after capitalism and he was a hero to many here. There have been others including the absurd post on which this thread is about. The author here has distorted what Paul Ryan is about. I would find that alarming on a Catholic site let alone a Jesuit site. But that is typical here and would not have been accepted by those who taught me.
''Everyone knows socialism breeds mediocrity, kills initiative, and is contrary to human nature. That does not mean, however, that the excesses of the destructive powers of capitalism should not be ameliorated. To advocate for regulations, a safety net''
I couldn't agree more. And what Paul Ryan is trying to do is make sure that the safety net is sustainable. So we are apparently on the same page.
''and social justice does not make someone a socialist. ''
I couldn't agree more but something has to work in order for it to be socially just. Wishing does not do it. And we have plenty of examples of social justice in intent and just the opposite of it in practice. I listed several.
A couple asides on some of your other comments. I was recently in Chile and did see some poverty but in the four different ciites I visited I saw a wide array of people who were obviously middle class going about their ways. All four cities were at about the same level as the US was 40-50 years ago except for Santiago which is more modern than any US city I have been in mainly because it is new. I walked for several miles in Santiago so saw a good bit of the city and for the supposed class distinction there was a lot of well fed, well dressed people driving their cars and shopping in stores. The economy is commidity based and as you suggest it is difficult to move to a manufacturing one or a service one with such small populations. The only exception eventually may be Brazil.
I have been to Brazil several times and their malls look a lot like ours. There are definitely large pockets of poverty but for a good discussion of Brazil see
If we weren't getting our big screen TV sets or IPads from China we would be getting them from some other similar area. It seems to me it was only a short time ago when people were telling us we would be gobbled up by Japan. And you will find pockets of similar manufacturing in South America that you find in China. There is an interesting article on this at the Cato Institute that anyone can download
Essentially about 4 trillion dollars enter the US every year and about 4 trillion dollars exit the US every year for other areas of the world. It is this flow that helps the economic benefit of everyone. Those who would choke this off would repeat the initial cause of the Great Depression which was protectionist policies. What kept the Great Depression going was something quite different. And both are examples of government intervention gone awry and who pays for this nonsense. The poor most of all.
I see your point about monetary policy screw-ups, but I don't know if I'd agree with Ron Paul and Rand Paul that we need to end the Fed. I think in the long run it's better to have the Fed than to not have them. Bank panics were common and excruciatingly costly from the Gilded Age onward. Without the Fed, I don't know if we could find a J.P. Morgan type of character who'd be willing and able to bail the banks out of trouble like he used to do periodically.
I think it's a truism that if you put people in in charge of government who hate government, you are going to get bad government. You get politically appointed hacks instead of competent technocrats. We've seen that in the case of Alan Greenspan at the Fed, a personal disciple of Ayn Rand, Arabian horse-dealers in charge of FEMA, anti-union ideologues running the Department of Labor, and prostitutes literally working in the regulation and inspection of offshore-drilling.
By contrast, FDR's "Brain Trust" of policy advisors was superb, both in tackling the depression and in running World War II. Frances Perkins in particular is an unsung national heroine.
As for Smoot-Hawley, etc... You may just as well have chosen the guys who wanted to stick to the Gold Standard.
Rather than revisionism, I'll stick with what was known and generally acknowledged at the time, both in the press and in popular culture - that the era of panic and loss of confidence started with the collapse of an over-heated and unregulated stock market.
You can pore over lots of press clippings from the past, things in Europe sure were heated and lively, but reports of a trade war between Europe and the US, or between other countries as well, really aren't there to be seen as a major factor in anything.
Unfortunately, the bishops have brought such discredit on themselves that it is problematic that their pronouncements would be considered seriously.
We had a long discussion for this blog on Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand a year ago. Here is the link
Second, Paul Ryan and his philosophy will do more for the poor than nearly all the policies recommended by most authors of America magazine. All I see from the authors here is policies that will hurt the poor and that certainly is not social justice or good Catholic teaching. So in that respect Paul Ryan is a better Catholic in terms of helping the poor than the authors here. The bishops should be proud of what he is trying to accomplish as well as any good Catholic.
“The Objectivist ethics, in essence,” said Rand, “hold that man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.”
One comes to American and this blog to avoid such nonsense. Even when I disagree with the blogger or the commentators I generally find the dialogue rises above the norm.
The post above is a sad exception to the usual quality. Hopefully AMERCIA's editors will engage others who are more fair minded to actually engage and debate the underlying budget issues of import in our nation. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have all the answers for certain. Sadly, Mr. Miller has chosen to attempt ( rather weakly in my opinion) to demonize Mr. Ryan then actually engage the debate.
In all charity the only thing that makes sense about your posts is your "just asking." Will you at least furnish facts to back up your opinions? You just utter platitudes and condemnations with no supporting evidence. Give us a break.
As to the other comments, Vincent has written a detailed post exposing the Rand philosophy and indirectly Ryan. No one who disagrees with Vincent has given any facts except general criticisms. What has happened to backing up opinions with facts or at least the apperance of facts?
I do not think that I have a misplaced idea of catholic social teaching. I went to 12 years of Catholic schools culminating with a Jesuit education at the college level. I do not put forth my comments idly. I pointed to a long discussion last year which has a lot of my points. And what I claim is closer to the spirit of Catholic teaching than what I find espoused on the America website.
If a particular public policy has the effect of hurting the poor and another has the effect of helping the poor, then which is Catholic social justice. I believe that what Paul Ryan proposes will help the poor and what Mr. Miller proposes will hurt the poor. Therefore I stand behind my assertion that Paul Ryan is better for Catholic social justice because what he proposes will end up helping the poor while continued government meddling ends up hurting the poor. Want any examples, look at Detroit and a 70% illegitimacy rate among African Americans, both the results of the enlightened policies or our liberal friends.
Also Mr. Miller distorts what Paul Ryan proposes. Medicare is unsustainable and everyone knows it. He is trying to find a way to sustain it and for this he gets lies and distortions. I would look at Mr. Miller's statement more closely and see what he is actually saying and what Paul Ryan is proposing. Also Mr. Gerson does not mention Paul Ryan even once. Ryan is a free market advocate but from what I know not the extremist of the Rand objectivism. On ratings that are Catholic friendly, he is as high as it gets. Before criticizing Mr. Ryan, rather unfairly, maybe someone should approach him about his religion and report accurately what he is trying to do.
What insurance company today, not ten years from now, will give a sixty five year old a policy with no restrictions. for 15K?? none .. why not get 10 people over 65 without Medicare..would be alien residents not Medicare covered.., with their usual health problems and we could see what insurance $15K will do to insure them now.. not in ten years.. then we can have facts and not fantasy.
Forget Rand.. she died.. RIP
I completely disagree. Vincent referenced some popular criticism of Rand ( who is topical as a result of the movie) not to indirectly reference Ryan but to specifically attack him ( ad hominem) and his budget directly with rather flimsy connections as to make him kind of a zombie-like Rand groupie ( guilt by association) to posit that his proposed budget and Ryan himself is directly at odds with the Church ( at least the Church teaching interpreted by him)
As for the non Catholic canard, how can vouchers for heath care services be by definition both Rand-like utter disregard of the elderly and at the same time the centerpiece of Obama care-(the pinnacle of Catholic social teaching ?) - for everyone else? Name one politician of either party in the last 15 years who has specifically stood up and addressed the disconnect between what Medicare collects and what Medicare actually costs. (naming a commission doesn't count)
Ryan actually presented a serious proposal that attempts for once to address our fairy tale government budgets of the past. Balancing government spending with the revenue we bring in is not de facto wonton disregard of the poor. As some have noted here JOBS and economic growth need a solid foundation - not the unsustainable deficit spending of today. A full time job remains the most effective ''welfare program'' all things being equal.
The President,who fancies himself the smartest guy in the room,was taken back by how much even political opponents of Republicans congratulated for Ryan for at last presenting a mature budget. Because Obama has taken to demagoguery and attacks of Ryan for political purposes ( perhaps also for his bruised ego) is not a reason for AMERICA's bloggers should stoop to the same level.
Ryan was right on the cost of the health care reform and was villified. There is a coordinated attack going on by Catholic blogs on Paul Ryan to discredit him as a Catholic. I wonder if Mr. Miller is part of this. Watch what Paul Ryan says and see if he is not genuinely concerned with the future health of the country and that will mean a better future for the poor. I have seen nothing that he has said and done that is not consistent with Catholic social teaching. Remember it is not enough to wish a good outcome, one must find a way that leads to such an outcome. Otherwise saying something is Catholic social justice is just pie in the sky wishful thinking and if it leads to bad results what is portrayed as Catholic social justice is just the opposite.
Reagan cut taxes and the deficit grew astronomically. Same with W. Bush. The government spent the Social Security money on wars and other nonsense and now says SS is untenable but it is the govt. which has the IOUs.
Look Joe, if ryan gives every employee a copy of Atlas Shrugged, he is a Rand Groupie. Did he say anywhere to them that he had some reservations about the book.
Is the one example of Detroit your whole argument? At least you refer to one fact which the rest of your post is devoid of. Miller cited specific words from Rand who made fun of the words of Jesus. While you and others stay with generalities.
I have not read the book Atlas Shrugged and it is obvious that I am not the only one.
The bitter remarks about not following catholic teaching by the author demonstrate why Pope Benedict calls for Adults in the faith.
Ryan, like the author of this blog, is a product of his culture and is about as interested in Jesus Christ as he is in 17th century Mongolian music.
Oneupmanship requires a lot more on the spiritual plane than the political and in the end both you and Ryan will tire of the game
On this Easter weekend, it does seem appropriate to ask whom we are following. Frankly I think my GPS would have a very hard time following Jesus AND Ayn Rand.
I think one would definitely have to make a choice there...
''Is the one example of Detroit your whole argument? At least you refer to one fact which the rest of your post is devoid of. Miller cited specific words from Rand who made fun of the words of Jesus. While you and others stay with generalities.''
First of all I gave two and then I referenced a long discussion on this same topic a year ago. Did you read it? And if you want to add to the list, try abortion, sexual freedom and all its ramifications, the Great Depression, the current housing crisis, the pension fund fiasco and several other cities besides Detroit which was just a metaphor for inner city decay that Democrats have created. Take your pick there is a host of them.
And to correct some wrongs, Reagan cut taxes and revenues grew astronomically. GW Bush cut taxes and revenues grew dramatically. And by the way the reason for the surplus in 1998-2000 was that Clinton cut taxes and revenues grew astronomically. It was also due to a bubble that disappeared before Bush got in office. Also the deficit was very low in the last year that the Republicans controlled congress. It was approaching $100 billion. Then the Democrats took over in 2007 and started writing the budgets and spending took off and finally the sub prime crisis hit and revenues plunged. And our current president voted for all those budgets and increased deficits which he said were the fault of his predecessor. It always nice to have the facts. And yes I can produce the numbers for both Reagan and Bush.
Also here is an analysis of tax revenues in recent years that discusses the fantasy of solving problems by taxing the rich.
Ryan is trying to solve an extremely difficult problem that few think can be ignored for very long and what does he get in return, a lot of grief from people who distort the issues. A very un Catholic attitude.
Amazing how many things were created by people who didn't have to be sociopaths. And I suppose Einstein formulated the theory of relativity knowing about the big bucks he would make and how famous he would be.
Sorry, admiration of Ayn Rand is a litmus test for lunacy as far as I can see. She is just so completely wrong.
<i>We had a long discussion for this blog on Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand a year ago. Here is the link</i>
You came out of that one even worse than you came out of this one. In both cases, your credibility has been seriously shredded.
I know others have asked before, but could you please display a scrap of evidence here that your worldview has been shaped by Catholicism, or are you just as guilty of trying to synthesize Catholicism with laissez faire capitalism as the liberation theologians are of trying to synthesize Catholicism with marxism?
Respect and trust in public service combined with government activism does not necessarily lead to The Road to Serfdom. The writers of the Austrian school who showed up later as an influence on the Chicago School of economics took therir own local situation and assumed it would happen the same everywhere. The facts did not bear them out.
The social democrats in Europe were highly successful after World War II in steering their nations to recovery without falling back either into totaliatarianism or the failed, unregulated pre-war liberal capitalist states.
Take Germany as an example. With George Marshall's backing, Konrad Adenauer, a devout Catholic, skillfully led the rebuilding of Germany from out of the ashes with his Christian Democratic Union Party, which has dominated German politics almost up to the present day. After the war, Prussia lay behind the Iron Curtain. As a result, Catholics from the south and the west were quite influential in leading the way towards building a society and a body-politic in West Germany that was heavily influenced by Catholic social teaching and the principles of social justice. Germany became a highly prosperous and efficient social democracy, respecting both the rights of capital and labor (union members sit on corporate boards and consult with management at every level), while providing universal health care and affordable education to its citizens. Even today, despite having high labor costs, it is a creditor nation, a net exporter of goods, and has even been able to bail out struggling neighbors after having successfully absorbed and re-integrated a failed socialist state.
THe Hayek philosophy is wrong. Heck, even blatantly socialistic Scandinavia came out of the 2008 crisis better than the tough-minded Anglo-Saxon states like the US and the UK did.
For example, assuming that the standard for measuring wellness is purely a material one, it is difficult to claim that living in a well-kept mansion in the midst of a slum is as good as living in a well-kept mansion in the midst of other well-kept mansions. I believe this level of thinking was at the heart of Alan Greenspan's devotion to Ayn Rand, and it may be possible that Paul Ryan sees it that way also.
However, this theory of human motivation and behavior is not scientific, and it does not hold true in all circumstances. It might if human beings only thought in terms of long-term consequences and always in consideration of the big picture, but the reality is that most human choices are based on immediate need and cognizant short term consequences.
Furthermore, Supreme Court rulings to the contrary, corporations are not human beings, and the good of the corporation sometimes coerces sacrifice from the human beings involved with it for no comparable human benefit to the individual. Money is the lifeblood of the corporation but it does not have the same value to the individual; it cannot buy happiness.
Any kind of organization can be substituted for the idea of a corporation. Ayn Rand's theory breaks down when powerful non-human entities, organizations of any kind, even democratically elected governments, are given equal standing to individuals.
In other words, this is not a simple thing. Citizens benefit collectively when individual citizens are doing well. Part of that might be having a powerful government redistributing resources. However, a powerful government can overstep its bounds and become coercive to some individuals so that other citizens can have the sense that they are doing better because their fellow citizens are not starving, homeless, ill, etc., but it cannot be assumed that every citizen wants to be fed, housed, and healed by government intervention even if that would improve the collective well-being.
I think that many US citizens sincerely believe that a sense of empowerment is more important than food, shelter, and health and that genuine empowerment makes it possible to aquire those necessities. However, it should not be forgotten that there are people among us who are suffering, who are not fully empowered to fend for themselves due to some handicap, and who are, in fact, Jesus in our midst. Therefore, before we go too boldly in the direction of Ayn Rand, we need to be certain that we are not turning our backs on Jesus.
Second, Paul Ryan does NOT REQUIRE his staff to read Atlas Shrugged. This "fact" is being repeated again and again and again, and is totally unsubstantiated. I've mentioned this on TWO catholic blogs so far, and neither commentator has retracted or corrected their post.
Finally, I lament that Ryan seems to be a committed Randian (as is Alan Greenspan, by the way, but I doubt the commentator will dismiss Greenspan's view on the Bush tax cuts because of this inconvenient fact), but I have not ever head Ryan discuss his Catholicism publicly. It seems a bit unfair to rush to judge him as a "bad Catholic" without knowing how seriously he takes his faith, etc.
This post is written from such an alarmingly partisan POV that I fear its a waste of time to try to respond to it with any substance.
One bloc — the faction of the serious — is led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), author of the 2012 House Republican budget. Few details of that document are surprising, but the cumulative effect is comprehensive and impressive. House Republicans propose major tax reform, including lower top rates, a broadened tax base and the closing of loopholes. The plan sets hard spending caps and adopts a number of recommendations from the president’s fiscal commission, which were largely ignored by the president himself. Ryan’s proposal takes on corporate welfare and farm subsidies, consolidates job-training programs, and includes welfare and litigation reforms. Most important, Ryan begins the Medicare debate in earnest, proposing a system of means-tested premium supports — taking seriously the challenge of 80 million baby boomers beginning to make their way into the system. Unlike his more libertarian colleagues, Ryan makes the case that entitlement reform, properly designed, can actually strengthen the social safety net for the poorest.
I will gladly defend anything I said then and say now so I don't think my credibility has been shredded by your assertion. My Catholicism which has not changed since I was taught it by the nuns, Christian Brothers and Jesuits. There is nothing that I know that is in conflict with the free enterprise system. The free enterprise system is what created the prosperity of the modern world. The challenge is to channel it to meet the objectives of Catholicism. Government intervention has a poor track record of achieving any good so that is best done in other ways.
Rather than go to Germany which might not be as good an example as you think, look at the US and cite any government intervention that has done good in the sense of Catholic social justice. The only real one that I can think has some merit is social security which is now a broken system. Medicare is another broken system and a noble social experiment but it cannot sustain itself and that is the issue at hand. So making assertions is nothing more than saying I personally do not agree with you. The evidence backs what I say and that is what gives it credibility.
Capitalism and the free enterprise system has brought forth the prosperity we have seen in the last 200 years. That prosperity has allowed us to feed adequately near the whole planet and provide opportunities so even the lowest societies can have hope. In no way does that conflict with any of the message of the gospel, Christ or the Church. If fact it enables them to put away obstacles that would prevent them from achieving a less miserable life. And that is social justice. Social justice is not saying I am going to pass a law that I hope will achieve this. We get the Great Depression, 70% illegitimacy, numerous Detroits, sexual freedom gone amok, and our current economic plight. Our current economic crisis is not the result of free enterprise, just the opposite, it was the abandonment of it to achieve noble social objectives. Wouldn't be nice if everyone had a house and the world of 2011 is a result of that noble objective.
Socialistic principles can work only as far as the horizon and amongst those that have common bonds which is why a socialistic process can work within a small community. To cite Germany which is really not a good example, and Sweden which is s small homogeneous population is not a very realistic example for the world let alone the US. Germany which is a nation that does not have two significant costs that the US does, namely a strong military and the cost of educating its young is also one that is still mainly homogeneous. The number of children is declining each year so a significant cost is being avoided but even without these reduced costs they are not sustainable. All the so called social democrat states of Europe are prospering by eating their young in the sense of not producing them. And the day of reckoning will come when they will not be able to maintain their social benefits.
I am sorry, I stand behind everything I have said and do not think any credibility has been shredded. What has been shredded is the social justice model of government intervention.
Wow, Walter, throw in Jane Fonda and that's supposed to be an argument?
The bottom line is, that no matter how much you recycle nuclear waste, you have a deadly residue that will outlast any country or civilization. Yes, France and the USA will probably last only a small fraction of the lifetime of the nuclear waste that they leave.
The energy deficit can be better addressed via rational home building (i.e., www.monolithic.com) and reorganizing ourselves so that we can walk or bike to the pharmacy and supermarket instead of dragging a thousand kilograms of metal with us. It'll shave pounds off our American butts and reduce the need for health care.
Sooner or later, every manmade system fails. That's why they call us human and not God. If a windmill fails, you have a chunk of useless metal. If a nuclear plant fails, you have cancer, lost land, mutated children. You probably have the same when they don't fail but it's at a lower level and you can pretend it isn't happening. The French may have a better record than anybody, but there's a thing called mean-time-between-failure. Your cell phone and your car and your heart and everything else under God's good sky has one. French nuclear plants don't? Wishful thinking. FRance is not very seismically active but Europe has had 300 meter tsunamis in the past from ocean landslides.
You talk about the wonders of capitalism and free market, yet the "nuclear renaissance" means government underwriting loans for the industry and limiting their liability. No one wants to insure these things.
Compromise with this hippy-dippy green by lowering our energy footprint (mostly pissed-away energy) and I'll be glad to entertain nuclear power as a possibility, if we can't close the gap and maintain civilization. But why uranium-based nuclear power? What about thorium?
But what's the use. THe main thing is to get GE funded. When the US government represents the people again, and the people get informed, maybe we can have a real discussion instead of pro-special interest fiats from Obama's and Bush's and other sockpuppets.
Anyway, my problem is closer and more immediate. There was a fracking spill to the north of me with who knows what proprietary poisons spilling into the watershed. Wonderful. I guess they'll get fined a few thousand dollars and mark it up to the cost of doing business.
Capitalism and the free market are two different ideas. They often coincide but not necessarily. We tend to use the terms interchangeably but they mean different things. People here have put forth strong cooperative efforts by governments and business as examples of free enterprise when they are anything but. Paul Ryan, who this post is about was careful to differentiate between them and it is free markets that Ryan is pushing. Neither is perfect but to argue for a planned intervention is folly because the failures there are well documented and quite debilitating. For those interested, I will repeat my endorsemet of the Teaching Company course on Capitalism given by Jerry Muller of Catholic University. It covers every variant existing.
And as far as the wonders of capitalism and the free markets, I suggest everyone read Deirdre McCloskey (nee Donald McCloskey.) She is one of the most influential modern economists and is in the process of writing several books on the history of capitalism and the bourgeoisie. Since the industrial revolution the wealth of the Western world has increased more than 10 fold while previous changes were miniscule. Here is an excerpt from one of her books on this.
Monolithic homes looks like a great idea and is an example of the free enterprise system working. Human ingenuity is great and given the encouragment that the free enterprise system is based on, there are probably tens of thousands of simlar ideas out there waiting to be tested. Now just keep the government out it. That won't be possible because some government bureaucrat will think he has a better idea on how to make it work.
In a rather Orwellian post filled with grasping at straws and cherry-picking, I want to thank you for making my case with your references to the so-called "Protestant work ethic."
Unlike some of these other guys, at least you are honest about where both your inspiration and your contempt comes from... Who knew Bavarians and Westphalians were lazy? You'd make a fine Lutheran, but an even better Calvinist. This laissez faire stuff is Calvinist at its very heart.
Regarding France and nuclear power... They've done a fine job running them safely and efficiently. We could learn a lot from a country that puts sufficient investment and oversight into public infrastructure. If we hadn't had a partial meltdown at Three Mile Island, who knows what might have happened here? Things might have been very different, but the concerns about nuclear power clearly did not turn out to be irrational.
As for Germans never putting themselves into such a spending frenzy that would so allow the deficit to grow.... You think getting East Gemany up to scratch was cheap? Anyway, in addition to cutting social welfare spending in 2008 they spent 500 billion euros in the German Financial Market Stabilization Act in order to prop up financial institutions, pension funds, and insurance companies. What are you talking about? They pumped plenty of stimulus into their economy. See page 24 here:
Germany doesn't need a minimum wage because they have strong collective bargaining agreements at every level of their society. They don't have McJobs in Germany. They still have high-paying manufacturing jobs.
You want to hold up Chile as an IMF poster child? Throughout Latin America, in countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and a few others, we've seen a resurgence of leftism as a result of the panics and financial meltdowns that occured when they were forced to follow the IMF prescriptions of lowering tariffs, removing restrictions on foreign investment, abolishing state subsidies, deregulation, curtailing labor rights, and relaxing environmental standards. There was wealth created, sure, but most of it wound up going to foreign investors. The small (white) political class became cozy with international bankers, creating corruption, further widening the gap between the rich and the poor. How is a private enterprise in a poor nation supposed to compete with multinational corporations, especially when interest rates are high because of the IMF-imposed austerity plans? Many of the tax-free manufacturing zones were eventually abandoned for better deals in China, after communities had already been wrecked by dislocation (people leaving their farming communities to go work in these specialized manufacturing zones). We also have to wonder what happens to the fledgling democratic institutions in a country when the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO are making so many of the decisions. Does anyone even really know who these people are? What we are seeing is the most dangerous, tedious, unsafe and environmentally hazardous work being sent to the most vulnerable countries strictly on the basis of cost.
Interestingly, we didn't build our economy this way, and neither did the Asian Tigers who have been the most successful, and who did the best job of weathering the storms of the financial crises of the late 90s. They didn't lift their capital controls, they imposed local content-laws, and put high tariffs around their new industries. China is actually doing a lot of these things too, while at the same time running a dictatorship that prohibits independent labor unions. I fear sometimes that too often we tend to equate commercial freedom with other real freedoms, like freedom of speech, press, religion, political association, etc...
My Catholicism which has not changed since I was taught it by the nuns, Christian Brothers and Jesuits.
Well, it certainly seems like you are here constantly trying to overturn what you were taught by the Jesuits and to correct what you consider to be their skewed thinking.
If it's not that, I'll echo what other have said before about that - Its hard to tell.
Nobody here is attacking the free-enterprise system. Everyone knows socialism breeds mediocrity, kills initiative, and is contrary to human nature. That does not mean, however, that the excesses of the destructive powers of capitalism should not be ameliorated. To advocate for regulations, a safety net, and social justice does not make someone a socialist.
There is no threat of socialism in this country anyway. Not in the remotest sense. We have already slid into a plutocracy.
I am not prepared to beatify Paul Ryan but I thought he got a raw deal from Vincent in this post- which is why I commented way back @ #9. Most especially the '' so and so is not faithful catholic because of a certain political or legislative position '' propaganda bothers me just as much from the left as it does from the right.
Easter Blessings to all the bloggers and commentators - including (and especially) those with whom i disagree from time to time. No matter what we say here- it still can not top ''He is Risen''
Note particularly the section titled: Effects & Controversies.
“In 1988, libertarian political writer Sheldon Richman described TEFRA as "the largest tax increase in American history." In 2003, former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett wrote in the National Review that
"TEFRA raised taxes by $37.5 billion per year", elaborating, "according to a recent Treasury Department study, TEFRA alone raised taxes by almost 1 percent of the gross domestic product, making it the largest peacetime tax increase in American history." However, this "increase" was achieved primarily through the cancellation of future tax cuts scheduled by ERTA the year before that had yet to take effect at the time of TEFRA's passage. Taxpayers still receive $375 billion in tax cuts in the 3 years following TEFRA.”
Paul Ryan is trying to deal with the extreme immeadiate dangers of our national debt crisis. The Uniterdd States ability to barrow money to finance governement operations is nearly exhaused and can not be sustained at the present level. THe 2012 budget proposed by President Obama is 3.6 trillion dollars of which 45% , 1.6 trillion, will be financed by new barrowing. This 1.6 trillion of new debt added to our current national debt of 14.5 trillion will total more than 100% of Gross Domestic Product. Our national debt for the first time ever will exceed the annual value of all goods and services produced in the United States. The projected debt of 16 trillion dollars of debt can not be sustained especailly at the over 10% rate of growth over the last ten years.
Catholics must deal with the present extremely dire fiscal realities as Paul Ryan is doing to arrest our excessive and out-of-control national debt..
THe loss of manufacturing jobs to China et. al. is followed by loss of engineering jobs, as these have a symbiotic relationship with basic manufacture. Eventually, even business management jobs will go as well. If Chinese can build them, they can sell them and transport them. I suppose certain jobs can stay, like lawyers, we really don't have enough of them.
We've had tariffs for almost the whole history of our country and many periods of prosperity during that time. SO I don't think the CATO propaganda holds up. Alas, wHen the country pulled out of the depression in the 1940's, the government did in earnest what it only lightly did in the 30's, spend lots of money and control prices and wages. There was MORE governemnt interference during the war.
ANd the 50's, as I remember them, were pretty good, high taxes on the rich and all. THe rich and the rest of us lived rather well. Of course, my family didn't own a car. Didn't need one.
Eventually, the exhaustion of cheap energy will lead to the complete collapse of the present system. I'm afraid that the descendants who have to pick up the pieces and figure it out will have the additional burden of an environment despoiled by the desperate effort to squeeze out the last few liters of fossil fuel, as last year in the Gulf of Mexico, and now with the fracking fluid spill in my beloved Pennsylvania.
You have no idea what I love. Maybe I love the poor and I have tried to find the best way to eliminate their poverty. The so called unregulated predatory capitalism has produced more food than the world ever dreamed of, better health care than the world ever dreamed of. You should read some of the links I have posted. Here is a excerpt from Deirdre McCloskey
''In 1800 the average human consumed in modern-day prices, fully corrected for exchange rates, roughly $3 a day, give or take a dollar or two.2 That’s $3 a day in present money to live now in, say, Los Angeles. The only people much better off than the $3 average were lords or bishops or some few of the merchants. It had been this way for all of history, and for that matter all of pre-history. With her $3 the typical denizen of the earth could eat a few pound of potatoes, a little milk, very occasionally a scrap of meat. A wool shawl. A year or two of elementary education, if exceptionally lucky. At birth she had a 50-50 chance of dying before she was 30 years old. Perhaps she was a cheerful sort, and was “happy” with illiteracy, disease, superstition, periodic starvation, and lack of prospects. After all, she had her family and faith and community, which interfered with every choice she made. But anyway she was desperately poor, and narrowly limited in human scope.''
The Great Depression was started primarily by the Smoot Hawley tarriffs. It was extended to the mid 1940's by policies of the Roosevelt administration. Only when Roosevelt was dead was the Congress able to
repeal a lot of the Roosevelt nonsense and lowered taxes on business after the war. I am sorry the facts do not support protectionist policies and in fact as a Catholic one should be against them as they hurt the poor.
The US is by far the largest exporter and manufacturing country in the world. It is just that we cannot repeat the era after World War II when the rest of the world was bombed out and couldn't manufacture much or compete with us. That world is gone. It has changed and we now have a world where others can compete very well with us. The basics of free trade are so obvious and to use a phrase bantered about here, socially just.
One guy is blaming the fact that a nuclear power plant hasn't been built in this country for over 30 years on a movie actress whose career peaked in around 1972, rather than recognizing the fact that utility executives balk at the up-front costs associated with building them, even with the promise of government subsidies and tax breaks.
Another guy is telling us that the Great Depression was caused by the Smoot-Hawley Tariff. You can always tell a free-market fundamentalist when Smoot-Hawley is invoked as the Great Depression boogeyman.
A third says:
I believe what Paul Ryan is doing is following his Faith and in doing so understands the intellectual authenticity of Ayn Rand, despite her flaws when it comes to religion and philosophy.
She has intellectual authenticity even though her religion and philosophy are flawed? Evil is as evil does. Anyone can clearly see this as this truly satanic woman took the time in an interview with Mike Wallace to explain her "philosophy," freely admitting that most men in this world do not deserve to be loved, with her flat dead shark eyes bouncing about,
You know, I've seen liberation theology heavily criticized here for daring to borrow marxist dialectic in its critique of untrammeled capitalism, not letting the message be separated from the messenger. Fair enough! We are not going to let Ryan get away with the same thing. We are going to call him on his association with an evil philosophy.... The woman claimed to stand on "pure reason." What a joke. Even evolutionary biologists would laugh at this woman for her lack of knowledge about science, and her lack of understanding that our sense of empathy had just as much to do with evolutionary success as competition.
Andrew Sullivan nailed it with this comment:
It is possible to read the Gospels as entirely a personal and not political message, and certainly not view Christianity as a short route to socialism. But it is impossible even in one's personal life to be a Christian and to be a Randian. The whole point of the Gospels is that Rand's value system leads to profound misery and spiritual loss. And the whole point of Rand is that Nietzsche was onto something.
See some blatant contradictions between Randianism and Christianity here.
Smoot Hawley was far more a symptom or consequence of the Great Depression than a cause.
The Great Depression was caused primarily by deflation; by an overall lack of liquidity in the system. When the Fed continually increased the money supply during the boom years of the 1920s it fed a speculative bubble in the stock market which eventually crashed. Not only were heavily-leveraged individual investors burned when their margin calls came in, but banks as well. The banking system was characterized by mon-and-pop banks all over the country. When large numbers of these bank failed, depositors panicked, because of course, there was no FDIC insurance in those days... Subsequently, banks were terrified to loan and businesses and individuals were afraid to borrow anyway. Hence, the lack of confidence everywhere even though the US was already the number one industrial and agricultrual power.
Under Hoover, the money supply was kept toght, not enough liquidity was put into the system. It reminds me of what the Fed did in the runup to 2008 and wht the Tea Party folks would have done afterward. Greenspan, a friend and acolyte of Ayn Rand, incidentally, kept fueling one bubble after another by increasing the money supply in the years while the economy was booming. Eventually the system crashed. The Tea Party types would have chosen that moment to decrease the amount of stimulus and liquidity in the system, fearing inflation. We would have had a depression, just like in 1930.
Smoot Hawley is an interesting footnote - probably had little effect one way or another - but domestic consumption and GDP was the main issue during the depression. Farmers were going to have difficulty anyway, because Europe had recovered enough from world War I to start importing less US food.
It is an injustice and at the same time a great evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do
It is not a violation of the principle of subsidiarity for the federal government to step in when certain states and localities have shown themselves decade after decade to be unwilling or unable to do *anything * to solve these problems. Federalism over State rights is a settled issue in the USA anyhow, We fought a civil war over it,
The cherry-picking of proof-texts is generally a silly and futile exercise, but if you insist on doing it, you might do well to look at these.
In the field of healthcare, an integral part of one’s existence and the common good, it is important to establish a just distribution, to assure appropriate care to everyone, on the basis of objective needs,. As a result, the world of healthcare may not evade the moral rules that must govern it to avoid it becoming inhuman … The bond between justice and charity, from the Christian perspective, is very close: “Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. [...] If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them.
Everybody knows that capitalism has a definite historical meaning as a system, an economic and social system, opposed to ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’. But in the light of the analysis of the fundamental reality of the whole economic process-first and foremost of the production structure that work is-it should be recognized that the error of early capitalism can be repeated wherever man is in a way treated on the same level as the whole complex of the material means of production, as an instrument and not in accordance with the true dignity of his work-that is to say, where he is not treated as subject and maker, and for this very reason as the true purpose of the whole process of production….
In the present document, which has human work as its main theme, it is right to confirm all the effort with which the Church’s teaching has striven and continues to strive always to ensure the priority of work and, thereby, man’s character as a subject in social life and, especially, in the dynamic structure of the whole economic process. From this point of view the position of ‘rigid’ capitalism continues to remain unacceptable, namely the position that defends the exclusive right to private ownership of the means of production as an untouchable ‘dogma’ of economic life. The principle of respect for work demands that this right should undergo a constructive revision, both in theory and in practice. If it is true that capital, as the whole of the means of production, is at the same time the product of the work of generations, it is equally true that capital is being unceasingly created through the work done with the help of all these means of production, and these means can be seen as a great workbench at which the present generation of workers is working day after day.
Well, that's interesting. Walter laments that we Catholics lack that good ole capitalist "Protestant Work Ethic." I didn't see you jump all over him for it. It's hard to make all of you guys happy...
Steven, deal with the scriptural quotes provided vis-a-vis Rand's and don't cloud the issue.
As for the rest, you've apparently never heard of the GI Bill, the Interstate Highway System and the Tennessee Valley Authority, hust for starters.
''Smoot Hawley was far more a symptom or consequence of the Great Depression than a cause.''
No, Smoot Hawley was a major cause of the Depression. It was not the only cause and you rightly mention the Federal Reserve as a major contributor especially after the world retaliated against Smoot Hawley.
The Great Depression had three major causes.
First, the high debt of World War I stopped being repaid, mainly because the US passed the Smoot Hawley laws. Other countries stopped repaying their war debts because of this.
Second, other countries retaliated against the US for Smoot Hawley. Exports went from $7 billion in 1929 to $2.5 billion in 1932. And by putting tariffs on a lot of essential goods US manufacturing was made much more expensive. For example, several hundred parts in a typical car were imported and now cost substantially more. Automobile cost went up and sales went down because they cost more but because Europeans put tariffs on the cars decreasing the sales even further. The whole economy was put in a tail spin because of Smoot Hawley.
And then the Fed screwed up big time as you suggest not so much in tightening the money supply which helped start the crash but mainly by letting the banks go under and not lending them money. By 1932 with all the bank failures, the quantity of the money was down a third. So in about three years there was one third less money in the country and the accompanying demand was gone.
And all the three reasons are due to government intervention and had nothing to do with free market activity.
I am not sure what your point is. The government was the main culprit in the start of the Great Depression. They were an even bigger culprit in keeping it going for another 14 years after Roosevelt got in. They were the main culprit and still are in the current housing crisis. Did Greenspan help? Sure he did but he had a lot of others contributing. Our main problem today is housing and unemployment. Both due to government meddling in the economy.
''I see your point about monetary policy screw-ups, but I don't know if I'd agree with Ron Paul and Rand Paul that we need to end the Fed.''
I never said anything about ending the Fed. You brought up the Fed as a cause of the Great Depression and I agree with you but I lean more to what they did later by not supporting banks and contracting the money supply. They allowed the money supply to decline by a third and that was a major problem.
''You get politically appointed hacks ...Greenspan at the Fed'' This seems like a silly comment and what does it have to do with anything except to impugn the decisions of any admirer of Ayn Rand as somehow disturbed. Ayn Rand has several parts to her philosophy and not all are noxious. It is the first time I saw any one call Greenspan a hack. That he made a couple wrong decisions, I agree, but a hack? Is Bernacke a hack?
''FDR's ''Brain Trust'' of policy advisors was superb'' Many of these were genuine hacks and some down right scary. None had any idea on how to end the Depression or would stand up to Roosevelt. The net result was a pro longing of the Depression till 1946 because of Roosevelt and what they implemented. The running of the War should not be confused with the running of the country financially. Remember one of the big heroes of the First World War was Herbert Hoover. When the WWII's end was in sight they were scared to death. They had no idea of what to do with 10 million men coming home from war. The GI Bill was a way to keep them off the street for a couple years and it turned into a bonanza. Maybe we should run our educational system now the same way, give vouchers to the parents.
''As for Smoot-Hawley, etc... You may just as well have chosen the guys who wanted to stick to the Gold Standard.'' Yes you can add the gold standard as something that got in the way of financial well being. But you got to be kidding if you do not think that Smoot Hawley was a major cause of the Depression and essentially crippled the automobile industry and farm exports. A major trade war with Europe started because of it. I could list chapter and verse of all the nonsense that went on and it essentially killed exports which led to all sorts of games being played with farmers.
The gold standard help lead to the initial crash in 1929 but the crash and the Great Depression are different things not necessarily related. Benjamin Strong's death was also a major cause as no one had his credentials to run the Fed at the time of the Crash or for the next few years or really knew what to do. If the Fed had made the right decisions in 1930-32 and if Smoot Hawley had not been passed there would not have been any Great Depression and probably no WWII. And if Roosevelt hadn't been such a dunce it might all have ended in a year or two. But neither he or any of the people he had knew what to do and like Hoover did pretty much the opposite of what was needed. So you have two classic progressives who wanted to run everything and all either one of them did was to screw up the country and the world.
In his book The Great Depression, 1929-1941, Robert S. McElvaine picks up the story:
The supply-side interpretation of the Depression must be addressed before we get into our own. Jude Wanniski and his supply-side coreligionists worship, like the rich men of the 1920s, at the altar of laissez faire. In his book The Way the World Works, Wanniski sees the free market as the ultimate in democracy. Through its workings, the "global electorate" exercises its franchise. The parliament of this global electorate, it appears, is the New York Stock Exchange, which doubles as its Kaaba. This may strike some as an unusual place to associate with democracy, but one must understand that votes are apportioned among the global electorate on a basis slightly different from the famous Baker v. Can ruling. In the marketplace electorate, votes are distributed by the formula of one dollar, one vote, or perhaps, $100,000, one vote.
The stock market, Wanniski insists, is a "great, sensitive brain" governed by market forces in such a way that stocks can never be "overpriced" or "under-priced," but "at any moment, the market is fully priced." Such a view is not a scientific observation, but a statement of dogma. It sounds rather like Rousseau's mystical concept of the General Will: "The Sovereign, merely by virtue of what it is, is always what it should be."
Starting with revealed truth, Wanniski faced the task of finding a way to make the Depression conform. Since the market is supposed to work properly if left alone, the Crash meant, ipso facto, that there had been government interference. In Arthur Laffer's terminology, government interference takes a "wedge"—a slice of the pie of private transactions. Wanniski's job was to show that the Crash had been caused by the entrance of a wider "wedge" into the free economy. Wedges are usually taxes and regulations. Thanks to Andrew Mellon, Calvin Coolidge, and friends, these were not expanding in the late twenties. Hence the persistent problem for classical economists in explaining the Depression on their terms.
In 1977, Wanniski found the long-sought deus ex machina: the Hawley-Smoot tariff of June 1930. It had been there all along, of course, but was not on stage at the proper time. Practically everyone had agreed that the tariff increase was a terrible mistake and had made the worldwide Depression worse. It seemed impossible, though, to blame the crash of October 1929 on a law that was not enacted until eight months later. But Wanniski found a coincidence between some of the big drops in the stock market in 1929 and key Senate votes indicating that low tariff forces would be defeated.
One can readily imagine the thrill that Wanniski must have felt at finding the Grail. It is understandable that he allowed himself to be carried away with his enthusiasm. Yet on more sober examination his discovery, while interesting, seems less meaningful. If, as Wanniski insists, the market is "a great “sensitive brain" that is guided by the perceptions—or "votes"—of masses of investors, it is hard to see how it could have responded so dramatically to information that went almost unnoticed at the time. As Wanniski himself says, "not a word appeared in the press making note of the remarkable coincidence" of a key tariff vote and the big drop of stock prices in the last hour of trading on October 23. He makes no mention of any words in the press about the similar remarkable coincidences of other days in the fall of 1929. To say that the market can react spectacularly to information the importance of which is not widely recognized is to deny Wanniski's own view of the market. In any event, many investors believed that higher tariffs would help rather than hurt business.
None of this is to say that the Hawley-Smoot tariff, to which we shall have occasion to return, was insignificant, or anything other than a disaster. But it cannot let classical economics off the hook. The tariff, it may be said categorically, was not the sole, or even the principal, cause of the Crash or the Great Depression. Wanniski must be given credit for the degree of his faith. His panacea of low taxes and low (or no) tariffs, he asserts, would have either prevented Mussolini and Hitler from coming to power or made them nice fellows as rulers. But for bad tax and tariff policies, Wanniski tells us, there would have been no Second World War. He even implies that Hitler became an expansionist only because he had a bad (high) tax policy. It would be nice if the world were so simple.