Paul Ryan and the Power of Misinformation

Paul Ryan champions the poor. So much so, that he wants to cut services for them. If he could save a buck by cutting even school librarians for elementary kids, he would. Eliminating egregious tax subsidies on the rich, on oil companies and big agricultural firms, not so much.

Part of his justification lies in misinformation. Ryan said yesterday: “”When government’s own finances collapse, society’s most vulnerable are the first victims, as we are seeing right now in the troubled welfare states of Europe.”

What he gets wrong is that the most viable states in Europe actually have the heaviest systems of social welfare, namely the Scandinavian countries. Sweden and Denmark spend up to 40% of their GDP on social welfare (including education) compared to Spain, which spends less, only 25%. This figure is actually closer to that of the US, which spends an embarrassing 19% on social welfare INCLUDING education.

Ryan wants us to believe that Spain’s troubles are because of a runaway system of redistribution which inspires sloth in the poor, leaving them unable to feed themselves. What Ryan doesn’t bother to mention, is that Spain’s troubles are actually due to a real estate bubble, not dissimilar to the mess that predicated the crash of 2007/8 and the mess that lead to Japan’s nearly two decades of stagnant growth.

Greece arguably spends more on public welfare (28%). Greece’s problems, however, are as linked to the financial crisis of 2007/8, (the fault of the loosening of regulations by Americans) and the entry into the Euro, as they are to the problem of massive tax evasion, a cottage industry of Paul Ryan’s Republicans. Certainly, Greece (which was the fastest growing economy in the Eurozone from 2000 to 2007 despite social welfare expenditures), mismanaged their debts, but can we blame problems of tax evasion or currency exchanges on feeding poor people? Perhaps in Ryan’s world, we can.

But this might be too much for Ryan, who has plans of his own. As an Ayn Randian, he is, by definition, barred from searching for answers from without as he can most certainly fabricate his own from within. Honestly, I thought the only people that were into Ayn Rand were over caffeinated college students. I guess I’m wrong.

As an Ayn Randian, Ryan wants to eliminate the capital gains tax, presumably so that hard working folks can “enjoy the fruits of their labor.” Does anyone seriously believe that a person who has given a chunk of inherited capital to a firm to be gambled on the stock market actually does any labor at all? Productivity of American workers has gone up by 62% since 1989, but wages are only up 12%. Can anyone seriously claim that the average American worker is fairly enjoying “the fruits of his/her labor”?

But Ryan’s a “serious” guy. So serious, that he dispenses with worrying about facts and pushes his pro-rich agenda even further. No doubt this works well with Americans who have more to do than read about European financial crises (which is fine). As a public servant, however, he has a responsibility to accurately represent the facts. I recognize that statement in itself to be purely wishful thinking on my part.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

One response to “Paul Ryan and the Power of Misinformation”

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