Jonathan Chait: Paul Ryan Dumps Ayn Rand in Favor of Other ‘Crackpot Authors’

August 26th, 2014 6:56 PM

Don’t look now, but there may be a Paul Ryan scandal, or at least a scandalette, and in this context New York magazine blogger Jonathan Chait is both Woodward and Bernstein. In a Monday post, Chait related that Ryan, in the newsmagazine The Week, had named his “six favorite books about economics and democracy,” and that the “huge omission” from the list was Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which Ryan has so often praised to the skies.

Chait remarked that Ryan appears to be backing away from his politically problematic Randian makers/takers rhetoric and readopting a previous persona: “The new Ryan looks like the Bush-era version, with lots of giving to the rich without all the taking from the poor.”

From Chait’s post (emphasis added):

Ryan has tried (since his ascension from backbencher to his current role as chief ideologist of the Republican party) to downplay his love of Ayn Rand and her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. And now, the volume that Ryan once handed out to all his staffers, listed as one of his three most frequently reread books of any kind and cited as the entire reason he got into public service, no longer makes the top six list…

More interesting — and revealing of the direction Ryan is headed — are the final two books Ryan does name: The Way the World Works by Jude Wanniski and Wealth and Poverty by George Gilder. I have read both. Wealth and Poverty is a weird, rambly, mostly unoriginal recitation of free-market homilies whose influence largely derives from the fact that it came out just as Ronald Reagan swept to power and was thus seen as an intellectual manifesto for the new Republican Party. The Way the World Works is a novel argument that the entire history of the world can be explained by changes of tax rates...It is a work of genuine derangement on the same intellectual level as the sorts of unpublishable hand-scrawled diatribes that I used to scan through when I sorted the mail as a magazine intern.

…Eventually Wanniski started defending the likes of Louis Farrakhan and Slobodan Milosevic, denying Saddam Hussein had gassed the Kurds, and so on, which made his oddity more obvious to the lay audience. Gilder is actually even less hinged than Wanniski, and has held forth on various views from a belief that ESP is real to insisting “there is no such thing a reasonably intelligent feminist.”

So it seems the lesson Ryan has drawn from the harmful publicity surrounding his Rand fixation is not that he shouldn’t associate himself publicly with crackpot authors but merely that he should find different crackpot authors. And of course there are crucial differences. Rand loved the rich, or at least the deserving capitalist rich, and despised the poor. Gilder and (especially) Wanniski loved the rich as well, but had none of Rand’s bile. They believed that cutting taxes for the rich held the key to all human progress, that a world in which the heroes of capitalism could exert their imagination and drive free of the burden of slightly higher taxes was a world in which everything was possible, that the poor would be uplifted…

...The new Ryan looks like the Bush-era version, with lots of giving to the rich without all the taking from the poor...