Rep. Paul Ryan: Our fiscal future and our moral health
We know there is a fiscal crisis looming if we do not get our entitlement programs under control. But the failure to rein in these obligations also poses a moral danger to the country, according to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
At the American Enterprise Institute last December in his debate with New York Times columnist David Brooks, Ryan took up this theme:
On the morals side, I find the prospect of irreparable moral damage just as troubling, and as I know David does as well. Europe's people have labored under the rock of its welfare state for decades, and now Europe's debt crisis has lifted this rock and we see the moral ugliness that has developed underneath. Turn on the TV and watch French teenagers lobbing Molotov cocktails at each other and at cars, burning down schools, protesting advancement of the retirement age for fat pensions that they haven't even begun to work yet [sic]. Take a look at British university students, who are shattering windows because they don't want to share the cost of their own educations. Greek mobs murdering bank tellers, because their workplace happens to be a symbol of fiscal reality? Good grief. Let's contrast these riots with the Tea Party protests that we've watched over the last year or two. Instead of taking to the streets to demand more from the government, these citizens took to the streets peacefully to ask the government to do less, to take less, and to return itself to the role government was envisioned by our founders.
I spoke to Ryan by phone today and asked what he meant by that and if we are facing a breakdown of the social fabric in America. He said: "The social insurance strategies of the 20th century are going bankrupt in the 21st century. But that is an economic argument." However, he argued that there is more to this than a fiscal crisis. At stake, he said, is whether we will have a "dramatically different America" in which "upward mobility, self-reliance and self-governance" are not the prevailing features of this country.
Ryan explained that these values are "given up in a dependency and complacency culture." Once those values are eroded, Ryan said, people "look to the government as the provider of their economic well-being."
In the sort of European violence that he described in his AEI speech, we see that there is "a moral decay component" to this. "Once we believe that our rights come from government," Ryan argued, we inevitably wind up "surrendering" to government.
Ryan explained that his 2008 Roadmap for America (drafted in 2007) assumed that a debt crisis would ensue in about 10 years if we did not change course. "Now, because of the Great Recession and the financial meltdown, that got sped up," he explained. He told me he thinks the public is "farther along" than the politicians are in recognizing where we are and what is required. "The fiscal pressures at all levels of government are leading to a crescendo, a tipping point," he explained. And while there is a sea change in public opinion, Ryan argued that politicians now have to do their part. "[Gov.] Scott Walker owes it to Wisconsin and we owe it to the nation to at least let the people choose" their economic future, Ryan said.
Unlike Europe, Ryan observed, America has a "deep emotional and intellectual attachment" to a dynamic, entrepreneurial economy and to the ideal of limited government. When he visits voters in Wisconsin, he said, voters tell him "America is on the wrong track" and they "are really worried their kids will be worse off" than their parents. The willingness to sacrifice is there, Ryan said. Unlike French students who rioted over reductions in retirement benefits, Ryan observed, "Look at what happened in the streets of America in the last two years. People gathered in peaceful demonstrations to ask their government to do less."
What about the uncivil and anti-democratic behavior in Wisconsin? Ryan good-naturedly suggested that "what you see on TV in Madison is not Wisconsin." He explained that in his home state, there are "civil people, friendly people." Although Madison has become a "flash point" with many out-of-staters, Ryan said, the crowds and the absentee legislators are "not who we are."
Although Ryan is optimistic that "people are ready for and hungry" for fiscal leadership and are "less subject to demagoguery," he is less optimistic that the president is ready to lead on these vital fiscal issues. What we do in the next couple of years, he argued, "will lock in the trajectory for America for the 21st century." And that, as he explained, amounts to nothing less than deciding "what kind of country we want to be."
President Obama is not leading, but Ryan is prepared to. In a few weeks he will present his 2012 budget proposal and plans for entitlement reform. If no one else will do it, Ryan seems fully up to the task of arresting America's fiscal downward spiral and thereby pulling America back from the brink moral decay that has ensnared Europe.
| March 3, 2011; 3:27 PM ET
Save & Share: Previous: California: How to fix what public employee unions have wrought?
Next: Obama's timid words on Libya
Posted by: jafco | March 3, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: rcaruth | March 3, 2011 4:12 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mbcnewspaper | March 3, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mustangs79 | March 3, 2011 4:22 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: eoniii | March 3, 2011 4:25 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bzod9999 | March 3, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: kinsman_bob | March 3, 2011 5:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: eoniii | March 3, 2011 5:55 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mfray | March 3, 2011 6:10 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mfray | March 3, 2011 6:15 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: dmarney | March 3, 2011 6:20 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: gord11 | March 3, 2011 6:27 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: fingersfly | March 4, 2011 8:11 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Northernlite | March 4, 2011 8:26 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: mfray | March 4, 2011 8:39 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: GaryPeschell | March 4, 2011 9:02 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: thelawlers1 | March 4, 2011 9:31 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: rewriter | March 6, 2011 1:47 AM | Report abuse