Subscribe for 17¢ / day

Paul Ryan spent the Bush years wanting large regressive tax reform because there were “makers” and “takers.” He was touting the philosophy of Ayn Rand, with which he had fallen in love like so many of us did during our college rite of passage. He told The Weekly Standard, “I give out ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it.”

Unfortunately, as the rest of us grew up, Paul Ryan became speaker of the House. He and his Republican colleagues passed a tax bill that will produce the largest redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history, just as Ryan has proposed in budgets throughout his political career. Rep. Peter King, a Republican said of Ryan, "It's been his dream for 25 years before he even came to Congress.”

Ryan believes that tax reform and reduced government spending is the key to enacting Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, a philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism, the ideal economic system where everyone pursues their own self-interest. She did not believe in a public good.

Adam Smith, who is often misunderstood and misquoted, would not have agreed. Smith believed that government had a significant role in providing for a public good. He believed it was in our self- interests to take care of society. Ayn Rand, on the other hand, believed that any social contract was immoral, as it could only lead to oppressive bureaucracy and a culture that embraced mediocrity.

She wrote this in the decade following our nation winning World War II. Soon after we built a highway system, went to the moon, and continued to be the guiding light for liberal democracy throughout the world. Our investment in the public good and the resulting prosperity is evidence that Ayn Rand’s philosophy was wrong.

In 2016, even Paul Ryan regretted using the terms “makers” and “takers”, saying, “as I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized that I was wrong. ‘Takers’ wasn’t how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, trying to take care of her family.”

And yet, his life-long dream for tax and spending reform begins.

On one hand, Republicans have passed a tax bill that nonpartisan analysts say will increase the deficit by at least $1 trillion. On the other hand, Ryan said that congressional Republicans will aim next year to reduce spending on both federal health care and anti-poverty programs. He said during an appearance on Ross Kaminsky's talk radio show that he wants to reform Medicare saying "This has been my big thing for many, many years. I think it's the biggest entitlement we've got to reform."

Ryan plans massive cuts in order to pay for his new debt contribution. This is after decades of a decline in spending on what makes us a great nation: infrastructure, science and research, labor skills and education. Fareed Zakaria said on Sunday that we can’t continue “coasting on past investment … we are ushering in a bleak future…expect big spending cuts on top of a dire situation.” 

Seventy years after her last novel, Ayn Rand dominates. "Who is John Galt?" no longer poses a literary mystery but instead symbolizes immoral taxes and spending at Tea Party meetings. There are 48 members of the Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. House. Our own Montana Tea Party calls itself Montana Shrugged.

These Republicans believing government to be an immoral collective that prevents the “makers” from becoming rich, are the same people who tout religion, fetuses, sexual behavior and skin color as moral controllers. They think they are Hank Reardon in "Atlas Shrugged", when the truth is they are Ellsworth Toohey in "Fountainhead". They protest and destroy government institutions while they stifle individual thinking, creating and learning outside the norm.

Ironically, our highways provided the very lucrative contract that started the Paul Ryan family fortune. Does he think his family’s government contract was an immoral slope into the dystopia that Ayn Rand professed would result from public investment?

Yes, she wrote of a dystopia. Little did she know her philosophy, and Ryan’s love of it, would make it happen.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

A.J. Otjen has a Ph.D. in social sciences, with an emphasis in economics and political science. She teaches business courses at MSUB and lives in Laurel.