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Mark Axelrod

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Paul Ryan, The Path to Prosperity and the Peter Principle

Posted: 08/12/2012 5:09 pm

Now that Paul Ryan is the legitimate potential heir to the Republican presidential throne, I thought I'd take a look at his masterpiece, "THE PATH TO PROSPERITY: Restoring America's Promise." As a writer, I'm keenly aware of how people use language and am a perfervid fundamentalist when it comes to Twain's dictum that, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." Given that, one has to assume that Ryan's BA degree in economics and political science would have given him at least a fundamental knowledge of how to write things economic. That assumes he did fairly well in his undergraduate English courses at Miami (Ohio) U. Of course, presumably, the title isn't meant to be deceiving, but it is. "The path to prosperity" presumes there is no other path to take. Ryan didn't title it "A path to prosperity," but THE path to prosperity so if one ignores this path then, well, there's really no other path to take. The notion of "prosperity" is an ancient one dating back to the 12th century and one can find it in classical Latin prosperitāt- , prosperitās: favourable state or outcome, success. Of course, this Latin origin wouldn't have been unfamiliar to Jefferson when he wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." As the OED defines the word it is "the condition of being prosperous, successful, or thriving; good fortune, success, well-being, wealth." But given this discourse, at least for Ryan and his Republican minions, the only path to prosperity for America is, well, their path.

Where things tend to get somewhat murky is the line: "Restoring America's Promise" since that implies the promise of America has somehow been lost and in some obscure way needs to be "recovered" or "restored." Why else would he write what he wrote? So, somehow, along the path that the Founding Fathers set out for America, things got gnarly, the path got overgrown with economic weeds and in that financial undergrowth we lost our way. But if that's the case, then that would also imply someone needs to be held accountable for the promise of America that was lost in all that xxx and that failure would naturally land in the lap of Congress of which Paul Ryan is a part.

Ryan then takes the tried and true approach of many Republicans (presumably gleaned from the Constitutional Handbook of Michele Bachmann) with the Constitution. When in doubt, always allude to the Constitution: "Article I of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to appropriate funds from the Treasury, pay the obligations of and raise revenue for the federal government, and publish statements and accounts of all financial transactions." One can parse the opening to his prelude any number of ways from some kind of patriotic affirmation of the writer or that the writer actually knows something about the Constitution, etc. What's of interest here is what Ryan has written in the second paragraph and especially the second line: "By law, Congress is also obligated to write a budget representing its plan to carry out these transactions in the forthcoming fiscal years. While the President is required to propose his administration's budget requests for Congress's consideration, Congress alone is responsible for writing the laws that raise revenues, appropriate funds, and prioritize taxpayer dollars within an overall federal budget." What's revealing about this line is it clearly establishes who the culprit is for American having lost its path; namely, Congress. So, by extension any financial failure America finds itself in can be traced back to those who have been responsible for it; namely, Congress.

Ryan then goes on to write: "The budget resolution is the only legislative vehicle that views government comprehensively. It provides the framework for the consideration of other legislation. Ultimately, a budget is much more than a series of numbers. It also serves as an expression of Congress's principles, vision and philosophy of governing." Besides the fact the line, "Ultimately, a budget is much more than a series of numbers" is about as superficial a statement as is humanly possible, the following line "It also serves as an expression of Congress's principles, vision and philosophy of governing" once again validates the fact that if a budget is an expression of "Congress's principles, vision and philosophy of governing," then they have to take responsibility for the economic morass we're in today.

Of course, the hypocrisy is palpable with the next paragraph that reads: "This Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2012 intends to recommit the nation fully to the timeless principles of American government enshrined in the U.S. Constitution -- liberty, limited government, and equality under the rule of law. It seeks to guide policies by those principles, freeing the nation from the crushing burden of debt that is now threatening its future." Seems as if Ryan himself has parsed the notions of "liberty, limited government, and equality under the rule of law" found in the Constitution to fit his argument. But the line "It seeks to guide policies by those principles, freeing the nation from the crushing burden of debt that is now threatening its future" is a tantalizing bit of rhetoric. "It," of course, relates to his Budget Resolution and how "it" seeks to guide policies by the aforementioned principles. There seems to be a kind of implied tautology with that statement. The Budget Resolution seeks to guide policies? If a Budget Resolution "seeks" then by definition it's in search of something and if it's in search of something then it doesn't know where it's going. To that end, this path is even more confusing that Borges' Garden of the Forking Paths. I presume Ryan could have written something much more definitive, much more demonstrative, much more impactful. But he didn't. The last part of the sentence "freeing the nation from the crushing burden of debt that is now threatening its future" of course implies that the debt is something new since it "now threatens our future." Apparently, Congress wasn't thinking about that before, but now, now things are different which leads to the final line of the prelude: "This budget is submitted, as prescribed by law, to apply these principles, reflect this vision, and provide a framework for the orderly execution of Congress's constitutional duties for Fiscal Year 2012 and beyond." Having uttered the "constitutional" mantra for the third time the manifesto states in rather generic terms that the budget submitted will "apply these principles" (namely Ryan's principles) reflect this vision (namely Ryan's vision) and provide a framework (namely Ryan's framework) for the Congress's duties for 2012 and beyond. Of course, nowhere in the prelude is there any statement that remotely resembles Congressional irresponsibility for getting the nation in the fiscal abyss it is now.

Ryan's graphs are somewhat risible and have been dummied down to the point that they could have been designed by a select group of Wisconsin elementary students. The PTP graphs begin in 2008 and go to 2048 or 2050 depending on the graph one chooses. That's right, four decades. It's amazing to me that Ryan can be so prescient. If he were that prescient why didn't he come up with a graph that indicated the post-Bush economic meltdown? The reason he didn't was because he isn't prescient and the graphs he tosses up as if they were a daycare assignment doesn't account for those things that are unpredictable. All he can graph is what might happen on the "Current Path" and what would happen on the "Path to Prosperity." Presumably for Ryan there are only those two options. Most everything else is rather generic. I'm all for fiscal responsibility, but since the Republicans since Reagan have been as bad as or worse than the Democrats about burdening the nation with debt, Ryan's proposal is a bit disingenuous. Not only that, there are no facts that run counter to what he writes.

The remainder of Ryan's 73-page masterpiece is laden with superficial facts and figures (arguably as fictional as Borges) with little or no attribution. At some point, "the theory of gravity" ceases to be a controversial subject and like gravity there has to be a clear measure of the economic nightmare the nation is in. I'm not sure Paul Ryan has the answer to that and banning common forms of birth control, eliminating a woman's right to choose, ending funding for Planned Parenthood and voting against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is not going reduce the debt. I'm not an economist, but I'd venture to say a BA in economics from Miami or anywhere else isn't going to drive Stiglitz out of Columbia, Krugman out of Princeton or make people forget Milton Friedman at Chicago let alone John Maynard Keynes. I'm not impugning Ryan's integrity as a person, but if there were a prime example of someone attaining the heights of the Peter Principle, then he would be it. If you need further proof of that then the comment made by one of the greatest of all Peter Principle disciples, Dick Cheney, that he "worships the ground Paul Ryan walks on" is all one needs to hear.

 
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