Why Paul Ryan is no Ayn Rand on Social Security
Mitt Romney's running mate Paul Ryan deserves credit for trying to tackle the coming entitlement crisis. But whatever you can say about his plan for Social Security, you cannot ascribe it to Ayn Rand. Rand did not want to save Social Security; she wanted to end it.
Paul Ryan is one of the few politicians willing to talk openly about reining in America’s entitlement state, and he is the only one to put forward a serious plan purporting to do so. This, combined with Mr. Ryan’s professed admiration for the iconic novel by Ayn Rand, “Atlas Shrugged,” has led some commentators to label Ryan the “Ayn Rand candidate.”Skip to next paragraph
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Time for a fact-check.
Take Ryan’s approach to Social Security, a program he views as fundamentally good, but fiscally unsustainable. “[R]etirement programs should guarantee real security, not empty promises,” he told supporters at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
Thus the Ryan plan to save Social Security. In his most recent budget, Ryan aims to strengthen Social Security by reducing benefits and raising the age of eligibility. (Earlier versions of the plan included “private” Social Security accounts, but Ryan has since scrapped that proposal.)
But the Congressional Budget Office concluded that under Ryan’s budget, Social Security spending would rise – from 4.75 percent of GDP in 2011 to 6 percent of GDP in 2030.
On this issue, Ryan is worlds apart from Rand. Rand did not want to save Social Security; she wanted to end it.
The theory behind Social Security is that the government should guarantee us “economic security” in old age by forcing us all to save today so that we have some minimum income tomorrow. (In reality, there is no saving: The money that’s taken from Americans while they’re working goes to support current retirees. Whatever money a person ultimately receives is not a return on investment, but something taken from other young workers.)
In Rand’s view, your life and wealth belong to you. In a free society, each individual gets to decide: Do I want to retire someday? What sort of retirement do I want? A few lavish, work-free decades? Or would I rather work as long as I’m able and spend my last few years in modest comfort? What sort of plan will enable me to achieve my financial goals? How much of my income should I save? How much should I invest? How should I invest it?
When Americans are forced to pay into Social Security, they are robbed of the freedom to make those sorts of assessments – assessments unique to each person’s life, goals, and values. Instead, the Social Security program herds everyone into a one-size-fits-all entitlement scheme where a sizable portion of people’s income is confiscated with nothing more than the government’s assurances that they’ll get something – whatever it decides is fair – back someday. It’s a losing proposition.
That’s why the supporters of Social Security have found it necessary to rewrite the facts concerning what life was like before Social Security. The myth: “People starved in the streets!” The reality: In the era before Social Security was passed, most Americans thrived.