The Romney/Ryan Ticket’s Ayn Rand Problem

By Pam Martens: September 26, 2012 

Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan

Forty-one days before a Presidential election that billionaire Charles Koch promised would be the “mother of all wars,” the battle is focusing on the ideas spun out of the decades old Koch corporate front groups.  Namely – Ayn Rand’s brand of capitalism. 

The uproar has yet to fade on Mitt Romney’s video tell-all, marking 47 percent of Americans as government moochers — “my job is not to worry about those people” — a view that would have warmed the heart of author Ayn Rand, an icon of the far right who was regularly repulsed by government parasites, unless she was doing the mooching.  (In later life, Rand received both Social Security and Medicare benefits.) 

Now, multiple media outlets are calling attention to an audio tape of a speech Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan delivered to the Atlas Society in 2005, praising the influence of Ayn Rand on his life and parroting her vocabularly with phrases like “check my premises.” 

The speech could draw unwelcome attention to the fact that Wall Street is massively funding the Romney/Ryan ticket because it believes Ryan will deliver on his plan to privatize Social Security.  The web site set up by Ryan, A Roadmap for America’s Future, lays out how he would end Social Security and Medicare as we know it. 

In his speech to the Atlas Society (the full transcript and link to the audio appears below), Ryan had this to say about Social Security:

“Social Security right now is a collectivist system, it’s a welfare transfer system. It’s a system where – and I always tell my constituents, and none of them usually believe me – you don’t have an account with your name on it in the Federal government. There isn’t a box with your cash in it that’s gonna come to you when you retire.  A lot of people think that. And what’s important is if we actually accomplish this goal of personalizing Social Security, think of what we will accomplish. Every worker, every laborer in America will not only be a laborer but a capitalist. They will be an owner of society, they will be an owner and a participant of our free enterprise system, of our capitalist system. I would like to have more people on our team who are owners and believers in the individualist capitalist system than on the other side, and if every worker in this country becomes an owner of real wealth, of seeing the fruits of their labor come and materialize for their benefit, then that’s that many more people in America who are not going to listen to likes of Dick Gephardt and Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, the collectivist, class warfare-breathing demagogues.”

The words coming out of Ryan’s mouth parroted the sales script sold to other countries by José Piñera, the Labor Minister under the brutal military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.  Piñera later emerged as the global pied piper of private savings accounts.  In 2008, Piñera’s web site, PensionReform.org, was owned by the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank whose shares were secretly owned by a handful of men for three decades, one of whom was Charles Koch. Piñera is currently listed at Cato’s web site as Co-Chairman of Cato’s project on Social Security Choice.

Piñera testified before the U.S. Senate on June 26, 1997, explaining how private accounts move workers to the corporate side of the table: “A typical Chilean worker is not indifferent to the behavior of the stock market or interest rates. Intuitively, he knows that his old age security depends on the well being of the companies that represent the backbone of the economy.” In Piñera’s book, The Bull by the Horns, he says the whole working population can become “shareholder capitalists.” 

According to actuarial studies of the private savings plans in Chile and Mexico, they were an asset stripping operation that allowed Wall Street firms like Citigroup to strip away as much as 20 to 25 per cent of the workers’ wages in fees to “manage” the money.  

At the end of Ryan’s speech, his host, Ed Hudgins, Director of Advocacy for the Atlas Society, also uses words uncannily similar to Piñera’s:

“By the way, I just want to add real quickly, and I know the Congressman has I’m sure said this.  José Piñera, who helped privatize Social Security in Chile, who also was by the way an Ayn Rand fan. José points out the moral revolution that occurs with privatization, that is, people in Chile, you know, who thought of themselves as Marxist suddenly feel that they are owners of property and they literally get up and they start reading the Chilean equivalent of the Wall Street Journal…It creates a moral revolution of people who actually own property. And Congressman Ryan knows that. And I think that’s one of the importance of this kind of movement is that we really change not only the economic dynamics but the moral dynamics.”

Both Ryan and his host, Hudgins, use the word “moral” in speaking of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Ayn Rand was, in reality, the antithesis of a moral person, having a long-term sexual relationship with a young man who worked for her while he was the husband of her close friend; writing odes to selfishness and railing against altruism; publicly ridiculing government while asking favors of J.Edgar Hoover and testifying before the McCarthy hearings. 

Ryan and Romney and Charles Koch want to reinvent America in Ayn Rand’s likeness.  It’s up to sharp thinking Americans to prevent that.

Full Transcript of 2005 Audio Tape of Paul Ryan Speaking Before the Atlas Society (Note: Link to audio tape appears at the bottom of the linked page.)

Ed Hudgins, Director of Advocacy for the Atlas Society: Congressman Ryan was born in the community of Janesville, Wisconsin. He is a fourth– fifth generation native of Wisconsin. And he is currently serving his fourth term as a member of the U.S. Congress. He is best known, I’m happy to say, as one of the leaders in the fight to reform Social Security by allowing for the expanded use of individual retirement accounts. Now I don’t know whether you use the privatization word. We here have no problem with that, but sometimes you have to do a bit of a soft sell up there because many members of congress are not quite as far thinking as Congressman Ryan.

Ryan: I just want to speak to you a little bit about Ayn Rand and what she meant to me in my life and the fight we’re engaged here in Congress. I grew up on Ayn Rand, that’s what I tell people. I – uh, everybody does their soul-searching, and trying to find out who they are and what they believe, and you learn about yourself.

I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged. People tell me I need to start with The Fountainhead then go to Atlas Shrugged.  There’s a big debate about that. We go to Fountainhead, but then we move on, and we require Mises and Hayek as well.

But the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism. 

In almost every fight we are involved in here, on Capitol Hill, whether it’s an amendment vote that I’ll take later on this afternoon, or a big piece of policy we’re putting through our Ways and Means Committee, it is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict: individualism vs. collectivism. 

And so when you take a look at where we are today, uh, some would say we’re on offense, some would say we’re on defense, I’d say it’s a little bit of both. And when you look at the twentieth-century experiment with collectivism — that Ayn Rand, more than anybody else, did such a good job of articulating the pitfalls of statism and collectivism — you can’t find another thinker or writer who did a better job of describing and laying out the moral case for capitalism than Ayn Rand. 

It’s so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand’s vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding principles are. I always go back to, you know, Francisco d’Anconia’s speech (at Bill Taggart’s wedding) on money when I think about monetary policy. Then I go to the 64-page John Galt speech, you know, on the radio at the end, and go back to a lot of other things that she did, to try and make sure I can check my premises so that I know that what I’m believing and doing and advancing are square with the key principles of individualism.

But when you look at the fight that we’re in here in Capitol Hill, it’s a tough fight. It’s a very important fight. But we need more people on our side to fight this fight. That is why there is no more fight that is more obvious between the differences of these two conflicts than Social Security. Social Security right now is a collectivist system, it’s a welfare transfer system. It’s a system where – and I always tell my constituents, and none of them usually believe me – you don’t have an account with your name on it in the Federal government. There isn’t a box with your cash in it that’s gonna come to you when you retire.  A lot of people think that. And what’s important is if we actually accomplish this goal of personalizing Social Security, think of what we will accomplish. Every worker, every laborer in America will not only be a laborer but a capitalist. They will be an owner of society, they will be an owner and a participant of our free enterprise system, of our capitalist system. I would like to have more people on our team who are owners and believers in the individualist capitalist system than on the other side, and if every worker in this country becomes an owner of real wealth, of seeing the fruits of their labor come and materialize for their benefit, then that’s that many more people in America who are not going to listen to likes of Dick Gephardt and Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, the collectivist, class warfare-breathing demagogues.

And so what we have coming now in the beginning of this century is a fight. If you take a look at if we ran government on autopilot—and CBO just came out with a really good report on this—and do nothing, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will grow so fast and consume so much that the government will consume twenty-six percent of our national economy, twenty-six percent of our GDP. Historically speaking government in this country runs at about eighteen percent of GDP. We will consume twenty-six percent of GDP if we do nothing.

So you have to understand that all they have to do is stop us from succeeding. Autopilot will get them where they want to go. Autopilot will bring more government, more collectivism, more centralized government. If we do not succeed in switching these programs, in reforming these programs from what some people call a defined benefit system, to a defined contribution system – from switching these programs — and this is where I’m talking about health care, as well — from a third party or socialist based system to an individually owned, individually prefunded, individually directed system.

We can do this. We are on offense on a lot of these ideas. I was the principle author of the Health Savings Account law, which was an amendment I brought to the floor and passed in the Medicare bill in the last session of Congress. Health Savings Accounts, personal accounts for Social Security, these are the things that put us on offense, that the individual back in the game and break the back of this collectivist philosophy that really pervades, you know, ninety percent of the thinking around here in this town.

Is this an easy fight? Absolutely not it’s an easy fight. But if we’re going to actually win this we need to make sure that we’re solid on premises, that our principles are well-defended, and if we want to go and articulately defend these principles and what they mean to our society, what they mean for the trends that we sent internationally, we have to go back to Ayn Rand. Because there is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works. 

And so that’s what it meant to me and that’s what sort of fuels me as I try and move and stumble in areas to try and win these fights. I think if we win a few of these right now — moving health care to a consumer based, individualist system, moving Social Security to an individually preowned, prefunded retirement system — just those two things right there will do so much to change the dynamics in this society – will do so much to bring more people onto the side of demanding for accountability and individualism and transparency in government than anything else we can do. 

So we’re trying to focus on the big-ticket items to win these things and the other side knows these stakes are just as high. I wish our side knew the stakes were as high. That’s the fear I have right now which is our side doesn’t understand these great consequences. The other side, who are going to do everything they can to defeat and demagogue these efforts, they understand what’s at stake. They understand what is happening here. We need to do a better job of not only understanding it but of articulating it and winning.  This is a good chance to win these things and I just want to say thank you Ed for doing this and thanks for coming.  I’d be happy to answer any questions. 

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