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Paul Ryan in His Own Words: Only 10% of America Is as Far Right as I Am

At the Atlas Society:

Host: I don't know if you [Congressman Ryan] use the [Social Security] "privatization" word (laughter). We here have no problem with that, but sometimes you have to use a little soft-shoe up there because many members of Congress are not as far-thinking as Congressman Ryan. I met Congressman Ryan when he was a staffer for Senator Bob Kasten some years ago. Senator Kasten is a former senator from Wisconsin. He was also a speechwriter for vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp. He has done many other things. He is here today to tell us a few thoughts on Ayn Rand. Without further ado, Congressman Ryan. Also, thank you for helping us secure this beautiful room. As you can see, we have filled it with people who want to celebrate the life of Ayn Rand.

Paul Ryan: Good morning everybody. Nice to have you here. This looks just like my living room at home. It's beautiful, isn't it? My constituents know otherwise.

I just want to speak to you a little bit about Ayn Rand and what she meant to me in my life and [in] the fight we’re engaged here in Congress. I grew up on Ayn Rand, that’s what I tell know 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 [laughter]. There’s a big debate about that. We go to Fountainhead, but then we move on, and we require Mises and Hayek as well.

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, ah, 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. And 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 that 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.

When you look at the fight that we are in here on Capitol Hill, it's a tough fight. It's a very important fight. We need more people on our side to fight this fight. That is why there is no more fight that is more obvious than the differences of these two conflicts than Social Security. Social Security right now is a collectivist system. It is a welfare transfer system. It is 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 is going to come to you when you retire. A lot of people think that. And what is important is that if we actually accomplish this goal [of Social Security privatization] of personalizing Social Security (extended laughter)--think of what we will accomplish. Every worker, every laborer in America will not only be a worker but a capitalist. They will be an owner. They will be an owner of society and a participant in our free-enterprise system, 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, than that many more people in America are not going to listen to the likes of Dick Gephardt and Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy--the collectivist class-warfare breathing demagogues.

And so what we have coming now at the beginning of this century is a fight. If we ran government on autopilot--CBO just came out with a really good report--and do nothing, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will grow so fast and consume so much that the government will consume 26% of our national economy, 26% of our GDP. Historically, government in this country runs at about 18% of GDP. We will consume 26% of GDP if we do nothing. So you have to understand that all they have to do is to stop us from succeeding. Autopilot will get them to where they want to go. It will bring more government, more collectivism, more centralized government if we do not succeed in switching these programs and reforming these programs from what some people call a defined-benefit system to a defined-contribution system--and I am talking about health-care programs as well--from a third-party socialist-based system to an individually-prefunded individually-directed system.

We can do this. We are on offense on a lot of these issues. I was the principal author of the Health Savings Account law which was an amendment I brought to the floor and it passed in the Medicare [Part D] bill in the last session of congress. Health Savings Accounts, Personal Accounts in Social Security, these are the things that put us on offense that put the individual back in the game and breaks the back of this collectivist philosophy that really pervades 90% of the thinking around here in this town.

Is this an easy fight? Absolutely not. 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 set 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 is what it meant to me and that is what it means to me as I move and stumble in areas to win these fights. I think that if we win a few of these right now, moving health care to a consumer-based individualist system, moving Social Security to an individual preowned pre-funded retirement system, just those two things would do so much to change the dynamics in this society in the direction of accountability, individualism, and transparency in government than anything else we can do. So we are trying to focus on the big-ticket items to win these things, and the other side knows the stakes are just as high. I wish our side knew the stakes were as high. The theory I have right now is that our side does not understand these great consequences. The other side, who are going to do everything they can to defeat and demagogue these efforts--they understand what is 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 our chance to win these things, and I just want to say thank you, Ed, for doing this and thanks for coming.

I would be happy to answer any questions.