House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget has come under severe attack for daring to curtail some elements of the entitlement state. Although we are certainly not defenders of the plan’s details — it doesn’t even cut spending — what’s striking is how easily its supporters have been put on the moral defensive, and to how devastating an effect. In a column typical of the attacks on the Ryan budget, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called the plan “cruel,” “heartless” and “mean-spirited.” Ryan “has talked a good game about taking care of those in need,” but that can’t be reconciled with cutting the welfare state.
It was nothing new: Every attempt to cut entitlements has been denounced as unethical and immoral. But this time there was a new twist. The real motive behind the plan, critics say, is a philosophic opposition to entitlements — an opposition fueled by the ideas of the controversial philosopher Ayn Rand.
Rand of course was both an uncompromising critic of the entitlement state and a preeminent champion of laissez-faire. But whatever influence Rand might have had on Ryan’s goal — he credits her with inspiring him to go into politics — one thing is for sure: Her arguments have been conspicuously absent in the budget debate. Frankly, that’s like going to war without a weapon. Rand’s ideas are indispensable in the struggle to limit government: they provide the key to answering the moral argument for the entitlement state.