FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia

Some Americans have decided that Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is a “moderate” who might have a restraining effect on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. This might be because Ryan’s language is less combative and contentious than Trump’s. But this is dangerously misleading, for the Speaker’s apparent moderation is an illusion. The truth is that regardless of his choice of words, what Ryan stands for is as disastrously radical as the positions of Trump and the rest of the right-wing Republicans.

America’s “newspaper of record,” the New York Times has caught on to this fact. In an editorial on Ryan’s “economic agenda,” published on 19 June 2016, the Times tells us that Ryan’s vision for the U.S. economy is centered around a single, allegedly cure-all idea: “roll back hundreds of federal regulations that protect consumers, investors, employees, borrowers, students, and the environment.” The paper characterizes this as a “corporate wish list.” Ryan claims that this radical vision of deregulation is in line with Donald Trump’s own economic agenda. Thus, electing Trump and maintaining Republican control over the Congress would most likely result in Ryan’s plan being realized. The Speaker thinks this would lead to a period of economic growth that would benefit everyone – an economic utopia. However, this prognosis is also an illusion.

In truth Ryan’s plan would result in an economic dystopia – a society characterized by human misery. This assertion is not based on simple disdain for Republican Party posturing. It is based on history – a history of which Ryan apparently knows little. It is based on the fact that Ryan’s deregulated economic experiment has already taken place and proved to be catastrophic. That is why the U.S. now has the regulatory system it does today.

What the House Speaker apparently wants to do is resurrect the so-called Gilded Age. That was the period of American history following the Civil War when the economy grew rapidly but in an unregulated fashion. If you will, the “Gilded Age” economy operated apart from the rule of law, unless of course you believe in the ideologically posited “laws” of capitalism and the mystical notion of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” guiding the marketplace.

During this period of U.S. history a small class of entrepreneurs got very rich (their mansions and palatial grounds can still be visited today). But they operated with no reference to the basic human needs, or safety, of the community they lived in. And so, in their own lifetime they were both envied and denounced, and soon became known as “robber barons.”

The entire historical episode had a terrible dark side. If you think consumer vulnerability is a problem today, it was much, much worse in the era before regulation. For instance: most medicines (“patent medicines” often called “snake oil”) were sold in adulterated condition; food products were also adulterated with cheapened or impure ingredients; child labor was widespread; unions were considered a form of restraint of trade; there was no minimum wage; there were no safety standards for workers; monopoly enterprises grew; banking practices led to one panic after another, running into the 20th century, and finally culminating in the Great Depression; there was rampant job instability; railroad practices ruined farmers in the Midwest; land, sea and air were polluted without restraint. This is the sort of conditions that arise in the absence of economic rules and regulations.

Paul Ryan acts as if he knows nothing of this dark side. And perhaps he really doesn’t. He is an ideologue, and as such he cares more about his laissez faire ideology than he does about historic reality. He “knows” only what is filtered through the theoretical scheme to which he adheres. So it should come as no surprise that a free market ideologue such as Ryan has idealized, indeed has romanticized, the Gilded Age of economic expansion to such an extent that, for him, this distorted vision of the national past has been resurrected as a model for the national future. And how do we get back to this economic utopia? By eliminating all regulation and thereby turning the henhouse over to the foxes.

 

The New York Times editorial asserts that “the American people are unlikely to be comfortable” with Ryan’s economic plans. Of course, “American people” is an unwieldy generalization. Certainly many of Donald Trump’s supporters are backing him because of what they perceive as government interference in their lives. These individuals

exaggerate individual instances of conflict with this or that regulation into a near hatred of all regulation. Many others will support Trump for different reasons and won’t even bother to   give serious thought to Ryan’s economic scheme. Presently, Trump and Clinton are running nearly even in several key states. Will this continue? If so, could it be that the Times has misjudged what the majority of the voting public might find “comfortable”?

 

Never underestimate the power of dogma when propagandistically spread about among people who do not know much history. As the propaganda spreads out, dogma replaces reality. Thinking automatically narrows. Of course, the Democrats will try to counter the GOP worldview, but they also are opportunists. If Ryan’s passion for deregulation catches on, perhaps the Democrats will come up with their own compromise version of the Speaker’s scheme.

The most exasperating part of all this is that the likely consequences of much of Republican thinking has been seen before and we therefore know where it leads. Thus, it bears repeating that what in Ryan’s vision is a utopia has already been historically proven to be its opposite – a dystopia. The haunting refrain that history is bound to repeat itself is true only if we let it be so. And when our leaders’ plans and schemes spell predictable disaster – well, only the self-deluded and the truly ignorant would go there.

More articles by:

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.

July 08, 2020
Laura Carlsen
Lopez Obrador’s Visit to Trump is a Betrayal of the U.S. and Mexican People
Melvin Goodman
Afghanistan: What is to be Done?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
The End of the American Newspaper
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Merits of Medicare for All Have Been Proven by This Pandemic
David Rosen
It’s Now Ghislaine Maxwell’s Turn
Nicolas J S Davies
Key U.S. Ally Indicted for Organ Trade Murder Scheme
Bob Lord
Welcome to Hectobillionaire Land
Laura Flanders
The Great American Lie
John Kendall Hawkins
Van Gogh’s Literary Influences
Marc Norton
Reopening vs. Lockdown is a False Dichotomy
Joel Schlosberg
“All the Credit He Gave Us:” Time to Drop Hamilton’s Economics
John Feffer
The US is Now the Global Public Health Emergency
Nick Licata
Three Books on the 2020 Presidential Election and Their Relevance to the Black Live Matter Protests
Elliot Sperber
The Breonna Taylor Bridge
July 07, 2020
Richard Eskow
The War on Logic: Contradictions and Absurdities in the House’s Military Spending Bill
Daniel Beaumont
Gimme Shelter: the Brief And Strange History of CHOP (AKA CHAZ)
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s War
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Racism May be Blatant, But the Culture He Defends Comes Out of the Civil War and Goes Well Beyond Racial Division
Andrew Stewart
Can We Compare the George Floyd Protests to the Vietnam War Protests? Maybe, But the Analogy is Imperfect
Walden Bello
The Racist Underpinnings of the American Way of War
Nyla Ali Khan
Fallacious Arguments Employed to Justify the Revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s Autonomy and Its Bifurcation
Don Fitz
A Statue of Hatuey
Dean Baker
Unemployment Benefits Should Depend on the Pandemic
Ramzy Baroud – Romana Rubeo
Will the ICC Investigation Bring Justice for Palestine?
Sam Pizzigati
Social Distancing for Mega-Million Fun and Profit
Dave Lindorff
Private: Why the High Dudgeon over Alleged Russian Bounties for Taliban Slaying of US Troops
George Wuerthner
Of Fire and Fish
Binoy Kampmark
Killing Koalas: the Promise of Extinction Down Under
Parth M.N.
Back to School in Rural India: Digital Divide to Digital Partition
Ed Sanders
The Burning of Newgate Prison: a Glyph
July 06, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Foreign Election Interference: Who is to Blame?
JoAnn Wypijewski
On Disposability and Rebellion: Insights From a Rank-and-File Insurgency
Marshall Auerback – Jan Frel
There’s a Hidden Economic Trendline That is Shattering the Global Trade System
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A Just and Talented Government for Our Hazardous Age
Manuel García, Jr.
Biosphere Warming in Numbers
Ron Jacobs
Kidnapping Kids: As American as the Fourth of July
Tasha Jones
Pyramids. Plantations. Projects. Penitentiaries
Binoy Kampmark
Criminalising Journalism: Australia’s National Security Craze
Eve Ottenberg
Re-Organizing Labor
Mike Garrity
How We Stopped Trump From Trashing a Critical Montana Roadless Area in Grizzly Habitat
Nino Pagliccia
The Meaning of the 1811 Independence for Today’s Venezuela
Michael Galant
We Need a Global Green New Deal
Jill Richardson
Learning Not to Look Away
Marshall Sahlins
Donald Trump at 130,000 and Rising
Weekend Edition
July 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Peter Linebaugh
Police and the Wealth of Nations: Déjà Vu or Unfinished Business?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail