The Reason Libertarians Are Lukewarm About Paul Ryan as VP

Paul Ryan's nomination as vice president on the Romney ticket was met with mixed reaction among libertarian circles. Some rightly herald him as a small government champion ready to tackle our nation's debt crisis if ever given the chance. Others sourly note that he is a strong social conservative ready to reduce government spending, but do little to change the fundamental relationship between the federal government and the individual. They're both right. 

Paul Ryan is a perfect example of the difference between those who support small versus limited government. The seemingly subtle, but actually tremendous difference between these two points of view is most easily visible when you consider the central issue Ryan has discussed thus far in this campaign, Medicare.

Much attention has been paid to congressman Ryan's Medicare reform plan that would provide every senior with a subsidy with which to purchase coverage at least as generous as traditional Medicare offers today. If you listened to the hype, you'd think Paul Ryan is trying to take government sponsored health care away from our seniors. That is far from the truth.

Consider the way he patriotically expounded last night on the promises and obligations that the government has made to seniors. He believes those promises should not only be kept for today's seniors but should continue to be made for future generations as well, except offered through a program that is structured to be more affordable to future taxpayers. His plan calls for equally generous benefits and expects seniors to pay just as little as they do now. That is his plan for keeping the program going, not killing it off.

The Ryan plan is Medicare Advantage on steroids, basically. The biggest difference between Medicare today and Ryan's vision of Medicare in 2022 is the way premiums provided to seniors are calculated. In a less polarized and vitrioloc political time, this transition would likely be argued among academics and Washington policy experts instead of through attack ads showing Paul Ryan rolling an elderly lady in a wheelchair off a cliff.

On the other hand, advocates of limited government believe that Medicare should not only be restructured to spend less, it should be greatly curtailed so as to provide benefits only to the truly sick and needy. Rather than Ryan's tepid plan to "end Medicare as we know it," many libertarians want to end Medicare, full stop. That is a much more substantive difference than just figuring out a more technocratically preferable way to pay for the program. That argument would elicit a debate about the proper role of government in our lives, the need for government to provide unlimited services to its citizenry, and the desirability of an entitlement program that forces every senior to become inescapably dependent on publicly financed health care.

The debate Paul Ryan is calling for is far different.


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Jacob Shmukler

Jacob performed health care policy research at a prominent libertarian think tank for 2 years before working at a major health care consulting firm in Washington, DC.

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