In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, U.S. Representative Paul J. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, shared his thoughts on the appropriate fiscal approach for resolving the issue of poverty in the United States. In his piece Mr. Ryan tries to clarify that in past comments on the level of social program participation that he did not intend to attack individuals who are recipients of social program benefits but wanted to point out that the current philosophy of American government erodes the American ideal.
That ideal, according to Mr. Ryan, is a society where Americans govern themselves. Faith should not be placed in government but in the actions of a free people, says Mr. Ryan. Again, according to Mr. Ryan:
“And instead of managing poverty, we’d actually be fighting it. Today, we’re spending almost $800 billion on 92 federal antipoverty programs—and yet we have the highest poverty rate in a generation. That’s because the solution can’t be found in a federal bureaucracy; it lies within individual Americans and the community that surrounds and supports them.
As it stands, we’re not empowering people; we’re overseeing them. That’s got to change. We need to see an individual’s problems and potential. Our goal shouldn’t be to simply meet their needs; we should help them tap into their talent and achieve their goals.”
I don’t think his plan goes far enough, however. Frankly, it is still too top-down. To get to a more self-governing society there will have to be greater initiatives on the local level. Local communities will have to generate and accept a more “we run this” mindset versus looking upward for manna fro the national level. Mr. Ryan is correct that unnecessary top-down regulations from the national government will have to be eliminated so that citizens and their localities will have the flexibility to govern their commercial relationships.
To facilitate the self-governance of commercial relationships, national, state, and local governments will have to streamline their roles to that of infrastructure providers and maintainers while leaving the stewardship of commerce to producers and consumers. Roads, airports, harbors, and bridges connecting self-governing communities have to be built and maintained and using government may be a cost-effective way of sharing risks among local communities for deploying infrastructure. The restructure of government’s role is where the real work will take place.
Mr. Ryan, along with his other conservative colleagues may have to start taking a few more risks themselves by getting out of the rhetorical box that has “less government spending” as its mantra and offer up concrete approaches to restructuring society so that poverty is appropriately addressed through a paradigm of self-governance.