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Ryan, Rand, and gold

David Glasner has fallen into Krugman’s Bog, a poorly mapped but vast region of the Internet where the choler is so thick one cannot slog through it. David’s post is called “Where Does Paul Ryan Go When He Thinks About Monetary Policy?” The answer, he thinks, is Ayn Rand, and in particular a passage from The Fountainhead [correction: Atlas Shrugged, as a commenter pointed out; my mistake] where the character Francisco d’Anconia makes a speech about the merits of gold as a monetary standard. As Ryan has said, he read Rand when he was young and, like many of her readers of that age, was heavily influenced by parts of her message. (He explicitly rejects other parts.) However, David cites no direct evidence that Ryan shares d’Anconia’s views (which are pretty clearly Rand’s) on gold. Instead, David cites another blogger whose views are pure speculation.

Here is a rope that travelers who have fallen into Krugman’s Bog can use to pull themselves back onto the High Road of Informed Commentary. Thomas, the legislative tracking service of the Library of Congress, shows what bills a member of Congress has sponsored. In my search, I found that Ryan sponsored two bills on monetary policy: the Price Stability Act of 2008, which would have required the Federal Reserve to establish an explicit numerical definition of “price stability” and to maintain a monetary policy that effectively promote it; and the International Monetary Stability Act of 2000 (also 2001), which would under certain conditions have allowed the sharing of seigniorage with countries that used the U.S. dollar as their official currency. Neither bill passed–the fate of most proposed legislation. My reading of the Price Stability Act is that it would in principle permit nominal GDP targeting (David’s favored approach) if the Federal Reserve defined “price stability” in a way compatible with that approach. I did not find that Ryan sponsored bills to re-establish any type of gold standard, though if others do, let me know in the comment section.

I have had some small acquaintance with Ryan. More than a decade ago, I was a staff economist on the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress, of which Ryan was one of the members. I worked with his staff on the International Monetary Stability Act, which was sponsored in the Senate by my boss at the time, Connie Mack III (father of the current Republican candidate for Senate from Florida). The few times that I briefly met Ryan, he impressed me as having a combination of intellect and energy that is rare in Congress. Though I have not met him since, I have followed his career and have been confirmed in my impression of long ago. On financial issues, broadly construed, Barney Frank has been over the last decade the only other member of the House of Representatives in the same league in terms of providing intellectual and legislative leadership, though of course Ryan and Frank are poles apart on most policies. I could offer you criticisms of both — after all, nobody except me does exactly what I would do as a member of Congress — but I would start from their legislative records, not from what some other blogger thinks about them.

[ADDENDUM: See David Glasner's reply in the comments. I was mistaken to say that there's no direct evidence that Ryan shares d'Anconia's views. In the post David cites, Ryan does say that he goes back to d'Anconia's speech when he thinks about monetary policy. I should have been more accurate and written that there is no readily apparent connection between the speech, with its emphasis on gold, and the legislation on monetary topics that Ryan has sponsored. Thank you for the correction, David.]