Unlike many politicians who pronounce on public policy, Paul Ryan was actually an economics and political science major at Miami University of Ohio. But unlike conventional economics majors, Ryan followed a heterodox approach by also reading Hayek, Rand, and other libertarians. He was "intellectually curious" according to his economics mentor.
Ryan has in at least one place invoked the name of Adam Smith as justification for his policies. It is not clear what Ryan has read of Smith or about Smith, but it is apparent that many market advocates praise the name of Smith while trampling on his ideals.
Smith stood for policies that would benefit the poor and vehemently denounced policies that benefited elites. Smith was in favor of progressive taxes that would fall more heavily on the rich. Ryan's budget attempts to shrink government, which Smith would be in favor of, but Ryan does it primarily on the backs of poor and giving tax cuts to the richest. Smith favored regulations in financial markets to prevent excessive risk taking. Thus, there appear to be some major points of disagreement.
Smith also wrote at length to denounce the "greed is good" ideas of Bernard Mandeville, ideas which Ryan apparently adopted in his early attraction to the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Ryan now distances himself from Rand—after all, one cannot run for vice-president and support an atheistic philosophy!
In 2005, however, Ryan gave a speech saying:
I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It's inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff.
It is hard to believe that Ryan has given up his belief in Rand, rather he has more likely put it under wraps for the campaign, just as Mitt Romney has given up his health mandate and other hard right issues.
Some of Ryan's non-budget positions are quite sensible: he supports a line-item veto and eliminating ethanol fuel mandates. But other views are parochial, it seems to me: e.g., trying to force the Fed to ignore unemployment and international considerations when setting monetary policy. Protecting the wealth of financial assets via low inflation is certainly not the only desirable mandate for the Fed. National security and political stability both rank higher in my book.
In coming months I presume we will all delve more deeply in the Ryan budget. But that's secondary to the key issue: is Ryan ready to be commander in chief, should Romney at age 65 suffer from a stroke or worse? My complaint against Sarah Palin last time—and Ryan this time—is that neither is ready for prime time on the international stage. Ryan is smart, well-educated, and likable; he would be a quick study. But at age 42 I would still not put the country in his hands. Teddy Roosevelt and John Kennedy were 43 when they assumed the presidency, but both had served overseas in combat and held higher offices than Ryan.
Ryan's short term problem is convincing aging citizens of Florida that he is not going to throw grandma under the bus by eliminating Medicare as we know it.