Acton Institute Powerblog

Samuel Gregg: Defending Paul Ryan

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At National Review Online, Acton’s Director of Research, Sam Gregg, takes issue with a New York Times article that takes a “dim view” of Congressman Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.). Specifically, Gregg takes on author Timothy Egan’s charge that Ryan suffers from “Irish-Amnesia” because the congressman suggests that we in the United States have created a culture of dependency.

Such attitudes and critiques, the piece argued, reflected a type of ancestral amnesia on Ryan’s part. Egan reminds his readers that some English politicians warned against intervening in the Irish famine of 1845-1852 on the grounds that the market would sort out the shortages and that, in any case, many of the Irish were lazy and needed to learn how to fend for themselves.

The article was careful not to imply equivalency between what its author calls “the de facto genocide that resulted from British policy, and conservative criticism of modern American poverty programs.” But Egan did imply that Ryan somehow believes that some Americans “are bred poor and lazy.” To that end, the article pointed to Ryan’s recent claim that “we have this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” This was, the article claimed, “the language of racial coding.”

Greggs agrees that many conservatives (Ryan among them) do indeed criticize America’s culture of dependency, the welfare state, and the cycles of single motherhood and lack of education that create poverty. However, Gregg also maintains Ryan does not believe  “that individuals of particular ethnic backgrounds are somehow incapable of escaping poverty,” as Egan suggests. Gregg says that Ryan and others are willing to help create opportunity and decrease poverty, but without destroying the family structure, and creating more and more bureaucracy.

Read “In Defense of Paul Ryan” at National Review Online.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.


  • housewar

    People seem to assume that anything that transpired prior to 1900 was the result of free-market economics. Therefore, the potato famine must have been a free-market failure, and the Brits that stood by and watched it unfold without graciously offering public assistance should all rightly be considered terrible human beings, just like the Republicans of today.
    This myth was demolished years ago (
    The Irish were a subjugated people. A more apt comparison would be between the Irish of 1850 and South America, or Africa, where political subjugation and government “help” has historically crushed the rights and incentives of farmers. What’s the point of improving your farm if the government won’t let you profit from it (or the reverse, where the government won’t allow you to profit from your efforts, preventing you from making any capital improvements), or if “free” food from international aid will undercut your ability to make a living.
    The Irish didn’t just flee the famine, they fled nanny-statism and political subjugation, and they thrived in America, a place with less social assistance and more economic freedom.
    If anything, the comparison works for reasons that are opposed to Egen’s point. The plight of the Irish improved dramatically when they left big government Great Britain for small government America.

  • In this present American mindset it would take a 180 by some brave pols. to turn things around. There are no such men to do it !