In a Daily Beast column, author John Kelly writes that Paul Ryan is "making the same economic mistakes that hurt his forefather in the Great Famine."
Kelly, who is the author of the upcoming "The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People," says that the Republican vice-presidential candidate and his siblings are proud of their Irish "famine-to-fortune" history. Their paternal great-great-grandfather, James Ryan, fled the famine for America in 1851.
However, Kelly says that Ryan's economic philosophy was what hurt his forebears during the famine, starving a million and sending another million into exile.
Kelly writes: "The Irish famine, widely regarded as the worst natural disaster of the 19th century, began when, between 1845 and 1850, repeated crop failures reduced the population of Ireland by a third. But crop failure wasn’t what caused the worst of it: a government economic philosophy called “Moralism” and speeches made in Parliament that are almost word-for-word like Ryan’s own speeches about his Republican budget are what made the famine catastrophic, causing needless deaths.
"Charles Trevelyan, the British official who oversaw famine relief, was so intent on rooting out the “cankerworm of government dependency” from the character of hungry peasants that he ordered relief food be sold rather than given away. That decision was the single-most devastating one, increasing famine deaths multifold—and unnecessarily."
Kelly says that when Ryan introduced the Republican budget that would end Medicare and other "entitlements," the words sounded similar to Trevelyan's.
Kelly writes: "Ryan declared that America was at an “insidious moral tipping point,” adding that “the president is accelerating this.” He went on to say that a capacious safety net “lulls able-bodied people”—I paused at the slightly archaic turn of phrase—“into lives of complacency and dependency, which drains them of their very will and incentive to make the most of their lives. It’s demeaning.” Far better for the American character for the poor to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Ah, yes, those bootstraps again.
He adds: "Yes, the free market is a very efficient instrument, but it runs on the profit motive, and in a period of crisis—whether 1845’s catastrophic crop failure or our current economic near-collapse—measures need to be taken—feeding the hungry, employing the unemployed—that, in the short run at least, won’t make anyone money."
"And yes, welfare can create dependency, and in times of prosperity and a healthy jobs market, eligibility standards should be strict. But in time of crisis, an uptick in dependency seems a small price to pay it if helps prevent mass starvation—or even the lesser dread of mass unemployment, which we’re looking at now."
He concludes the column by saying: "The descendants of the people the Presbyterian Quarterly called “more animal than intellectual in nature” are now among the most prosperous, patriotic, and politically powerful of Americans. Some, like Paul Ryan, are exercising their privilege to aggressively promote the ideas over which their ancestors in Ireland suffered and died or fled. Now, with the power of his vice-presidential candidacy—and the sway his ideas have clearly held over the man who selected him—that power and privilege are intensified."
"History instructs. History also has a very dark sense of humor. Irish history, especially."