Former Speaker of the House lectures on economics in public policy
Isabella Laufenberg | Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan gave a lecture to Notre Dame economics students and faculty on the intersection of economics and public policy Tuesday night.
Ryan, who hails from Wisconsin, served as a member of the House of Representatives for 20 years. During his time as a representative, he served as the Speaker of the House from 2015-2019. After his retirement from Congress, Ryan has gone on to create the American Idea Foundation. He also currently sits on the board of the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities and is a visiting professor at Notre Dame.
At the beginning of his lecture, Ryan told listeners about how his economics major from Miami University in Ohio shaped a lot of his policy-making decisions.
Ryan said that he believes basic knowledge of economics is really invaluable to a policymaker.
“It’s really important, and it helps you understand the goings and the comings of public policy,” Ryan said. “The better you can base your foundation of economics in real rigorous quantitative analysis and evidence, the better you’ll be as a policymaker, the better you’ll be as an economist, the better you’ll be is a real evaluator of good policy or bad policy.”
Ryan said he encourages looking at a data-based analysis to try to remove confirmation bias.
“I would encourage everybody in the field of economics to try and remove your confirmation bias as best you possibly can. And just look at data, and look at evidence,” Ryan said. “[It will] really help you form good decisions.”
When the lecture moved to a Q&A format, many questions centered around the Ryan’s opinion on economic policy decisions made during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One question posed to Ryan asked what the USA can do to pull themselves out of this economic recession and if any policy should be put in place to protect against a pandemic caused recession from happening in the future.
Ryan said that although our country already has unemployment benefits in place, he believes stimulus checks are the most important way to help our economy right now.
“We already have emergency unemployment — we already have excessive emergency unemployment,” Ryan said. “That’s one of the sticking points of this additional $600 a week benefit. Eighty-three percent of American workers were making more money in unemployment than they were in working … So you’re basically denying the economy labor by saying to a person, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll pay you more than if you do work.’”
Ryan also said that in the future, Congress could create programs for a more targeted stimulus that only includes the people who truly need it.
Another question Ryan received was on how to best handle the United States’ current debt crisis.
Ryan explained to the audience that better management of our health care system could fix our growing budget deficit.
“I believe that we can have the best healthcare system in the world,” Ryan said. “We can have universal coverage, we can guarantee coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, we can have a Medicare system that all those seniors can rely on and use and is comprehensive and we can get our fiscal house in order to not break the bank and not have a debt crisis. But it’s going to take an acknowledgment that the private sector needs to be involved in the provision of health care.”
Ryan went on to explain that if principles of free market success can be applied to healthcare, the country can fix the main problem with our current health care system: health inflation.
“I think the answer [to fixing health inflation] is to take the principles that make a free market really work is successful,” Ryan said. “One of the best attributes that we have in market economics is that choice and competition can improve quality and bring down costs.”
Regarding the country’s current political atmosphere, a question was fielded regarding the recent reveal of the President’s tax returns and if more should be done to limit tax loopholes for the wealthy.
Ryan replied that there is a copious amount of tax loopholes in our current tax code and that more can be done to prevent the exploitation of those loopholes.
“We have too many loopholes in the tax code,” Ryan said. “And the smarter way to raise revenue, without doing more damage to the economy, is to plug loopholes. And then you can have lower tax rates, which is better for the economy.”
During the presentation, the former Speaker said a Notre Dame professor, Dr. Jim Sullivan, gave Ryan an idea which he had then turned into law.
“I came to Notre Dame for a football weekend with my brother and attended a LEO seminar and got an idea,” Ryan said. “[We were] talking about how challenging it was to get data and analytics and analysis on what works or what doesn’t work in the poverty space … Even though we spent about a trillion dollars on poverty programs on the year, only 1% of that money is spent using evidence-based analysis and then Jim Sullivan, an econ[omics] professor at Notre Dame here, said ‘You guys should do a commission on how to open up all this government data, so that researchers like us can go through it and find out what works and what doesn’t.’”
Ryan said Sullivan’s idea prompted him to write a bill — which has now passed into law — titled the Evidence Act that promotes evidence-based policymaking.
Ryan encourage the building of more relationships between lawmakers and people within our campus community.
“Invite more policymakers to campus to get to know them and to share your thoughts, expertise and ideas with them,” Ryan said. “Maybe some of them will take your ideas and make them laws.”