Does Paul Ryan’s OCD trump empathy?

Paul Ryan never seems happier than when talking about the money that can be saved by repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. It seems as if he has zeros bouncing around in his head and his goal is to get all his ducks in a row so that everything in life zeroes out.

He is in a position of making public policy, and it seems that his goal of reforming government is to ensure that there is no deficit, and government spends no more than it takes in. Since he likes his taxes to be low, this means that expenses also must be low for the budget to zero-out.

Numbers can lend themselves to order. Being fixated by numbers is a frequent characteristic of people who experience obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The person is intently emotionally invested in the numbers turning out the way he wants.

This can be fine if you’re a banker, if you’re a baseball player, if you’re a meteorologist. But this is not what Ryan is. He is a public official whose job it is to provide those public services to the population that the private sector cannot effectively do.

Clearly, left to its own devices, the private sector cannot provide adequate and affordable health care to all Americans. Even with the Affordable Care Act, nearly 12% of Americans do not have health care coverage. With the Trump-Ryan plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, another fourteen million Americans will lose coverage next year, and a total of twenty-four million by 2024.

But for Paul Ryan, it may be that the suffering of those people who cannot get needed health care, or not have access to preventative health care, is simply outweighed by the joy of having the federal budget zero out. If the lens through which he looks at public policy is obscured by his fascination with having all the numbers in the right place, then he can get great satisfaction and consider himself doing a good job, even if it means that millions of people must suffer for your personal world to be in order.

This is why people can say about Paul Ryan, as they said about Ronald Reagan, that he is such a nice guy. Because being friendly with someone else, particularly if they are like you, does not have to create an imbalance in the way in which he sees the world.

Ryan, like many other Republicans, not only wants a balanced budget every year, but he wants the entire $19 trillion federal debt paid off. By certain Republicans’ standards, this could be done in short order. Since the federal government collects about $3.5 trillion in revenue each year, it would take less than six years to simply collect money, de-fund all programs, and pay off the debt.

Putting it in such stark terms is necessary to understand the impact of certain Republican policies, particularly if someone like Ryan is obsessed with them. Just seven years with no Social Security, no Medicare, no airport controllers, no national parks, no office of the attorney-general. Maybe some Republicans would like to keep the military budget, but that would mean extending the pay-down another three or four years.

Yes, paying off the national debt and running balanced budgets every year could put a certain kind of economic house in order. That kind of house would be the one in which some of us are lucky enough to live.

But this is not the reality of macro-economics, the kind that governs the role of our federal government in our national economy.

Why do Republicans dislike deficits and debts so much? Because borrowing means that there is more money in circulation and by some textbooks, that results in inflation. But here’s the problem. As the federal debt has doubled since the year 2000, inflation has barely risen. The likely reason is a macro-economic tenet that has new-found credibility. The theory says that what’s bad is for the federal debt to rise at a rate faster than the overall economy. In those terms, debt has gone down.

There’s nothing engraved in stone by this theory, but for the last generation, the data has substantiated it. So, the U.S. government has spent a great deal more than it has taken in. A lot of that was spent to fund dubious wars, another large percentage went to give tax breaks to the very wealthy, some of it has gone to meet the rising demand of entitlements, and some of it has been increased discretionary spending for items like developing clean energy, medical research, infrastructure and federal aid to education.

Could the U.S. make significant cuts in spending? Yes. Ending and not getting into new ill-advised wars would be a good start. So would fairly taxing the wealthy.

But the bottom line is that we are surviving the current ratio of income and expenses. That is not an orderly world to Paul Ryan and other Republicans. But what’s more important? Should we aim to zero-out every budget because it makes certain people happy, or should we strive to provide the necessary social services that the economically disenfranchised and middle class need?

Ryan needs to get out of his video game, ZERO-OUT, and see the world around him. Let the “zero hero” be the pitcher or goalie who throws or completes a shut-out.