Paul Ryan talks capitalism and the ‘entertainment wing’

The Wisconsinite discussed his term as speaker, current politics, and winning in 2022.

Paul Ryan of Wisconsin speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

The day after a major policy speech in California, former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan joined Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s “Hold These Truths” podcast for a wide-ranging chat.

Ryan explained his current endeavors, including teaching economics and serving as a board member with the Lab for Economic Opportunities at the University of Notre Dame; working as an American Enterprise Institute fellow; and leading a poverty-focused charitable group, called the American Idea Foundation.

“I do believe there’s a moral core to capitalism, and free enterprise is the best weapon against poverty,” Ryan explained during a fast-moving 30-minute discussion. “We have this young person’s romantic attachment to the fashionable idea of socialism, but when you actually scrape below the surface of socialism, it’s conformity, no choices, and enforced misery.”

Ryan also spoke of natural rights and opposing identity politics and collectivism.

“The condition of your birth doesn’t determine the outcome of your life,” he noted. “That American idea is the most revolutionary thing we’ve ever had as humans. It’s the one thing that ran contrary to all other societies who organize themselves through the coercion of collectivism. The progressive left is trying to pull us back toward the same tired ideas, which create rot.”

He also touched on equality of opportunity versus the equality of outcome that the left prefers, asking, “Can we strive for a system of dynamic upward mobility, so everyone gets a shot at the best version of their life, limited only by God-given talent and effort? That’s what America is wired for.”

Early in his congressional tenure, the Wisconsinite traveled the country for years searching for solutions to poverty and he reflected on the experience.

“The war on poverty backfired in so many ways,” he said in part. “I learned about poverty in poor rural areas and inner cities to educate myself and come up with better solutions. I focused on intergenerational poverty, the most stubborn form, and that comes from bad government policies.”

In the interview’s final portion, the duo discussed Ryan’s term as speaker, current politics, and winning in 2022.

“The job found me, I did not look for the job,” Ryan said of taking the helm in October 2015. “If I didn’t do the job, we’d implode as a majority because no one else had the votes.”

Crenshaw asked him about the “visceral reaction, without defining it, against the Establishment” and difference between policymakers today and in the past.

“Some people focus more on temperament and tactics than actual policies and principles. Every politician wants to be somebody and do something…but people who want to be famous are in the ‘entertainment wing,'” Ryan believes.

“Just ten years ago, to succeed, you had to scale a meritocracy by proving yourself, and we measured success by persuasion and innovation. But because of decentralized information — digital platforms, cable news and talk radio — people realized they don’t have to put in decades scaling the meritocracy. They can just be really good on TV, give barnburner speeches, be awesome on Twitter, entertain, and leapfrog the policymakers to be famous real fast; and that fame gets me power, the ability to raise money online, and exposure to be a player right away,” he added.

Ryan mentioned that taking on entitlement programs, for example, were not popular, but necessary, and required hard work.

“There is a new dynamic and incentive structure that says you can entertain your way faster to the top than work your way through a meritocracy,” he observed. “The entertainment wing measures its success by provocation and entertainment. Invariably, that requires you to eschew compromise and not do the kind of legislating the founders envisioned when they built a system to reach consensus and govern. Both parties have entertainment wings because we now hang out in our information cul-de-sacs where we reinforce our biases. More importantly, those aren’t based on policy or principles, but tactics, temperament and populism, which is untethered to principles.”

Reflecting on the interview afterwards, Crenshaw closed by claiming, “Fighting is not running around the halls of Congress screaming ‘RINO’ at your colleagues. Fighting means understanding legislation and persuading people.”