When Paul D. Ryan returns Wednesday for a campaign rally at his alma mater, Miami University of Ohio, he’s expected to be welcomed back to campus by Rich Hart, an economics professor who was one of Ryan’s first intellectual mentors. Ryan was already enamored of libertarian ideas when he arrived in Hart’s macro-economics class, but his political thinking began to take more definite shape during long, after-hours conversations in Hart’s office, the professor said in an interview.
In those talks, it’s safe to say, there wasn’t much affection for the role of government in social programs. Hart, 65, describes himself as a believer in the Milton Friedman school of free-market economics and says he introduced Ryan to Friedman’s ideas. But Hart says he’s sure that it was Ryan who first read “The Road to Serfdom,” the book by Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek that has become a touchstone for conservatives.
“I spent hours on end in my office with him,” said Hart, who has taught at Miami since 1974. “The talk was much more about political philosophy than economics,” Hart said.
“Governments operate by coercion, and what that means for the loss of individual freedom … those are the sorts of things we talked about,” Hart said. “I don’t know if he had read Ayn Rand, but I certainly had, and I know we talked about it.”
Hart jokingly describes himself as belonging to a wing of the Miami faculty that’s “to the right of Attila the Hun.” He is convinced that America is on the brink of a deep debt crisis, and says that the only way out is to trim spending on Medicare and Medicaid, as Ryan’s budget plan proposes. He says minimum wage laws hurt minorities and that public schools are failing inner-city students. Hart says he’s offended when Democrats accuse Ryan and other Republicans of not caring about the poor.
“I know Paul does because we talked about this,” Hart said. “I think what we are doing to inner-city minorities is unconscionable. You can make them wards of the state and cut them welfare checks and look at the results.... Let’s empower them so they can lift themselves up and become productive members of society.”
Hart said he’s given money to Ryan over the years but isn’t involved in politics. Hart said he told a Romney campaign operative that he was thinking of opening with humor, playing off a liberal depiction of Ryan as a scourge of Medicare: “I was going to say, ‘Last time I saw you, you were pushing Grandma off a cliff in a wheelchair,’” Hart said. “He said, ‘You absolutely, positively cannot say that.’”