Catcher In the Ryan

Holden Caulfield, protagonist in the J.D. Salinger novel The Catcher in the Rye, wanted to save children playing in a rye field from falling off the cliff at the edge. To some who read this book as a teenager, Caulfield’s weekend in New York mirrored their own alienation from themselves and the adult world into which they were about to be thrust. It was nice to know that someone else felt that way, I have to admit.

Some of us grew up and realized that Caulfield may have made us feel understood back then, but that in the end he was a pathetic character–a boy who wanted to remain a boy forever. His every attempt at engaging in adulthood was met with failure of his own making. He never launched, instead sputtering and crashing into a room in a psychiatric facility.

Others seem to have clung to the Catcher as an archetype to emulate as they aged. They imagine themselves saviors, shielding others from the harsh adult world that awaits at the bottom of the cliff. The former move on to do the things big people do–accept that the world is a harsh place, but one that can be managed satisfactorily with the right mindset and some effort. The latter remain in the airy world of the rye field, always on the lookout for children to save.

There being no small children playing in rye fields literally, the Catchers must find others to save, which usually turn out to be very large children–the kind who think that government can take away the pain of growing up. This week the Catchers are out in number saving the little ones from Paul Ryan.

Mitt Romney has thus far been a near-dud. His lack of conviction and lackadaisical delivery made me wretch and further confirmed my belief that Republicans are beyond hope. Then came Ryan. I do not endorse this ticket, and am far from being convinced that Romney is a good choice for President. I am, however, pleased that someone who had the courage to tell the truth about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid made it to the center ring.

Paul Ryan has proposed an overhaul of Medicare and Medicaid. Contrary to what you may have heard, it does not affect people in the system now. It gradually gives people the choice of getting a capped government subsidy to support the purchase of private plans rather than a fixed set of benefits. The critical element contained therein is competition among private providers. Competition leads to better goods at lower prices in any industry, including health care. The alternative is that the program goes broke, a point conceded by even the most ardent defenders of the present system.

For that, Ryan has been called everything short of Satan’s brother. The Catchers are all howling that he not only isn’t catching children, he is pushing old folks off the cliff in their wheelchairs. What they don’t say is what they plan to do when the whole field goes up in flames. Like Holden Caulfield, they kinda sorta want to grow up, but every time they feel the pain of acknowledging reality, they blanch and retreat to safer ground where they can launch barbs toward the adults who actually are working on a solution.

Even if the Romney/Ryan ticket wins, there is a wide chasm between Ryan’s proposal and political reality. In a time of vapid, nasty exchanges between the candidates, let us at least be thankful to Ryan for getting the debate on entitlements out on the table where it belongs.

The world isn’t a rye field and it doesn’t need Catchers. What it does need are some adults. Ryan may go down in flames for his willingness to be one, but he can hold his head high knowing that he did more for children than Holden ever could.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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4 Responses to Catcher In the Ryan

  1. Jane Carrell says:

    Fantastic column, Professor Noel, and I wanted to share this column with you.

    Professor Mark J. Perry’s Blog for Economics and Finance
    Saturday, August 18, 2012
    Quotation of the Day: Should the Government Try to Reduce Income AND Life-Expectancy Inequality?

    “When I talk to people, I find that they generally agree with, and rarely strongly oppose, forcible government transfers of income from the rich to the poor to reduce income inequality. But when I suggest that the government transfer medical expenditures from women to men to reduce life-expectancy inequality, I get a very different reaction. Often, the listener will simply give me a strange look and quickly depart. Those who do respond, however, typically say that I couldn’t possibly be serious because my idea is outrageously silly. I agree. It is silly. But I am completely serious in suggesting it.”

    “When we seriously consider an attempt to use government power to reduce the gender inequality in life expectancy, the problems that we have always faced when government uses its power to reduce income inequality suddenly become crystal clear. Government transfers to reduce the gender gap in life expectancy would do little more than reduce improvements in both women’s and men’s life expectancies. For similar reasons, government transfers have done little more than reduce the income growth of both the rich and the poor. So government attempts to reduce life-expectancy inequality by transferring medical expenditures would be silly, but no sillier than its attempts to reduce income inequality by transferring money.”

    ~Economist Dwight Lee


  2. Terry Noel says:

    Thanks, Jane. I am game most anytime.


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