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Paul Ryan Joins Quora to Tackle Questions About the Budget

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, July 13 2011

Rep. Paul Ryan. Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

One of the latest additions to Quora, the social question-and-answer platform? Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), chair of the House Budget Committee.

Ryan joined Quora yesterday and answered two questions, one about the Greek debt crisis and another about his Medicare budget.

"Is Paul Ryan's budget really ending Medicare as we know it?" was the question that the notable Republican jumped in to answer.

Just because the question was in a page about him doesn't mean he got the top answer: Probably because of the way Quora ranks answers from people who have accrued trust on the site over time, and those people's upvotes — and maybe because Ryan's answer was downvoted — his was ranked lower in the page than some others, including one that has just six votes when I checked Wednesday afternoon.

"The proposal would convert the current Medicare program to a system under which beneficiaries would receive payments used to help pay the premiums for a private health care insurance policy and would grow over time with over all consumer prices [2] -- also called "Privatization" [3]," reads the current top answer, by developer and designer Corry Recvlohe. (Some of Recvlohe's top topics? "MongoDB," the database system, "Node.js," the Javascript-based web server software, "User Interface Design," "Solar Energy," "Bitcoin," the anonymized digital currency.) Yes, those numbers in brackets are references to footnotes, and yes, there are more than three.

It's a very long answer — treatise-like, even. Graphs and charts are involved.

Ryan's, in contrast, is two paragraphs.

"The Path to Prosperity changes the payment structure of Medicare for Americans currently 54 years old or younger to ensure those that need the most help paying for their healthcare have the assistance they need while making the program more stable financially," is the second paragraph. The first begins, "Simply put, no."

Like many notable people on Quora, Ryan does not enable comments on his answers.

There's certainly something to be said for engaging people in a new medium and trying something out that could be risky, a tip of the hat Newt Gingrich also receives. Ryan joins a small and eclectic group of political figures on Quora, from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's new media director, Matt Lira, to former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. He did take the time to respond to a tough question. But did he answer it? Based on its position, enough people on Quora with the authority to disagree seem to have said no.

But his answer on another question — "What are the chances of a debt crisis on the scale of Greece hitting the United States?" — has accumulated more cred.

"Ultimately," he begins, "a Greek debt crisis is possible here in the U.S. although it's not imminent, but if we keep going down the path we're on, that kind of situation could come to this country ..."

With 22 votes, it's currently the top answer to the question.

Ryan is not the only elected official to use Quora, but he is one of only a few. Others include Palo Alto, Calif. Mayor Sid Espinosa (last question answered: What preventative measures is the city of Palo Alto taking to curb the high rate of bicycle theft?) and Newark Mayor Cory Booker (last question answered: "What are the key programs, policies and initiatives the City of Newark is putting in place to advance community safety over the summer months?") — both of whom have been on the platform for at least a few months.

Widen the net beyond electoral politics, though, and things become more interesting. Quora's chief financial officer, Marc Bodnick, pointed me to this page, about changes in how economics has been taught in American universities over time. The top answer is the work of Larry Summers, the former director of President Barack Obama's National Economic Council. The next one is by Jeremy Bulow, a senior faculty member at Stanford University. The third is by Jon Levin, another Stanford economist who recently won a medal awarded to the most promising economist under 40.

"That's a great page," says Bodnick, himself a former student at Stanford. "That's like the best page on the Web."

"That's the best page on the Web for that question," Bodnick said.

For more on Quora in politics, check out Nancy Scola's piece on the topic from around the time Quora opened up to the public.

(Via Patrick Ruffini)

This post has been corrected — apparently, I mis-heard Bodnick, and have corrected his quote.