ONTD Political

K-Thug vs. BS Round XVIIXIV - Krugman Triumphs Gloriously, Looks Impressive While Doing So

1:31 pm - 08/07/2010
The Flimflam Man

by Paul Krugman

The Beltway crowd gets fooled again, this time by Representative Paul Ryan’s plan for a major overhaul of federal spending and taxes.

One depressing aspect of American politics is the susceptibility of the political and media establishment to charlatans. You might have thought, given past experience, that D.C. insiders would be on their guard against conservatives with grandiose plans. But no: as long as someone on the right claims to have bold new proposals, he’s hailed as an innovative thinker. And nobody checks his arithmetic.

Which brings me to the innovative thinker du jour: Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Mr. Ryan has become the Republican Party’s poster child for new ideas thanks to his “Roadmap for America’s Future,” a plan for a major overhaul of federal spending and taxes. News media coverage has been overwhelmingly favorable; on Monday, The Washington Post put a glowing profile of Mr. Ryan on its front page, portraying him as the G.O.P.’s fiscal conscience. He’s often described with phrases like “intellectually audacious.”

But it’s the audacity of dopes. Mr. Ryan isn’t offering fresh food for thought; he’s serving up leftovers from the 1990s, drenched in flimflam sauce.

Mr. Ryan’s plan calls for steep cuts in both spending and taxes. He’d have you believe that the combined effect would be much lower budget deficits, and, according to that Washington Post report, he speaks about deficits “in apocalyptic terms.” And The Post also tells us that his plan would, indeed, sharply reduce the flow of red ink: “The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan would cut the budget deficit in half by 2020.”

But the budget office has done no such thing. At Mr. Ryan’s request, it produced an estimate of the budget effects of his proposed spending cuts — period. It didn’t address the revenue losses from his tax cuts.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has, however, stepped into the breach. Its numbers indicate that the Ryan plan would reduce revenue by almost $4 trillion over the next decade. If you add these revenue losses to the numbers The Post cites, you get a much larger deficit in 2020, roughly $1.3 trillion.

And that’s about the same as the budget office’s estimate of the 2020 deficit under the Obama administration’s plans. That is, Mr. Ryan may speak about the deficit in apocalyptic terms, but even if you believe that his proposed spending cuts are feasible — which you shouldn’t — the Roadmap wouldn’t reduce the deficit. All it would do is cut benefits for the middle class while slashing taxes on the rich.

And I do mean slash. The Tax Policy Center finds that the Ryan plan would cut taxes on the richest 1 percent of the population in half, giving them 117 percent of the plan’s total tax cuts. That’s not a misprint. Even as it slashed taxes at the top, the plan would raise taxes for 95 percent of the population.

Finally, let’s talk about those spending cuts. In its first decade, most of the alleged savings in the Ryan plan come from assuming zero dollar growth in domestic discretionary spending, which includes everything from energy policy to education to the court system. This would amount to a 25 percent cut once you adjust for inflation and population growth. How would such a severe cut be achieved? What specific programs would be slashed? Mr. Ryan doesn’t say.

After 2020, the main alleged saving would come from sharp cuts in Medicare, achieved by dismantling Medicare as we know it, and instead giving seniors vouchers and telling them to buy their own insurance. Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s the same plan Newt Gingrich tried to sell in 1995.

And we already know, from experience with the Medicare Advantage program, that a voucher system would have higher, not lower, costs than our current system. The only way the Ryan plan could save money would be by making those vouchers too small to pay for adequate coverage. Wealthy older Americans would be able to supplement their vouchers, and get the care they need; everyone else would be out in the cold.

In practice, that probably wouldn’t happen: older Americans would be outraged — and they vote. But this means that the supposed budget savings from the Ryan plan are a sham.

So why have so many in Washington, especially in the news media, been taken in by this flimflam? It’s not just inability to do the math, although that’s part of it. There’s also the unwillingness of self-styled centrists to face up to the realities of the modern Republican Party; they want to pretend, in the teeth of overwhelming evidence, that there are still people in the G.O.P. making sense. And last but not least, there’s deference to power — the G.O.P. is a resurgent political force, so one mustn’t point out that its intellectual heroes have no clothes.

But they don’t. The Ryan plan is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America’s fiscal future.

ETA: K-Thug is killing 'em even harder over on his blog. He issued a wake-up call to the well-meaning young Mr. Ezra Klein, and in doing so administered further pwnage upon the person of Paul "Flimflammer" Ryan. Dude is RIGHTEOUS.

How To Spot A Flimflammer

Ezra Klein says he agrees with me on my policy critique of Paul Ryan, but denies that he’s a flimflammer.

He’s wrong.

Long ago — basically when I started writing for the Times — I decided that I would judge the character of politicians by what they say about policy, not how they come across in person. This led me to conclude that George W. Bush was dishonest and dangerous back when everyone was talking about how charming and reasonable he was. It led me to conclude that Colin Powell couldn’t be trusted, back when everyone said his UN speech clinched the case for war. It led me to conclude that John McCain was unprincipled and self-centered, back when everyone said he was a deeply principled maverick. And yes, it led me to conclude that Barack Obama was a good man, but far less progressive than his enthusiastic supporters imagined.

And so I don’t care how Paul Ryan comes across. I look at how he has gone about selling his ideas, and I see an unscrupulous flimflammer.

Think about that CBO report: getting the CBO to score only the spending cuts, not the tax proposals, then taking credit for being a big deficit reducer, is simply sleazy. Not acknowledging that the zero nominal growth assumption, not the entitlement changes, is driving that 2020 score is also sleazy. And the whole pose of stern deficit hawk, when you know that there are real questions about whether your plan actually increases the deficit, is phoniness of a high order.

And about that Tax Policy Center report: it has been five months since that came out. Has Ryan tried, at all, to address the concerns the center raised? As far as I can tell, he’s offered nothing but vague assurances of good intentions. Why should we believe him? Because he comes across as a nice guy? So did Bush.

Flimflamming is as flimflamming does. And Paul Ryan shows all the signs.

additional ETA sourcery
darksumomo 7th-Aug-2010 11:17 pm (UTC)
This isn't the first time Krugman has taken a few good pot-shots at Ryan. I present to you Today in Exquisite Insults.

Jonathon Chait, on the revelation that Paul Ryan is an Ayn Randite:

Ryan clearly has a passion for ideas and isn’t just interested in short-term positioning. It would be nice if the party had people like that who didn’t also happen to be loons.

The rest of the post read as follows:

Last week, I called Republican budget sorta-kinda point man Paul Ryan "crazy but honest." Today, some of the intellectual influences behind the first half of that description are coming out. TPM reports that Ryan is a big fan of Ayn Rand and "Atlas Shrugged." The Daily Beast, interviewing Ryan, reports that he was influenced by Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism."

What do those works have in common? They're written by people who don't understand liberalism and the left at all, and are thus unable to present liberal ideas in terms remotely recognizable to liberals themselves. The specific lack of understanding lies in an inability to grasp the enormous differences between American liberalism and socialism or communism, seeing them as variants on the same basic theme. The historical reality is that the architects of American liberalism saw it as a bulwark against communism, and communists and socialists in turn viewed the liberals as in implacable enemy. (Yes, you can cherry pick a few data points of commonality, but these are the exceptions rather than the rule.) The result is a tendency to see even modest efforts to sand off the roughest edges of capitalism in order to make free markets work for all Americans as the opening salvo of a vast and endless assault upon the market system.

One of the commenters on Chait's piece posted the following about the comparison between Rand and Goldberg:

Jonah Goldberg is no Ayn Rand. Indeed, they are opposites. Ayn Rand's books are appealing (forget the politics), but her personality was nothing less than looney. Jonah Goldberg's personality is appealing (forget the politics), but his books are nothing less than looney.

Second, the late Paul Samuelson on Alan Greenspan:

You can take the boy out of the cult but you can’t take the cult out of the boy.

In context, the quote is as follows:

And this brings us to Alan Greenspan, whom I've known for over 50 years and who I regarded as one of the best young business economists. Townsend-Greenspan was his company. But the trouble is that he had been an Ayn Rander. You can take the boy out of the cult but you can't take the cult out of the boy. He actually had instruction, probably pinned on the wall: 'Nothing from this office should go forth which discredits the capitalist system. Greed is good.'
Selected comments to the post follow.
darksumomo 7th-Aug-2010 11:21 pm (UTC)
Part 1 from the commenters:

Jim S:
"I simply don't understand how all these morons want to create a Randian government. Of course all her ideas were proven right in her novels. It was a made-up world tailored to validate her ideals."

"Anyone who still champions "trickle down" economics, or thinks Ayn Rand is more than a utopian joke is delusional. Either that, or they are rich sociopaths with a gift for lying and immoral behavior."

Pluto Finnigan:
"Dr. K a closet gossip columnist. Who knew? But he's no pro as you can see from his use of the word Ayn Randite. Everybody knows they are called Randoids."

Mr. Chait sums it up exceptionally well, "What do [the works of Ayn Rand and Jonah Goldberg] have in common? They're written by people who don't understand liberalism and the left at all."

Marylin Ayn Nardollilo:
I love the reference to the AR Cult, the Ayn Rand "philosophy," in "you can't take the boy out of the cult." Greenspan (though he was a co-author with Rand of her book, "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal") was a real economist, a professional forecaster and consultant who made millions consulting for investment firms; AR (Rand) was a propagandist, an extremely paranoid anticommunist campaigner, and she didn't know her economics first-hand.
She kept her money in a savings bank. When Greenspan became an adviser
to Ford, Reagan, Clinton, Bush et al., he knew he couldn't advance Rand's
puristically laissez-faire ideals, he knew that actual capitalism is a mixed
system of private sector industrial production, and of services, including public
sector products like roads and public sector services like police, all kinds,
and it bears no real relation to Rand's utopian daydream of laisse-faire, which he
dismissed in about a sentence in his memoir: how would the government raise
revenues to protect the populace in a purely laissez faire world?, he asked, and
he threw up his hands. He was dealing with actual capitalism, not the unknown
& platonic ideal of such. I met him for about a minute, he was a cool guy, really
relaxed and gnomish, he loved talking with women, and he was also a serious
dork, a bit awkward and alienated from everyday reality, totally into intellectual processing.
~ Maddy Nardolillo
darksumomo 7th-Aug-2010 11:23 pm (UTC)
Part 2 from the commenters.

Jaap de Raad:
"Alan Greenspan, and anyone over the age of 20 who still is a Randite (or Randoid, if you prefer), is either naive, deluded, or has little contact with the real world. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas counts himself in that group.

From time to time everyone has a half-baked idea, but those of Ayn Rand never saw the inside of an oven."

Richard R. Schneider, MD:
Having read Atlas Shrugged in 1968, I think what Ryan and other "Randians" miss is that in her world the protagonists are not only the creators of wealth, they are also imbued with unmitigatied honesty. In our world, these so called creators of weatlh are frequently so dishonest that they are in reality little more than thieves. As such, it is imperative that they be strictly controlled by the force of law. Laws by definition can only be created and enforced by government. This is the intrinsic falacy that is part and parcel of so called "Randianism".

Not an anti-Objectivist quote, but still a great insult.
Hugh Loebner
Once at a social gathering, Gladstone said to Disraeli: 'I predict, Sir, that you will die either by hanging or of some vile disease'.

Disraeli replied, 'That all depends, sir, upon whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.'

Jean Harlow: 'Why you're Margot Asquith, aren't you?' (mistakenly pronouncing the 't')

Margot Asquith: 'No my dear, the 't' in Margot is silent, as in Harlow.'

etc. http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A224434 a very witty site.

Sean O'Donnell:
As a Republican, I don't know why so many conservatives/Republicans like Ayn Rand. She was pro-choice, anti-religion, an atheist, and had little if any morals (she cheated on her husband with a man over 20 years her junior).

Wild Clover:
I'll confess to liking Ayn Rand's novels, though once I started on her non-fiction I soon figured out how bad for society her concepts are. I recently re-read The Fountainhead, and realized that the republican/right wing playbook is very much modeled not on her heroes, but on the modus operendi of the bad guys. Rush Limbaugh and Fox standing in for Ellswort Toohey and his quest to control. Go far enough right on the political spectrum, and it becomes the extreme left and visa versa. Rand's bad gutys were extreme left, but in essence seem very much where the right is heading, if not already there. George Bush and bonuses for failed CEO's is exactly the celebrating and rewarding of incompetance that occurs as an evil in her novels.

Now, how can progressives and liberals fight against misinformation and the love of the "common man" for the prominent idiot? I don't know. Reality shows whose premise seems to be taking the biggest idiots and parading them before the public are extremely popular...mostly so the lowest common denominator can feel superior to someone I would guess. Real news shows, history shows, etc. all fail miserably in the ratings war, while reality shows and the latest stupid stunt by the famous win big time. It is time, and past time, for the lowest common denominator to be lifed, rather than society sinking to its level.

Maybe my kid's generation will do better.
chesari 7th-Aug-2010 11:45 pm (UTC)
Oh man, there is so much righteous BURN in those comments. Thank you for posting all this!
darksumomo 8th-Aug-2010 12:18 am (UTC)
My pleasure. I collect snarky comments about Objectivism, and Krugman's posts was a gold mine of them.
evildevil Either that, or they are rich sociopaths with a gift for lying and immoral behavior8th-Aug-2010 01:23 am (UTC)
conservatives would make great fiction writers if it wasnt for the fact that they really really suck...
recorded 9th-Aug-2010 03:33 am (UTC)
haha omg are there more variations of your icon?
chesari 9th-Aug-2010 06:47 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, there are many... My icon was made by the wonderful and admirable ladypolitik, who, in addition to being a mod of great repute and the best selector of images for picspams that I have ever had the pleasure of encountering, brings joy into all of our lives with fantasticly awesome icons, macros, and GIFs. Such as these.
recorded 11th-Aug-2010 03:44 pm (UTC)
These are such gems.

Thank you.
keeperofthekeys 9th-Aug-2010 03:47 am (UTC)
Way late to this, but thanks for the post. I'm from my WI, and my family lives their currently. My mom thinks Paul Ryan is the best thing since Hook's 10-year cheddar, so I love whenever Ryan gets his ass kicked for being the lying, sleezy, disingenuous arsehole he is. Seriously cannot stand the guy, and I hate that people buy his "I care about the people", "I know the facts" schitck.
chesari 9th-Aug-2010 06:52 pm (UTC)
Oh god yeah, my family is the same way. Who cares what the facts are, if someone confirms their pre-existing views then that person must be right, and some kind of heavenly saint too! =/ Glad you enjoyed the post. Sometimes you just have to laugh at these fuckers.
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