Arnold Kling  

Boo Jonathan Rauch

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I often like him, but not this column, in which he writes,


Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, who recently unveiled a new edition of what he calls a "Road Map for America's Future." Its willingness to reform entitlement programs is laudable. But it keeps taxes at 19 percent of gross domestic product while raising (repeat: raising) federal spending from 21.6 percent of GDP in 2012 to more than 24 percent in the 2030s. It balances the budget, all right -- in 2063.

So Ryan is just another big-spending hypocrite, right? But in the baseline scenario according to the Committee on the Fiscal Future, which in turn is based on the CBO baseline, spending rises to 28 percent of GDP in 2030. If this is 24 percent in 2030 in Ryan's roadmap, then his roadmap represents a significant cut relative to the baseline.

Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the pointer. The rest of the Rauch's piece is worse. He is denouncing the populist right as reflecting nothing but irrational anger.

If you want to see irrationality, look at the health care reform plan. The cuts proposed in Medicare are supposed to do two things at once: "bend the cost curve" to stabilize Medicare; and fund a new entitlement. They can do one or the other, but not both. (In fact, to the extent that they are not realistic cuts, they will do neither.)

Yes, the Republicans have been fiscally irresponsible, too. That is why the populist movement has taken on the character that it has. The Tea Partiers are plenty skeptical of mainstream Republicans, and who can blame them?

Rauch believes that the populist right is unhinged, because it is anti-elitist. But look again at the path for fiscal policy under the baseline scenario. I am pretty sure it means that the U.S. will experience a debt crisis by 2030. I am no populist, but at this point the elite seems to me in no position to be calling anyone else unhinged.


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CATEGORIES: Fiscal Policy



COMMENTS (12 to date)
RL writes:

"So Ryan is just another big-spending hypocrite, right?"

Is this the same Congressman Ryan who, on a recent FBN episode of Stossel, after talking about the critical need to move away from the "road to serfdom" that we're on," had to respond to Stossel's asking why, then, did he nonetheless vote in favor of the first TARP bill and in favor of bailing out GM?

CJ writes:

Recently, you've been using the word elite like you think it's a horrible thing. But at the same time I thought a libertarian would think the elite were there because of some merit?

Or, as with the distinction between pro-market and pro-business, do you think the elites do not get chosen based any sort of respectable merit system?

Chris Koresko writes:

@Arnold,

Great post.

I think you've figured out a fundamental aspect of the Tea Party movement that just about every other commentator seems to have missed: while they do not have a detailed solution to offer, they are angry that hardly anybody in Washington seems willing to acknowledge the scope of the financial mess we're in or to offer any concrete plan to address it. They're anti-Democrat because the Democrats are obviously trying to make the problem worse, but they're not very pro-Republican because the Republicans aren't doing much to make it better (beyond acting as a roadblock to the Democrats, which admittedly could be seen as a necessary first step).

The Tea Party position is an angry one, but it's far from crazy.

Nathan Smith writes:

In a sense, I'd even question calling the Tea Partiers anti-elitist. After all, I think they have above average incomes and education levels, and they tend to be older, with a good deal of life experience. So the Tea Partiers sort of are an elite. They're just plain smarter than profs and pols who have narrower experiences and haven't had to do hard, productive work in the private sector, that's why they're speaking up for the common sense which the politicos and MSM pundits lack.

Public opinion has managed to come to exactly the right conclusion on the stimulus: that it was a big waste, and is holding us back and dragging the economy down. Professional macroeconomic analysts are destined by their methodology to commit the broken window fallacy-- they have to report on "what is seen" rather than speculate about "what is not seen"-- and econ professors tend not to have outgrown the Keynesian sophistries that Lucas and others refuted in the 1970s. Regular people aren't hampered by erroneous theories or methodological blinders and can see it like it is.

david writes:

Well, at least we have advance warning of what tea party statism will look like: an anti-intellectual "we have real knowledge, not like you textbook ivory-tower types" narrative. And then they expand the size of government anyway.

Justin Dailey writes:

Agreed that the comment about Ryan letting federal spending rise to 24% of GDP isn't fair - much of the rise in spending is due to entitlements owed to the baby boomers, entitlements that now cannot be easily taken away. I'm sure Ryan would love to keep spending anchored at or below 19% of GDP, but that's really not possible unless we're collectively willing to tell the baby boomers that we're not going to pay for promised social security or medicare benefits.

Mercer writes:

"The Tea Partiers are plenty skeptical of mainstream Republicans, and who can blame them?"

They paid the last GOP vice presidential candidate to give the big speech at their convention. She gave a mainstream GOP speech. No one criticized her for supporting TARP.

Chris Koresko writes:

I don't see why support for TARP is being used so often as a litmus test. It struck me at the time that everyone agreed that everyone was terrified the financial system would completely collapse and nobody knew for sure how to prevent it. So the federal government and the Fed took a shot at it, and the results seem to have turned out mostly OK.

The stimulus package seems like a better litmus test to me, since it was written with so many attached strings and so much pork and obvious waste that only a truly extreme Keynsian could believe it was good policy (in my probably-less-humble-than-it-ought-to-be opinion).

Nathan Smith writes:

re: "that's really not possible unless we're collectively willing to tell the baby boomers that we're not going to pay for promised social security or medicare benefits"

You never know, though. When the median voter is a post-Baby Boomer we might pull the plug on them all. That's the problem with having a major part of one's lifetime expected income be an asset to which you don't have any property rights. That's FDR's New Deal, which might be more aptly called the Old Ripoff, for you.

guthrie writes:

@ CJ

Elites may be elite for a reason, but the simple fact they are 'elites' isn't reason enough to give them power... esp. to make decisions on matters of which they, no matter how 'elite' they are, could never posses enough knowledge.

Aaron writes:

Justin Daily,

I think that "promised benefits" is a misleading term when the people paying the benefits didn't promise anything. I know I was not even born when those "promises" were made.

Jonathan Rauch writes:

Jonathan Rauch replies: I often like Arnold Kling, but not this post, because it does not accurately represent either the tone or the substance of my article—which I hope people will read for themselves.

I never call the populist right "unhinged," for example: that incendiary word is Mr. Kling's, and it is alien to my article and my argument, which is that the populist right has no coherent governing program, not that it is crazy.

Nor do I maintain that Paul Ryan's proposed budget is no better than the baseline; rather, that it demonstrates the hollowness of the populist right's calls for a balanced budget without tax increases.

I think highly of Mr. Kling and hope he gets a chance to comment on the article that I actually wrote.

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