Bobo says “America Is Europe,” and that the complexity of our tax code allows us to believe that we’re not a welfare state, but that’s false. Of course, he fails to note that in Yurp those “welfare states” provide things like health care and child care while here the welfare goes to corporations and the rich. Putz. Prof. Krugman, in “Romney’s Economic Closet,” says when Mitt Romney suggested that he believes that cutting government spending hurts growth, he showed himself to be a secret Keynesian. Paul, Paul, Paul… You used the word “believe” while talking about Rmoney. Don’t let it happen again. Here’s Bobo:
We Americans cherish our myths. One myth is that there is more social mobility in the United States than in Europe. That’s false. Another myth is that the government is smaller here than in Europe. That’s largely false, too.
The U.S. does not have a significantly smaller welfare state than the European nations. We’re just better at hiding it. The Europeans provide welfare provisions through direct government payments. We do it through the back door via tax breaks.
For example, in Europe, governments offer health care directly. In the U.S., we give employers a gigantic tax exemption to do the same thing. European governments offer public childcare. In the U.S., we have child tax credits. In Europe, governments subsidize favored industries. We do the same thing by providing special tax deductions and exemptions for everybody from ethanol producers to Nascar track owners.
These tax expenditures are hidden but huge. Budget experts Donald Marron and Eric Toder added up all the spending-like tax preferences and found that, in 2007, they amounted to $600 billion. If you had included those preferences as government spending, then the federal government would have actually been one-fifth larger than it appeared.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently calculated how much each affluent country spends on social programs. When you include both direct spending and tax expenditures, the U.S. has one of the biggest welfare states in the world. We rank behind Sweden and ahead of Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and Canada. Social spending in the U.S. is far above the organization’s average.
You might say that a tax break isn’t the same as a spending program. You would be wrong.
David Bradford, a Princeton economist, has the best illustration of how the system works. Suppose the Pentagon wanted to buy a new fighter plane. But instead of writing a $10 billion check to the manufacturer, the government just issued a $10 billion “weapons supply tax credit.” The plane would still get made. The company would get its money through the tax credit. And politicians would get to brag that they had cut taxes and reduced the size of government!
This is essentially what’s been happening in sphere after sphere. Government controls more and more of the economy. It just does it by getting people to do what it wants by manipulating the tax code. Politicians get to take credit for addressing problem after problem, but none of their efforts show up as unpopular spending.
Many of these individual tax expenditures are good for the country, like the charitable deduction and the earned income tax credit. But, as the economist Bruce Bartlett demonstrates in his impeccably fair-minded book, “The Benefit and the Burden,” the cumulative effect of these tax breaks is terrible. Like overgrown weeds, the tangle of tax breaks distorts behavior, clogs the economy and deprives the government of revenue.
And because they are hidden, many of the tax expenditures go to those who need them least, the well connected and established over the vulnerable and the entrepreneurial.
The good news is that change might finally be coming. The Obama administration has always theoretically supported a simpler tax code even while operationally it has often muddied it up. Nonetheless, this week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner unveiled a modest but sensible plan to simplify the corporate tax code. The plan is not perfect. The Obama technocrats love tinkering and complexity. But Geithner’s plan moves us a small step in the right direction and provides a sensible foundation for the big tax negotiations to come.
Mitt Romney has a bigger proposal, which reduces individual rates across the board and closes some loopholes. It’s more comprehensive than the Geithner approach, but it suffers from two weaknesses. First, it’s politics as usual. Romney is specific about the candy — lower tax rates — but vague about the vegetables — what loopholes would have to be closed to pay for them.
Moreover, it’s unimaginative. Republicans are perpetually trying to do what Ronald Reagan did. But top tax rates today aren’t as onerous as they were in 1980, so lowering them won’t produce as many benefits. Imagine if Reagan ran for office promising to recreate the glory days of Thomas Dewey and you get a sense of how much G.O.P. thinking is stuck in the past.
Still, let’s take our good news where we can get it. Attention is shifting to tax expenditures and not just direct spending. It’s becoming clear how gargantuan, opaque and inefficient the U.S. government has become. Maybe before long our political leaders will actually summon the political will to take on the special interests that defend these tax breaks.
This should be the top priority: A tax reform effort that simplifies government frees the economy and focuses social support on those who actually need it. A left-right tax reform alliance to do that would break the political logjam as well as the economic one.
Again with the “left-right alliance” crap. You cannot form an alliance with a lunatic. Here’s Prof. Krugman:
According to Michael Kinsley, a gaffe is when a politician accidently tells the truth. That’s certainly what happened to Mitt Romney on Tuesday, when in a rare moment of candor — and, in his case, such moments are really, really rare — he gave away the game.
Speaking in Michigan, Mr. Romney was asked about deficit reduction, and he absent-mindedly said something completely reasonable: “If you just cut, if all you’re thinking about doing is cutting spending, as you cut spending you’ll slow down the economy.” A-ha. So he believes that cutting government spending hurts growth, other things equal.
The right’s ideology police were, predictably, aghast; the Club for Growth quickly denounced the statement as showing that Mr. Romney is “not a limited-government conservative.” On the contrary, insisted the club, “If we balanced the budget tomorrow on spending cuts alone, it would be fantastic for the economy.” And a Romney spokesman tried to walk back the remark, claiming, “The governor’s point was that simply slashing the budget, with no affirmative pro-growth policies, is insufficient to get the economy turned around.”
But that’s not what the candidate said, and it’s very unlikely that it’s what he meant. Almost surely, he is, in fact, a closet Keynesian.
How do we know this? Well, for one thing, Mr. Romney is not a stupid man. And while his grasp of world affairs does sometimes seem shaky, he has to be aware of the havoc austerity policies are wreaking in Greece, Ireland and elsewhere.
Beyond that, we know who he turns to for economic advice; heading the list are Glenn Hubbard of Columbia University and N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard. While both men are loyal Republican spear-carriers — each served for a time as chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers — both also have long track records as professional economists. And what these track records suggest is that neither of them believes any of the propositions that have become litmus tests for would-be G.O.P. presidential candidates.
Consider Mr. Mankiw, in particular. Modern Republicans detest Keynes; Mr. Mankiw is the editor of a collection of papers titled “New Keynesian Economics.” In an early edition of his best-selling textbook, he dismissed supply-side economics — the doctrine embraced by the sainted Ronald Reagan — as the creation of “charlatans and cranks.” And, in 2009, he called for higher inflation as a solution to the economic crisis, a position anathema to Republicans like Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, who warn ominously about the evil of “debasing” our currency.
Given his advisers, then, it seems safe to assume that what Mr. Romney blurted out Tuesday reflected his real economic beliefs — as opposed to the nonsense he pretends to believe, because it’s what the Republican base wants to hear.
And therein lies the reason Mr. Romney acts the way he does, why he is running a campaign of almost pathological dishonesty.
For he is. Every one of the Romney campaign’s major themes, from the attacks on President Obama for going around the world apologizing for America (he didn’t), to the insistence that Romneycare and Obamacare are very different (they’re virtually identical), to the claim that Mr. Obama has lost millions of jobs (which is only true if you count the first few months of his administration, before any of his policies had taken effect), is either an outright falsehood or deeply deceptive. Why the nonstop mendacity?
As I see it, it comes down to the cynicism underlying the whole enterprise. Once you’ve decided to hide your beliefs and say whatever you think will get you the nomination, to pretend to agree with people you privately believe are fools, why worry at all about truth?
What this diagnosis implies, of course, is that the many people on the right who don’t trust Mr. Romney, who don’t believe that he’s truly committed to their political faith, are correct in their suspicions. He’s playing a role, and it’s anyone’s guess what lies beneath the mask.
So should those who don’t share the right’s faith be comforted by the evidence that Mr. Romney doesn’t believe anything he’s saying? Should we, in particular, assume that, once elected, he would actually follow sensible economic policies? Alas, no.
For the cynicism and lack of moral courage that have been so evident in the campaign wouldn’t suddenly vanish once Mr. Romney entered the Oval Office. If he doesn’t dare disagree with economic nonsense now, why imagine that he would become willing to challenge that nonsense later? And bear in mind that if elected, he would be watched like a hawk for signs of apostasy by the very people he’s trying so desperately to appease right now.
The truth is that Mr. Romney is so deeply committed to insincerity that neither side can trust him to do what it considers to be the right thing.
But he is an absolutely beautiful example of Animatronics. So very lifelike…