Posts Tagged ‘Krugman’

Brooks and Krugman

March 24, 2017

In “The Trump Elite, Like the Old Elite But Worse!” Bobo tells us that Republicans behind a health care bill found a new way to ignore regular people.  And “gemli” from Boston will have a few words to say.  Prof. Krugman’s “Scammers, the Scammed and America’s Fate” is on politicians who aren’t real leaders, but play leaders on TV.  Here’s Bobo:

Legislation can be crafted bottom up or top down. In bottom up you ask, What problems do voters have and how can they be addressed. In top down, you ask, What problems do elite politicians have and how can they be addressed?

The House Republican health care bill is a pure top-down document. It was not molded to the actual health care needs of regular voters. It does not have support from actual American voters or much interest in those voters. It was written by elites to serve the needs of elites. Donald Trump vowed to drain the swamp, but this bill is pure swamp.

First, the new Republican establishment leaders needed something they could call Obamacare repeal — anything that they could call Obamacare repeal.

It became clear as the legislative process rushed forward that there was no overarching vision in this legislation on how to reform health care or even an organizing thought about how to improve the lives of voters. There was no core health care priority that Republicans identified and were trying to solve.

There were just some politicians who wanted a press release called Repeal.

Second, Donald Trump needed a win. The national effects of that win seemed immaterial to him.

His lobbying efforts for the legislation were substance-free. It was all about Donald Trump — providing Trump with a pelt, polishing a credential for Trump. His lobbying revealed the vapidity of his narcissism. He didn’t mind caving to the Freedom Caucus Wednesday night on policy because he doesn’t care about policy, just the publicity win.

Third, the bill was crafted by people who were insular and nearsighted, who could see only a Washington logic and couldn’t see any national or real-life logic.

They could have drafted a bill that addressed the perverse fee-for-service incentives that drive up health costs, or a bill that began to phase out our silly employment-based system, or one that increased health security for the working and middle class.

But any large vision was beyond the drafters of this legislation. They were more concerned with bending, distorting and folding the bill to meet the Byrd rule, an arbitrary congressional peculiarity of no real purpose to the outside world. They were more concerned with what this internal faction, or that internal faction, might want. The result was a pedantic hodgepodge that made no one happy.

In 24 hours of ugly machinations, the Trump administration was willing to rip out big elements of the bill and insert big new ones, without regard to substance or ramification.

House members were rushed to commit to legislation even while major pieces of it were still in flux, when nobody had time to read it, when the Congressional Budget Office had no time to score it, when the effect on health outcomes of actual Americans was an absolute mystery.

As the negotiating process has gone on you’ve seen rank-and-file House Republicans caught between the inside game and the outside game. The logic of the inside game says vote for the bill. Support Speaker Ryan. Don’t defeat a Republican president. But the outside game screams: Oppose This Bill. It’s bad for most voters, especially Republican voters. And nobody likes it.

I opposed Obamacare. I like health savings accounts, tax credits and competitive health care markets to drive down costs. But these free-market reforms have to be funded in a way to serve the least among us, not the most. This House Republican plan would increase suffering, morbidity and death among the middle class and poor in order to provide tax cuts to the rich.

It would cut Medicaid benefits by $880 billion between now and 2026. It would boost the after-tax income for those making more than $1 million a year by 14 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center. This bill takes the most vicious progressive stereotypes about conservatives and validates them.

It’s no wonder that according to the latest Quinnipiac poll this bill has just a 17 percent approval rating. It’s no wonder that this bill is already massively more unpopular that Hillarycare and Obamacare, two bills that ended up gutting congressional majorities.

If we’re going to have the rough edges of a populist revolt, you’d think that at least somebody would be interested in listening to the people. But with this bill the Republican leadership sets an all-time new land speed record for forgetting where you came from.

The core Republican problem is this: The Republicans can’t run policy-making from the White House because they have a marketing guy in charge of the factory. But they can’t run policy from Capitol Hill because it’s visionless and internally divided. So the Republicans have the politics driving the substance, not the other way around. The new elite is worse than the old elite — and certainly more vapid.

Now here’s what “gemli” had to say:

“For a populist revolt to work, Mr. Brooks says politicians should have listened to the people. Well, that didn’t happen. But neither did the people listen to the politicians.

The so-called president made it clear that he had no clue about anything, much less having the discipline, the experience, the subtlety of understanding or the interest to do anything for the people. He couldn’t form a coherent sentence, and what he did manage to say was a jumble of self-aggrandizing nonsense, vulgar boasting and utter falsehoods.

Likewise, Congressional Republicans had spent eight years leading by obstruction, shut-downs and filibuster. They voted sixty times to symbolically repeal Obamacare without offering anything to replace it. Who in their wildest dreams could have thought that a real “plan” was in the offing?

Mr. Brooks aided and abetted the frenzy, writing against Obamacare, and thinking that healthcare can be handled by competitive markets. Healthcare is not like buying shoes and soda pop. People don’t have a choice when they’re sick and dying.

The so-called populists may have been revolting, but that’s not the same as a populist revolt. This was a government and a people who were powered by hate and resentment. They overlooked the obvious warning signs, closed their ears to the bells and sirens that signaled danger, and voted for a crotch-groping ignoramus.

A sick government can’t provide healthcare for its people. And our government is at death’s door.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Many people are horrified, and rightly so, by what passes for leadership in today’s Washington. And it’s important to keep the horror of our political situation up front, to keep highlighting the lies, the cruelty, the bad judgment. We must never normalize the state we’re in.

At the same time, however, we should be asking ourselves how the people running our government came to wield such power. How, in particular, did a man whose fraudulence, lack of concern for those he claims to care about and lack of policy coherence should have been obvious to everyone nonetheless manage to win over so many gullible souls?

No, this isn’t a column about whatshisname, the guy on Twitter, who’s getting plenty of attention. It’s about Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House.

I’m writing this column without knowing the legislative fate of the American Health Care Act, Mr. Ryan’s proposed Obamacare replacement. Whatever happens in the House and the Senate, however, there’s no question that the A.H.C.A. is one of the worst bills ever presented to Congress.

It would deprive tens of millions of health insurance — the decline in the number of insured Americans would be larger than what would result from simple repeal of Obamacare! — while sharply raising expenses for many of those who remain. It would be especially punitive for lower-income, older, rural voters.

In return, we would get a small reduction in the budget deficit. Oh, and a tax cut, perhaps as much as $1 trillion, for the wealthy.

This is terrible stuff. It’s made worse by the lies Mr. Ryan has been telling about his plan.

He claims that it would lower premiums; it would actually increase them. He claims that it would end the Obamacare death spiral; there isn’t a death spiral, and his plan would be more, not less, vulnerable to a vicious circle of rising premiums and falling enrollment. He claims that it would lead to “patient-centered care”; whatever that is supposed to mean, it would actually do nothing to increase choice.

Some people seem startled both by the awfulness of Mr. Ryan’s plan and by the raw dishonesty of his sales pitch. But why? Everything we’ve seen from Mr. Ryan amid the health care debacle — everything, that is, except the press coverage — has been completely consistent with his previous career. That is, he’s still the same guy I wrote about back in 2010, in a column titled “The Flimflam Man.”

I wrote that column in response to what turned out to be the first of a series of high-profile Ryan budget proposals. While differing in detail, all of these proposals share a family resemblance: Like his health plan, each involved savage cuts in benefits for the poor and working class, with the money released by these cuts used to offset large tax cuts for the rich. All were, however, sold on false pretenses as plans for deficit reduction.

Worse, the alleged deficit reduction came entirely from “magic asterisks”: claims about huge savings to be achieved by cutting unspecified government spending, huge revenue increases to be achieved by closing unspecified tax loopholes. It was a con job all the way.

So how did Mr. Ryan reach a position where his actions may reshape the lives of so many of his fellow citizens, in most cases very much for the worse? The answer lies in the impenetrable gullibility of his base. No, not his constituents: the news media, who made him what he is.

You see, until very recently both news coverage and political punditry were dominated by the convention of “balance.” This meant, in particular, that when it came to policy debates one was always supposed to present both sides as having equally well-founded arguments. And this in turn meant that it was necessary to point to serious, honest, knowledgeable proponents of conservative positions.

Enter Mr. Ryan, who isn’t actually a serious, honest policy expert, but plays one on TV. He rolls up his sleeves! He uses PowerPoint! He must be the real deal! So that became the media’s narrative. And media adulation, more than anything else, propelled him to his current position.

Now, however, the flimflam has hit a wall. Mr. Ryan used to be able to game the Congressional Budget Office, getting it to produce reports that looked to the unwary like proper scores of his plans, but weren’t. This time, however, he couldn’t pull it off: The C.B.O. told the devastating truth about his plan, and his evasions and lies were too obvious to ignore.

There’s an important lesson here, and it’s not just about health care or Mr. Ryan; it’s about the destructive effects of false symmetry in reporting at a time of vast asymmetry in reality.

This false symmetry — downplaying the awfulness of some candidates, vastly exaggerating the flaws of their opponents — isn’t the only reason America is in the mess it’s in. But it’s an important part of the story. And now we’re all about to pay the price.

Krugman’s blog, 3/20/17

March 22, 2017

There was one post on Monday:  “Robot Geometry (Very Wonkish):”

And now for something completely different. Ryan Avent has a nice summary of the argument in his recent book, trying to explain how dramatic technological change can go along with stagnant real wages and slowish productivity growth. As I understand it, he’s arguing that the big tech changes are happening in a limited sector of the economy, and are driving workers into lower-wage and lower-productivity occupations.

But I have to admit that I was having a bit of a hard time wrapping my mind around exactly what he’s saying, or how to picture this in terms of standard economic frameworks. So I found myself wanting to see how much of his story could be captured in a small general equilibrium model — basically the kind of model I learned many years ago when studying the old trade theory.

Actually, my sense is that this kind of analysis is a bit of a lost art. There was a time when most of trade theory revolved around diagrams illustrating two-country, two-good, two-factor models; these days, not so much. And it’s true that little models can be misleading, and geometric reasoning can suck you in way too much. It’s also true, however, that this style of modeling can help a lot in thinking through how the pieces of an economy fit together, in ways that algebra or verbal storytelling can’t.

So, an exercise in either clarification or nostalgia — not sure which — using a framework that is basically the Lerner diagram, adapted to a different issue.

Imagine an economy that produces only one good, but can do so using two techniques, A and B, one capital-intensive, one labor-intensive. I represent these techniques in Figure 1 by showing their unit input coefficients:

Here AB is the economy’s unit isoquant, the various combinations of K and L it can use to produce one unit of output. E is the economy’s factor endowment; as long as the aggregate ratio of K to L is between the factor intensities of the two techniques, both will be used. In that case, the wage-rental ratio will be the slope of the line AB.

Wait, there’s more. Since any point on the line passing through A and B has the same value, the place where it hits the horizontal axis is the amount of labor it takes to buy one unit of output, the inverse of the real wage rate. And total output is the ratio of the distance along the ray to E divided by the distance to AB, so that distance is 1/GDP.

You can also derive the allocation of resources between A and B; not to clutter up the diagram even further, I show this in Figure 2, which uses the K/L ratios of the two techniques and the overall endowment E:

Now, Avent’s story. I think it can be represented as technical progress in A, perhaps also making A even more capital-intensive. So this would amount to a movement southwest to a point like A’ in Figure 3:

We can see right away that this will lead to a fall in the real wage, because 1/w must rise. GDP and hence productivity does rise, but maybe not by much if the economy was mostly using the labor-intensive technique.

And what about allocation of labor between sectors? We can see this in Figure 4, where capital-using technical progress in A actually leads to a higher share of the work force being employed in labor-intensive B:

So yes, it is possible for a simple general equilibrium analysis to capture a lot of what Avent is saying. That does not, of course, mean that he’s empirically right. And there are other things in his argument, such as hypothesized effects on the direction of innovation, that aren’t in here.

But I, at least, find this way of looking at it somewhat clarifying — which, to be honest, may say more about my weirdness and intellectual age than it does about the subject.

Krugman, solo

March 20, 2017

In “America’s Epidemic of Infallibility” Prof. Krugman says there have been no apologies, no regrets, no learning from experience.  Here he is:

Two weeks after President Trump claimed, bizarrely, that the Obama administration had wiretapped his campaign, his press secretary suggested that GCHQ — Britain’s counterpart to the National Security Agency — had done the imaginary bugging. British officials were outraged. And soon the British press was reporting that the Trump administration had apologized.

But no: Meeting with the chancellor of Germany, another ally he’s alienating, Mr. Trump insisted that there was nothing to apologize for. He said, “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind,” a commentator on (of course) Fox News.

Was anyone surprised? This administration operates under the doctrine of Trumpal infallibility: Nothing the president says is wrong, whether it’s his false claim that he won the popular vote or his assertion that the historically low murder rate is at a record high. No error is ever admitted. And there is never anything to apologize for.

O.K., at this point it’s not news that the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military is a man you wouldn’t trust to park your car or feed your cat. Thanks, Comey. But Mr. Trump’s pathological inability to accept responsibility is just the culmination of a trend. American politics — at least on one side of the aisle — is suffering from an epidemic of infallibility, of powerful people who never, ever admit to making a mistake.

More than a decade ago I wrote that the Bush administration was suffering from a “mensch gap.” (A mensch is an upstanding person who takes responsibility for his actions.) Nobody in that administration ever seemed willing to accept responsibility for policy failures, whether it was the bungled occupation of Iraq or the botched response to Hurricane Katrina.

Later, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, a similar inability to admit error was on display among many economic commentators.

Take, for example, the open letter a who’s who of conservatives sent to Ben Bernanke in 2010, warning that his policies could lead to “currency debasement and inflation.” They didn’t. But four years later, when Bloomberg News contacted many of the letter’s signatories, not one was willing to admit having been wrong.

By the way, press reports say that one of those signatories, Kevin Hassett — co-author of the 1999 book “Dow 36,000” — will be nominated as chairman of Mr. Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers. Another, David Malpass — the former chief economist at Bear Stearns, who declared on the eve of the financial crisis that “the economy is sturdy” — has been nominated as undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs. They should fit right in.

Just to be clear: Everyone makes mistakes. Some of these mistakes are in the “nobody could have known” category. But there’s also the temptation to engage in motivated reasoning, to let our emotions get the better of our critical faculties — and almost everyone succumbs to that temptation now and then (as I myself did on election night).

So nobody is perfect. The point, however, is to try to do better — which means owning up to your mistakes and learning from them. Yet that is something that the people now ruling America never, ever do.

What happened to us? Some of it surely has to do with ideology: When you’re committed to a fundamentally false narrative about government and the economy, as almost the whole Republican Party now is, facing up to facts becomes an act of political disloyalty. By contrast, members of the Obama administration, from the president on down, were in general far more willing to accept responsibility than their Bush-era predecessors.

But what’s going on with Mr. Trump and his inner circle seems to have less to do with ideology than with fragile egos. To admit having been wrong about anything, they seem to imagine, would brand them as losers and make them look small.

In reality, of course, inability to engage in reflection and self-criticism is the mark of a tiny, shriveled soul — but they’re not big enough to see that.

But why did so many Americans vote for Mr. Trump, whose character flaws should have been obvious long before the election?

Catastrophic media failure and F.B.I. malfeasance played crucial roles. But my sense is that there’s also something going on in our society: Many Americans no longer seem to understand what a leader is supposed to sound like, mistaking bombast and belligerence for real toughness.

Why? Is it celebrity culture? Is it working-class despair, channeled into a desire for people who spout easy slogans?

The truth is that I don’t know. But we can at least hope that watching Mr. Trump in action will be a learning experience — not for him, because he never learns anything, but for the body politic. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll eventually put a responsible adult back in the White House.

From your lips to God’s ear, Prof. Krugman.

Krugman’s blog, 3/14/17

March 17, 2017

There was one post on Tuesday, “Populism and the Politics of Health:”

What’s next on health care? Truly, I have no idea. The AHCA is a real stinker, and now everyone knows it; ordinarily, that should doom the legislation. But everyone also knows that starting off the Trump legislative era with the crashing and burning of Obamacare repeal would deeply damage Trump; nobody believes what he says, but if he can’t even ram bills through, people will stop being afraid. So they will pull out all the stops.

But why are Republicans having so much trouble? Health reform is hard; but why were the Dems able to pass the ACA in the first place? I’m seeing a lot of talk about Paul Ryan’s inadequacy and Republican lack of preparation as compared with Pelosi and the Dems in 2009, all of which is true. But there’s a more fundamental issue: who is being served?

Obamacare helped a large number of people at the expense of a small, affluent minority: basically, taxes on 2% of the population to cover a lot of people and assure coverage to many more. Trumpcare would reverse that, hurting a lot of people (many of whom voted Trump) so as to cut taxes for a handful of wealthy people. That’s a difference that goes beyond political strategy.

But one way to say this is that Obamacare was and is a truly populist law, while Trumpcare is anti-populist. That’s reflected in the legislative struggles.

And yet, and yet: Trump did in fact win over white working-class voters, who thought they were voting for a populist; Democrats, who did a lot for those voters, got no credit — rural whites, in particular, who were huge beneficiaries of the ACA, overwhelmingly supported the man who may destroy their healthcare.

This ties in with an important recent piece by Zack Beauchamp on the striking degree to which left-wing economics fails, in practice, to counter right-wing populism; basically, Sandersism has failed everywhere it has been tried. Why?

The answer, presumably, is that what we call populism is really in large degree white identity politics, which can’t be addressed by promising universal benefits. Among other things, these “populist” voters now live in a media bubble, getting their news from sources that play to their identity-politics desires, which means that even if you offer them a better deal, they won’t hear about it or believe it if told. For sure many if not most of those who gained health coverage thanks to Obamacare have no idea that’s what happened.

That said, taking the benefits away would probably get their attention, and maybe even open their eyes to the extent to which they are suffering to provide tax cuts to the rich.

In Europe, right-wing parties probably don’t face the same dilemma; they’re preaching herrenvolk social democracy, a welfare state but only for people who look like you. In America, however, Trumpism is faux populism that appeals to white identity but actually serves plutocrats. That fundamental contradiction is now out in the open.

Brooks and Krugman

March 17, 2017

Sorry for the hiatus — my computer was in the DOSpital.  As time permits I’ll try to get caught up on what was missed.

Today Bobo has decided to tell us to “Let Bannon Be Bannon!”  He contends that President Trump has abandoned Steve Bannon’s governing philosophy, and with it, the benefits the working class counted on.  I wonder how much Bobo really knows about Bannon…  He told The Daily Beast in 2014, “I’m a Leninist.” He elaborated: “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”  That’s a benefit for the working class?  “Gemli” from Boston will have a word or two.  Prof. Krugman considers “Conservative Fantasies, Colliding With Reality” and says government spending is full of pointless waste — until you try to cut it.  Here’s Bobo:

I continue to worry about Steve Bannon. I see him in the White House photos, but he never has that sprightly Prince of Darkness gleam in his eye anymore.

His governing philosophy is being completely gutted by the mice around him. He seems to have a big influence on Trump speeches but zero influence on recent Trump policies. I’m beginning to fear that he’s spending his days sitting along the wall in the Roosevelt Room morosely playing one of those Risk-style global empire video games on his smartphone.

Back in the good old days — like two months ago — it was fun to watch Bannon operate. He was the guy with a coherent governing philosophy. He seemed to have realized that the two major party establishments had abandoned the working class. He also seemed to have realized that the 21st-century political debate is not big versus small government, it’s open versus closed.

Bannon had the opportunity to realign American politics around the social, cultural and economic concerns of the working class. Erect barriers to keep out aliens from abroad, and shift money from the rich to the working class to create economic security at home.

It was easy to see the Trump agenda that would flow from this philosophy: Close off trade and immigration. Fund a jobs-creating infrastructure program. Reverse the Republican desire to reform and reduce entitlements. Increase funding on all sorts of programs that benefit working-class voters in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Many of us wouldn’t have liked that agenda — the trade and immigration parts — but at least it would have helped the people who are being pummeled by this economy.

But Bannonesque populism is being abandoned. The infrastructure and jobs plan is being put off until next year (which is to say never). Meanwhile, the Trump administration has agreed with Paul Ryan’s crazy plan to do health care first.

Moths show greater resistance to flame than American politicians do to health care reform. And sure enough it’s become a poisonous morass for the entire party, and a complete distraction from the populist project.

Worse, the Ryan health care plan punishes the very people Trump and Bannon had vowed to help. It would raise premiums by as much as 25 percent on people between 50 and 64, one core of the Trump voter base. It would completely hammer working-class voters whose incomes put them just above the Medicaid threshold.

The Trump budget is an even more devastating assault on Bannon-style populism. It eliminates or cuts organizations like the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that are important to people from Tennessee and West Virginia up through Ohio and Michigan. It cuts job-training and road-building programs. It does almost nothing to help expand opportunity for the working class and almost everything to serve defense contractors and the national security state.

Why is Bannonism being abandoned? One possibility is that there just aren’t enough Trumpians in the world to staff an administration, so Trump and Bannon have filled their apparatus with old guard Republicans who continue to go about their jobs in old guard pseudo-libertarian ways.

The second possibility, raised by Rich Lowry in Politico, is that the Republican sweep of 2016 was won on separate tracks. Trump won on populism, but congressional Republicans won on the standard cut-government script. The congressional Republicans are better prepared, and so their plans are crowding out anything Bannon might have contemplated.

The third possibility is that Donald Trump doesn’t really care about domestic policy; he mostly cares about testosterone.

He wants to cut any part of government that may seem soft and nurturing, like poverty programs. He wants to cut any program that might seem emotional and airy-fairy, like the National Endowment for the Arts. He wants to cut any program that might seem smart and nerdy, like the National Institutes of Health.

But he wants to increase funding for every program that seems manly, hard, muscular and ripped, like the military and armed antiterrorism programs.

Indeed, the Trump budget looks less like a political philosophy and more like a sexual fantasy. It lavishes attention on every aspect of hard power and slashes away at anything that isn’t.

The Trump health care and budget plans will be harsh on the poor, which we expected. But they’ll also be harsh on the working class, which we didn’t.

We’re ending up with the worst of the new guard Trumpian populists and the old guard Republican libertarians. We’re building walls to close off the world while also shifting wealth from the poor to the rich.

When these two plans fail, which seems very likely, there’s going to be a holy war between the White House and Capitol Hill. I don’t have high hopes for what’s going to emerge from that war, but it would be nice if the people who voted for Trump got economic support, not punishment.

For that, there’s one immediate recipe: Unleash Steve Bannon!

Now here’s what “gemli” has to say about that:

“The president and the swamp dwellers who slithered in when Americans opened the door for this experiment in mom-and-apple-pie fascism have no workable governing philosophy. Running a country means caring about the people who live in it, and not about whether Arnold Schwarzenegger was a flop or how big the inauguration crowds were. Staffing key positions with crypto-clansmen, racists, billionaire banksters, Russian puppets and garden-variety idiots is unlikely to form a coherent, user-friendly administration.

Bannon isn’t being restrained by the president. He, the president and the calcified Congressional Republicans are being exactly who they are: malevolent frauds, con men and grifters who have no idea how to run a country, and who care less than a fig that the downtrodden will be trodden upon even harder.

In fact, the downtrodden who voted for the president and his stupid ideas might deserve to reap the bitter harvest of their actions. They need to realize that there are consequences to giving morons and thugs the keys to the White House. Expecting help from Bannon, Paul Ryan and the other Rush Limbaugh Republicans is absurd. They don’t help the needy. The needy are there to be pandered to and exploited. Sometimes the needy are needy because they lack discernment, and don’t know who’s actually trying to help them.

Whatever happens, the current administration should not be unleashed. They should be caged.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

This week the Trump administration put out a budget blueprint — or more accurately, a “budget” blueprint. After all, real budgets detail where the money comes from and where it goes; this proclamation covers only around a third of federal spending, while saying nothing about revenues or projected deficits.

As the fiscal expert Stan Collender put it: “This is not a budget. It’s a Trump campaign press release masquerading as a government document.”

So what’s the point of the document? The administration presumably hopes that it will distract the public and the press from the ongoing debacle over health care. But it probably won’t. And in any case, this pseudo-budget embodies the same combination of meanspiritedness and fiscal fantasy that has turned the Republican effort to replace Obamacare into a train wreck.

Think for a minute about the vision of government and its role that the right has been peddling for decades.

In this vision, much if not most government spending is a complete waste, doing nobody any good. The same is true of government regulations. And to the extent to which spending does help anyone, it’s Those People — lazy, undeserving types who just so happen to be a bit, well, darker than Real Americans.

This was the kind of thinking — or, perhaps, “thinking” — that underlay President Trump’s promise to replace Obamacare with something “far less expensive and far better.” After all, it’s a government program, so he assumed that it must be full of waste that a tough leader like him could eliminate.

Strange to say, however, Republicans turn out to have no ideas about how to make the program cheaper other than eliminating health insurance for 24 million people (and making coverage worse, with higher out-of-pocket spending, for those who remain).

And basically the same story applies at a broader level. Consider federal spending as a whole: Outside defense it’s dominated by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — all programs that are crucial to tens of millions of Americans, many of them the white working-class voters who are the core of Trump support. Furthermore, most other government spending also serves purposes that are popular, important or (usually) both.

Given this reality, why are so many people opposed to “big government”?

Many have a distorted view of the numbers. For example, people have a vastly exaggerated view of how much we spend on foreign aid. Many also fail to connect their personal experience with public policy: Large numbers of Social Security and Medicare recipients believe that they make no use of any government social program.

Thanks to these misperceptions, carefully nurtured by right-wing media, politicians can often get away with running on promises of drastic spending cuts: Many, perhaps most voters don’t see how such cuts would affect their lives.

But what will happen if anti-big-government politicians find themselves in a position to put their agenda into practice? Voters will quickly get a lesson in what slashing spending really means — and they won’t be happy.

That’s basically the wall Obamacare repeal has just smashed into. And the same thing will happen if this Trump whatever-it-is turns into an actual budget.

Mr. Trump himself gives every indication of having no idea what the federal government does; his vaguely budget-like document isn’t much more than a roughly scribbled list of numbers, with no clear picture of what those numbers would mean. (In fairness, one could have said the same about Paul Ryan’s budgets in the past. In fact, I did.)

But the reality is that the proposed cuts would have ugly, highly visible effects. Zeroing out the Community Development Block Grant program may sound good if you have no idea what it does (which Mr. Trump surely doesn’t); eliminating Meals on Wheels, an immediate consequence, not so much. Nor would coal country, which voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump, like the consequences if he eliminates the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Wait, there’s more. Effectively disemboweling the Environmental Protection Agency may sound smart if you imagine that it’s just a bunch of meddling bureaucrats. But the public wants stronger, not weaker, environmental protection, and would not be pleased to see a sharp deterioration in air and water quality.

The point is that Mr. Trump’s attempt to change the subject away from his party’s health care quagmire isn’t going to work, and not just because this supposed budget literally isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. At a more fundamental level, it doesn’t even change the subject.

Republicans’ budget promises, like their health care promises, have been based on an essentially fraudulent picture of what’s really going on. And now the bill for these lies is coming due.

Krugman’s blog, 3/10/17

March 11, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Smart Republicans?”:

I claim no special expertise in the legislative process. But reading a couple of pieces about what looks like a health care debacle from the good folks at Vox, I have some thoughts about what’s going on — namely, don’t presume that Ryan and company have any idea what they’re doing.

Start with Ezra Klein, who speculates that Ryan has advanced this ludicrous plan in the hope and expectation that it won’t pass. His reasoning is that Ryan is too skilled an operator to get caught off-guard as he seems to have:

Paul Ryan isn’t an amateur. He is, arguably, the most skilled policy entrepreneur of his generation. He is known for winning support from political actors and policy validators who normally reject his brand of conservatism. The backing he’s built for past proposals comes from painstaking work talking to allies, working on plans with them, preparing them for what he’ll release, hearing out their concerns, constructing processes where they feel heard, and so on. He’s good at this kind of thing. But he didn’t put in the work here. And there are consequences to that.

But has Ryan ever put together major legislation with any real chance of passage? Yes, he made a name for himself with big budget proposals that received adoring press coverage. But these were never remotely operational — they were filled not just with magic asterisks — tax loophole closing to be determined later, cost savings to be achieved via means to be determined later — but with elements, like converting Medicare into a voucher system, that would have drawn immense flack if they got anywhere close to actually happening.

In other words, he has never offered real plans for overhauling social insurance, just things that sound like plans but are basically just advertisements for some imaginary plan that might eventually be produced. Actually pulling together a coalition to get stuff done? Has he ever managed that?

What I’d say is that Ryan is not, in fact, a policy entrepreneur. He’s just a self-promoter, someone who has successfully sold a credulous media on a character he plays: Paul Ryan, Serious, Honest Conservative Policy Wonk. This is really his first test at real policymaking, which is a very different process. There’s nothing strange about his inability to pull off the real thing, as opposed to the act.

Meanwhile, Sarah Kliff, in the new VoxCare newsletter, is puzzled by the apparent disagreement among Republicans about what CBO is likely to say:

The only people who have advance access to the CBO numbers are the Republican legislators who actually worked on the bill. They’ve been working with the budget agency for months now to create a score.

But have they really been working with CBO for months? They may have been talking, but was it about anything resembling Obamacare 0.5? Everything else about the AHCA looks slapdash, like something thrown together in a few days by people who hadn’t thought at all about what a flat tax credit and a widened age band would mean for, say, people in Alaska with its expensive insurance, or low-middle-income Trump voters in their 60s. I have no inside information, but this sure looks as if they were still dithering about the whole principle of their Obamacare replacement until at most a few weeks ago, and didn’t work with CBO because they had nothing to work with.

In other words, maybe this looks like amateur hour because it is. Ryan isn’t a skilled politician inexplicably losing his touch, he’s a con artist who started to believe his own con; Republicans didn’t hammer out a workable plan because there is no such plan, and anyway they have no idea what that would involve.

Or to put it another way, this could just be more malevolence tempered by incompetence.

Brooks and Krugman

March 10, 2017

In “The Republican Health Care Crackup” Bobo says it’s not just a bill, it’s the end of an era in American politics.  “Larry Hedrick” from DC will have something to say to Bobo.  Prof. Krugman has questions in “A Bill So Bad It’s Awesome:”  What were Republicans thinking? Were they even thinking?  Here’s Bobo:

The Republican health care bill could represent the moment when the old order of American politics completely cracks up, the end of a certain era in American politics.

That era began around 1974, when Ted Kennedy introduced a bill to supplement America’s employer-based insurance system with a government program. The Democratic dream of universal coverage continued through Hillary Clinton’s time as first lady and reached a partial culmination with the passage of Obamacare.

Combating government health care was a central Republican preoccupation through all that time, and the passage of Obamacare provoked the Tea Party reaction and final arrival of Goldwaterite populist conservatism.

By 2010, however, both the Obama administration and the Tea Party opposition were out of step with the times. They both still thought the big political issues in American life were universal health care and the size of government.

In fact, another set of problems had magnified and come to overshadow the old set. This new set included:

First, the crisis of opportunity. People with fewer skills were seeing their wages stagnate, the labor markets evaporate. Second, the crisis of solidarity. The social fabric, especially for those without a college degree, was disintegrating — marriage rates plummeting, opiate abuse rates rising. Third, the crisis of authority. Distrust in major institutions crossed some sort of threshold. People had so lost trust in government, the media, the leadership class in general, that they were willing to abandon truth and decorum and embrace authoritarian thuggery to blow it all up.

If President Obama had made these crises the center of his administration, instead of the A.C.A., Democrats wouldn’t have lost Congress and the White House. If the Tea Party had understood the first two of these crises, there would have been no opening for Donald Trump.

Trump came along and exploited these crises. But if his administration’s health care approach teaches us anything, it is that he has no positive agenda for addressing them. He can tap into working class anxiety negatively, by harnessing hostility toward immigrants, foreigners and the poor. But he can’t come up with a positive agenda to make working class life more secure.

So we have a group of Freedom Caucus Republicans who still think the major problems in the country today can be cured with tax and spending cuts. We have a Trump administration that has populist impulses but no actual populist safety net policies. And we’ve got a Republican leadership in Congress mired in Reagan-era thinking and trying to pay lip service to every obsolete prejudice in the various wings of the party.

You end up with this hodgepodge legislation that pleases nobody and takes the big crises afflicting our country and makes them all worse.

The Republican health plan would make America’s economic chasm worse. It would cut health subsidies that go to the poor while eliminating the net investment income tax, which benefits only the top 1 percent.

The Republican plan would further destabilize the social fabric for those at the bottom. Throwing perhaps 10 million people off the insurance rolls will increase fear, isolation, social tension, chronic illness, suicide and bankruptcy.

The Republican plan will fuel cynicism. It’s being pushed through in an elitist, anti-democratic, middle of the night rush. It seems purposely designed to fail. The penalties for those who don’t purchase insurance are so low they seem sure to guarantee Republican-caused death spirals in the weaker markets.

This thing probably won’t pass, but even if it passes it will probably lead to immense pain and disruption. That will discredit market-based social reform, cost the Republicans their congressional majorities and end what’s left of the Reagan-era party.

It will also point the way to a new era.

The central debate in the old era was big government versus small government, the market versus the state. But now you’ve got millions of people growing up in social and cultural chaos and not getting the skills they need to thrive in a technological society. This is not a problem you can solve with tax cuts.

And if you don’t solve this problem, voters around the world have demonstrated that they’re quite willing to destroy market mechanisms to get the security they crave. They will trash free trade, cut legal skilled immigration, attack modern finance and choose state-run corporatism over dynamic free market capitalism.

The core of the new era is this: If you want to preserve the market, you have to have a strong state that enables people to thrive in it. If you are pro-market, you have to be pro-state. You can come up with innovative ways to deliver state services, like affordable health care, but you can’t just leave people on their own. The social fabric, the safety net and the human capital sources just aren’t strong enough.

New social crises transform party philosophies. We’re in the middle of a transformation. But to get there we’ve got to live through this final health care debacle first.

Now here’s what “Larry Hedrick” from DC had to say about that:

“Mr. Brooks thinks it’s necessary to write that the Republican destruction of Obamacare will ‘fuel cynicism.’ As though it shouldn’t?

As for the Republican alternative (I use the word loosely) being ‘purposely designed to fail,’ I can’t see that it’s ‘purposely designed’ to either succeed or fail.

The only thing it’s designed to do is to shift more wealth from poorer people to richer people.

Beyond that, Republicans don’t care–which is why they’ve done such a sloppy job of creating this new self-contradictory jumble of words that they’re pleased to call a law.

I suppose it’s needful to review the basics just one more time.

David, the GOP to which you’ve devoted so much of your life has long been nothing more than an open conspiracy of the rich against the poor. That’s its sole purpose, beyond existing to feed its own bureaucracy.

Republican politicians are nothing more or less than hacks who are paid to keep the money flowing uphill while they clutter up the minds of the people with empty promises of perfecting the American commonwealth.

In Trump they’ve found their true champion, because he’s put them on the royal road to authoritarianism. It is in this darkness, which the pr*sident deepens with every lying tweet, that democracy dies.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

It has long been obvious to anyone following health policy that Republicans would never devise a workable replacement for Obamacare. But the bill unveiled this week is worse than even the cynics expected; its awfulness is almost surreal. And the process by which it came to be tells you a lot about the state of the G.O.P.

Given the rhetoric Republicans have used over the past seven years to attack health reform, you might have expected them to do away with the whole structure of the Affordable Care Act — deregulate, de-subsidize and let the magic of the free market do its thing. This would have been devastating for the 20 million Americans who gained coverage thanks to the act, but at least it would have been ideologically consistent.

But Republican leaders weren’t willing to bite that bullet. What they came up with instead was a dog’s breakfast that conservatives are, with some justice, calling Obamacare 2.0. But a better designation would be Obamacare 0.5, because it’s a half-baked plan that accepts the logic and broad outline of the Affordable Care Act while catastrophically weakening key provisions. If enacted, the bill would almost surely lead to a death spiral of soaring premiums and collapsing coverage. Which makes you wonder, what’s the point?

Obamacare rests on three main pillars. Insurance companies are regulated, prevented from denying coverage or charging higher prices to Americans with pre-existing conditions. Families receive subsidies linked to both income and premiums, to help them buy insurance. And there is a penalty for those who don’t buy insurance, to induce people to sign up even if they’re currently healthy.

Trumpcare — the White House insists that we not call it that, which means that we must — preserves some version of all three elements, but in drastically, probably fatally weakened form.

Insurers are still barred from excluding the sick, but they’re allowed to charge older Americans — who need insurance the most — much higher premiums.

Subsidies are still there, in the form of tax credits, but they’re no longer linked to either income (as long as it’s below $75,000) or the cost of insurance.

And the tax on those who don’t sign up becomes a small surcharge — paid to insurance companies, not the public — on people who sign up after previously letting coverage lapse.

Affluent young people might end up saving some money as a result of these changes. But the effect on those who are older and less affluent would be devastating. AARP has done the math: a 55-year-old making $25,000 a year would end up paying $3,600 a year more for coverage; that rises to $8,400 for a 64-year-old making $15,000 a year. And that’s before the death spiral.

For the combination of price hikes and weakened penalties would lead many healthy Americans to forego insurance. This would worsen the risk pool, causing premiums to rise sharply — and remember, subsidies would no longer adjust to offset this rise. The result would be even more people dropping out. Republicans have been claiming that Obamacare is collapsing, which isn’t true. But Trumpcare, if implemented, would collapse in a Mar-a-Lago minute.

How could House Republicans under the leadership of Paul Ryan, who the media keeps assuring us is a smart, serious policy wonk, have produced such a monstrosity? Two reasons.

First, the G.O.P.’s policy-making and policy analysis capacity has been downgraded to the point of worthlessness. There are real conservative policy experts, but the party doesn’t want them, perhaps because their very competence makes them ideologically unreliable — a proposition illustrated by the rush to enact this bill before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office can estimate either its costs or its effects. Basically, facts and serious analysis are the modern right’s enemies; policy is left to hacks who can’t get even the simplest things right.

Second, Republicans seem to have been undone by their reverse-Robin-Hood urges. You can’t make something like Obamacare work without giving lower-income families enough support that insurance becomes affordable. But the modern G.O.P. always wants to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted; so the bill ends up throwing away the taxes on the rich that help pay for subsidies, and redirects the subsidies themselves away from those who need them to those who don’t.

Given the sick joke of a health plan, you might ask what happened to all those proclamations that Obamacare was a terrible, no good system that Republicans would immediately replace with something far better — not to mention Donald Trump’s promises of “insurance for everybody” and “great health care.”

But the answer, of course, is that they were all lying, all along — and they still are. On this, at least, Republican unity remains impressively intact.

Krugman’s blog, 3/7/17

March 8, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “A Plan Set Up To Fail:”

So now we know what Republicans have to offer as an Obamacare replacement. Let me try to avoid value judgments for a few minutes, and describe what seems to have happened here.

The structure of the Affordable Care Act comes out of a straightforward analysis of the logic of coverage. If you want to make health insurance available and affordable for almost everyone, regardless of income or health status, and you want to do this through private insurers rather than simply have single-payer, you have to do three things.

1.Regulate insurers so they can’t refuse or charge high premiums to people with preexisting conditions
2.Impose some penalty on people who don’t buy insurance, to induce healthy people to sign up and provide a workable risk pool
3.Subsidize premiums so that lower-income households can afford insurance

So that’s Obamacare (and Romneycare before that): regulation, mandates, and subsidies. And the result has been a sharp decline in the number of uninsured, with costs coming in well below expectations. Roughly speaking, 20 million Americans gained coverage at a cost of around 0.6 percent of GDP.

Republicans have nonetheless denounced the law as a monstrosity, and promised to replace it with something totally different and far better. Which makes what they’ve actually come up … interesting.

For the GOP proposal basically accepts the logic of Obamacare. It retains insurer regulation to prevent exclusion of people with preexisting conditions. It imposes a penalty on those who don’t buy insurance while healthy. And it offers tax credits to help people buy insurance. Conservatives calling the plan Obamacare 2.0 definitely have a point.

But a better designation would be Obamacare 0.5, because it’s really about replacing relatively solid pillars with half-measures, severely and probably fatally weakening the whole structure.

First, the individual mandate – already too weak, so that too many healthy people opt out – is replaced by a penalty imposed if and only if the uninsured decide to enter the market later. This wouldn’t do much.

Second, the ACA subsidies, which are linked both to income and to the cost of insurance, are replaced by flat tax credits which would be worth much less to lower-income Americans, the very people most likely to need help buying insurance.

Taken together, these moves would almost surely lead to a death spiral. Healthy individuals, especially low-income households no longer receiving adequate aid, would opt out, worsening the risk pool. Premiums would soar – without the cushion created by the current, price-linked subsidy formula — leading more healthy people to exit. In much of the country, the individual markets would probably collapse.

The House leadership seems to realize all of this; that’s why it reportedly plans to rush the bill through committee before CBO even gets a chance to score it.

It’s an amazing spectacle. Obviously, Republicans backed themselves into a corner: after all those years denouncing Obamacare, they felt they had to do something, but in fact had no good ideas about what to offer as a replacement. So they went with really bad ideas instead.

Blow and Krugman

March 6, 2017

In “Pause This Presidency!” Mr. Blow says the question of Russian interference is existential.  Prof. Krugman, in “A Party Not Ready to Govern,” says the G.O.P. quagmire isn’t just about Trump.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The American people must immediately demand a cessation of all consequential actions by this “president” until we can be assured that Russian efforts to hack our election, in a way that was clearly meant to help him and damage his opponent, did not also include collusion with or coverup by anyone involved in the Trump campaign and now administration.

This may sound extreme, but if the gathering fog of suspicion should yield an actual connection, it would be one of the most egregious assaults on our democracy ever. It would not only be unprecedented, it would be a profound wound to faith in our sovereignty.

Viewed through the serious lens of those epic implications, no action to put this presidency on pause is extreme. Rather, it is exceedingly prudent.

Some things must be done and some positions filled simply to keep the government operational. Absolute abrogation of administrative authority is infeasible and ill advised. But a bare minimum standard must be applied until we know more about what the current raft of investigations yield. Indeed, it may be that the current investigative apparatuses are insufficient and a special commission or special counsel is in order.

In any event, we can’t keep cruising along as if the unanswered question isn’t existential.

Americans must demand at least a momentary respite from — my preference would be a permanent termination of — Trump’s aggressive agenda to dramatically alter the social, economic and political contours of this country.

America deserves to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our president is legitimate before he issues a single new disruptive executive order.

America deserves to know that he is legitimate before he pursues a program to dismantle Obamacare.

America deserves to know that he is legitimate before he pushes through a budget that obscenely expands military spending while making dramatic cuts in other areas.

America deserves to know that he is legitimate before the Senate moves forward with confirmation hearings for his Supreme Court nominee.

Republicans pitched a fit when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill the seat made open by the death of Antonin Scalia, falsely arguing that a president should not be allowed to fill a vacancy during the last year of his term. Well, it is not at all clear to me that this will not be the last year of Donald Trump’s term, should these investigations reveal something untoward between his regime and Russia.

We have known for some time that the Russians interfered in our election in an effort to favor Trump. What we are learning in recent weeks are the number of Trump advisers and administrative officials who had contact with the Russian ambassador before the election, the frequency of those contacts, and the attempts, at least by some, to conceal those contacts.

But we now know, according to reporting by The Washington Post, that Attorney General Jeff Sessions also met at least twice with the ambassador during the campaign — once at the Republican National Convention — and then lied about those contacts under oath during his confirmation hearings.

Then this weekend in a series of tweets Trump made a scandalous and completely unsubstantiated allegation that President Obama had “my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” in October of 2016. He said of his baseless charge, “This is McCarthyism!” and “This is Nixon/Watergate” and called Obama a “Bad (or sick) guy!”

This is absolutely outrageous. One of three things is true here: Obama, during the waning months of an eight-year term free of personal scandal, decided to maliciously and illegally tap the phones of the candidate all the polls at the time predicted would lose; a law enforcement agency was able to present evidence and convince a federal judge that someone or some group of people in Trump Tower were engaged in illegal activity; or this “president,” who has proven himself a pathological liar, is once again chasing conspiratorial windmills and seeking to detract and deflect from legitimate scandal. Any of these scenarios has the profoundest of consequences.

There is a helluva lot of smoke here for there to be no fire. Maybe all of these contacts with the Russians have some benign and believable explanation that escapes me at the moment. Maybe this is just the culmination of an extraordinary series of coincidences. Maybe.

I actually hope that’s true. The alternative explanation is nearly unfathomable in its ability to injure our democracy.

Whatever the case, we need answers before we simply pretend that there is some sort of political inertia pulling us forward and that the Trump agenda is an inevitable consequence of a suspect election.

No!

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last month found that a majority of Americans believe “Congress should investigate whether Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had contact with the Russian government in 2016.”

That’s important, but not enough. Until that investigation is completed, that same majority of Americans must put elected officials on notice that there will be a price to pay if they aid and abet Trump’s agenda before the truth is known.

We must all demand without equivocation: Pause this presidency!

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

According to Politico, a Trump confidante says that the man in the Oval Office — or more often at Mar-a-Lago — is “tired of everyone thinking his presidency is screwed up.” Pro tip: The best way to combat perceptions that you’re screwing up is, you know, to stop screwing up.

But he can’t, of course. And it’s not just a personal problem.

It goes without saying that Donald Trump is the least qualified individual, temperamentally or intellectually, ever installed in the White House. As he veers from wild accusations against President Obama to snide remarks about Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’s doing a very good imitation of someone experiencing a personal breakdown — even though he has yet to confront a crisis not of his own making. Thanks, Comey.

But the broader Republican quagmire — the party’s failure so far to make significant progress toward any of its policy promises — isn’t just about Mr. Trump’s inadequacies. The whole party, it turns out, has been faking it for years. Its leaders’ rhetoric was empty; they have no idea how to turn their slogans into actual legislation, because they’ve never bothered to understand how anything important works.

Take the two lead items in the congressional G.O.P.’s agenda: undoing the Affordable Care Act and reforming corporate taxes. In each case Republicans seem utterly shocked to find themselves facing reality.

The story of Obamacare repeal would be funny if the health care — and, in many cases, the lives — of millions of Americans weren’t at stake.

First we had seven — seven! — years during which Republicans kept promising to offer an alternative to Obamacare any day now, but never did. Then came the months after the election, with more promises of details just around the corner.

Now there’s apparently a plan hidden somewhere in the Capitol basement. Why the secrecy? Because the Republicans have belatedly discovered what some of us tried to tell them all along: The only way to maintain coverage for the 20 million people who gained insurance thanks to Obamacare is with a plan that, surprise, looks a lot like Obamacare.

Sure enough, the new plan reportedly does look like a sort of half-baked version of the Affordable Care Act. Politically, it seems to embody the worst of both worlds: It’s enough like Obamacare to infuriate hard-line conservatives, but it weakens key aspects of the law enough to deprive millions of Americans — many of them white working-class voters who backed Donald Trump — of essential health care.

The idea, apparently, is to deal with these problems by passing the plan before anyone gets a chance to really see or think about what’s in it. Good luck with that.

Then there’s corporate tax reform — an issue where the plan being advanced by Paul Ryan, the House speaker, is actually not too bad, at least in principle. Even some Democratic-leaning economists support a shift to a “destination-based cash flow tax,” which is best thought of as a sales tax plus a payroll subsidy. (Trust me.)

But Mr. Ryan has failed spectacularly to make his case either to colleagues or to powerful interest groups. Why? As best I can tell, it’s because he himself doesn’t understand the point of the reform.

The case for the cash flow tax is quite technical; among other things, it would remove the incentives the current tax system creates for corporations to load up on debt and to engage in certain kinds of tax avoidance. But that’s not the kind of thing Republicans talk about — if anything, they’re in favor of tax avoidance, hence the Trump proposal to slash funding for the I.R.S.

No, in G.O.P. world, tax ideas always have to be presented as ways to remove the shackles from oppressed job creators. So Mr. Ryan has framed his proposal, basically falsely, as a measure to make American industry more competitive, focusing on the “border tax adjustment” which is part of the sales-tax component of the reform.

This misrepresentation seems, however, to be backfiring: it sounds like a Trumpist tariff, and has both conservatives and retailers like WalMart up in arms.

At this point, then, major Republican initiatives are bogged down for reasons that have nothing to do with the personality flaws of the tweeter in chief, and everything to do with the broader, more fundamental fecklessness of his party.

Does this mean that nothing substantive will happen on the policy front? Not necessarily. Republicans may decide to ram through a health plan that causes mass suffering, and hope to blame it on Mr. Obama. They may give up on anything resembling a principled tax reform, and just throw a few trillion dollars at rich people instead.

But whatever the eventual outcome, what we’re witnessing is what happens when a party that gave up hard thinking in favor of empty sloganeering ends up in charge of actual policy. And it’s not a pretty sight.

Brooks and Krugman

March 3, 2017

In “Trumpism at Its Best, Straight Up” Bobo tells us that the president’s speech to Congress offered a view of his movement without his distracting clownish behavior.  Bobo, they probably shot him with a tranquilizer dart before he went on…  Prof. Krugman, in “Goodbye Spin, Hello Raw Dishonesty,” says the first casualty of Trump is truth.  Here’s Bobo:

Donald Trump gave us Trumpism at its best on Tuesday night. And that was useful because it gave us a view of the political movement he represents, without the clownish behavior.

The first thing we learned was that Trumpism is an utter repudiation of modern conservatism. For the last 40 years, the Republican Party has been a coalition of three tendencies. On Tuesday, Trump rejected or ignored all of them.

There used to be Republican foreign policy hawks, people who believed that it was in America’s interest to serve as a global policeman, actively preserving a democratic world order. Trump explicitly repudiated this worldview, drawing instead a sharp distinction between what’s good for America and what’s good for the rest of the world.

There used to be social conservatives, who believed that the moral fabric of the country had been weakened by secularism and the breakdown of the family. On Tuesday, Trump acted as if this group didn’t exist. He didn’t mention a single social issue — abortion, religious liberty, marriage, anything.

Finally, there used to be fiscal hawks who worried about the national debt. Trump demolished these people, too, vowing a long list of spending programs and preservation of entitlement programs.

The Republicans who applauded Trump on Tuesday were applauding their own repudiation. They did it because partisanship is stronger than philosophy, but also because Reagan conservatism no longer applies to current reality.

The second thing we saw was how Trump’s ethnic nationalism emerges from the wreckage of the old G.O.P. Healthy American political philosophies balance individualism and collectivism, personal freedom and communal cohesion.

The old Reagan conservatism was economic individualism restrained by social and religious traditionalism. Conservatives could embrace the creative destruction of the free market because they believed that the communal order could be held together by traditional morals and the collective attachments of family, church and local organizations.

But in the 1990s conservatism devolved from a flexible balance to a crude anti-government philosophy, the Leave Us Alone coalition. Republicans talked as if Americans’ problem was they were burdened by too many restraints and the solution was to get government off their backs.

That may have been true of the businessmen who make up the G.O.P. donor class, but regular voters felt adrift and uprooted, untethered and exposed. Regular Republicans didn’t want more freedom and more risk in their lives. They wanted more protection and security. They wanted a father figure government that would protect them from the disruptions of technological change and globalization.

Donald Trump came along and offered them exactly that kind of strong government. He is not offering compassionate government, the way a Democrat might, but he is offering forceful government.

Trump would use big government to crack down on enemies foreign and domestic. He’d use government to create millions of jobs for infrastructure projects. He’d use government to force or bribe corporations to locate plants here — the guarded order of national corporatism over the wide-open riskiness of free-market capitalism.

The third thing we learned is that much of Trump’s policy agenda contradicts his core philosophy. Trumpism is all about protection, security and order. But many of Trump’s policies would introduce more risk into people’s lives, not less.

Trump’s health care plan — tax credits and health saving accounts — would increase choice, instability and risk for individual health care consumers. His school-choice ideas might make for more competitive education markets, but they would also increase risk and insecurity for individual consumers.

It’s likely that Republican voters will simply reject these proposals. They’ve got enough risk in their lives. It’s quite likely that large elements of the Trump agenda will go down in flames because they go against what the country wants and even against his own core brand.

Fourth, Trump’s speech on Tuesday offered those of us who want to replace him an occasion to ask the big question: How in the 21st century should government unleash initiative and dynamism while also preserving order? Trump’s answer: Nationalize intimidation but privatize compassion. Don’t look to government to offer a warm hand; look to it to confront your enemies with a hard fist.

Human development research offers a different formula: All of life is a series of daring adventures from a secure base. If government can create a framework in which people grow up amid healthy families, nurturing schools, thick communities and a secure safety net, then they will have the resources and audacity to thrive in a free global economy and a diversifying skills economy.

This is a response that is open to welfare state policies from the left and trade and macroeconomic policies from the free-market right — a single-payer health care system married to the flat tax.

The last thing Trump showed was this: We’re in a state of radical flux. Political parties can turn on a dime. At least that means it’s a time to think anew.

Buyer’s remorse much, Bobo?  Here’s what “zb” from BC had to say:

“In harking back to Reagan as time of legitimate conservativism you seem to have conveniently forgotten that he ran on a policy of pandering to southern hate; destroying government as the problem and not the solution; hyper phony patriotism; and nonsense economics.

What we have today is the natural result of Reagan and not a departure from it. Time to wake up to the fact that whatever you think you have been fighting for these decades is what helped get us to where we are.

That should have you feeling pretty sick right now.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

The latest big buzz is about Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. It turns out that he lied during his confirmation hearings, denying that he had met with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. In fact, he met twice with the Russian ambassador, who is widely reported to also be a key spymaster.

Not incidentally, if this news hadn’t come to light, forcing Mr. Sessions to recuse himself, he would have supervised the investigation into Russian election meddling, possibly in collusion with the Trump campaign.

But let’s not focus too much on Mr. Sessions. After all, he is joined in the cabinet by Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who lied to Congress about his use of a private email account; Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, who lied about a sweetheart deal to purchase stock in a biotechnology company at a discount; and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who falsely told Congress that his financial firm didn’t engage in “robo-signing” of foreclosure documents, seizing homes without proper consideration.

And they would have served with Michael Flynn as national security adviser, but for the fact that Mr. Flynn was forced out after the press discovered that, like Mr. Sessions, he had lied about contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Critics of our political culture used to complain, with justification, about politicians’ addiction to spin — their inveterate habit of downplaying awkward facts and presenting their actions in a much better light than they deserved. But all indications are that the age of spin is over. It has been replaced by an era of raw, shameless dishonesty.

In part, of course, the pervasiveness of lies reflects the character of the man at the top: No president, or for that matter major U.S. political figure of any kind, has ever lied as freely and frequently as Donald Trump. But this isn’t just a Trump story. His ability to get away with it, at least so far, requires the support of many enablers: almost all of his party’s elected officials, a large bloc of voters and, all too often, much of the news media.

It’s important not to indulge in an easy cynicism, to say that politicians have always lied and always will. What we’re getting from Mr. Trump is simply on a different plane from anything we’ve seen before.

For one thing, politicians used to limit their outright lies to matters not easily checked — hidden affairs, under the table deals, and so on. But now we have the man who ran the Miss Universe competition in Moscow three years ago, and who declared just last year that “I know Russia well,” then last month said, “I haven’t called Russia in 10 years.”

On matters of policy, politicians used to limit their misrepresentations of facts and impacts to relatively hard-to-verify assertions. When George W. Bush insisted that his tax cuts mainly went to the middle class, this wasn’t true, but it took some number-crunching to show that. Mr. Trump, however, makes claims like his assertion that the murder rate — which ticked up in 2015 but is still barely half what it was in 1990 — is at a 45-year high. Furthermore, he just keeps repeating such claims after they’ve been debunked.

And the question is, who’s going to stop him?

The moral vacuity of Republicans in Congress, and the unlikelihood that they’ll act as any check on the president, becomes clearer with each passing day. Even the real possibility that we’re facing subversion by agents of a foreign power, and that top officials are part of the story, doesn’t seem to faze them as long as they can get tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor.

Meanwhile, Republican primary election voters, who are the real arbiters when polarized and/or gerrymandered districts make the general election irrelevant for many politicians, live in a Fox News bubble into which awkward truths never penetrate.

And what about the Fourth Estate? Will it let us down, too?

To be fair, the first weeks of the Trump administration have in important ways been glory days for journalism; one must honor the professionalism and courage of the reporters who have been ferreting out the secrets this authoritarian-minded clique is so determined to keep.

But then you watch something like the way much of the news media responded to Mr. Trump’s congressional address, and you feel despair. It was a speech filled with falsehoods and vile policy proposals, but read calmly off the teleprompter — and suddenly everyone was declaring the liar in chief “presidential.”

The point is that if that’s all it takes to exonerate the most dishonest man ever to hold high office in America, we’re doomed. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again.

It will.