Jared Bernstein: Paul Ryan's Budget Numbers Don't Add Up

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Economist Jared Bernstein beautifully eviscerates the intellectual foundation (or lack thereof) for Paul Ryan's economic policies -- which is really not difficult, even for bloggers. The problem? The members of the media who are still too damn lazy to do the math, and instead proclaim him as a real policy wonk. (Fortunately, Ryan Lizza is not one of those stupid journalists.)

The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza provides a profile of Rep Paul Ryan, with a rich discussion of his vision for limited government.

It’s a good read, but it left me thinking about what it is that troubles me most about Rep Ryan, an earnest guy who’s come a long way and influenced a lot of people at a relatively young age. The problem is his numbers don’t add up. And that’s a particularly big problem for a celebrated budget wonk.

It’s actually not hard to write down plans that purport to quantify Ayn Randian visions. You cut deeply here and there—always from 30,000 feet up so you don’t have to get into fights about specifics—you turn big programs over to the states (e.g., you “block grant” foods stamps and Medicaid), you privatize social insurance, you voucherize Medicare with vouchers whose costs lag prices.

Then, in the spirit of another Ryan hero, Jack Kemp, you write down a bunch of supply-side tax cuts.

But the problem with all that is obvious, and here Ryan is guilty of that which he accuses his adversaries: intellectual laziness. Ayn Rand was a philosopher, a novelist. She never worried about public infrastructure, retirement security, budget deficits. Kemp’s trickle down ideas, still promoted today by the likes of Art Laffer and Larry Kudlow, not to mention Gov Romney, have never come anywhere close to working. They’ve led not to balanced budgets and broadly shared growth, but to larger deficits and greater income concentration.

It’s thus no more plausible nor responsible to tout such an unrealistic vision from the right than it would be for an American politician to proclaim his allegiance to the ideas of Karl Marx and write down plans for confiscating wealth and socializing the means of production.

Moreover, and this is really pretty inevitable, when you learn a bit more about the politicians who write down and support plans like Ryan’s, as Lizza does here, it turns out that the federal government has played and continues to play an important role in their district and state, as has very much been the case with Ryan in WI.

Go read the whole thing. He also points out how the same holes appear in Mitt Romney's economic proposals, too.


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