Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mitt Romney’s 400 ‘conservative’ economists

Even though Mitt Romney calls himself a "data" man, he wants to put Churchill’s bust back in the Oval Office. It makes perfect sense.

Churchill was a "word" man, and words aren’t as valued as numbers amongst American conservatives these days. But, above all, Churchill was courageous, and courage is the sine qua non of modern Republican politicians. They see it as their duty to expose the sly timidity of that snob in the White House and defend America against a whole world of enemies.

Out of power, this is a hard to calling to convey. They can’t bomb Iran or order the Seals to kill. They can’t over-reach their non-existent legislative powers.

As a presidential candidate, however, Romney can appear nervy. He can lace his speeches and policies with bold and belligerent words. He can be alarmed about where the world is heading and hint at courageous responses—and pick a running mate who has talked like that since he was a boy.

Romney has done all those things and, so, has earned the endorsement of 400 conservative economists. They say he’s “returning” America to its tradition of economic freedom.

They weren’t identified formally as Republicans. However, their statement of support is mighty light on Romney’s economics and very optimistic about his courage. Any real "data" men on the list must have had their hands held when they signed it.

For instance, this is how they describe Romney’s biggest promise:

“Governor Romney would reduce marginal tax rates on business and wage incomes and broaden the tax base to increase investment, jobs, and living standards.”

Romney’s campaign promise and Paul Ryan’s four-year-old fiscal plan dramatically cut marginal tax rates. They are as vivid as they are enticing: a high-end personal tax rate of only 25% in Ryan’s plan and a 20% tax cut for everyone in Romney’s plan. They say they’ll make their gigantic tax cuts “revenue neutral” by closing loopholes.

In other words, another $trillion dollars of tax cuts will be financed, in large part, by eliminating hundreds of $billions of dollars of popular tax loopholes—something 400 economists polled randomly would admire.

Both sides of this pro-growth, tax-reform equation involve big numbers beloved by "data" men. However, on the difficult side—the loopholes side—Romney is all words. 

On hundreds of occasions, both Romney and Ryan have referred to “special interest loopholes” and the desirability of “simplifying” the tax code—without ever being specific. (Andrew Sullivan's blog points out how many significant tax loopholes there are to be excited and specific about.)

Romney has the courage to be specific about what he could do to Iran, but can’t whisper one menacing word about the tax deductions American families get for their home mortgage payments and family health insurance premiums.

Whether smart politics or not, it’s lopsided economics. Romney’s 400 economists have, in effect—if not in the words they’ve used—lent their credibility to yet another campaign of massive tax cuts, even as the country’s structural deficit deteriorates.

Every president works like a devil to keep his promises. On the specific ones, presidents have a popular mandate to wield against naysayers. On the vague ones, they can fail with grace.

Romney, with an assist from his "conservative" economists, is setting himself up to enact another reckless tax cut and just pick at the margins of serious tax reform.

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