Ah: First Decline in the Core CPI Since 1982...
Price, Scarcity, and Malthus

Robert Waldmann Smacks Down Jonathan Chait as Soft on Reihan Salam and Soft on the Causes of Reihan Salam...

Robert writes:

Robert's Stochastic thoughts: Jonathan Chait... misquoted Salam in order to make Salam seem more reasonable that he is. Chait wrote "Reihan Salam at National Review objects that Leonhardt is refuting a notion that no serious person actually holds."... Salam didn't say that Leonhardt is refuting a notion that no serious person actually holds. Salan said that Leonhardt is refuting a claim that no person actually holds.... "I don't thing that anyone doubts that ARRA helped perk up growth." Note "anyone" not "any serious person." I fear that Salam may have written that honestly -- that is that he is completely ignorant or insane...

And refers us to Matthew Yglesias:

Straw Manned: Reihan Salam... a pretty common failing among the smarter set of conservative commentators... a tendency to dismiss as straw-man characterizations positions that are in fact the mainstream conservative orthodoxy... the assertion that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has had no positive impact... climate change is a made-up conspiracy cooked out of thin air by Al Gore and some UN guys... reducing tax rates is a surefire way to increase revenue. I wish it were the case that these were straw man views, invented by liberals to make the right-wing look bad. But if you listen to what the most powerful conservative politicians and media figure in the land say, these are the things they offer as the basis of conservative policy on macroeconomic stabilization, on climate and energy, and on the long-term fiscal challenge. Is it nuts? Well, yes it is. But there you have it. If you want to find what counts as a fringe position, you can find tea party leader Richard Mack talking about states’ rights to secession.

And to Kevin Drum:

Which Conservatives Matter?: I'm reminded of Megan McArdle's revelation a couple of years ago when she discovered that mainstream conservatives really do have a party line that insists tax cuts always raise revenues. "A conservative publication," she admitted, "just spiked a book review because I said that the Laffer Curve didn't apply at American levels of taxation....I suppose I ought to have known, but I didn't. Go ahead liberals, pile on: you told me so."...

Reihan is implicitly suggesting that liberals ought to be engaging with the best of conservative thinkers, many of whom hold nuanced and moderate positions. And it's true: some of them do. The problem is that in the real world, these nuanced and moderate thinkers have virtually no influence.... Reihan and Megan and others like them may hold more careful views, but the vast bulk of the conservative movement simply doesn't. And that's the reality of the world that liberals have to deal with.

Now, whenever something like this comes up, I wonder if there's something similar on the liberal side of the aisle. Are there hot button issues on which the Kevin Drums and Jon Chaits of the world hold moderate, techno-googoo views, but on which elected politicians and bigfoot TV pundits unanimously insist on extreme, lockstep views? I can't really think of any. Taxes? Healthcare? National security? Immigration? Climate change? Education? Abortion? Gay rights? Labor law? On all of these, either liberal politicians hold a fairly broad variety of leftish views (national security, immigration, education) or else they hold pretty similar views but so does the commentariat (climate change, gay rights). No important issue comes to mind in which the liberal think tank community holds a lively and diverse set of opinions but actual liberal politicians unanimously maintain a death grip on some extreme, base-pleasing position.

But that doesn't mean there isn't one. It just means I can't think of it. So help me out. Can anyone come up with a few good examples?

In my view, there are two problems:

  1. Reasonable conservative thinkers have absolutely no impact on the policy positions or political rhetoric of Republican lawmakers.

  2. Reasonable conservatives shut up rather than say what they think when it is contrary to the Republican party line of the day.

Take Obama's wage subsidy proposal. It's a small-business tax cut to boost employment in a deep recession. It gets relatively good marks from CBO ("the largest effects on employment this year and next would probably arise from increasing aid to the unemployed, reducing employers’ payroll taxes in general, and reducing employers’ payroll taxes for firms that increase their payroll...") and from serious tax analysts like those at the TPC. Its principal defects are its relative complexity (as Larry Lindsey says: "targeted, temporary, incremental, hiring tax credit proposals... tend to be... too clever by half.... There should be a principle somewhere that only one adjective can be applied to any program that can actually work. Targeted, temporary, and incremental make for three..."). But is there any doubt that something similar is now being put forward by President McCain and President Romney right now to fight the depression in those branches of the multiverse in which they live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? And is there any doubt that in those branches of the multiverse Republican economists are falling all over themselves to endorse it enthusiastically?

It would have been very nice if Republican fiscally-conservative economists had joined Alan Greenspan in arguing against the 2001 Bush tax cut as too rash, had written letters opposing the elimination of PAYGO, had formed a solid phalanx against the unfunded Medicare Part D, and were now joining us Dermocratic fiscal conservatives in opposing the extension of any portion of the Bush tax cuts. But they didn't.

And here is where I am inclined to be soft on Reihan Salam. Because his declarations that "ARRA has had no impact and the economy would be in the same shape without any fiscal stimulus program" is "a straw-man argument..." and that "I don't thing that anyone doubts that ARRA helped perk up growth. It is very hard to imagine that spending an enormous sum of money would not..." is a double-headed axe. Reihan wants David Leonhardt to acknowledge the stronger anti-stimulus arguments--that what we have bought we have bought at too dear a long-run price. But Reihan is also trying to marginalize the mendacious and the ignorant: the Veronique de Rugys, the Conn Carrolls, the Brian Reidls, and their ilk. Call their arguments straw-man arguments and those arguments' advocates become straw men.

The problem is that it is not going to work: because Reihan Salam is marginal on the American right he cannot marginalize the right's mainstream, at least not without a lot of help from a lot of people who are still hiding at the bottom of their foxholes and refuse to come out to try to rescue their party.