DeLong Smackdown Watch of the Year!
Liveblogging World War II: April 21, 1941

Paul Krugman and Jonathan Chait vs. Yammerheads Who Don't Know What They Are Talking About Yet Keep Yammering Anyway

Yep. They read Jacob Weisberg, so none of us have to. This one is bad enough that I am turning off the ad block I have so I can see who is advertising on Slate so I can make sure not to buy anything they sell.

Jacob Weisberg writes:

After my last column, I got pummeled in the liberal blogosphere for asserting that the Ryan budget represented a big step in the direction of conservative honesty. I deserved some of the abuse. Though I criticized Ryan for his unsupported rosy assumptions (shame on you, Heritage Foundation hacks), I reacted too quickly and didn’t sort out just how laughable Ryan’s long-term spending projections were. His plan projects an absurd future, according to the Congressional Budget Office, in which all discretionary spending, now around 12 percent of GDP, shrinks to 3 percent of GDP by 2050. Defense spending alone was 4.7 percent of GDP in 2009. With numbers like that, Ryan is more an anarchist-libertarian than honest conservative.

And Paul Krugman asks the natural question:

Economics and Politics: Um, how can you lavish praise on a supposed long-term budget proposal without, you know, asking whether its long-run spending projections make sense? Plus, while Weisberg originally poo-poohed my column from last year about Ryan’s flimflam, he apparently didn’t reread the part of the column where I criticized Ryan for making … laughable projections about discretionary spending.

Look, this is an important debate. If you can’t be bothered to look at the numbers, you shouldn’t weigh in.

And Jacob Weisberg writes some more:

Yet I think I was right in crediting Ryan with owning up to what other Republicans won't: that the party's demand for ever-lower taxes would basically end Medicaid and Medicare as entitlement programs.

And Jonathan Chait says: no, you were not right: you were wrong. Again:

Pummeling Victim Recants, Backslides, Receives Second Pummeling: The problem, of course, is that Ryan doesn't own up to this at all. Continuing the Republican practice of denying any connections between revenues and deficits, he refuses to concede that the spending levels he proposes are in any way constrained by his preference for staying at or below Bush-level tax rates. Here's a typical example of Ryan dodging the point:

BOB SCHIEFFER: If the country is going bankrupt, if the country needs to borrow forty cents of every dollar that it spends, how do you help that by reducing the amount of taxes that the richest people in the country pay? It would be seem to be that’s where you get revenue. How do-- how do you-- how do you justify?

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: Two things. Two things, number one, we don’t have a tax problem. Our revenuers are going back to where they have been historically. We have a big spending problem. Spending is growing at a very unsustainable rate. So let’s focus on spending. The other thing I would simply say is massive tax increases. The President’s proposing 1.5 trillion in tax increases. The Democrats in Congress are proposing anywhere from two to sixteen trillion dollars in tax increases based on the three budgets they brought to the floor the other day. We don’t want to slow down the economy. Here’s the-- here’s what we’re trying to get, spending cuts and controls to get spending under control because that’s the problem and economic growth and job creation. We don’t want to give up one to get the other. Raising tax rates on anybody, especially successful small businesses slows down the economy, loses jobs and if you have lower economic growth, you have less revenues and it puts you further behind. We want more tax revenues but we want to get it by expanding job creation, by expanding economic growth so the secret to success here is economic growth and job creation through tax reform, not tax cuts, tax reform at the same levels get better economic growth which we get more revenues and also focus on the problem. The problem is spending.

That's the answer Ryan provides over and over again. He paints the debt as an existential crisis, but refuses to acknowledge any tradeoff between the tax rates he prefers and the affordable level of social spending. And rather than acknowledge that he would end Medicare and Medicaid as entitlement programs, he insists against all evidence that free market forces will make the programs stronger than ever:

We think by adding competition and choice in the delivery of medical care, by giving the consumer more power is a better solution. The prescription drug bill, which works like this, came in 40 percent below cost projections. Why? Because it has choice and competition.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?