Can't Anybody Play This Game?: Harvey Rosen and Martin Feldstein Work for the Romney Campaign Edition...
… ran out onto the field eager to attack the analysis of William Gale et al. of Romney's tax promises, which concluded that it is arithmetically impossible for Romney not to give a tax cut to those making more than $200K/year in AGI. They simply do not have enough deductions and loopholes that Romney has not yet taken off the table for any conceivable base-broadening to collect enough revenue from the $200K/year crowd to offset the tax losses from the rate cuts.
The first odd and extraordinary thing about both Feldstein and Rosen is that they claim to be disproving Gale et al., and yet they do no such thing. Taking their analyses at face value (which you shouldn't do), they say that if Romney keeps his tax-policy promises it is arithmetically necessary for him to give a tax cut to the $200K/year and above crowd, but that it is also arithmetically possible for him to pay for that by raising taxes on the $100K/year - $200K/year crowd, leaving the less than $100K/year "middle class" and "working class" untouched. For both Feldstein and Rosen to spin that as "Romney won't cut taxes on the rich" seems to me for each of them to do himself substantial damage…
The second odd and extraordinary thing about both Feldstein and Rosen is the number of emails I have gotten stating:
Feldstein and Rosen aren't endorsing Romney's tax promises, or saying that they are good policy, they are both only making the minor and technical point that it is not arithmetically impossible for Romney to keep his tax policy promises.
I have gotten this enough that by now I conclude that it is highly likely that this talking point is written down somewhere on one of the "Daily Lines for Republican Newsmakers", as the fax was called back in 1988. When a political party is trumpeting articles that say by omission and implication that the candidate's policies are bad policies that the author does not endorse, that is itself newsworthy--yet none of the media coverage of Feldstein and Rosen I have seen has picked up on this.
The third odd and extraordinary thing about Feldstein and Rosen is how very hard they have to work to make their point: not just moving the goalposts by asserting that it is kosher to give a tax cut to the $200K/year and above crowd if you can pay for it by raising taxes on the $100K/year - $200K/year crowd, but excluding Romney's estate-tax promises from the analysis, putting their thumbs on the scales by using 2009 numbers to make rich incomes unusually low and hence the revenue cost of the rate cuts unusually low as well, forgetting that if taxpayers' itemized deductions are removed that they will take the standard deduction instead, omitting behavioral responses when they work to raise the cost of Romney's promises while including them when they work to reduce them, (as Bill Gale points out) eliminating the charitable contributions deduction for the rich even though the Republican platform explicitly takes it off the table for base-broadening, (as Bill Gale points out) breaking Romney's promise not to touch loopholes and deductions that give tax preferences to savings, starting with what seems to me to be an overstated supply-side boost (3%) and then considering only even larger effects (5%, 7%) rather than smaller effects, etc….
As I read the whole debate, Gale et al. said "Romney can't do what he promised". Feldstein and Rosen say "if we put our thumbs on the scales 18 ways, it is not arithmetically impossible--but it would be really bad policy and we do not endorse it". And the media have picked this up as "economists differ"--and that Feldstein's and Rosen's probable aim was precisely to achieve this "economists differ" result.
It would, I think, be much better in the long-run for all economists--especially Chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers both quondam and futurus--to recognize that they have an interest in building up their common technocratic authority, in working very hard to minimize cases in which the media will report it as "economists differ", and to do so even or perhaps especially although it will lead to situations in which they have to say: "I'm voting for him (or her), but this set of policy talking points makes no sense".
Now we Democratic economists already do this, don't we? I have been downright shrill on how Obama's turn from recovery to deficit reduction in a balance-sheet recession jobless-recovery context made and makes no sense, and neither does the neglect of health-care workforce issues in the ACA, and neither does the absence of a public option in the ACA, and neither does the focus on manufacturing in the absence of an exchange rate and monetary policy to make a focus on boosting manufacturing achievable, and neither does Obama's assertion that he possesses arbitrary powers beyond those William the Bastard ever claimed, nor do I like the fact that the EPA is relying on administrative command-and-control tools to do the job that can only be done well by a carbon tax, and ditto for CAFE, and I don't like the failure to spend any energy resolving our patent mess, etc., etc., etc. Obama is my guy compared by Romney--largely because the only thing that is clear about Romney is that he is running for president by trying to run a con on somebody, and that somebody may well be me.
But there is no point in being quiet or shading what I believe about policy in order to keep the campaign happy.