Matthew Yglesias: The Lies, The Lies of Andrew Sullivan: Hoisted from the Archives

Clowns (ICP)

Hoisted from the Archives: Matthew Yglesias: The Lies, The Lies: "Andrew Sullivan has been a pretty consistent proponent of the view that Paul Krugman is some sort of liar... [because of his] repeated insistences that George W. Bush's economic policy is founded on a tissue of lies. Krugman is, of course, entirely correct about this. The unnoted irony here is that in his May 14, 2001 column 'Downsize', Sullivan conceded Krugman's point: 'Ah, but the details. The Krugmans and the Chaits will shortly have a cow, if not a whole herd of them. The Times will weigh in again with yet another barrage of articles, editorials, and op-eds opposing any tax relief that would actually benefit those who pay most of the taxes. And, to be fair to these liberal critics, they're right...

...about one thing. One of the tax cut's effects will surely be that the United States won't be able to afford a vastly expanded Medicare drug benefit. And the archaic sinkhole known as Social Security won't be shored up either. And Medicare, may the gods preserve us, may even have to grow at a slightly slower rate. In fact, many of the spending programs that some still believe solve most human problems will encounter the only political resistance that matters in budgetary matters: insolvency.

To which my response is: Hoorah. We don't need these expansions of the welfare state. We need to privatize Social Security if we want to provide for our retirement in ways slightly more up-to-date than those based on economics and life-expectancy figures devised in the 1930s. We don't need to add yet another entitlement for the most pampered generation--our current seniors.

And if there is one thing we have learned in the past 20 years, it's that controlling government spending is simply impossible without deficits. Look back at the last decade. A huge part of Bill Clinton's economic success was his remarkable grip on public finances. He deserves credit for this, although the Republican Congresses from 1994 to 1998 were mainly responsible, and Ross Perot made deficit-cutting hot. But from 1998 on, all hell broke loose. Last year, discretionary spending increased by a whopping 8 percent--under the Republicans. The minute deficits became surpluses, in other words, the politicians started bribing the voters with their own money. The only relevant question is: Why do Dennis Hastert, Trent Lott, Dick Gephardt, and Tom Daschle know better than taxpayers how to allocate their own resources?...

Some commentators--at this magazine and elsewhere--get steamed because Bush has obscured this figure or claimed his tax cut will cost less than it actually will, or because he is using Medicare surplus money today that will be needed tomorrow and beyond. Many of these arguments have merit--but they miss the deeper point. The fact that Bush has to obfuscate his real goals of reducing spending with the smoke screen of "compassionate conservatism" shows how uphill the struggle is.

Yes, some of the time he is full of it on his economic policies. But a certain amount of B.S. is necessary for any vaguely successful retrenchment of government power in an insatiable entitlement state. Conservatives learned that lesson twice. They learned it when Ronald Reagan's deficits proved to be an effective drag on federal spending (Stockman was right!)--in fact the only effective drag human beings have ever found. And they learned it when they tried to be honest about taking on the federal leviathan in 1994 and got creamed by Democrats striking the fear of God into every senior, child, and parent in America. Bush and Karl Rove are no dummies. They have rightly judged that, in a culture of ineluctable government expansion, where every new plateau of public spending is simply the baseline for the next expansion, a rhetorical smoke screen is sometimes necessary. I just hope the smoke doesn't clear before the spenders get their hands on our wallets again.

Now needless to say, Sullivan differs from Krugman in thinking that this is a good thing, while Krugman thinks it's a bad thing. But that's really all there is to it. Bush was lying. As Sullivan correctly points out, the lies were integral to securing public tolerance for Bush's agenda. Krugman has tried to expose the lies in hopes of denying Bush's agenda public support. It's very hard to see how Krugman can be held culpable in this scenario.

#shouldread #hoisted #journamalism #fiscalpolicy #orangehairedbaboons