Just a Wee Bit of McArdle Snark to Keep My Hand In: She’s Still Always Wrong, but Makes a (Sad) Funny Nonetheless, Krugman, Ryan and Judt edition
I’m off on a two week holiday to a secure undisclosed location that is blessed by no landline phone; no cell phone coverage; no town electricity or cable (and hence no internet).
Bliss, in other words.
I may be able to launch a minor blog post or two, but if not, I thought I’d wave au revoir with this little thought. Prompted by a commenter over at Nate Silver’s place on Paul Krugman’s brutal and efficient takedown on Paul Ryan’s fantasies, (check out the Krugman blog for more) I did a stoopid — I looked in on what was happening over where She-Who-Ws-Always-Wrong informs (sic?–ed.) her following.
Predictably, she attempts a combination of more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger and petulant disdain in what amounts to an assertion that the Atlantic’s Business and Economics Editor, complete with her MBA, understands economics and tax policy better than someone with this CV.*
Well, maybe so; I’m not big on the argument from authority, and I suppose that were McArdle a quantum object, one could come up with a Feynman diagram that would allow us to calculate the probability that McArdle would in fact best Krugman in any substantive argument (that did not extend to exotic salt, of course).**
But because I’m really trying to leave this post with just one macabre visual gag, I’ll limit my snort of ridicule here to noting that in two longish posts (sure you want throw that stone, sinner? — ed.) she fails to grapple with the core of Krugman’s critique of Ryan.
That is: the issue is not whether the CBO or the JCT was or was not asked, or should or should not have run the calculation on the revenue side of Ryan’s safety-net eviscerating and tax cut fantasies.***
What really matters is, who is right? Does Ryan’s plan raise taxes on the poor and middle class, while cutting them on the rich, then slashing services of most importance to the poor and them middle, while still leaving the deficit in much worse shape than the status quo?
Yes it does. The only independent analysis to assess both revenue and spending cuts says it does, and Krugman, as you would expect from someone who’s actually accomplished this and that in the world, reports that fact correctly.****
So, though McArdle is deeply offended at the suggestion that someone who manages to obscure what his plan will cost in his discussions of that work in public is somehow misleading that public, I don’t have much sympathy for those who who think that calling a fraud a fraud is somehow not the thing to do over a table bedecked with pink Himalayan salt (you just can’t let that go, can you?…ed.) (No–TL).
‘And of course, the significant fact, the only one that matters, is that Ryan proposes a radical redistribution of wealth upwards, in the context of further shredding the social safety net while speeding the nation’s plunge into bankruptcy.
Until he, or his seemingly innumerate defenders***** can come up with a convincing demonstration that the Tax Policy Center’s analysis has got all that wrong, then Krugman’s conclusions as to both Ryan’s character and the impact of his policy proposals stand.
But you knew all that.
Which brings me to the snark.
I haven’t blogged on one topic I really think I should have. I’ll may yet get to it — I hope I do. But I don’t want to let pass the death of Tony Judt at this moment. This is a tremendous loss. I wish I’d had the chance to learn from him directly, rather than through his formidably researched, elegantly written and annoyingly prolific writing.
I do want to write at least a little more than that — but here what amounts to a kind of valedictory — the last two paragraphs from Judt’s most recent article in The New York Review of Books — will do to be going on with. I read them as Judt’s deceptively simple elegy in which he captures worlds of historical and social insight:
Universities are elitist: they are about selecting the most able cohort of a generation and educating them to their ability—breaking open the elite and making it consistently anew. Equality of opportunity and equality of outcome are not the same thing. A society divided by wealth and inheritance cannot redress this injustice by camouflaging it in educational institutions—by denying distinctions of ability or by restricting selective opportunity—while favoring a steadily widening income gap in the name of the free market. This is mere cant and hypocrisy.
In my generation we thought of ourselves as both radical and members of an elite. If this sounds incoherent, it is the incoherence of a certain liberal descent that we intuitively imbibed over the course of our college years. It is the incoherence of the patrician Keynes establishing the Royal Ballet and the Arts Council for the greater good of everyone, but ensuring that they were run by the cognoscenti. It is the incoherence of meritocracy: giving everyone a chance and then privileging the talented. It was the incoherence of my King’s and I was fortunate to have experienced it.
Just enjoy those sentences for their rhythm, their swing. Then think about their meaning…
…and then consider this statement by Ms. McArdle on Judt: “Obviously, we were not politically sympatico, but I nevertheless had enormous respect for the man’s writing; at his worst, he was a mighty foe.”
When we snarkazoids sometimes talk about McArdle’s leaden, ponderous, unlovely prose, this is the kind of stuff we’re thinking about. But let that pass, and focus on what she’s actually trying to say here.
I was gobsmacked, I have to admit, and then, for all the sadness of the moment, and the genuine awfulness of the way death took Judt, I couldn’t stop myself trying to imagine what might have happened in the unlikely event of Judt ever bothering to notice that McArdle might consider him a foe.
I found the answer — and do forgive me for the sudden turn of bathos here — from a Balloon Juice commenter writing on a completely different subject. That writer led me to this truly evil and socially unredeemable clip…and you can fill in the rest.
That is all — see you in a fortnight.
*Which, you will note, describes an individual who somehow hasn’t managed to update the document with this news.
**And yes, I know. This kind of appropriations of physics jargon is fraught, to put it kindly. But I have no intention of heading towards Dancing Wu Li territory, and it’s my blog, and it’s late, so take it up with the management if you don’t like it.
***Though the verdict seems clear here…McArdle interprets Ryan’s exchange with the Joint Committee on Taxation as a rejection of Ryan’s request: “the answer to Paul Krugman’s question “Why didn’t he ask” is that “He did, and they said no.” The record shows that the JCT offered only a ten year projection, and Ryan refused that, preferring instead to assert the assumption that net revenue would remain unchanged. So what actually happened is that the JCT wouldn’t answer the question the way Ryan wanted it handled, and so he simply set the dials himself and moved on.
McArdle notes that she wrote to two Ryan staffers asking if the problem was other than what Ryan has publicly stated it was — the limit to a ten year projection. (Here’s Ryan in his reply to Krugman’s latest column: “However, CBO declined to do a revenue analysis of the tax plan, citing that it did not want to infringe on the traditional jurisdiction of the JCT. JCT, however, does not have the capability at this time to provide longer-term revenue estimates (i.e. beyond 10 years) [Krugman’s emphasis].” She reports, and I have no reason to doubt her, that the staffers agreed with her suggestion that it was mere lack of staff time, and not deliberate deceit that led Ryan to omit an actual analysis of the revenue side of his plan.
Unfortunately, McArdle, not actually being a journalist, doesn’t get why this is not dispositive, even ignoring the fact that Ryan and her unnamed sources do not have their stories straight. I’ll leave to the reader to figure out the several problems she (fails to) confront in her attempt to identify and assert fact.
TPC found Ryan’s plan generates much less revenue than he projects. If all taxpayers chose the simplified system, it would produce about 16.8 percent of GDP by 2020, far below the 18.6 percent he figures for that year. If taxpayers chose the system most favorable to their situation, the Ryan plan would produce even less revenue—about 16.6 percent of GDP.
What does that mean in dollars? CBO’s most realistic projection of revenues (assuming most Bush tax cuts are extended and many middle-class families continue to be exempted from the Alternative Minimum Tax) figures the existing tax system would raise about $4.2 trillion in 2020. By contrast, Ryan’s plan would generate about $3.7 trillion, or $500 billion less in that year alone.
While TPC didn’t model the Ryan plan beyond 2020, the pattern of revenues it generates suggests it would be decades before it reaches his goal of 19 percent of GDP—very likely sometime after 2040.
Top-bracket taxpayers would overwhelmingly benefit from Ryan’s tax cuts. By 2014 people making in excess of $1 million-a-year would enjoy an average tax cut of more than $600,000. To put it another way, their after-tax income would rise by nearly 30 percent.
By contrast, the average taxpayer making $75,000 or less would pay higher taxes if they chose Ryan’s two-rate alternative. If they chose the tax plan more favorable to them, they’d do a bit better. For instance, people making between $50,000 and $75,000 would typically get a tax cut of $157 in 2014, while those making between $40,000 and $50,000 would pay $128 more on average.
These estimates are subject to lots of uncertainty. For instance, we assumed Ryan’s 8.5 percent VAT—the new business tax—would generate about 4.3 percent of GDP in revenues. TPC’s Joe Rosenberg, who modeled the Ryan plan, believes that estimate is generous. But since no such tax currently exists, it is hard to know for sure.
One other caveat: TPC did not assume that taxpayers would change their behavior in response to this new tax structure. We know they would, of course, in some ways that would generate additional revenue and in others that would lose revenue. But because these changes are so uncertain, TPC did not include them in our revenue estimates.
*****And no, Mr. Suderman, trying to throw dust into folks’ eyes with talk of the TPC’s liberal bias does not actually constitute a meaningful argument about the numbers they report. But you knew that.
Image: Guy Pène du Bois, “The Confidence Man” c. 1919.