Paul Krugman's Friday column in the New York Times attacked Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has dared to present an intellectually honest budget, as "The Flimflam Man." Joseph Lawler at the American Spectator calls it "unusually partisan even by Krugman's standards" and he's right; Krugman calls Ryan's efforts a "fraud," Ryan himself "a flimflam man" whose work is (zing!) "drenched in flimflam sauce." But Krugman's attack backfired when his main source for his argument, the left-of-center Tax Policy Center, disputed his claim of bad faith on the part of Ryan.
Krugman let his trademark petulance show, griping that the Washington Post was too nice to Ryan in a recent front-page article, and went further on his nytimes.com blog Friday morning, calling Post journalists economic ignoramuses: "One thing that has been overwhelmingly obvious in the discussion of Paul Ryan's roadmap is that lots of people who should know better -- including, alas, reporters at the Washington Post -- don't know how to read a CBO report." (Incidentally, Krugman, feeling the heat from non-fawning blog commenters offering substantive challenges to his glib economic assumptions, now limits the length of those comments.)
One depressing aspect of American politics is the susceptibility of the political and media establishment to charlatans. You might have thought, given past experience, that D.C. insiders would be on their guard against conservatives with grandiose plans. But no: as long as someone on the right claims to have bold new proposals, he's hailed as an innovative thinker. And nobody checks his arithmetic.
Which brings me to the innovative thinker du jour: Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Mr. Ryan has become the Republican Party's poster child for new ideas thanks to his "Roadmap for America's Future," a plan for a major overhaul of federal spending and taxes. News media coverage has been overwhelmingly favorable; on Monday, The Washington Post put a glowing profile of Mr. Ryan on its front page, portraying him as the G.O.P.'s fiscal conscience. He's often described with phrases like "intellectually audacious."
But it's the audacity of dopes. Mr. Ryan isn't offering fresh food for thought; he's serving up leftovers from the 1990s, drenched in flimflam sauce.
Krugman's gripes about Ryan's call for "steep cuts in both spending and taxes" include the arguments that Ryan's proposed spending cuts aren't feasible, wouldn't reduce the deficit, and would "cut benefits for the middle class while slashing taxes on the rich" while claiming "the plan would raise taxes for 95 percent of the population" and cutting Medicare. He got most of his points from "the non-partisan Tax Policy Center," which is affiliated with two left-of-center groups, the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute.
Showing intellectual integrity, The Tax Policy Center actually came to Ryan's defense this afternoon (hat tip Joseph Lawler at The American Spectator):
Krugman alleges fraud because CBO did not score the revenue side of the Congressman's plan. (This is correct as the Joint Committee on Taxation is responsible for providing the official revenue score of tax legislation.) Instead, CBO assumed that total federal tax revenues will be equal to "those under CBO's alternative fiscal scenario...until they reach 19 percent of gross domestic product in 2030, and to remain at that share of GDP thereafter." Contrary to Krugman's claims, this assumption is not unjustified. Ryan has explicitly stated that he is willing to work with the Treasury department to adjust the rates on his tax reform plan to "maintain approximately our historic levels of revenue as a share of GDP." Since 1980 the federal tax revenue has been about 18 percent of GDP.
Krugman pulled out his paranoia card at the end, insinuating that Washington is just so intimidated by the resurgent GOP ("deference to power" -- what power?) that it's afraid to call them out on their obvious intellectual fraud, a pretty laughable charge:
So why have so many in Washington, especially in the news media, been taken in by this flimflam? It's not just inability to do the math, although that's part of it. There's also the unwillingness of self-styled centrists to face up to the realities of the modern Republican Party; they want to pretend, in the teeth of overwhelming evidence, that there are still people in the G.O.P. making sense. And last but not least, there's deference to power -- the G.O.P. is a resurgent political force, so one mustn't point out that its intellectual heroes have no clothes.
But they don't. The Ryan plan is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America's fiscal future.
While Reason editor Peter Suderman admits that "flimflam sauce" is a "really devastating" comeback, he also has problems with Krugman's analysis.