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Friday, April 08, 2011

Ezra Klein reminds me of Barack Obama

I don't mean that in a good way. A recent post begins with an Obamanation (an absurd concession to people with whom he disagrees as a way to introduce his counterargument).

Obama gets himself in trouble by introducing his argument with concessions to those with whom he diagrees. So, for example, he introduced his claim that something should be done about banksters' bonuses by conceeding that he doesn't begrudge high incomes as such and that Blankfein and Dimon are "savvy." His proposal (to be savvy right back back and make them convince their shareholders to pay them rather than appointing a committee of their friends to decide) was ignored. His contentless statements made to soften the blow of the proposal were denounced and are still regularly cited. His policy proposal (which was an official administration proposal to congress) was and is ignored.

Klein's points are first that Ryan's plan for health care cost control is not serious and, in fact, nonexistent, and second that the Democrats have a seriouse practical proposal for health care cost control which is currently enacted. Thus the claim that Democrats can't just say no to Ryan, but have to offern an alternative is utterly idiotic nonsense. In fact, the Democrats have a plan which they have enacted. Ryan has denounced it, but offers no alternative proposal.

Of course he is right (he tends to be especially when he writes about health care financing). But he opens his post with absurd concessions. He asserts that the health care spending is a "glaring exception" to the general rule that the Democrats don't have a serious counter proposal. He has made that claim himself. He also quotes Sullivan, McArdle and Zakaria (he should wonder what his means that he finds himself agreeing in part with McArdle). In particular he asserts

"I think those comments are mostly right. Democrats need to step up on taxes, on defense and non-defense discretionary, on Social Security, and on energy. "

Let me review Ryan's seriousness on these issues. He proposes no cuts to defence spending or social security. The Democrats have responded in kind (except for feeble and inadequate proposals to cut the most useless defence spending so really they are a bit ahead of Ryan on that).

Ryan proposes a cap on non-defence discretionary spending. This is a magic asterisk. It is not a serious proposal. It is easy to say that something shall be cut so long as you don't say exactly what. I say vague spending caps are proof of Ryan's unseriousness. The Obama budget does not include this magic asterix. I'd say on this issue (as on health care spending) Ryan has yet to make a serious response to the serious proposal from the Obama administration.

And taxes taxes !!! Ryan proposes massive tax cuts. He says that they will be balanced by totally unspecified tax increases. I am very glad to say that no Democrat has addressed the issue with equal seriousness, by which I mean none at all.

So why the hell did Ezra Klein type what he typed ? I think partly he is just rhetoricall yclearing his throat -- typing statements with little content before he gets around to the topic of his post. This explanation is less convincing for Klein than for Obama. For one thing, Obama was buying time in an interview, while Klein could have deleted his silly claims before posting his sensible post. For another, Obama's statements were true, albeit irrelevant. Klein's claims make no sense as written.

I think he is comparing the Obama he has to the Obama he wants and not to Ryan. He thinks the Democrats could do better than they have done. Removed from context, his statement about the Democrats are perfectly sensible. But the context is a critical comparison of the Democrats and Ryan. If Klein just thinks that Democrats could do better, then he doesn't agree with McArdle (who seems to have forgotten the fact that Obama proposed a budget for 2012 lo these six or seven weeks ago). Klein goes on to say that Ryan's wishes related to health care spending are not realistic proposals as the PPACA was before it was signed into law. But the same is even more true of Ryan's tax proposals compared to the Democrats proposal that Bush tax cuts on incomes under $250,000 be extended and the other tax cuts not be extended -- not serious anything but serious but compared to Ryan's utter nonsense, grave, sober, and grim.

I also wonder what's with Zakaria. He is considered a reliably weathervane -- an indicator of conventional wisdom. He seems to suggest that the conventional wisdom is that Ryan's plan serioiusly addresses the long term deficit. The Obama administraiton has a proposal, so he must think that it isn't comparable to Ryan's. I can only guess that he believes that Ryan's proposal would lead to a smaller debt. He doesn't seem to have noticed that this is only due to two magic asterixes -- the mysterious tax increases and the mysterious cuts to discretionary spending. Oh and that the alleged Medicare savings are based on a proposal which will never be enacted and which would be reversed if it were enacted.

In 1995 people like Zakaria said the Democrats would have to come up with an alternative proposal to deal with the Social Security OASDI shortfall. The Democrats proposal was to change nothing. This was a much more actuarily sound proposal than Bush's proposal. It was also vastly more popular. Those who forget history and vote for Republicans are condemned to repeat it. The Obama proposal is much more fiscally sound than Ryan's. I'm sure it will be more popular too. The Democrats have responded to Ryan before Ryan proposed economic suicide for the nation and political suicide for his party.

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