Friday, April 08, 2011

My email to Andrew Sullivan:

Hi Andrew,

As a long time reader, I have learned at least one thing from you of enduring value: it really does take a constant struggle to see what is right under one’s nose.

Let’s struggle together!

I submit that there are (at least) two different ways of viewing Ryan’s plan. Which one is the reality that is under our nose, and which one is the fantasy?

(#1) It’s a serious attempt to address the deficit
(#2) It’s an attempt to move the Overton Window as far right as possible.

On possibility #1, everybody who has taken a look at the plan has concluded that it is an absolute failure. Ryan “addresses” the long-term budget gap by stating that total outlays on discretionary spending – including defense – will decrease over the long term to 3.0 percent of the GDP! Currently, defense alone is a higher percentage than that, as Krugman pointed out. If I’m allowed to declare that future spending on all these programs combined will be 3% of GDP, then I can solve the budget deficit too! Hell, John Cole did solve it. If spending will be that low, then doing nothing solves the problem!

As a policy document, Ryan’s plan is not serious. If you look at it and think you’re seeing something serious, you are not seeing what is in front of your nose.

Let’s turn to interpretation #2: Overton window moving. On that basis, Ryan’s plan is a success. The pundits are hailing him as bold, and they are asking Democrats to come up with an alternative.

So, which interpretation is correct? I’m going to go with #2. It’s right in front of your nose: all you have to do is see it. Paul Ryan submitted his plan in order to move policy discussion sharply to the right. He was willing to submit a total fantasy of a plan to achieve that goal.

And somehow, you think that the proper response is to cheer him on!

Please, step back from the fray and think about this dispassionately.

In the end, budgets are all about numbers. They are not morality plays with good guys and bad guys.

I challenge you, Andrew: go run the numbers! Go to the NY Times website and balance the budget yourself. Look at what is actually required. Read up on what the economists who are serious are saying. Your comment about “entitlements' metastasizing costs in an era of technological miracles and a fast-aging society” is all well and good, but it doesn’t have any numbers in it. It’s time to do some research into the numbers, and report back when you have a good handle on them.

Thanks for all that you do.

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