Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Catch of the Day

An easy choice: Brad DeLong gets the coveted CotD for a thorough fisking of the economists defending Mitt Romney's economic plan. Except, as DeLong says, it's not a plan:

HHMT: The Romney economic program will change the direction of policy to focus on economic growth. Its pro-growth effects will work in two basic ways: It will speed up the recovery in the short run, and it will create stronger sustainable growth in the long run.
WRONG: There is no Romney program—a program is complete, coherent, and scoreable, Romney has repeatedly said that his statements are not scoreable. In order to estimate the economic effect of any program, you have to know what its pieces will do--you need to have it scored. Until Romney presents a complete and coherent program with scoreable pieces, HHMT have no basis for asserting anything about its economic impact.
One of the most annoying things here is the partisan asymmetry: the rules of the game seem to be that Democratic proposals have to be scoreable and coherent, while Republican proposals don't.
It would have been very nice if HHMT had done what we Democratic economists do--told their political masters that they could not estimate economic impacts until they were given a coherent, complete, and scoreable plan.
Why they did not do this I do not claim to know.
That's just a small sample of a comprehensive and epic takedown, but I think that's the real point. Consider, as DeLong does, the effects of the Romney tax reform plan. The problem? There is no Romney tax reform plan. There are a set of mathematically incompatible claims -- what he'll do with tax rates and taxes on certain types of income; that it will be revenue-neutral; and that it will not affect the share of taxes paid by the rich and the middle class. We can't really know which of these promises will be broken by any real Romney plan, but one or more has to be just from the math of the tax code. Romney gets around the reality of this by keeping large chunks of that "plan" unspecified, but it just won't wash.

All of which gets back to my long-standing observation that there does seem to be a shortage of hack economists on the liberal side, which can also be interpreted as noting the presence of a lot of them on the conservative side.

For more on this sophisticated defense of Romney on taxes, see Matt Yglesias; for a nice takedown of a, shall we say, less sophisticated argument, Jonathan Chait has it covered. And: great catch!


  1. I suppose there always has been and always will be fraudulent hacks in the world of policy, but it does seem to be getting worse on the right with time. The fight over welfare waivers that erupted today is another good example. How on earth can granting GOP governor's waivers they want over welfare laws constitute some kind of "rollback" of welfare reform? It anyone is rolling anything back its the GOP governor's in states like Nevada and Utah who requested them. You can see these things in pretty much any policy realm you look-health care, foreign policy etc-in the GOP. It's all kinda sad, because it means GOP politicians can't do the hard work of solving problems, because they are dominated by fools and charlatans in the world of policy and instead get economists with fancy degrees trying to make stuff up to score the unscorable. Oh well.

  2. It's funny you want a hack economist on the left, but excoriate Reid for a "hack" political attack (that probably has more than enough truth to it).

    On the other side, Krugman is our "hack" economist, because "he's the guy who's always wrong" (even though that's like really, really rare).

    1. I don't want hack economists on the left; I'm just surprised that there aren't any (or at least how few there are, or how prominent they are). Not something I'm advocating, just something that seems worth pointing out.

  3. Romney's campaign is just incredibly tissue-paper thin. He wants to bash Obama, ignore the economic context of Obama's presidency, and punt on revealing his own plans until after the election.

    I catalogued the topics that Romney can't talk about he's got no plans, and it's a long list. The Dems also have some topics they can't touch, but the lists are in no way the same length.

    This is actually a "where's the beef" moment that the press should be jumping on. But perhaps there's a tacit agreement not to ask anyone the hardest questions, so Americans don't have to face the truth before voting, if ever.

  4. Apologies if you've discussed this many times before, but the idea of a "hack gap" has been tossed around for years. From an old Matt Yglesias post on the issue: "This is what I’ve referred to as the “hack gap” and it seems to me that it’s very important. ... As a writer, though, I’d rather spend my time writing about things that I think are important or at least interesting. Harping away on haircuts, Bykofsky’s appalling column, the way George W. Bush lied to the American public about what kind of cheese he likes on his cheesesteak (really!), etc. doesn’t seem like an appealing way to spend my time. But the fact that the right has an army of people willing to pretend that this sort of thing is the most important thing in the world is a massive, massive impediment to having sensible policies about national security, taxes, health care, global warming, etc."

    It seems to me that the hack gap is a consequence of the right's efforts to build a parallel universe of truthiness-dedicated institutions. It fosters the sense of being on a team, united in the face of opposition from Them. Plus, as economists are keenly aware, we respond to incentives. Folks like Robert Reich and Mark Thoma don't have a series of think tank sinecures awaiting them if they write over and over again that whatever the Democratic Party wants right now is compelled by THE math. In the zero-accountability world of right-wing hackdom, Kevin Hassett is a made man despite Dow 36,000.


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