Slate recently published a story on the Obama stimulus that made me angry. Look at it.
Do you see any mention of the fact that tax cuts formed the largest part of the Obama stimulus package?
No. You can't be considered a "serious" (i.e., paid) writer if you let certain realities creep into your discourse. Specifically, you dare not remind people that Obama cut taxes for 95% of the American citizenry. Thanks to our reality-free punditry, most people are under the impression that Obama did no such thing. In fact, most people seem to think that Obama raised
taxes. Most people are idiots.
The Slate piece does, at least give us this brief whiff of reality:
But ambitious, expensive bills have fallen short before, and it hasn't discredited their reasons to exist. George W. Bush's tax cuts were supposed to balance the budget by 2010. That hasn't happened, obviously, but tax cuts have not been discredited—in fact, they're central to the discussion about how to dig out of the recession now. Tax cuts are popular.
Tax cuts are popular because, as noted above, most people are idiots. Tax cuts don't work. Tax cuts don't work. Tax cuts don't work.
The 2001 Bush tax cuts for the rich have not brought prosperity. Erasing those cuts, plus ending the wars, would instantly obliterate most of the deficit.
In effect, we are now poised to destroy Social Security and Medicare because Dubya decided to give that money to rich people. Grandmas everywhere will die in the streets just so rich scumbags can avoid paying the kind of taxes they paid under Clinton.
(And never forget that under Clinton, the top tax rate was much lower than under Reagan. That's another bit of easily-verified reality which never finds its way into our national conversation.)Update:
During the battle over the debt ceiling, Barack Obama actually fought to have the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy made permanent.
After the 2008 economic crisis hit, Bush responded with another round of tax cuts
, mostly directed at the more affluent. Once again, the right's favorite trick didn't work -- in fact, the problem only became worse. Today, you can't find any writer anywhere willing to admit the existence of those cuts. Why? Because if you admit that the cuts existed, you must also acknowledge that they failed.
Similarly, if you read ten stories about the Obama stimulus bill, you probably will find zero mention of the tax cuts which made up the lion's share of that bill. You'll find lots and lots of right-wingers willing to tell you that the stimulus failed; exactly none of them will admit that tax cuts failed. Dichotomy!
Face it -- the people who program the way America thinks will never say the four words which constitute the most important lesson that this country needs to get into its preternaturally obdurate collective cranium. Tax cuts don't work. Tax cuts don't work. Tax cuts don't work.
Very, very little of the stimulus went to jobs creation. There was no WPA. The gummint didn't create anything analogous to the Tennessee Valley Authority or rural electrification or anything like that. Nobody constructed a nationwide system of mag-lev railroads. Hell, we were not even allowed the "military Keynesianism" solution that worked for Reagan.
All we got were a few road maintenance projects. Maybe a few similar low-budget items. It all came to a small fraction of the $700 billion stimulus package. When righties scream "Socialism!" they are talking about that
. Big effing deal.
(In fact, government employment has gone way down under Obama. That's another bit of reality you can't mention if you want to be considered a "serious" writer.)
So where did the stim money go? Most of the rest of it went to unemployment pay-outs -- which create no jobs -- and to aid the states, where jobs were maintained but not created. Mickey Kaus
claims to have caught Paul Krugman in a "gotcha" moment on this very point.
You see, Krugman recently wrote
So what happened to the stimulus? Much of it consisted of tax cuts, not spending. Most of the rest consisted either of aid to distressed families or aid to hard-pressed state and local governments. This aid may have mitigated the slump, but it wasn’t the kind of job-creation program we could and should have had.
Kaus -- one of those guys who claims to be a liberal even though only conservatives give a shit about anything he says -- says that this directly conflicts with what Krugman originally said
about the stimulus:
Now the centrists have shaved off $86 billion in spending — much of it among the most effective and most needed parts of the plan. In particular, aid to state governments, which are in desperate straits, is both fast — because it prevents spending cuts rather than having to start up new projects — and effective, because it would in fact be spent; plus state and local governments are cutting back on essentials, so the social value of this spending would be high.
Kaus snarks: "I can’t find the part where he says 'but in two years if it doesn’t work I’ll say it just wasn’t the right kind.'" Naturally, the National Review
points to Kaus' piece and gives the readers space for many a BWA-HA-HA.
But the Bwa-ha-ha
is on them. From the beginning, Krugman said that the stimulus package was destined for failure. This post from January, 2009,
is pretty damned prophetic.
I see the following scenario: a weak stimulus plan, perhaps even weaker than what we’re talking about now, is crafted to win those extra GOP votes. The plan limits the rise in unemployment, but things are still pretty bad, with the rate peaking at something like 9 percent and coming down only slowly. And then Mitch McConnell says “See, government spending doesn’t work.”
Let’s hope I’ve got this wrong.
Nope. He got it right.
In the 2009 excerpt that Kaus culled for his "gotcha" moment, Krugman never said that aid to the states would create jobs
. He said that it would prevent some pain, and it did. In his overall assessment, Krugman said that the stimulus (read: tax cuts plus aid to the states) would limit "the rise in unemployment, but things are still pretty bad." Now that the stim money has run out, unemployment has risen above nine percent again. Not a bad job of forecasting.
Both in the new piece and the old, Krugman was consistent in saying that way too much of the stimulus money went to tax cuts, and that tax cuts would not solve the problem.
Let's look again at the 2009 piece that provided the crux of the Kaus "gotcha" argument
. Here's another prophetic bit that neither Kaus nor the National Review Bwa-ha-ha
brigade bother to mention:
The short answer: to appease the centrists, a plan that was already too small and too focused on ineffective tax cuts has been made significantly smaller, and even more focused on tax cuts.
According to the CBO’s estimates, we’re facing an output shortfall of almost 14% of GDP over the next two years, or around $2 trillion. Others, such as Goldman Sachs, are even more pessimistic. So the original $800 billion plan was too small, especially because a substantial share consisted of tax cuts that probably would have added little to demand. The plan should have been at least 50% larger.
(Emphasis added.) Again: Krugman does the Nostradamus thing much better than Nostradamus did. The 2009 piece is consistent with the 2011 piece. Krugman can be faulted only in that he was not dire enough.
Alas, you couldn't get a guy like Kaus to admit the truth even if you were to point a gun to his head:Tax cuts don't work. Tax cuts don't work. Tax cuts don't work.