Congressman Paul Ryan made the front page of The Washington Post earlier this week. And now it appears that the Post's piece, which looked at Ryan's long term budget plan, has caught the attention of The New York Times' under-stimulated econogrouch, Paul Krugman, who uses his column today to attack Ryan's plan and its author. Krugman, ever the poetic wit, calls Ryan a "flimflam man" whose policy ideas consist of "leftovers from the 1990s" that are (and this is the really devastating part) "drenched in flimflam sauce," which does not sound tasty at all. Too bad Krugman's chief criticism is also pretty stale.
His primary contention is that for all Ryan's stated concern about the deficit, the congressman's Roadmap—his long-term plan for restructuring the entitlement system and bringing the debt and deficit under control—doesn't actually reduce the deficit. In order to make this claim, Krugman relies on an assessment by what he labels "the non-partisan Tax Policy Center."
Before we go further, there are two things to note about his source: The first is that TPC's outside analysis, unlike, say, the CBO's, is not an official estimate. The second is that, yes, like all non-profit policy groups, TPC is "non-partisan." But so are the Center for American Progress and the Heritage Foundation; it's understood, though, that these groups lean in a particular political direction. TPC is a joint project of Brookings and the Urban Institute, both of which lean somewhat to the left. That's not meant to criticize the group's work in any way; TPC is a respected public policy organization. But it is a reminder that there's more to the group than its non-partisan status.
So what's Krugman's big complaint? When TPC looked at Ryan's plan, its analysis concluded that the Roadmap wouldn't raise nearly the amount of revenue that Ryan estimated and, as a result, would actually raise the deficit.
But this was all hashed out months ago between Ryan and the TPC. As Ryan has noted, his plan's revenue estimates were made in consultation with the Treasury Department in 2009. And they were based on CBO's alternative fiscal scenario, which, at the time the revenue projections were made, expected somewhat higher growth than when TPC performed its estimates. That probably explains some of the difference. But, says Ryan, if TPC's projections looked to be accurate, he'd be happy to adjust his plan in order to meet his revenue targets.
Does this sound like the work of a flimflam artist to you? Forecasting the vagaries of the economy five or 10 years in advance is incredibly difficult; most projections are bound to be off, and quality analysts doing quality work will inevitably disagree about what our economic future holds. But it seems to me that the people who are worth listening to are those who engage in thoughtful dialogue with the opposition, who accept that the future—as well as any projection that claims to predict it—is uncertain, and who agree to change plans accordingly. This is exactly what Ryan has done.
Krugman, meanwhile, is grumbling that Ryan's plan "makes no useful contribution to the debate over America's fiscal future" while moaning that the $787 billion deficit-funded stimulus was too small and asking for another round of deficit spending. Gotcha. Please pass the flimflam sauce?
Reason beat The Washington Post to the Paul Ryan punch with this look at the man and his plan back in our June issue.