Sunday, August 14, 2005

What a Maroon

Donald Luskin does a thing he calls "The Krugman Truth Squad." Think "Swift Boat Veterans For Truth," or "fair and balanced," or "I'm going to change the tone of politics in Washington," and you get the general idea. My mother has noticed that it is a popular marketing tactic to promote a product as the opposite of what it is--like a particularly soggy cereal that bills itself as staying crunchy in milk. Madison Avenue has nothing on conservative hacks.

Luskin's latest piece is particularly illustrative. He starts by complaining that "One of the Left’s sleaziest rhetorical tricks is to discredit conservative ideals by claiming they are based on religious beliefs...." or "faith based." and follows by citing a few conservative nostrums that he claims are based in science--without providing any scientific bases for the claim.

One claim that he makes is that recent economic performance provides: "scientific, empirical, real-world proof. Supply-side economics works. Lower tax rates, higher economic growth, and higher tax revenues go hand in hand in hand." Let's see... taxes were raised in '93 and '94, followed by a booming economy and rising tax revenue. Taxes were cut in the late 90's, and the economy and growth of revenue began to slow, peeking in 2000. The government lowered taxes further in 2001 and every year since, and tax revenue continued to decline until this year. After five years of declining taxes and tax revenue, the economy is finally growing faster than tax rates are dropping--and this proves that lowering taxes will result in higher tax revenue?

Yeah, and spinning my belt over my head will make it rain--eventually.

Another claim Luskin makes, with even less evidence, is that the taxes Krugman recently called for (28% of GDP), "can’t be done." To support this claim he points out that: "federal income tax rates have, at one time, topped 90 percent" and still didn't bring in 28% of GDP. Noting that Krugman has called even 70% marginal rates insane, he asks: "So if rates even worse than insane won’t do it, what will?" But surely Mr. Luskin knows that the United States has never had a 90% across the board tax rate. That rate only applied to the richest of the rich, and it was accompanied by numerous loopholes and deductions, so that almost no one ever paid the top rate.

It's as if he leaps from the observation that say, a 90% tax on income over $1 billion would yield less than 1% of GDP (probably true, but only a guesstimate on my part), to the conclusion that 2% of GDP is unattainable (obviously false, we get 17% of GDP today). Calling that kind of claim "faith based" is unfair--to people of faith! It's being unfairly generous to the people who make such groundless claims and try to pass them off as science.

Speaking as a person of faith, I take umbrage at the association. There is a big difference between having faith in a belief, and pretending that a belief is a scientific theory or has been proven scientifically. For one thing, people of faith do not take offense (or pretend to take offense) when their faith is called faith. Who wants to rename "The Affirmation of Faith" "The Proof Of Our Immaculate Theory?" Not me. And I certainly do not want to call someone else's theory "faith"--especially if he does not have enough faith in it to call it that himself.

But then what should we call claims such as: "Lower tax rates, higher economic growth, and higher tax revenues go hand in hand in hand" or "[a given tax rate] can't be done," when they are offered as scientific theories or even proven facts, but for which their proponents offer virtually no supporting evidence or logic? My suggestion: "luskinisms" or the adjective form: "luskinesque."


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