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“Behold, The ‘Laffering Laughing’ Stock”: The Remarkable Persistence Of Crackpot Economics In The GOP

The most horrifying article you can read today is not about Ayatollah Khamenei’s troubling comments on the Iran nuclear deal, it’s this piece from Jim Tankersley of The Washington Post about how all the GOP presidential candidates are lining up to receive the wisdom of Arthur Laffer as they formulate their economic plans. This is the rough equivalent of doctors seeking to lead the American College of Pediatricians competing to see which one can win the favor of Jenny McCarthy. Behold:

As the 2016 GOP primary season takes off, Laffer is more in demand than ever before, with Republican candidates embracing tax-cut-for-the-rich policies even as they bemoan economic inequality. Candidates have been meeting with him in recent weeks, and on Friday in Nashville, he says, his schedule includes Rick Perry at 10 a.m., Ben Carson at noon, Jeb Bush at 1:15 p.m. and Bobby Jindal at 5. Dinner is scheduled with Ted Cruz. He has already met at least once with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. …

Some time ago, Laffer recounted, he sat down with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who was hoping the economist would bless his flat-tax plan. Laffer critiqued it instead as having too many complicated, economy-distorting features. He recalled Paul expressing disappointment he couldn’t endorse it.

After that sit-down, Paul’s advisers kept calling Laffer, he said. When Paul announced his presidential run this week, he touted a tax plan far more in line with Laffer’s vision.

Laffer’s theory is that cutting taxes for the wealthy not only brings an explosion of economic growth but pays for itself; give millionaires and billionaires a break, and the resulting economic activity will be so spectacular that more revenue will come in despite the lower rates. Laffer reduced this idea to the famous “Laffer curve,” which he supposedly sketched on a napkin in 1974 and thereby seduced generations of Republican politicians. It took the perfectly sensible idea that if all income was taxed at 100 percent then no one would have any incentive to work, and turned that into a claim that virtually any reduction in the top rate will increase revenues—and the converse as well, that increasing the top rate will always reduce revenues and stifle growth.

If that were true, then the Clinton years would have been a period of dismal economic doldrums, followed by the glorious George W. Bush boom. In fact, Laffer’s theory has been as thoroughly disproven as phrenology or the notion that the stars are pinholes in the blanket Zeus laid across the sky; Republican economist Greg Mankiw famously referred to those who believe Laffer as “charlatans and cranks.” But in a world where Mike Huckabee convinces people that the Bible contains a secret cancer cure and baseball players wear titanium necklaces in the belief that doing so will align their humours or some such nonsense, there will always be a market for crackpottery, particularly the kind that offers a justification for the thing you already want to do.

And this is why Republicans continue to seek Arthur Laffer’s wisdom and repeat the completely, thoroughly, 100 percent false claim that cutting taxes for the wealthy will always increase revenue. They want those tax cuts for ideological and moral reasons, and when someone with a claim to expertise tells them that not only is there no cost but that such cuts will actually help the little people too, well that’s just too seductive for words. When the world shows them that cutting taxes on the wealthy actually reduces revenue, it doesn’t make them revise their belief that doing so is right and just, because that belief isn’t subject to the test of evidence.

Candidates get a lot of flack for having advisers or supporters who have committed various sins, even if there was no reasonable way the candidate could have been expected to know about or approve those sins, and they won’t have any impact on what the candidate would do if elected. We’ll spend days hounding a candidate because some consultant he hired sent out some offensive tweets five years ago, or because someone who endorsed him said something outrageous at a rally. But here we have a case in which candidates are voluntarily and knowingly asking for the advice and approval of one of America’s foremost economic quacks, specifically for the purposes of formulating policy that would affect every American’s life. Is anybody going to ask them what the hell they’re doing?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 10, 2015

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Arthur Laffer, Economic Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Truly Extraordinary Record Of Being Wrong”: In-Demand GOP Economist Says Kansas ‘Is Doing Fine’

The first big hint that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) was pursuing a dangerous economic course was when he hired economist Arthur Laffer to help shape the plan. Laffer, of course, rose to GOP prominence in the 1980s pushing the celebrated-but-wrong idea that tax cuts can pay for themselves.

The Washington Post profiles the conservative economist today and notes that his influence has not waned, despite the real-world effects of his policies. In fact, Laffer is evidently a go-to source for many of this year’s Republican presidential candidates.

No one has influenced Republican candidates’ thinking on the economy for the past four decades as much as Laffer, who is now 75. Laffer says he believes that limiting government and cutting tax rates, especially the rate levied on top earners, will unleash faster economic growth. Since he sold then-candidate Ronald Reagan on that prescription, every Republican presidential nominee has run on a Laffer-inspired economic platform.

As the 2016 GOP primary season takes off, Laffer is more in demand than ever before, with Republican candidates embracing tax-cut-for-the-rich policies even as they bemoan economic inequality. Candidates have been meeting with him in recent weeks, and on Friday in Nashville, he says, his schedule includes Rick Perry at 10 a.m., Ben Carson at noon, Jeb Bush at 1:15 p.m. and Bobby Jindal at 5. Dinner is scheduled with Ted Cruz. He has already met at least once with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

And this does not include the meeting Laffer has already had with Rand Paul, who asked him to look over a tax-cut plan the Kentucky Republican likes.

The conversation turned to Brownback’s radical experiment, and the Post’s article added this gem: “ ‘Kansas,’ Laffer declared over a five-hour lunch interview in Washington, ‘is doing fine.’”

“Fine,” I suppose, is a relative term. For those of us who care about the details, the economic plan Laffer created for Kansas has resulted in debt downgrades, weak growth, and state finances in shambles. It’s reached the point in which two Kansas public school districts are wrapping up the school year early because they don’t have the money needed to finish a full school year.

“Fine” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind.

Paul Krugman added some helpful context to Laffer’s record.

Since the 1970s there have been four big changes in the effective tax rate on the top 1 percent: the Reagan cut, the Clinton hike, the Bush cut, and the Obama hike. Republicans are fixated on the boom that followed the 1981 tax cut (which had much more to do with monetary policy, but never mind). But they predicted dire effects from the Clinton hike; instead we had a boom that eclipsed Reagan’s. They predicted wonderful things from the Bush tax cuts; instead we got an unimpressive expansion followed by a devastating crash. And they predicted terrible things from the tax rise after Obama’s reelection; instead we got the best job growth since 1999.

And when I say “they predicted”, I especially mean Laffer himself, who has a truly extraordinary record of being wrong at crucial turning points. As Bruce Bartlett pointed out a few years ago, Laffer was even wrong during the Reagan years: he predicted that the Reagan tax hikes of 1982, which partially reversed earlier cuts, would cripple the economy; “morning in America” promptly followed. Oh, and let’s not forget his 2009 warnings about soaring interest rates and inflation.

Looking ahead, Krugman added the broader question is “why this always-wrong economic doctrine now has a stronger grip on the GOP than ever before.” That need not be a rhetorical question. Indeed, it should matter quite a bit to the voting public given that so many Republican presidential hopefuls – including the entire current top tier – are eager to bring their economic plans in line with Laffer’s discredited thinking.

Or put another way, a wide variety of national GOP candidates are looking at recent developments in Kansas and thinking, “How can I impose this model on the entire United States?”

It’s a bit like turning to discredited neoconservatives for guidance on foreign policy and national security. Oh wait….

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 10, 2015

April 12, 2015 Posted by | Arthur Laffer, Kansas, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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