Quick question: What is John Kerry's economic plan? Can anyone reading this column name even one key element of it?
With the economy being a central issue in the election, one would think that any reasonably well-informed voter could easily answer these questions. But, in fact, I doubt that more than a tiny handful of professional economists or economic journalists could do so. The reason is pretty simple -- there really is no plan.
Kerry has policies, of course -- lots of them. The problem is that they don't hang together in any logical way that could even loosely be called a plan. They look like items chosen from a menu -- one from column A, one from column B, etc. Viewed in isolation, any one of them might be defensible. But when you put them together, they often contradict each other and don't really add up to very much. Having a plan implies that some thought went into creating a coherent set of policies that are linked together philosophically. It is on this basis that I say that John Kerry has no plan.
Kerry clearly recognizes that he has failed to articulate an economic message that goes beyond attacking George W. Bush for every ill of the economy. But even if people are inclined to agree that Bush's economic policies have been lacking, they are still unlikely to replace him unless they have reason to believe Kerry will do better. After all, he might do worse.
Last week, Kerry made an effort to present a coherent economic plan. In a Wall Street Journal article titled, "My Economic Policy," he made his case. It has four key elements: create good jobs, cut middle class taxes and health care costs, restore America's competitive edge, and cut the deficit and restore economic confidence.
Kerry's proposal to create jobs involves reducing outsourcing by closing a tax provision that he believes encourages U.S. companies to invest abroad. The $12 billion per year that this would raise would be used to reduce the corporate tax rate slightly. He would also reinstate a failed tax credit for new jobs and crack down on imports from China and elsewhere.
Economy.com, a respected independent forecasting service, looked at these tax provisions and concluded that their net impact on job creation would be "very modest." On the other hand, Kerry's implied protectionism could be very damaging to economic growth. Renowned Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati calls Kerry's trade policy "muddled and maddening" and "the voodoo economics of our time."
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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