WASHINGTON -- The other day, New York Times columnist (and Nobel laureate, though he has yet to be found guilty of plagiarism or fabrication) Paul Krugman indulged one of my favorite pastimes. He engaged in vituperation. He affected a superior pose and lamented that so many of the other superior types had been taken in by mere hucksters. Alas and goddamn!
Said he: "One depressing aspect of American politics is the susceptibility of the political and media establishment to charlatans. You might have thought, given past experience, that D.C. insiders (of his quality of mind) would be on their guard against conservatives with grandiose plans. But no." His target was Rep. Paul Ryan and Ryan's effort to eventually balance the budget in light of the huge challenges facing America today from the cost of entitlements and the yearly budget deficits as far as the eye can see. Ryan calls his plan "A Roadmap for America's Future." Krugman is Ryan's sworn enemy.
Though I never have seen Ryan described as "intellectually audacious," Krugman insisted that the term is commonplace and went on to josh, "But it's the audacity of dopes." He threw around the word "flimflam," as in Ryan is "serving up leftovers from the 1990s, drenched in flimflam sauce." He used "flimflam" elsewhere and concluded that "the Ryan plan is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America's fiscal future." Well, the agelastic sap is trying his best to be a wit, and I say give him a pass. He is a professor at Princeton University, and laughter in those parched precincts has been banned since about the 1920s, when the students and the junior faculty were suspected of reading H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan's American Mercury and concluding that they were even funnier than Marx (Karl, not Groucho). That offended the profs.
I, at least, found "audacity of dopes" mildly amusing, and I laughed aloud at flimflam's being used as a sauce, or perhaps it was the idea that the decade of the 1990s was an unalloyed economic failure. I really cannot remember which, but I laughed.
Yet Krugman's main criticism of "A Roadmap for America's Future" is in error and possibly intentionally so. Those Washington insiders whom he is patronizing are not too smart. He claims that the roadmap would not raise the revenues necessary to cover Ryan's cuts -- thus it is flimflam.
In response to similar criticism, Ryan has written, "Our nation's fiscal crisis is the result of Washington's unsustainable spending trajectory, not from a lack of sufficient revenue." And he goes on: "The tax reforms proposed and the rates specified were designed to maintain approximately our historic levels of revenue as a share of GDP. ... If needed, adjustments can be easily made to the specified rates to hit the revenue targets and maximize economic growth. While minor tweaks can be made, it is clear that we simply cannot chase our unsustainable growth in spending with ever-higher levels of taxes. The purpose of the Roadmap is to get spending in line with revenue -- not the other way around."
Now, it is always possible that Krugman has not actually followed the debate over the roadmap and argues from ignorance. This happens quite often with him. Yet all Americans should be following this debate over how to address looming entitlements and our budgetary shortfalls. Frankly, I think we have entered a new era. Americans are willing to take cuts in their entitlements for the good of the economy and the well-being of future generations. As for Krugman, give him a polite laugh. Ha-ha, Professor, "leftovers from the 1990s, drenched in flimflam sauce." That is a good one, and how are we going to get the economy growing again with tax hikes flambe?