Voodoo economics redux

John McCain is going to fill a $695 billion gap with $20 billion a year in spending cuts. But the press won’t come out and call him a liar, or explain that his plan depends on slashing Social Security and Medicare. Obama should say that, and keep saying it.

In 2000, the Republican candidate for President, in the face of a federal budget in temporary surplus, proposed huge tax cuts and promised to keep the budget balanced with imaginary spending reductions. It was obvious at the time that his arithmetic didn’t add up, but the press simply reported the question whether 2 + 2 = 22 as a “controversy” rather than as a case of flat-out lying.

$3 trillion in debt later, and in the face of a huge deficit even before the recession hits and not even counting the “emergency” $100 billion per year for Iraq, the Republican candidate for President proposes to extend those tax cuts, add a bunch of new tax cuts, increase the size of the military, and fill a $695 billion annual budget gap with $20 billion in savings, most of them from imaginary spending reductions. Have reporters learned their lesson?


This is being reported as a “struggle” between “supply-siders” and “deficit hawks” in the McCain camp. McCain’s comment that “In the long-term, the only way to keep the budget balanced is successful reform of the large spending pressures in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid” &#8212 or, to put that in English, his threat to slash Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid spending &#8212 gets no attention beyond a bland assertion that those programs have constituencies that make them hard to cut. But no one who gets paid to report this does the arithmetic Hilzoy does, showing that in order to close the budget gap and do all the other things McCain promises he’d have to cut Social Security payments by 95%.

If I were the Obama campaign, I would summarize the plan simply: “John McCain wants to cut taxes for rich people and corporations and pay for it by cutting Social Security and Medicare.” And I’d keep repeating formula until the reporters, too lazy to report it as the truth, at least reported it as a “controversy.”

Yes, Bush the Elder was grossly insulting the Voudoun religion when he called the Reagan version of this nonsense “voodoo economics.” But he had a point.

Update John Roberts of CNN isn’t having any, thanks.

Note to other reporters: Go thou and do likewise.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com