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While being pummeled on his ticket’s tax plans in the debate Thursday night, Congressman Paul Ryan told Vice President Joe Biden that there are the six studies that back up the proposal to cut taxes and close loopholes in a revenue-neutral way.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the term “study,” and especially “tax study,” I picture a 15- or 40- or 100-page document, bound in metal rings or in the pdf format, and filled with charts and tables and footnotes. I don’t think of op-eds in The Wall Street Journal or blog posts. Nothing against either, you understand. I used to make a living editing and writing for op-ed pages and I now make one as a blogger. But I’d be rotflmao at myself if I ever referred to this work as “studies.”
Yet that is exactly the mischaracterization Ryan gave to three blog-posts, one op-ed and one Romney campaign white paper. Although its author calls it a “working paper,” one of the studies, a 15-page document by Harvey S. Rosen at Princeton University’s Griswold Center for Economic Policy Studies, actually qualifies for the term. Not that it makes a good case. But at least it actually can be considered an honest-to-goodness study of the Romney (Ryan) plan.
The other five “studies” are analyses or sheer propaganda and riddled with problems.
The controversy arose when The Tax Policy Center published a paper Aug. 1 saying the Romney plan was a no-go because the rate cuts the candidate was proposing would provide $86 billion more tax givebacks for people earning $200,000 or more than would be covered by eliminating tax expenditures for that tier of Americans. TPC said that to keep from boosting the deficit, as he promised not to do, he would have to raise taxes, significantly, on the middle class, something he also promised not to do.
The inadequacies of the plan flashed around the media and blogosphere. But Thursday night Ryan tried to tart it up with those six-studies-credentials.
Matthew O’Brien at The Atlantic has a succinct, linked overview of the study and five analyses, taking them apart in a paragraph each. Ultimately, he writes:
Romney’s plan only works if you assume he has a different plan or use a magic growth asterisk. And that means we have no idea what he would do if he wins. Does he care more about his tax rate cuts, about not hiking taxes on the middle class, or not increasing the deficit? His adviser Kevin Hassett suggested they would back off the high-end tax rate cuts if it would increase the deficit, but Romney quickly denied that. He’s also denied reality, by relying on studies that only prove his critics’ point.
Economist Josh Barro, hardly a liberal, has been hammering away on Romney’s economic plan since exactly a year ago when he suggested for the first time that perhaps Romney had something secret in mind for the economy because the candidate’s 160-page proposal with its 59 bullet points didn’t provide the right prescription in spite of all its verbiage.
A year later, on Friday, Barro had the most thorough smackdown of the six “studies.” He dissected them with scalpel and ax.
Here is what he wrote about an op-ed and blog post by Martin Feldstein:
Feldstein ran the numbers and said Romney can cut tax rates by 20 percent and eliminate enough tax expenditures to balance the budget without raising taxes on the middle class. But Feldstein defines “middle class” differently than Romney does.
Feldstein allows for tax increases on people making more than $100,000. But on Sept. 14, Romney told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he would hold people making less than $200,000 or $250,000 harmless from tax increases.
The Romney campaign, therefore, is dishonest in saying Feldstein’s analyses “confirm the soundness” of Romney’s tax plan. Feldstein is analyzing a different tax plan, which would allow tax increases on taxpayers making between $100,000 and $200,000. That’s a large group, accounting for 24 percent of all adjusted gross income in 2009. But it’s a group Romney has pledged not to touch.
The trouble with such analyses-of-the-analyses is that they pretty much accept the terms of discussion as set forth by the campaign and centrist or center-right economists in general. That’s a narrow band. For progressives, critiques ought to go further, including the ideas of the Modern Monetary Theorists and others who want something fresh that soars beyond the conventional thought of economists who merely reject the perspective of the Right.
We know Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s plans are retrograde blueprints for returning us to the halcyon days of the Gilded Age. Ditching those is a no-brainer. But we need a lot more discussion from more diverse perspectives of what we think a truly progressive economy—an environmentally sustainable, financially equitable and dynamic economy—would look like. And of how we get there.