Solving the Poverty Problem With Magic Asterisks

Ezra Klein recently asked the wrong question in an article on Vox: Why should anyone trust Paul Ryan’s poverty plan? That’s easy: Nobody should. This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.

In case you want the longer answer, there are multiple reasons to distrust Mr. Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee. It’s not just that his plan is completely inconsistent with his budget proposals, and that he has given no indication of how he would resolve this inconsistency. It’s not just that the methods he proposes are simply backdoor ways to slash aid to the poor – which is what his budgets involve, after all. And it’s not just that everything he has said about the causes of and cures for poverty is all wrong.

No, it’s also the fact that Mr. Ryan’s previous proposals – all of them – were con jobs. It has been four years since he was challenged to explain the magic asterisk in his original budget proposal – how he could slash tax rates for the wealthy and corporations without reducing revenue. He has never explained it; all he’s done is put in more magic asterisks on discretionary spending and other items.

So the question isn’t why or even whether you should trust him – you shouldn’t, period.

No, the real question is why so many people in the news media still want to find reasons to praise him. Of course, the answer has been clear for years: People are still trying “to slot Ryan into a role someone is supposed to be playing in their political play, that of the thoughtful, serious conservative wonk,” as I wrote two years ago.

He has never given any sign of actually fitting that role – but there’s nobody else out there, and so he keeps being given the benefit of the doubt no matter how many times he gets caught in the same old con.

The Horror, the Horror

I happened to click on a Business Insider post by the financial commentator John Mauldin recently in which he informed us that gross domestic product is a Keynesian plot, and that without it Friedrich Hayek would, of course, have won the macroeconomic debate.

O.K. – but that’s not the horror. It’s this: “We have now made the Newt Gingrich and Niall Ferguson Strategic Investment Conference videos available,” Mr. Mauldin wrote. “This week, we are happy to provide even more material from this incredibly informative event. Newt Gingrich and Niall Ferguson were the two highest rated presenters at a conference packed with some of the finest economic and investment minds in the world.”

Oh, boy.