Telling Billionaires What They Want to Hear

(CREDIT: HAGEN; Norway/CartoonArts International/The New York Times Syndicate)(Image: HAGEN; Norway/CartoonArts International/The New York Times Syndicate)

“Wingnut welfare” is an important, underrated feature of the modern American political scene. I don’t know who came up with the term, but anyone who follows right-wing careers knows whereof I speak: the lavishly funded ecosystem of billionaire-financed think tanks and media outlets that provides a comfortable cushion for politicians and pundits who tell such people what they want to hear.

Lose an election? Make economic forecasts that turn out to be laughably wrong? No matter, there’s always a fallback job available.

Obviously this reality has important incentive effects. It encourages conservatives to espouse ever-cruder positions, because they don’t need to be taken seriously outside their closed universe. But I’ve been noticing that it also makes them remarkably lazy.

Thus, Matt O’Brien recently marveled on Twitter at Stephen Moore’s latest article in The Weekly Standard, with its “cherry-picking and unsupported assertions.” What Mr. O’Brien, an economics reporter at The Washington Post, doesn’t note is that these assertions aren’t new; Mr. Moore and others have made them many times before, and they’ve been thoroughly debunked.

No, revenues didn’t grow miraculously under President Reagan; if you adjust, as you obviously should, for inflation and population growth, they grew less in the Reagan years than they did under Presidents Ford and Carter, and much less than under President Clinton. Yes, the share of taxes paid by the rich rose – but only because of soaring inequality, which raised the income share of the wealthy. And so on.

What’s remarkable, then, is that Mr. Moore, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, doesn’t even try to come up with new distortions.

He just rolls out the old debunked arguments, while ignoring the criticisms. There are many ways that you could describe this work, but the phrase that stands out for me is: just plain lazy.

But then again, why not?

The audience for this kind of thing doesn’t want actual insight, it just wants affirmation of what it already believes, and it doesn’t care how much you embarrass yourself, as long as you’re on the right side ideologically.

Someone like Mr. Moore effectively faces a 100 percent marginal tax rate on intellectual effort – no matter how much or how little time he puts into getting the facts right, it won’t have any impact at all on his career.

And the Heritage Foundation gets what it pays for.