Paul Krugman: The Road to Economic Crisis Is Paved With Euros
Why Might There Be High Unemployment?

Ezra Klein Examines the Wonk Gap

Mark Thoma sends us to Ezra Klein, who writes:

Ezra Klein - Greg Mankiw's thinking cap: There's an interesting mixture of callousness and accidental truth lurking within Greg Mankiw's satirical proposal to reduce the budget deficit:

The essence of the plan is the federal government writing me a check for $1 billion. The plan will be financed by $3 billion of tax increases.... [G]iving me that $1 billion will reduce the budget deficit by $2 billion. Now, you may be tempted to say that giving me that $1 billion will not really reduce the budget deficit. Rather, you might say, it is the tax increases, which have nothing to do with my handout, that are reducing the budget deficit. But if you are tempted by that kind of sloppy thinking, you have not been following the debate over healthcare reform.

Like health-care reform, Greg Mankiw's plan really would reduce the budget deficit. That's been contested, so I'm glad to see Mankiw admit it. But Mankiw's broader point is that... he is analogizing giving Greg Mankiw a billion-dollar check to giving health-care insurance to 32 million people who, in the vast majority of cases, can't get it themselves.

That's easy for him to say, I think, given that Harvard University offers insurance to its employees. They do that because their employees... don't think of insurance as an absurd extravagance or a billion-dollar check from the sky. They think of it as something much more like a necessity, something that their workers wouldn't be willing to go without.... [T]here's a real callousness to this post.

Now for the accidental truth: Mankiw's analytical claim is that it's somehow peculiar to believe a bill reduces the deficit because it raises more money than it spends. After all, the spending doesn't reduce the deficit. His apparent belief that the "revenues and spending cuts" side of legislation has nothing to do with the "new spending or tax cuts" side helps explain why he joined the Bush administration's Council of Economic Advisers in May 2003, the same month that the Bush administration's second set of unpaid-for tax cuts was passing through Congress, and a few months before the Bush administration's completely unpaid-for Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit was signed into law.

That record -- and Mankiw's apparent belief that the subsidizing insurance is akin to an extravagant giveaway to the rich -- offers a telling contrast to the policy thinking Mankiw is criticizing here, which as he admits, actually reduces the deficit, and though he doesn't mention this, does so while mostly ending the days when Americans would find themselves involuntarily uninsured. It's another example of the tendency that the Affordable Care Act's critics have to omit the uninsured from the discussion and develop a new and inconsistent definition of fiscal responsibility when doing so would aid an attack on the bill.