Is there a point at which we can segregate one's intelligently held beliefs from those that are completely absurd,
An Unserious Man
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: August 19, 2012
Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate led to a wave of pundit accolades. Now, declared writer after writer, we’re going to have a real debate about the nation’s fiscal future. This was predictable: never mind the Tea Party, Mr. Ryan’s true constituency is the commentariat, which years ago decided that he was the Honest, Serious Conservative, whose proposals deserve respect even if you don’t like him.
But he isn’t and they don’t. Ryanomics is and always has been a con game, although to be fair, it has become even more of a con since Mr. Ryan joined the ticket.
Let’s talk about what’s actually in the Ryan plan, and let’s distinguish in particular between actual, specific policy proposals and unsupported assertions. To focus things a bit more, let’s talk — as most budget discussions do — about what’s supposed to happen over the next 10 years.
On the tax side, Mr. Ryan proposes big cuts in tax rates on top income brackets and corporations. He has tried to dodge the normal process in which tax proposals are “scored” by independent auditors, but the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has done the math, and the revenue loss from these cuts comes to $4.3 trillion over the next decade.
On the spending side, Mr. Ryan proposes huge cuts in Medicaid, turning it over to the states while sharply reducing funding relative to projections under current policy. That saves around $800 billion. He proposes similar harsh cuts in food stamps, saving a further $130 billion or so, plus a grab-bag of other cuts, such as reduced aid to college students. Let’s be generous and say that all these cuts would save $1 trillion.
On top of this, Mr. Ryan includes the $716 billion in Medicare savings that are part of Obamacare, even though he wants to scrap everything else in that act. Despite this, Mr. Ryan has now joined Mr. Romney in denouncing President Obama for “cutting Medicare”; more on that in a minute.
So if we add up Mr. Ryan’s specific proposals, we have $4.3 trillion in tax cuts, partially offset by around $1.7 trillion in spending cuts — with the tax cuts, surprise, disproportionately benefiting the top 1 percent, while the spending cuts would primarily come at the expense of low-income families. Over all, the effect would be to increase the deficit by around two and a half trillion dollars.
Yet Mr. Ryan claims to be a deficit hawk. What’s the basis for that claim?
Well, he says that he would offset his tax cuts by “base broadening,” eliminating enough tax deductions to make up the lost revenue. Which deductions would he eliminate? He refuses to say — and realistically, revenue gain on the scale he claims would be virtually impossible.
At the same time, he asserts that he would make huge further cuts in spending. What would he cut? He refuses to say.
What Mr. Ryan actually offers, then, are specific proposals that would sharply increase the deficit, plus an assertion that he has secret tax and spending plans that he refuses to share with us, but which will turn his overall plan into deficit reduction.
If this sounds like a joke, that’s because it is. Yet Mr. Ryan’s “plan” has been treated with great respect in Washington. He even received an award for fiscal responsibility from three of the leading deficit-scold pressure groups. What’s going on?
The answer, basically, is a triumph of style over substance. Over the longer term, the Ryan plan would end Medicare as we know it — and in Washington, “fiscal responsibility” is often equated with willingness to slash Medicare and Social Security, even if the purported savings would be used to cut taxes on the rich rather than to reduce deficits. Also, self-proclaimed centrists are always looking for conservatives they can praise to showcase their centrism, and Mr. Ryan has skillfully played into that weakness, talking a good game even if his numbers don’t add up.
The question now is whether Mr. Ryan’s undeserved reputation for honesty and fiscal responsibility can survive his participation in a deeply dishonest and irresponsible presidential campaign.
The first sign of trouble has already surfaced over the issue of Medicare. Mr. Romney, in an attempt to repeat the G.O.P.’s successful “death panels” strategy of the 2010 midterms, has been busily attacking the president for the same Medicare savings that are part of the Ryan plan. And Mr. Ryan’s response when this was pointed out was incredibly lame: he only included those cuts, he says, because the president put them “in the baseline,” whatever that means. Of course, whatever Mr. Ryan’s excuse, the fact is that without those savings his budget becomes even more of a plan to increase, not reduce, the deficit.
So will the choice of Mr. Ryan mean a serious campaign? No, because Mr. Ryan isn’t a serious man — he just plays one on TV.
Is there a point at which we can segregate one's intelligently held beliefs from those that are completely absurd, such that we can excuse the latter as mere aberrations? Or is there some level beyond which we must conclude that the absurd beliefs negate the sound ones?
Is IQ supposed to indicate some level of common sense?
I would say that at the point at which Wallace's reputation as a careful and skeptical scientist was ruined by his support for spiritualism, he had crossed the ine.
Paul Ryan's Zombie Reaganomics
I don't share some Obama-supporters' contempt for Paul Ryan. That's in part because he comes across as a sincere, decent, fine fellow - whose Randian worldview has produced a reformist zeal known most intimately to an adolescent male. Indeed, he reminds me most of all of myself in my teens - dreaming of how to cut government in half, relishing schemes to slash taxes and slash spending and unleash revolutionary growth which, in itself, would render all other problems more manageable. There is no libertarian quite as convinced as a teenage libertarian. And it's the adolescent conviction of Ryan that shines so brightly.
One can call it courage or arrested development. But he is, in some ways, a pellucidly bright plant bred in the conservative movement's hydroponic greenhouse. Barely exposed to natural light, these young fertile saplings are fed with a constant drip of Koch money, sprayed with SMUGRYANanti-liberal pesticides and brought eventually into the political marketplace with joyful children, a lovely wife and a set of abs Aaron Schock would die for (and probably has). He has no life or experience outside the greenhouse - which is why he glows with its certainties. Most important, he has that quintessential characteristic of the modern conservative - total denial of the recent past. Ryan was instrumental and supportive of the most fiscally reckless administration in modern times. He gave us a massive new unfunded entitlement, two off-budget wars and was key to ensuring that the Bowles-Simpson plan was dead-on-arrival. This alleged fire-fighter - whose credentials are perceived as impeccable in Washington - just quit being an arsonist.
But on one key subject, the ineluctably rising costs of healthcare for the elderly, Ryan has in the past proffered a real solution. At some point, seniors would be cut off from the funds they would require for the kind of comprehensive treatment many now expect. This is a rather blunt way of putting it - and Ryan may hope somehow to bring costs down with some kind of competition among private plans for Medicare recipients to ease the pain. But that hope is no more credible at this point than Obama's ACA hope for lower costs - except Obama has initiated several specific cost-control pilot projects, while Ryan is relying on the increasingly tenuous hope that competition within Medicare really will lower costs - i.e. that the sick elderly will act like twenty-somethings seeking a bargain on a smartphone. I doubt it - probably more than I do the ACA experiments. In the latest iteration of his plan, however, Ryan has made the premium support option voluntary - thereby effectively tabling its fiscal potential, and shunted off all the pain onto the post-boomers. Ryan doesn't reverse this generational warfare; he intensifies it by siding with today's seniors over tomorrow's.
I'll be frank, though, and say that some kind of premium support in Medicare seems to me the only solid way I can see right now to save us from fiscal catastrophe. If I had my druthers, I'd give the ACA a decade to make real progress on cost-cutting and then, if it failed, I'd move to premium support. Ryan's right on the unsustainability of the current program and has made cutting it a campaign promise. We owe him thanks for that.
But, no, he is not a serious fiscal conservative. Not even close. In 2012, decades after supply-side economics was proven not to add more revenues than it gave back, Ryan is still a true-believer. His view is that if you cut taxes massively, you will decrease the debt. But this is the primary reason we currently have the massive debt that began its ascent under Reagan, was arrested by Bush and Clinton and then exploded under Bush and Ryan. Worse, Ryan believes that you can cut taxes drastically, increase defense spending massively and still cut the debt. This, to put it mildly, is Zombie-Reaganomics. Tax rates are already far lower than they were in 1980 - and can't be cut still further and have the same impact. Besides, our problem right now is obviously lack of demand, rather than enervated supply. Companies are sitting on piles of cash. Interest rates are very very low. And yet we struggle under a debt burden Ryan would immediately drastically increase, with a promise to get to a balanced budget somewhere near the middle of the century. It makes zero sense to me.
But in many ways, it helps frame this election constructively. We all know we have a debt and a growth problem. Obama favors raising taxes on the wealthy, cutting defense and controlling costs in the ACA. He's also open to serious Medicare reforms if the GOP would join in. Bowles-Simpson was much more of a reach for a Democrat than for a Republican on entitlement reform. And I firmly believe that Obama would sign a Bowles-Simpson type deal in his second term if the GOP were to cooperate. I think he'd sign one this December if he could. Ryan never ever would. Obama's reason for ducking Bowles-Simpson was that the GOP wouldn't bite. Ryan's reason for ducking Bowles-Simson is that he is still a supply side fanatic.
On the Republican side, we now have a debt-reduction plan that actually cuts tax rates for the very rich along with everyone else, vastly increases defense spending, and "balances" the entire thing on gutting care for the old, the poor and the sick (the Medicaid proposal is truly Darwinian) and ending loopholes (which Ryan refuses to specify). I'm all for ending loopholes but even then, we wouldn't get a balanced budget for three decades because of all the defense spending and tax cutting.
This isn't conservatism. It's rightist theology. In a fiscal emergency, the Republicans are proposing not clear remedies but ideological fantasies that were already disproven in 1990. They have learned nothing. And the immense damage they inflicted on this country's fiscal health in the last decade would be nothing compared to what would come under a Ryan-Romney administration.
Because it compounds the errors that came before it.
Superstitions often seem irrational, even stupid, but they a widespread and pervasive part of human life. Why is this?
Using a mathematical model, we investigated whether superstitious behaviours are a predicted product of evolution by natural selection.
The results are clear: superstitions are a part of adaptive behaviour in all organisms as they attempt to make sense of an uncertain world. Humans are heavily affected by culture as well as evolution.
Nevertheless, our analysis suggests that cultural effects are shaped by an evolved tendency to readily associate events, so readily that individuals often make superstitious mistakes
Why do people see the Virgin Mary on a cheese sandwich or hear demonic lyrics in "Stairway to Heaven"? Using video and music, skeptic Michael Shermer shows how we convince ourselves to believe -- and overlook the facts.
Michael Shermer debunks myths, superstitions and urban legends, and explains why we believe them. Along with publishing Skeptic Magazine, he's author of Why People Believe Weird Things and The Mind of the Market.
In fact, the entire history of human cultural development gives the lie to any contention that humans are hag-ridden by superstition. Ceratinly superstition was and remains a powerful force in human affairs--but we are just as "hard-wifed" to challenge and overcome received wisdom as we are to bow to it.