Fighting Voodoo Economics

| Mon Jul. 11, 2011 2:37 PM EDT

Paul Waldman:

Watching the Sunday blabbers, I was impressed with the facility with which the Republicans switched back and forth between two entirely different, and contradictory, rationales for their position on the budget and the debt ceiling. On one hand, they'd say, we simply have to cut the deficit, which is why we need to slash spending. OK, someone would say, why won't you accept some increase in taxes? You know, to cut the deficit? Absolutely not, they'd say -- you can't raise taxes when the economy is bad! That's the last thing you want to do!

Paul thinks that President Obama should point out how contradictory this is. Either we need to stimulate the economy (tax cuts, spending increases) or we need to cut the deficit (tax increases, spending cuts), but it makes no sense to do half of one and half of the other.

Well, sure, if you're a garden variety Keynesian. But if you're a conservative, then you consider tax cuts good for growth, which helps reduce the deficit. Ditto for spending cuts, which not only reduce the deficit in the obvious way, but also result in a smaller, more growth-friendly public sector. There's no contradiction at all in supporting both.

So the question isn't whether Republicans are contradicting themselves. They have a theory in which they aren't. Instead, the question is this: Can Barack Obama persuade the American public that Keynesian economics is basically correct and that Republican economics is therefore crazy? Good luck with that. Everyone loves paying less in taxes, and there's a very big chunk of the public that also loves spending cuts as long as they're aimed at poor people. So they have every personal incentive to buy into the GOP's high-minded justifications for stuff they want to do anyway. And they do.

After three decades, we still haven't figured out how to effectively fight voodoo economics. It would be nice if Obama started talking sense instead of caving in to conservative nonsense, but the problem goes way beyond just him. Suggestions welcome.

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