... [to] gut medicare...is economically irrelevant...because it represents an unfunded mandate...
As an economist I place little credence in words, and so in all honesty I can do little to critique Paul Ryan. That's because his track record in Congress is minimal – in 13 years only 2 bills with his name have actually passed, and neither was substantive. True, he's put his name on many bills, but they've gone nowhere. So while he claims to be for sound budgets, as an economist I see no evidence of that in what he has accomplished during his 6-plus terms in the House. If anything, his voting record points the other way: he's cast an "Aye" for numerous budget-busting laws, including the Bush-era tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug bill that expanded benefits but not revenues. Furthermore, he did support the Bush bail-out measures, a mark in his favor as putting things practical over things ideological. His track record is too thin to tell whether he is primarily pragmatic. Of course his telegenic persona conveys a different message, but it is a message without substance.
As to ideas, well, Ryan is allowing himself to be portrayed as a neo-fisc, the new breed of Republican fiscal conservatives who promise to balance budgets while cutting taxes.* To date the neo-fiscs have shown no ability to deliver. Yes, they've cut taxes. But no, they've not closed loopholes – Ryan's proclaimed preference – and no, they've not controlled expenditures. Ryan is true to neo-fisc form, in that he has not spelled out details on either front, except that he won't cut defense, hardly an example of controlling expenditures. Oh, he's promised to gut medicare, but that's neither politically credible nor economically meaningful. Why is it economically irrelevant? That's because it represents an unfunded mandate: we as a society don't tolerate emergency rooms refusing to admit car accident victims or nursing homes trundling elderly patients to curbside because they can't pay for their next day. Those costs will have to be loaded onto the charges for people with insurance. In short, the neo-fisc position consists of slogans and not fleshed-out policies; you can't label proponents ideologues, because you have to have ideas to be an ideologue.**
...you can't label [neo-fiscs] ideologues because you have to have ideas to be an ideologue...
For Romney – surely he is in charge of his campaign – Ryan is a convenient mouthpiece, his value enhanced by his skimpy track record, because unlike the beach, it hides rather than reveals. Ryan is already energizing the disaffected on the right, who might otherwise sit the election out. Meanwhile that frees Romney to move toward the center, where the swing voters reside. He doesn't have much time left to do that, but there's also little evidence that people vote their pocketbooks; style seems to trump substance.
I've blogged on Japan and Economics about debt and deficits, choosing that forum because Japan's debt is far higher and thus less sustainable than ours. But Japan has also started to do something about it, passing an increase in their national sales tax (the final deal was hammered out on August 10th) when further budget cuts proved illusive.
* I will blog on Japan and Economics about debt and deficits, choosing that forum because Japan's debt is far higher and thus less sustainable than ours. But even in Japan it's not a crisis, and in addition Japan has started to do something about it, passing an increase in their national sales tax (the final deal was hammered out on August 10th) when further budget cuts proved illusive.
** My computer's dictionary would thus label such "demagogues:" politicians who "appeal to popular desires and prejudices rather than use rational argument." My sense is that campaigning via sound bites forces all candidates to rely on that game. Hence polls matter, policy analysis does not. My training as an economist however suits me only for the latter, and so that's what I blog.