Should the National Review Nitwits Be Allowed to Vote?

Mark Thoma reads my hometown newpaper – the Los Angeles Times – so we don’t have to. Now, I hated to say this as I like the Los Angeles Times, but we are talking about Jonah Goldberg:

Now, the point isn’t to say that the American people are stupid, which is the typical knee-jerk reaction of self- absorbed political junkies. Rather, it’s that millions of Americans just don’t care about politics, much the same way that I don’t care about cricket … Instead of making it easier to vote, maybe we should be making it harder. Why not test people about the basic functions of government?

Mark calls this GOP elitism and fires back:

If we are going to go this route, why not test for knowledge of the issues too, not just the functions of government?

I have only a couple of questions. One question is why didn’t Mark provide more examples of Jonah Goldberg’s serial stupidity? OK, so many examples, so little time. Besides, Mark wanted to point out some stupid statements from other Republicans. But there is a difference between making an occasional stupid statement versus being a general know-nothing. But we should give Mark credit for finding a real doosie:

Economics makes my brain itch. When I was a young policy wonk and had to spend my days deflating constant dollars and reading the Federal budget, I would often give myself paper cuts all over my face just to remind me I was alive. When I was writing for The I would often wake up in the morning re-enacting the Martin Sheen freak-out scene from Apocalypse Now. Still, I am so baffled by the debate over the surplus that I feel I must wade into those unfriendly waters. For over a year Al Gore has been saying, in one form or another, that Governor Bush endorses a “huge risky tax scheme that would completely blow the surplus.” If you search Nexis, you will find dozens of such examples. According to Gore, the Republicans want to “squander,” “give away,” and “waste” the extra dollars in the U.S. Treasury. The media usually let the assumption – i.e., that having a surplus is inherently a good thing, and not having one is inherently bad – just fly over the plate. Of course, I have no desire to actually dissect the real numbers being put out there by either side.

Let’s interrupt this August 23, 2000 NRO rant to simply make the point writing three paragraphs saying one does not care about the topic of the op-ed is really bad writing. But Goldberg does this a lot. In most of his rants, you have no clue what his point is until you are almost done with the op-ed assuming he even has a point. So let me try to provide a summary of what he was trying to say in his own words:

The government is not a business … the surplus is not a “profit” … The government didn’t earn the surplus (it didn’t even earn its normal revenues) and is not entitled to blow it on shiny new toys. It’s your money … Clinton once said. And he’s right, alas. But invariably what the government is “investing” in are programs that will perpetuate the need for more and higher taxes. They claim to be investing in “our” future, when they really mean they are investing in the government’s future. That’s why, by the way, they constantly suggest that if you don’t have a surplus you will have a deficit. This is real “do not pass go” thinking. The budget isn’t a light switch with only two settings. There’s also this thing called a balanced budget, but that’s a different story. When Gore and Clinton talk about tax cuts they say cuts will “cost” too much. Cost whom? Not you or me; we make money from tax cuts. It wouldn’t even cost the government anything in terms of things it’s doing right now, because a surplus is, by definition, extra money. No, the only cost is to government-types, people who want to spend it on new things.

No wonder his brain itches. Goldberg did not have a clue that governments have a long-run budget constraint. In fact, he didn’t have a clue about a lot of things back then. To assist the incredibly ignorant pundit (BTW – he claims to have been a policy wonk at one point in his life, which is really scary), we’ve draw a graph of both the total Federal debt (TFD) relative to GDP and debt held by the public (DHP) relative to GDP. Before the Kemp-Roth tax “cut”, TFD relative to GDP had managed to fall to 32.6 percent. But the Reagan era was not one of limited government. Rather, it was a period of tax deferral with TFD relative to GDP rising to 67.3 percent.

The reason that President Clinton had the 1993 tax increase passed was not that he wanted a bigger government. The reason, which anyone remotely familiar with fiscal policy issues knew, was that we wanted to reverse the explosion of the Federal debt relative to GDP.

Most of us realized in 2000 that the unified surplus was really a Trust Fund surplus, that is, accumulating things like Social Security Trust Fund reserves. Al Gore talked about this a lot in 2000. Something about a “lock box”. How could Mr. Goldberg have missed this?

Finally, George W. Bush was not talking about a smaller government back in 2000. He was talking about spending “your money” even as he promised to give it back. For those really listening to George W. Bush, he was promising to put us back on the fiscal train wreck that we saw during the 1980’s. And judging from our graph, he delivered on that promise – big time.

But Jonah Goldberg was too stupid to understand this. Judging from what he’s written over the past seven years, he is still just as stupid. Which brings me to my main question, which is directed to my hometown newspaper? Why on earth do you give this idiot an op-ed column? I guess one could argue that the New York Times allows David Brooks to write nonsense for them. But as a resident of Los Angeles, is it too much to ask that we not see ourselves as being no better than New York. Simply because the New York Times makes the mistake of allowing David Brooks to babble on its editorial pages, why on earth would the Los Angeles Times allow a village idiot like Jonah Goldberg to spoil its editorial pages?