One thing I really admire about my friend Jon Chait is his relentlessness in the face of unending tsunamis of right wing bullshit. I sure as hell wouldn’t read a book by Arthur Laffer, Larry Kudlow, and Stephen Moore about the economic wisdom of Donald Trump without a court order, but Jon as always is on the case when it comes to this subject in particular:
Their record of being wrong about everything is so incomprehensibly vast it is astonishing they have retained their positions of influence over a major party. Trumponomics inadvertently clarifies how an economist who was declaring the U.S. housing market to be perfectly sound and on its way up in July 2008 secured a job as chief economist to the president of the United States as a matter of course.
The supply-siders have maintained absolute faith in their dogma in the face of repeated failure by banishing all doubt. Laffer explains in the book that he believes economists must resist the temptation to “start ignoring simple truths in favor of complex falsehoods.” When I first encountered that sentence I assumed I had read it backwards, but no — Laffer believes on principle that economic truths are simple, and he must steel his brain against the seductions of complexity, which is rather the opposite of how normal economists think. This seems to be the method by which they have warded off all doubts their repeated errors might have sown. . .
The extraordinary lack of self-awareness allows the authors of Trumponomics to record a series of predictions that have already failed even before the book’s publication. Describing their case for a huge tax cut, they recount convincing Republicans in Congress that cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent “would yield about the same revenue – and possibly more — than the current system with a 35 percent rate.” (It hasn’t — corporate tax revenue has fallen by a third since the passage of the Trump tax cut.) They show Kudlow assuring Trump his tax cut would not lead to deficits because “the phony numbers of Washington’s bean counters” are “always wrong.” (They weren’t wrong — or, to put it more precisely, the bean counters turned out to underestimate the deficit following the tax cut.)
They describe Trump demanding, “I want to make sure that this isn’t a tax cut for rich people like me” (it was) and that Trump “didn’t want the Trump middle-class voters to think that this plan was self-serving” (they did.) The three record that, after meeting the great man and noticing his skeletal campaign staff, supposedly for money-saving reasons, they marveled to each other that President Trump “would have a field day going through the federal budget and rooting out the rampant waste, fraud and redundancy.” (He wouldn’t.)
The three authors proudly retell their litany of errors with the satisfaction of conquering heroes taking credit for their triumphs. It’s as if Robert McNamara published a book in 1968 boasting of his successful efforts to persuade Lyndon Johnson that the Vietnam War would be won by 1967. . .
Greed is the glue that holds their story together. A large segment of their narrative consists of Trump turning over control of his agenda to various plutocrats. They tell how they wrote a memo defining the administration’s energy strategy during the transition period, drawing on three sources: oilman Harold Hamm; the Institute for Energy Research (a “partner organization” of the American Energy Alliance, a fossil fuel lobby); and Jack Coleman, an oil and gas lobbyist. They do not report consulting on any information sources not controlled by the fossil fuel industry. They describe a coal executive advising Trump, “if you want to make America great again, put a muzzle on the regulators.” At another meeting, one energy executive suggests natural gas, coal, and nuclear power should each have 30 percent of the power grid, with renewables splitting the remaining 10 percent. “That sounds about right,” Trump replies, “except for the ten percent for renewable energy.”
The authors report that they abandoned the idea of creating a border-adjustment tax because some businesses opposed it. “The business community was completely divided,” they note. “As such, we agreed very early on that the BAT had to go.” Trump himself refused to accept an end to the deductibility of interest payments. “Look, I’ve spent my whole life doing real estate deals,” he tells them, “Every one of them was financed by debt. I hate this idea.” Here they reveal Trump killing a reform solely because it would negatively impact his own business. This scene comes just five pages after they credulously cite Trump promising that the tax cut won’t benefit him personally.
The authors seem oblivious to either the contradiction with Trump’s populist rhetoric, or the general idea that an administration outsourcing policy to wealthy people with a personal stake in the outcome is in any way suboptimal. If these scenes had been ferreted out by investigative reporters instead of blithely repeated by a trio of hagiographers, many of them would be damning exposés you could imagine on the front page of the New York Times or the Washington Post.
The bizarre shamelessness of these accounts is explained in part by their belief that Trump’s wealth proves his motives are pure. “We never believed for one moment that [Trump] was in this to further enrich himself. He was already rich,” they reason.
The notion that the rich would never engage in corruption is not a throwaway line, but a bedrock principle the authors have articulated before. “Why shouldn’t the president surround himself with successful people?” Kudlow wrote in 2016. “Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption.” Trumponomics is an unintentionally persuasive argument for the exact opposite conclusion.
I suspect future historians, assuming any, will conclude that one thing that allowed Trump and Co. to get away with as much as they did was the sense of deep exhaustion that their unending cavalcade of lies, corruption, and especially their endless lies about their corruption, ended up creating in many people.
Jon isn’t one of those people. He gets a lot of criticism at LGM, some of it deserved, but in this respect in particular his is an example to follow.