This Time Mankiw’s Just Plain Lying. And He Knows It.

April 22nd, 2009

He shares this with us today:

Federal outlays and revenues as a percentage of GDP

What he doesn’t say, but knows very well: the “baseline” is Bush-era shucking and jiving–hiding hundreds of billions of dollars off the budget.

The Obama budget that’s being compared includes everything in full daylight–even though Obama knew that Mankiw et. al. would game the debate just this way.

Mankiw–head of the CEA under Bush–knows how a budget is gamed as well as anyone in the world. (See his quite magisterial article on Dynamic Scoring [pdf] for one example.) And he knows one that’s been gamed when he sees is.

But here he is, blinking his eyes innocently while presenting information–of course sans comment, as is his wont–that he and everyone else, even the CBO that created it, knows is utterly misrepresentative.

He doesn’t comment because if he started talking about it, he’d have to explain that as presented, it’s a lie.

The CBO/Bush baseline, which is pretty much “the law as it stands today”:

1. Includes projected income from the Alternative Minimum Tax that is never collected because congress patches the AMT every year (because it needs patching because it’s broken). Bush pretended this wasn’t true.

2. Does not include the hundreds of billions in “supplemental” and “emergency” appropriations for little things like Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terrorism. Bush pretended those weren’t budget items–hiding them “off balance sheet” just like the banks do. Obama includes these in his budget. (Though his budget reflects Iraq and Afghanistant costs phasing out after 2010–perhaps overly optimistic.)

3. Assumes the Bush tax cuts are going to expire. Hey that’s what the law says, right? This is the exact budget-PR time-bomb that BushCo intentionally planted. And Mankiw is quite intentionally–and disingenuously–using it.

For far more detail on this, see the CBO director’s own blog, and the Tax Policy Center.

Mankiw knows all this. He knows it very, very well. He knows that unlike Mankiw’s former boss, Obama is putting a real budget on the table, comparing these apples to those apples. (Which Mankiw’s little graph does not do.)

But he doesn’t say any of those things that he knows. Does that constitute “lying?” Does it contribute positively to the public debate, or does it just obscure reality in an effort to perpetuate what is essentially a faith-based economic belief system?

You decide.

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