Our sister publication asks analysts whether the administration's economic forecasts are too optimistic. They would have gotten a more interesting discussion if their query had been "Is the Pope Catholic?" Of course they're too optimistic. In fact, the word optimistic is too optimistic. A better choice might have been "insane". Like Greg Mankiw, I would love to find a
sucker investor who is willing to take the other end of a bet that both growth and revenue will fall short of the administration's predictions.
Having defended Obama's candidacy largely on his economic team, I'm having serious buyer's remorse. Geithner, who is rapidly starting to look like the weakest link, is rattling around by himself in Treasury. Meanwhile, the administration is clearly prioritized a stimulus package that will not work without fixing the banks over, um, fixing the banking system. Unlike most fiscal conservatives, I'm not mad at him for trying to increase the size of the government; that's, after all, what he got elected promising to do. But he also promised to be non-partisan and accountable, and the size and composition stimulus package looks like just one more attempt to ram through his ideological agenda without much scrutiny, with the heaviest focus on programs that will be especially hard to cut.
The budget numbers are just one more blow to the credibility he worked hard to establish during the election. Back then, people like me handed him kudoes for using numbers that were really much less mendacious than the general run of candidate program promises. Now, he's building a budget on the promise that this recession will be milder than average, with growth merely dipping to 1.2% this year and returning to trend in 2010. Isn't there anyone at BLS who could have filled him in on the unemployment figures, or at Treasury who could have explained what a disproportionate impact finance salaries have on tax revenue? These numbers . . . well, I can't really fully describe them on a family blog. But he has now raced passed Bush in the Delusional Budget Math olympics.
It's therefore frankly more than a little disappointing that the free marketers are represented by Grover Norquist, who trots out conservative boilerplate to the effec that we'rea ll going to hell because of EFCA and marginal tax rate increases. Republicans will not fight delusional accounting by demonstrating that they're still tangled up in the Laffer Curve. Growth can still hit 1.2%--or even 3.2%--if EFCA passes. But it manifestly cannot in the middle of an ugly recession.