2) A plan that proposes to eliminate tax loopholes and deductions, but doesn't say what any of those are, is neither brave nor serious. It is, instead canny -- or cynical, take your pick. The reality is that many of these deductions, notably for home-mortgage interest payments, are popular and therefore risky to talk about eliminating.
3) A plan that exempts from future Medicare cuts anyone born before 1957 -- about a
quarter of the population, which includes me -- is neither brave nor serious. See "canny or
cynical: take your pick" above.
4) A plan to reconcile revenue and spending, which rules out axiomatically any conceivable increase in tax rates, is neither brave nor serious. Rather, it is exactly as brave and serious as some opposite-extreme proposal that ruled out axiomatically any conceivable cut in entitlement spending or discretionary accounts.
5) A plan to reduce the federal deficit by granting big tax reductions to the highest-income Americans, at a time when their tax rates are very low by historic standards and and their share of the national income is extremely high, and when middle-class job creation is our main economic challenge, is neither brave nor serious. See "cynical," above.
6) A plan that identifies rising health-care costs as the main problem in public spending, but avoids altogether the question of how to contain those costs, is neither brave nor serious. This is a longer and more complicated discussion (see below*); but I submit that the more closely anyone looks at the Ryan plan, the less "serious" it will seem on this extremely important front.
7) A plan that reduces, among other things, research on future energy sources and technologies by about 85% may be "brave," but it's also crazy and short-sighted.
Ryan's budget plan is no worse than some other partisan proposals, and it has the virtue of being more detailed than most. Let me hasten to say that it is more comprehensive and convincing than one I could draw up myself. But it's also no big intellectual or conceptual improvement on other partisan proposals. The wonder is that Ryan has managed to convince some people that it is.
* On health costs and Medicare. For decades any "serious" approach to medical spending has had to cope with various tangled economic/technological/moral realities. This is a different kind of "market" from almost any other, as David Goldhill so vividly described in our magazine. You can shop around for houses or used cars, but you don't have the same kind of comparison-shopping opportunities when you go to the emergency room or when a doctor recommends one drug versus another. Technology has the opposite effect on medical costs from many other parts of the economy: more and more miracles become available, but at higher and higher cost. And the "insurance" aspect of our current system is skewed in many ways: You can pay fire insurance year after year and never have a fire, whereas all of us are going to die, and the great majority of us will require expensive treatment at some point before we do. "Insurance" therefore is a matter both of spreading risks across a general population, as with fire insurance; but also of spreading risks across the stages of each person's life cycle, from the lower-cost early years to the higher-cost later ones. This creates markets forces and distortions unique to the health-care world.