It is said, perhaps not reliably, that the following headlines appeared in a Paris newspaper, perhaps Le Moniteur Universel, in 1815 as Napoleon escaped from exile on Elba and advanced through France:
THE ANTHROPOPHAGUS HAS QUITTED HIS DEN
THE CORSICAN OGRE HAS LANDED AT CAPE JUAN
THE TIGER HAS ARRIVED AT CAP
THE MONSTER SLEPT AT GRENOBLE
THE TYRANT HAS PASSED THOUGH LYONS
THE USURPER IS DIRECTING HIS STEPS TOWARDS DIJON
BONAPARTE IS ONLY SIXTY LEAGUES FROM THE CAPITAL
He has been fortunate enough to escape his pursuers
BONAPARTE IS ADVANCING WITH RAPID STEPS, BUT HE WILL NEVER ENTER PARIS
NAPOLEON WILL, TOMORROW, BE UNDER OUR RAMPARTS
THE EMPEROR IS AT FONTAINEBLEAU
HIS IMPERIAL AND ROYAL MAJESTY arrived yesterday evening at the Tuileries, amid the joyful acclamation of his devoted and faithful subjects
And I think about that story whenever I see articles like this one in this morning’s Washington Post:
GOP elites are now resigned to Donald Trump as their nominee
Philip Rucker writes:
An aura of inevitability is now forming around the controversial mogul. Trump smothered his opponents in six straight primaries in the Northeast and vacuumed up more delegates than even the most generous predictions foresaw. He is gaining high-profile endorsements by the day — a legendary Indiana basketball coach Wednesday, two House committee chairmen Thursday.
Presidential candidate Ben Carson released a three-page tax plan yesterday. Based on the limited information the plan includes, it looks like the best GOP plan so far.
Individuals and businesses would be subject to a simple 14.9 percent flat tax. The tax base appears to be of the Hall-Rabushka (HR) design, which is the gold standard of simple and pro-growth tax structures. I say “appears to be” because the Carson three-pager gives some hints, but not full details.
The defining feature of HR is that income is taxed once and only once. The current double taxation of savings and investment would be ended. Capital income would be taxed at the business level under HR, while labor income would be taxed at the individual level. Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka proposed the HR tax structure back in 1981, as I discuss here. Rabushka, by the way, is a Cato adjunct scholar.
Ben Carson seems to have avoided the dangerous business VAT structure of the Ted Cruz and Rand Paul tax plans. He appears to be critiquing Cruz and Paul in this passage:
Unlike proposals advanced by other candidates, my tax plan does not compromise with special interests on deductions or waffle on tax shelters and loopholes.
Nor does it falsely claim to be a flat tax while still deriving the bulk of its revenues through higher business flat taxes that amount to a European-style value-added tax (VAT).
Adding a VAT on top of the income tax would not only impose an immense tax increase on the American people, but also become a burdensome drag on the U.S. economy.
Every Republican wants to be Ronald Reagan reincarnated. At least that’s what GOP candidates say. But the 40th president probably wouldn’t feel comfortable running today.
First, he’d have a good laugh at the fear-mongering. For instance, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared: “I don’t believe that I have ever lived in a time in my life when the world was a more dangerous and scary place.”
Reagan lived through World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. He likely would explain that never in its history has America been as secure from serious threats.
A sense of historical perspective and responsible rhetoric may be too much to ask of candidates at this stage in a presidential campaign. With fifteen contenders all looking to score points some hyperbole is to be expected. Even so the level of threat inflation and “world in flames” talk last night was troublesome given how at odds it is with fundamental trends in world affairs.
Here is just a sampling of last week’s overheated discussion of global dangers:
Donald Trump: “The world is blowing up around us. …These are extraordinarily dangerous times that we live in.”
Ben Carson: “We’re talking about global jihadists who want to destroy us. …They are an existential threat to our nation.”
Rick Santorum: “Yes, they (Iran) are radical Islamists, that’s true. But their particular version of it, which is an apocalyptic version, which is a death cult, they believe in bringing about the end of the - end of the world. If you - if you poll Iranians and Iraqis, Shiites in the region, more than two-thirds of them believe that the end of the world is going to come within their lifetime. …They believe in bringing about the end of times. That’s their theological goal and we are in the process of giving them a nuclear weapon to do just that.”
Mike Huckabee: “This is really about the survival of Western civilization.”
With the candidates competing to outdo each other’s apocalyptic visions of the threats facing the U.S., it is no surprise that their policy prescriptions for Russia, Syria, Iran, and ISIL displayed a distinct tendency toward irresponsibility and overkill. Of the candidates in the debate, only Rand Paul and John Kasich articulated more temperate visions of U.S. foreign policy, Paul suggesting that sometimes intervention makes things worse and Kasich that the U.S. should actually wait to see how Iran behaves before simply ripping up the Iran deal and pursuing more aggressive options.
I have a new piece up at ForeignPolicy.com on Ron Paul and the Republican Party, focused in particular on the strong support that Paul draws from young people, with some additional speculation about where those young people will end up, if and when Paul steps back from his very public role. My instincts are that these young people are motivated at least as much by the ideas that Paul espouses as by Ron Paul, the person. If I am correct, many of them are likely to remain active in politics. I close with a warning to GOP leaders that they would be making a grave error if they ignored this libertarian-leaning voting bloc. Unfortunately, that is what the GOP’s leading candidate, Mitt Romney, seems to be doing by pushing a short-sighted plan for boosting military spending at a time when the country is awash in debt.
I have always been puzzled by the fact that conservatives who rail against welfare dependency here at home miss the pernicious effects of security dependency among our allies. Tim Pawlenty didn’t get it. Neither does Mitt Romney. Rather than questioning the mantras that have guided U.S. foreign policy for over a generation, Romney simply assumes that the United States will remain the world’s policeman, other countries will continue to free-ride on our security guarantees, and U.S. taxpayers will happily foot the bill. He proposes spending at least four percent of GDP on the military’s base budget, plus whatever additional money might be needed to fight the wars that he wants to fight (for example, this one).
I commented on the Four Percent Gimmick a few months ago, and now I have a bit more detail about Romney’s plan relative to the Obama administration’s latest 10-year projections. I alluded to these numbers in the ForeignPolicy.com piece, and below provide some more detail. (I am grateful, as always, for the help of my colleague Charles Zakaib in sorting through these, and in preparing the charts).
The chart above shows spending in nominal, current-year dollars, over the next ten years. The Obama administration plans to spend $5.7 trillion between 2013 and 2022 (the blue bars). If Romney keeps his promise of four percent for defense, he will spend at least $8.3 trillion (using OMB’s GDP projections) over that same period, an additional $2.58 trillion (the yellow bars). His budget in 2022 would top $1 trillion, and would be at least 61 percent higher than Barack Obama’s. He hasn’t said what other spending he will cut, or what taxes he would increase, to cover that difference. Until he does, it is logical to conclude that he plans to pile on more debt.
And we should remember that current laws call for even less spending than President Obama has proposed, but he has chosen to ignore the sequestration provisions of the Budget Control Act. GOP leaders in Congress seem equally disinterested in following through on their promise to kick the spending habit, and several have put forward plans to undo sequestration for the Department of Defense. Either way, the bottom line is more debt. As I speculate at ForeignPolicy.com, no wonder young people seem to like Ron Paul so much (and Mitt Romney so little).
Another way to demonstrate the absurdity of Romney’s plan is to control for inflation and compare it to future and past trends. Looking ahead, in constant, 2012 dollars, annual Pentagon spending will average $744.8 billion over the next ten years—again assuming the same GDP projections as Obama’s plan. That is 44 percent higher than Obama’s average budget (the bright pink line) over that same period, and nearly 59 percent higher than sequestration (the dark red line).
Now consider how this compares with the recent past. As you can see, Romney’s Four Percent Gimmick would result in taxpayers spending more than twice as much on the Pentagon as in 2000 (111 percent higher, to be precise), and 45 percent more than in 1985, the height of the Reagan buildup. Over the next ten years, Romney’s annual spending (in constant dollars) for the Pentagon would average 64 percent higher than annual post-Cold War budgets (1990-2012), and 42 percent more than the average during the Reagan era (1981-1989).
Mitt Romney may genuinely believe that today’s enemies are 42 percent more frightening than the big bad Soviets. He might believe that spending an average of $450 billion (in constant dollars) every year since 1990 has left the country dangerously vulnerable. If that is true, he should say so. More importantly, however, he should be compelled to answer the question on everyone’s mind: Where is he going to get the money to fund his Pentagon spending binge?
Mitt Romney has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that Dan Drezner has aptly characterized as “Romney SMASH China!” Drezner takes Romney’s arguments on their own terms, but I’m more cynical, and accordingly I’m interested in why Romney wrote this piece. Sure, sure, maybe it’s possible that he just has strongly held ideas about U.S.- China policy and chose to voice them, but let’s be real: the man is trying to get the GOP nomination and then get elected president. He or someone in his campaign decided that now was a good time to reach out to the largest circulation conservative op-ed page in the country—one that gets read by a lot of people from whom he’d like to get contributions—with this message.
And what is the message? There’s the usual inchoate American nationalism (making the 21st “an American, not a Chinese century”) and criticism of Obama’s extravagant spending, sure, but there are also some fairly clear signs that Romney wants to signal he’ll get tough on China. He argues that Washington must “directly counter abusive Chinese practices in the areas of trade, intellectual property, and currency valuation.” On the latter, he goes so far as to promise that “on day one of my presidency I will designate [China] a currency manipulator…” despite gradual appreciation in the renminbi highlighted in today’s New York Times.
On the security side, he unsurprisingly suggests that the United States should bolster its role as the balancer-of-first-resort in the Asia-Pacific, claiming without evidence that our allies are worrying that we’re going to leave the region.
Now let’s go back to my question: What’s the play here? Does he think that this is some sort of mass appeal argument that will burnish his credentials in the eyes of the median Republican primary voter? Is he trying to tie economic malaise to the looming ChiCom menace? Maybe so, but does he think that the wealthy potential contributors who read the Journal op-ed page are going to be aroused by this message? That doesn’t seem right to me at all.
There are lots of people who’ve gotten wealthy running political campaigns who no doubt got this piece placed (and probably wrote it), but the questions remain: Why this message? Why this outlet? What was this piece supposed to accomplish? I can’t figure out a persuasive answer.