Of Course the Trump Tax Plan Wouldn’t Pay for Itself. Should We Care?


The Trump tax cut plan — at least as outlined in the one-pager released the other day — is highly unlikely to pay for itself. Even using generous dynamic scoring.

While an argument could be made that the 35% top corporate rate puts the US on the wrong side of the Laffer Curve, slashing the rate by more than half and recouping all that lost revenue through higher economic growth … well, seems a bridge too far. I mean, $5 trillion (for the whole plan, such as it is) is a lot of red ink. Nor should we generally expect tax cuts to perform this feat. The 1981 Reagan tax cut didn’t pay for itself. And a 2004 study by two Bush II economists estimated that in the long run, “about 17 percent of a cut in labor taxes is recouped through higher economic growth. The comparable figure for a cut in capital taxes is about 50 percent.”


Ben Shapiro on Antifa, Bannon and Conservatism


Best-selling author, columnist and former Breitbart Editor-at-Large Ben Shapiro joins Whiskey Politics to discuss President Trump, Conservatism, his strong feelings about Steve Bannon, the Iran Deal, the Antifa threats against campus free speech and answers some Ricochet Member questions. You can find Ben’s columns at The Daily Wire, musings on Facebook and his #1 ranked conservative podcast on iTunes & Soundcloud.


A Roadmap for Dealing with Campus Radicals


Jonathan Haidt is a member of one of America’s smallest fraternities — those who attempt to see beyond their own prejudices. In left-leaning Chronicle of Higher Education, he notes that “intimidation is the new normal” on college campuses. The examples are well-known: The shout down/shut down of Heather MacDonald at Claremont McKenna College, the riots sparked by Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley, the experience of Charles Murray at Middlebury College where he and Professor Allison Stanger were physically assaulted by a mob. Stanger was sent to the hospital with injuries. She said she feared for her life. Haidt writes:

We are witnessing the emergence of a dangerous new norm for responding to speakers who challenge campus orthodoxy. Anyone offended by the speaker can put out a call on Facebook to bring together students and locals, including “antifa” (antifascist) and black-bloc activists who explicitly endorse the use of violence against racists and fascists. Because of flagrant “concept creep,” however, almost anyone who is politically right of center can be labeled a racist or a fascist, and the promiscuous use of such labels is now part of the standard operating procedure.


Breaking Up (Circuit Courts) Is Hard To Do


President Trump once again speaks before he thinks. He may not like the decisions of the Ninth Circuit, but breaking up the circuit would not accomplish any his goals. It would only give two points of access for those who are opposed to his decision. So he should think at the very least of these complications. First, he cannot just break up the circuit by himself. He needs to get Congress to do this, which it won’t if he acting out of pique. Nor is there any easy way to do this because California is so big, and it is impractical to cut it in half. A circuit with California, Hawaii and Alaska looks a bit lopsided. He also needs to think through whether it makes sense for a whole variety of administrative reasons.

Indeed, the best thing that he could do is to appoint strong judges to the lower courts, but there are nominees. And if he does appoint strong people, he takes the risk that they too will rule against him. I thought that there was a good deal of strength in the arguments against him in both the immigration case and the sanctuary cities case.


Cole Porter and Ella Fitzgerald


My post yesterday was to say something worthwhile about Ella on her centenary. I tried to show her moderating effect on Cole Porter’s music. Let me summarize my remarks without repetition: Ella has power, but she has sweetness as well, and no one ever got a heart attack from her music. Her phrasing and diction have the wonderful power of removing from Porter’s wit his least attractive characteristic, his fickleness. Her command of the music allows the wit to shine but removes most of the sting. Her mood is not as ironic as his; instead, there is something better even than his self-deprecatory humor about his fickle love — she can console even as she pleases. This is a rare achievement and there is little more that I can do than signal it.

I will return to my theme, and give it a name. Ella Americanized Porter. I have joked here before that my contemplated book on Porter has a title already — Love We’d Prefer Immoral — and I will write about Cole Porter again. But Ella is the exception to that attitude. I want to talk to you again about her moderating effect as a singer, but in a surprising way: Not by a soft lyrical attitude, as before — but by jazz. I’ll talk to you about a number with much more swing to it, “It’s All Right with Me.”


Trade War with Canada? Not So Fast.


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Well, there he goes again. Donald Trump is picking fights with other countries. He won’t be happy until the whole world is on fire, will he? North Korea is one thing, but Canada? Really? If we go to war with Canada, where will Kevin Smith make his terrible movies?


Ella Fitzgerald’s Centenary


Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ella Fitzgerald. I want to present her to you in the way that, so far as I can judge, shows best what is memorable about her. The singers may love something which we do not all know and the connoisseurs may have memories of her singing that we cannot all share. But the albums she recorded, especially the ones that recapitulate and thus justify the great American songbook, are a possession for all, and one of the small blessings that add joy to life.

My friend Mark would say something like this about Ella Fitzgerald, that she is at home wherever she chooses to sing, and she chooses freely. To understand what it means to be at home in being free in singing seems to me to understand the delight Ella offers and the cause finally of her dominating American popular music in her time. I want to show you a few things about Ella’s art and the poetic effects she desired to achieve and achieved effortlessly. I will look to the great American songbook, because Ella’s career, moving away from jazz and bebop, only attained to greatness when she turned to the standards in the Fifties, when she was no longer a girl. It is no surprise that the most gifted singer of her time should have taken her sweet time to get to the most worthwhile songs. After all, in America the excellent were called standards…


Tax Cuts or Tax Reform: Which Will Republicans Choose?

Steve Mnuchin.

Imagine a joint op-ed by Austan Goolsbee, Paul Krugman, Christina Romer, and Larry Summers telling President Hillary Clinton she was bungling a key piece of her economic agenda. Would be a big attention getter.

Now the GOP equivalent might be Team Supply Side: Steve Forbes, Larry Kudlow, Arthur Laffer, and Steve Moore. All highly influential economic thinkers on the right, it’s an antsy group. Last week the New York Times published a buzzy op-ed by the foursome gently scolding the Trump White House for a) prioritizing health reform over tax reform and b) losing focus on the tax issue by scrapping the campaign plan and starting over.


The Bill O’Reilly Scandal


The biggest media story of the moment is that Bill O’Reilly has been dropped by Fox News as a result of multiple credible sexual harassment allegations. The most intriguing part of this story is why Fox forced O’Reilly out. It did not ease him out because of low ratings or because he admitted to wrongdoing. In fact, O’Reilly railed against the “unfounded claims” lodged against him. Nor did anyone invoke the laws against employment discrimination. No, the reason for his departure was the power of market forces.

In light of the sketchy revelations, over 50 advertisers pulled their spots from O’Reilly’s show, exposing Fox to the risk of financial losses and a reputational drubbing. There’s a lesson here for proponents of the administrative state: The best way to deal with thorny issues like sexual harassment is by following due process and allowing market forces to take their course. We do not need massive federal enforcement of the civil rights laws to curb aggressive and abusive behavior.


Once Again, NAFTA Hasn’t Been a Disaster for America


President Trump has eased off China’s supposed currency manipulation, but he’s still pretty hot about NAFTA. When launching a probe yesterday into cheap Chinese steel — Beijing is hardly off the hook with the POTUS — he had this to say about that trade deal: “The fact is, NAFTA, whether it’s Mexico or Canada, is a disaster for our country.”

Almost certainly not true. Example: If these two JPMorgan charts didn’t indicate when NAFTA took effect, you couldn’t detect its impact on jobs:

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Politics in the Social Media Age


On September 26, 1960, American politics left the radio age behind. In the first-ever televised presidential debate, radio listeners considered Richard Nixon the winner. But television viewers, while hearing the same audio, contrasted Nixon’s dark countenance with the sunny disposition of John F. Kennedy — and came away with the opposite conclusion. If there were any question that TV imagery would shape political campaigns, it was laid to rest four years later, when Johnson used TV advertising to define Goldwater in the public eye, and demolished him at the voting booth.

In a similar way, politics’ television age ended with another presidential debate: Obama vs. Romney, October 16, 2012. With eerie parallel, those watching TV thought Romney won decisively, dominating the substance. Meanwhile, those who consumed their news via the new communications medium — Internet social media — took away a very different impression. They learned that Obama would keep a steady hand on the wheel of state, whereas Romney would wage wars on Big Bird and women alike (keeping the latter in his special binders). Moreover, if there is any doubt that a new age has dawned, one need look no further than the 2016 election, in which Hillary’s TV domination was inadequate to overcome an opponent with mastery of social media.


Macron ou Le Pen? A Little Experiment for People Who Can’t Understand Either One


If your French, like mine, is spotty-to-nonexistent, I invite you to take a little test. Listen to the victory speeches that both Macron and Le Pen delivered this very evening. Watch their body language. Look at their eyes. Gauge their energy levels and the sounds of their voices. Ignore what they say — again, if your French is as spotty as mine, that’ll be easy — to respond to each at the most basic human level: Who makes you feel more alive? Who looks more like a leader?

My answer? Easy. Le Pen–by a lot. I’d been assuming until now that all the polls showing Le Pen would lose the second and final round of voting, which will take place early next month, have been correct. Now I’m not so sure. Le Pen, it seems to me, simply connects.


Coming to America: FGM


I couldn’t bring myself to spell out the initials in the title: Female Genital Mutilation. In fact, I nearly didn’t write the post, the topic is so abhorrent. But given the facts, and the manner in which this crime has been reported, I felt compelled to write about it.

Just over one week ago, Jumana Nagarwala was jailed in Detroit for practicing female genital mutilation on two, seven-year old girls. Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco said, “The Department of Justice is committed to stopping female genital mutilation in this country, and will use the full power of the law to ensure that no girls suffer such physical and emotional abuse.”


Can Anti-China Tariffs Revive American Steel?


Sure, Donald Trump mused about returning to the gold standard during the campaign. But as president, he’s really more of a steel bug than a gold bug. “American steel” to be specific. To Trump, the decline in steel production and steel worker’s jobs are emblematic of lost American greatness. And when Big Steel is back, so will be America. As Trump put it last summer: “We are going to put American-produced steel back into the backbone of our country. This alone will create massive numbers of jobs.”

So with his First 100 Days almost complete, Trump is looking to make a down-payment on his American steel promise. Reuters reports:


March for Science


Do you have march fatigue yet? The left apparently does not, so we’re in for some street theater on Earth Day, April 22, with the so-called March for Science.

It’s hard to think of a better way to undermine the public’s faith in science than to stage demonstrations in Washington, DC and around the country modeled on the Women’s March in January.


Andrea del Castagno, Last Supper


This very large fresco has been a secret for most of its history. It was painted in the 1440s for the cloistered nuns of Santa Apollonia in Florence, which is why it was very rarely seen by outsiders. Eventually, it was covered in plaster, which is why it’s so well preserved, unlike the scenes above it. We have it rediscovered only since the suppression of the nuns by the military in the 1860s, and can now marvel at the poetic effect it achieves and see in what its greatness consists. Indeed, authorship itself was unwittingly a secret, but that, too, has been resolved. The last secret, not likely of resolution, is the story of the author. Castagno is little known except by slander and by his works, and the slander is not honest either. The most famous chronicler of Renaissance Italy, Vasari, offers a great big lie of a story accusing him of murdering another painter out of jealousy–so far as anyone can tell, the lie is meant to explain the dramatic quality of Castagno’s painting–his characters have no softness about them. Art history could step in to help us in our time of need, explaining what painting looked like before him and afterward, but that’s too much of a distraction. We can only attend to the mysteries in the painting itself.


Markets in Everything, Including Life


I had a conversation the other day with the folks at MTV about why I think the GOP got its voters wrong. Much of it will be familiar to you if you listen to The Federalist Radio Hour, but here’s a portion of it that sparked some controversy.

“I think the real problem is that a lot of the religiously minded [wanted and still want] to use the power of government to try to create the society that they wished [existed] within the United States. This is not something that’s new, of course. Now, there’s a good side to that, which is, of course, the civil rights movement, and the kind of effort that you saw America’s Christians play in that role. You saw it, of course, in the antislavery movement, well before that. But you also saw it in [those who were] basically being busybodies about the way people live their lives. The question I would [ask] to social conservatives is: Are you confident that the way you view a life well-lived is a compelling enough model that it will win on its own merits?


Trump’s Forceful Syrian Gambit


The Syrian government launched a chemical weapons attack against the town of Khan Sheikhoun earlier this month, killing more than 80 people, many of them children, and leaving hundreds more injured and in distress. Most people expected the United States to sit idly by, but that expectation was upended with President Donald Trump’s decision to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria. The attack caused some Syrian casualties, took out Syrian installations and aircraft, and provoked a stern response—and a disinformation campaign—by Russia and Syria. Little more than a week later, the United States dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb, the Massive Ordinance Air Blast weapon—or MOAB, also known as the “Mother of all Bombs”—in Afghanistan, reportedly killing at least 94 ISIS fighters hidden in caves and tunnels.

These two decisions mark a major, and positive, change in foreign policy for the United States. In 2013, President Barack Obama judged it best for the United States not to cross a “red line” by responding militarily in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in an attack that killed nearly 1,500 civilians. To this day, that decision has remained controversial. It is easy to see the downsides. Any decision to use force outside the context of self-defense is filled with risk. The mission could abort, or worse, it could lead to the death of innocent civilians or our military allies, as recently happened in Syria. It could also provoke outraged responses from around the globe, or induce the United States to expand its operations foolishly, thereby sapping its ability to deploy force elsewhere where it is most needed.


Rethinking the Powell Doctrine


A lifetime ago, it seems, Sen. William Fulbright observed that, “Insofar as a nation is content to practice its doctrines within its own frontiers, that nation, however repugnant its ideology, is one with which we have no proper quarrel.” I’ve been dwelling on that quote ever since my conversation with the ever-generous and perceptive Dave Sussman on his wonderful Whiskey Politics podcast a couple of weeks ago.

I had mentioned during the conversation that I thought the President’s missile strike was an appropriate response to Syrian angel-of-death Assad having gassed his own people on the grounds that, A) the use of chemical weapons crosses a threshold that simply cannot be permitted, and B) our adversaries would know that weakness, passivity, and timidity would no longer be the hallmarks American responses to lawlessness and aggression. I could hear Sen. Fulbright spinning at about 1,500 rpm in his grave.


Imagining an Alternate Universe


As we head toward the 100-day mark of the Trump Era, I think it’s fair to say we have elected the most interesting man ever to inhabit the White House. He has angered some conservatives; he has continued to enrage liberals; he has inspired marches replete with everything from vaginas to Form 1040s; he has caused major media outlets to explode with bile; he has bombed Syria and Afghanistan (in the latter case, finally allowing the MOAB designation to be removed from my 1989-90 CBS talk show); he has moved ships toward North Korea; he has upset his supposed BFF Vladimir Putin; he has shared Dover sole with Chinese President Xi Jinping, announcing, “We have developed a friendship” (with the President, not the sole); he has whiffed on Obamacare but homered on SCOTUS; he has — well, you get the idea. It’s been an interesting three months.

So while we pause and try to catch our breath, here’s a question: What would a Hillary Clinton administration look like at this point? Also, since this is strictly — and happily — a mental exercise, let’s assume the Republican Senate fell along with Trump (a reasonable assumption). What would be going on in the country and in the world? What would the media be writing and talking about? Who would be the power brokers? How would the Republicans deal with the internal warfare that contributed to the results? How would the next four or eight years be shaping up?


More Information, Please: Government Needs to Get Up to Speed on Tech Advances


MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson—who has appeared frequently in this blog, including here and here—has coauthored a book-length paper on the IT revolution and how government is unprepared to deal with it. From the FT:

An information vacuum about the sweeping impact of robotics and artificial intelligence has left governments badly positioned to respond to the coming upheaval in employment, say two US professors who have been co-ordinating a broad study on the subject. The warning, in a paper published in Nature on Thursday, calls for a new partnership with digital companies such as Uber and LinkedIn, which are quickly becoming repositories of the information needed to understand how work is changing. “Given the pace of change in the economy, we’re really flying blind,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of the report.


Nikki Haley: Pushing Back Hard on the UN


The United Nations is not on my list of favorite organizations. In fact, I’ve written an OP about leaving, if not disbanding, the institution. But now that Nikki Haley is the US ambassador to the United Nations, I’m having second thoughts.

In her short time in the UN, she has already ruffled some feathers. She’s proposed making cuts in key areas—“Everybody knows there’s fat at the UN. Everybody knows there’s fat in the peacekeeping missions. So that’s why we’re taking [a review of] each one.”


Mr. Blue


Night had smothered the city, and the city gave up its protest in uncountable millions of bubbles and gasps of light. Below was glittering Manhattan. The east was black. The opaque hilly horizon of the west was razor-edged against a last gleam of cold white light. Destroyers rode the unbridged Hudson; ferries and small craft flecked her with light. The East River lay her dark secretive self…a cool, lamp-spotted, many-bridged stream between the sprawling white conflagrations of Brooklyn and Manhattan. It was terrifyingly beautiful up on the roof, four hundred feet above the gaudy streets, four hundred feet up in the cool dark silences, four hundred feet up nearer the stars….

Mr. Blue put his hands into his trouser pockets and leaned backward, his face toward the heavens, now filling with stars.