In defense of ‘the basic power of arithmetic’


It’s been about two months since researchers at the Brookings Institution and the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center published their devastating report on Mitt Romney’s tax plan. After going out of their way to give Romney every possible benefit of the doubt, the scholars found the Republican’s plan would either explode the deficit or lead to a middle-class tax hike.

Brookings and the TPC backed up their analysis, but even common sense suggests they’re right – Romney/Ryan intends to slash taxes, increase defense and entitlement spending, and balance the budget, all at the same time. There’s simply no way this can be done without asking more from the middle class.

Romney, predictably, has condemned the Brookings and the TPC report, questioning the scholars’ integrity and accusing the researchers of using shoddy math. Brookings’ William G. Gale today sticks up for “the basic power of arithmetic” against Republican criticism, explaining that Romney’s proposal really would “necessarily have to raise taxes on taxpayers below $200,000.”

This was true even when we bent over backwards to make the plan as favorable to Romney as possible. We considered an unrealistically progressive way of financing the specified tax reductions. We accounted for revenue feedback coming from potential economic growth estimates as estimated by Romney advisor Greg Mankiw. We even ignored the need to finance about a trillion dollars in Romney’s proposed corporate cuts.

Our conclusion was not a prediction about Governor Romney would do as President, it was an arithmetic calculation: all of the promises couldn’t be met simultaneously without resorting to tax increases on households with income below $200,000.

Gale presents a terrific metaphor: suppose Romney claims he can drive a car from Boston to Los Angeles in 15 hours. Brookings and the TPC would say that would require Romney to exceed the speed limit, Obama would use this in campaign ads, and Republicans would decry the analysis as “partisan,” but, “You still can’t drive cross country in 15 hours without speeding.”

Josh Marshall added, “If you care about these things you should take a moment and read Gale’s short piece. If you’re a reporter who doesn’t like being lied to you should definitely read it.”

Mitt Romney

In defense of 'the basic power of arithmetic'