House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., heads to the House floor for votes on Jan. 14, 2015.
Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP

Republicans continue to turn to the wrong economist

Updated
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) yesterday tweeted a picture of him sitting down with a familiar figure in his leadership office. The far-right Louisianan wrote, “Great to meet with President Reagan’s former economic advisor Art Laffer to discuss the benefits of tax reform!”
 
Soon after, The Hill reported that Laffer publicly defended Donald Trump’s trade policies.
“Having spent time with him and virtually all of the other candidates, I would say that he has as firm a grasp of international trade as any candidate,” Laffer said a breakfast at The Podesta Group. “He clearly understands foreign investments, foreign locations, foreign businesses.”
 
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has the “best chance of doing good trade policy,” added Laffer, who was an economic policy adviser to former president Ronald Reagan…. Laffer also said that Trump’s tax plan would be “phenomenal” for the U.S.
The problem with both of these stories – Laffer vouching for Trump and Scalise discussing tax policy with Laffer – is that they treat the Republican economist as a credible figure. He’s not.
 
Circling back to some of our previous coverage of Laffer’s reputation, regular readers may recall that the Republican economist rose to GOP prominence in the 1980s by pushing the celebrated-but-wrong idea that tax cuts pay for themselves.
 
More recently, he served as the architect of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) failed right-wing economic experiment, which destroyed state finances and did little to improve the state’s economy. Laffer vowed that Brownback’s plan would generate “enormous prosperity,” which is largely the opposite of what’s actually happened.
 
When the the GOP governor’s agenda failed to deliver on any of the guaranteed results, Laffer was pressed for an explanation. “Kansas is doing fine,” he boasted.
 
 
About a year ago, Paul Krugman added some helpful context to Laffer’s record.
Since the 1970s there have been four big changes in the effective tax rate on the top 1 percent: the Reagan cut, the Clinton hike, the Bush cut, and the Obama hike. Republicans are fixated on the boom that followed the 1981 tax cut (which had much more to do with monetary policy, but never mind). But they predicted dire effects from the Clinton hike; instead we had a boom that eclipsed Reagan’s. They predicted wonderful things from the Bush tax cuts; instead we got an unimpressive expansion followed by a devastating crash. And they predicted terrible things from the tax rise after Obama’s reelection; instead we got the best job growth since 1999.
 
And when I say “they predicted”, I especially mean Laffer himself, who has a truly extraordinary record of being wrong at crucial turning points. As Bruce Bartlett pointed out a few years ago, Laffer was even wrong during the Reagan years: he predicted that the Reagan tax hikes of 1982, which partially reversed earlier cuts, would cripple the economy; “morning in America” promptly followed. Oh, and let’s not forget his 2009 warnings about soaring interest rates and inflation.
Politics really isn’t supposed to work this way. When someone fails spectacularly, he or she is supposed to quietly go away, not offer guidance on the issue that left them looking ridiculous.
 
And yet, Art Laffer not only sticks around, he consults with House GOP leaders on shaping economic policies that don’t work.

Steve Scalise, Tax Policy and Tax Reform

Republicans continue to turn to the wrong economist

Updated