The Wall St. Journal Editorial Page: Done In by the Facts Again

By :: August 4th, 2009

What would I do without The Wall Street Journal editorial page? I come to work on a slow summer’s day, not sure what I’m going to blog about, when I find this in the morning Journal:

“A piece in The New York Times over the weekend declared in a headline that ‘the Rich Can’t Pay for Everything, Analysts Say.’ And it quoted Leonard Burman, a veteran of the Clinton Treasury who now runs the Brookings Tax Policy Center, as saying that ‘This idea that everything new that government provides ought to be paid for by the top 5%, that’s a basically unstable way of governing.’ They’re right, but where were they during the campaign?”

There are merely three factual errors and one wildly incorrect assumption in this short paragraph. First, and sadly, Len no longer runs TPC. He has decamped to Syracuse University’s Maxwell School where, among other things, he’ll be looking at the long-term economic consequences of big deficits—an issue that has rarely troubled the Journal editorialists. Despite the tears they shed over red ink (during Democratic administrations only), they really only oppose spending, not deficits.

Second, we are actually a joint venture of Brookings and The Urban Institute. You’d think they could at least get the name right.

Then, there is the implication that TPC is a Democratic organization. Or a nest of liberals. We hear it all the time. And it ain’t true. We’ve got Democrats. We’ve got Republicans. We’ve got folks whose political affiliation, if any, remains a mystery to me. Len worked in the Clinton Treasury. Rosanne Altshuler, our new co-director, was a senior staffer for George W. Bush’s tax reform commission, chaired by well-know lefties John Breaux and Connie Mack. Our other co-director, Bill Gale, was a senior staff economist for George H.W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers.

Note to Journal editorial page: Get over it.

Finally, the Journal wonders “where they were during the campaign” in the matter of Obama’s enthusiasm for raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for new government spending. Well, we were pretty much where we are now. In our multiple analyses of both the Obama and McCain tax plans throughout the election season, TPC was the first to quantify the impact of Obama’s proposals on both the middle-class and the rich.

For instance, this is what TPC said on Sept. 12, 2008 (pg 29): “His plan would drastically alter the distribution of tax burdens….Households in the middle fifth of the income distribution would receive an average tax cut equal to 2.6 percent of income ($1,118)….The top 0.1 percent would face an average tax increase of nearly $550,000.”

In the same paper, we also concluded, "Senator Obama's plan would add $3.6 trillion to the national debt over ten years."

On July 24, 2008—I wrote this in TaxVox: “Obama’s effort to make the highest income Americans pay for more of government through higher tax rates will not come without a price.”

On August 12, 2008, I put it this way: “The other problem is that Obama will not have the money he needs to pay for all of his campaign promises….He can't cut taxes for everyone making $250,000 or less (the new middle-class in Obama land) and, at the same time, expand government programs for health care, the environment, education, and infrastructure. There are just not enough rich people to tax or Chinese to borrow from.”

Once again, the Journal editorial writers have been done in by those pesky facts. Gets ‘em every time.


  1. Anonymous  ::  8:30 pm on August 4th, 2009:

    It seems if you come into a morning not knowing what to blog about, you probably aren't worth reading… but I read some of your blog anyways.
    1. You state, “First, and sadly, Len no longer runs TPC”… yeah as he just left, his seat is still warm from leaving. So your point #1 is a joke.
    2. You state, “Second, we are actually a joint venture of Brookings and The Urban Institute. You’d think they could at least get the name right.” Who cares?? That is semantics! Point #2 is meaningless.
    3. I cede your third point to you.
    Seems to me you have it out for the WSJ… not sure why. You could have done better to have left out points one and two, considering the previous blog post was from none other than the Lenster Burman 'so long for now'.

  2. Anonymous  ::  9:10 pm on August 4th, 2009:

    The TPC makes a concerted effort to be non-partisan and non-ideological. This alone makes the TPC a rarity today. The new director should guard this principle with his life.
    One can argue that the TPC sometimes lets a hint of bias slip, but their people are human like the rest of us. I greatly respect their effort and their achievements in elevating the quality of the debate on tax policy.
    TPC reports contain plenty of common sense that people of all political persuasions can agree on. We may disagree on some specifics, but the TPC's restrained approach shows just how much the political warriors have exaggerated the partisan divide for their own gain.
    The TPC is the only organization of its type that virtually never attempts to conceal crucial facts unfavorable to its arguments. The world needs more TPCs, even if they are slanted slightly to the right or slightly to the left. The commitment to an intellectually honest debate is what counts.

  3. Anonymous  ::  3:33 pm on August 5th, 2009:

    I agree. The problem is not the TPC, which has folks from both sides and seem to generally agree on the economics of taxes. The problem is that the WSJ is now Rupert Murdoch's mouthpiece and that they and their die-hard fans in the GOP have become generally unhinged.

  4. Anonymous  ::  7:13 pm on August 9th, 2009:

    Thanks AMTbuff.
    Jim, Yeah, point #1 was a joke, but humor is in short supply in the tax policy debate, and point #2 isn't a big deal either (except that Urban Institute likes to get credit for the massive investment it has made in TPC). #3 is the main point, the unfunny part, and it is important. The WSJ will blithely invent straw men to advance its arguments, and it shouldn't. If it is right on substance, it should be able to stand on the facts.
    However, on a personal note, I always get a kick out of their use of me as straw man. Their editorial page has occasionally insinuated that I was pulling the strings behind the Democratic policy machine. In fact, like Howard, I've enjoyed having the freedom to criticize both sides. I'm not in the Democrats' inner circle, and that is fine with me.

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