The Agenda

Irwin Stelzer’s Cultural Defense of 9-9-9

In the Weekly Standard, Irwin Stelzer takes to Herman Cain’s defense on the issue of 9-9-9. But rather than defending in any detail the substance of the plan (or perhaps even doing much research on it–Stelzer doesn’t seem to realize that one of the plan’s components is a value-added tax), Stelzer mostly attacks Cain’s attackers as elitists:

Start with the fact that Cain is not, well, one of us, “us” being the Republican establishment. His two millionaire opponents, both having reached that elevated station in whole or in part because they were born into it, make it clear that no man who has worked his way up, and made a bit of money in the pizza business, can be un homme sérieux. Developed the plan on the back of a pizza box, they chortle. Never mind that this might be as good a way as using the computer models that told President Obama’s team that his massive stimulus plan would lower the unemployment rate. Or that the criticism smacks of the aversion of the British hereditary classes to “trade.” It is an unbecoming line of criticism for a party that is supposed to represent the upwardly mobile entrepreneurial class.

In its more sophisticated version this criticism morphs into an attack on Cain for not having consulted the usual gaggle of academics. His main adviser is “not a trained economist,” sniffs Politico. Surely Larry Summers would have taken time out from such duties as he might have at Harvard to give Cain his views. Or the conservative economists who advised George W. Bush that his plan to fund the purchase of prescription drugs for old folks was affordable could have been brought in for a full-day seminar at which pizza might be served, reviving memories of those Clinton-era gabfests.

The anti-educational sentiment that Stelzer espouses here has unfortunately become fashionable among some self-loathing conservative elites. You’ll have to pardon me for taking the horrendously elitist view that economic policy should be made in consultation with people who know about economics. 

Stelzer’s piece also contends that critics of 9-9-9 on the right have failed to challenge the plan substantively. I can only assume that means he hasn’t read me or Ramesh on the topic. If he’d read us, not only would he see arguments he didn’t address in his piece, he’d also know about the VAT.

Josh Barro — Mr. Barro is the Walter B. Wriston fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His research is focused on state and local fiscal policy.

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