Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee for Virginia governor, has a wild plan to eliminate the state’s income tax, to solve the (non-existent) problem of businesspeople not wanting to operate in the state. But fear not! He is acting on the advice of the top minds in the field. “I have the best senior economic adviser on the planet in Stephen Moore working with me on this,” Youngkin tells the Washington Post.
Stephen Moore is not the best economic adviser on the planet, or for that matter, the country, the state, or any area that contains Steve Moore and any other human being, with the arguable exception of Lawrence Kudlow, Moore’s longtime partner.
Indeed, Moore’s whole career has been a testament to the proposition that one can have a successful career as a Republican Party economist without having any serious grasp of economics.
Moore’s pseudo-expertise is not limited to economics. He has managed to misunderstand an impressive array of subjects. Moore claims global warming is fake; that coal would mount a massive comeback under Trump (the opposite occurred); that the insurance exchanges created by Obamacare were collapsing (they didn’t); that Robert E. Lee “hated slavery” and the “Civil War was about the South having its own rights” (uh, no).
Moore repeatedly predicted hyperinflation under Obama, which didn’t happen, then insisted Trump was experiencing deflation, which also hadn’t happened. He was subsequently nominated to the Federal Reserve Board despite having confessed “I’m not an expert on monetary policy.” When his nomination failed, he attributed his failure to win the nomination to Democrats being “stupid and evil.”
But supply-side economics has always been his first love. Cutting taxes for the rich has been the Republican Party’s unwavering objective since 1990. Moore believes with evangelical devotion that tax levels for the rich move in one direction, and revenues and economic growth the opposite. My first encounter with Moore came nearly a quarter-century ago, when he was insisting that the Republican Party’s claim that Bill Clinton’s tax hike on the rich would reduce revenue — a prediction that could not possibly have fared worse, as revenue exploded to levels far beyond even what Clinton’s economists hoped — was, somehow, true. His analysis relied on methods such as not being able to perform simple arithmetic.
Moore experienced this episode as a triumph. He insisted the Bush tax cuts would increase tax revenue (revenue dropped), and went on to advise Republican governor Sam Brownback, of Kansas, to implement deep tax cuts that would unleash prosperity. Instead, the tax cuts failed and revenue collapsed to the point of creating a fiscal crisis so deep even the state’s Republican legislature voted to cancel out the tax cuts. A year and a half into the failed experiment, Moore was still publicly insisting, “There is nothing the matter with Kansas.”
Asked the other day about Kansas, Moore was uncharacteristically contrite before pivoting to the offensive: “Kansas didn’t work out so well, but we probably got ten other examples of states that did really well when they lowered taxes.” Moore sounds a bit like the Amway salesman explaining to his mark why, even though he has lost a ton of money, all the other clients are getting rich and his next chance to make up for the losses is just around the corner.
Moore’s career highlight was serving as an adviser to Donald Trump, whose supply-side tax cuts are widely regarded by his party as a highlight of his presidency. The actual fact is that the Trump tax cuts failed on their stated terms. Its advocates predicted they would increase revenue from business. Instead, revenue fell sharply.
As economist William Gale writes, examining the economic data, there is no evidence that the Trump tax cuts even succeeded in spurring higher levels of business investment, the putative mechanism by which they were supposed to spur growth.
The Trump tax cuts did deliver very large tax savings to very wealthy people, though. This might explain why the policy remains so wildly popular in the GOP despite having failed to achieve its publicly stated objective.
If Moore has understood anything, it is that there is a perpetual demand for economists who can confidently assure Republican politicians they can easily produce economic prosperity while enriching their friends and donors. The stability of that political equation has not changed in decades. Moore is the supply side.