Details of President Trump’s first budget have now been released. Much can and will be said about the dire social consequences of what is in it and the ludicrously optimistic economic assumptions it embodies. My observation is that there appears to be a logical error of the kind that would justify failing a student in an introductory economics course.
Apparently, the budget forecasts that U.S. economic growth will rise to 3.0 percent because of the administration’s policies — largely its tax cuts and perhaps also its regulatory policies. Fair enough if you believe in tooth fairies and ludicrous supply-side economics.
Then the administration asserts that it will propose revenue neutral tax cuts with the revenue neutrality coming in part because the tax cuts stimulate growth! This is an elementary double count. You can’t use the growth benefits of tax cuts once to justify an optimistic baseline and then again to claim that the tax cuts do not cost revenue. At least you cannot do so in a world of logic.
The Trump team prides itself on its business background. This error is akin to buying a company assuming that you can make investments that will raise profits, but then, in calculating the increased profits, counting the higher revenue while failing to account for the fact that the investments would actually cost some money to make. The revenue generated by the investments might exceed their cost (though the same is almost never true of tax cuts), but that doesn’t change the fact that the investment has a cost that must be included in the accounting.
This is a mistake no serious business person would make. It appears to be the most egregious accounting error in a presidential budget in the nearly 40 years I have been tracking them.
Who knew what when? I have no doubt that there are civil servants in Office of Management and Budget, the Treasury and the Council of Economics who do know better than this mistake. Were they cowed, ignored or shut out? How could the secretary of the treasury, the director of OMB and the director of the National Economic Council allow such an elementary error? I hope the press will ferret all this out.
The president’s personal failings are now not just center stage but whole stage. They should not blind us to the manifest failures of his economic team. Whether it is Secretary Mnuchin’s absurd claims about tax cuts not favoring the rich, Secretary Ross’s claim that the small squib of a deal negotiated last week with China was the greatest trade result with China in history, NEC Director Cohn's ludicrous estimate of the costs of Dodd-Frank, or today's budget, the Trump administration has not yet made a significant economic pronouncement that meets a minimal standard of competence and honesty.