Frum vs. Kudlow

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JONATHAN CHAIT APRIL 8, 2010

Frum vs. Kudlow

David Frum is going through an interesting process as a conservative apostate. He used to be a conservative in good standing. Then he hit upon the idea that the Republican Party needed, primarily for tactical reasons, to reposition itself in the center in order to be politically competitive. (I think Frum's view on this is overstated, by the way.) This has increasingly alienated Frum from conservative figures and institutions he once trusted. And now he's starting to write things like this:

I appeared on Larry Kudlow’s show last night and we had a bit of a tussle about how much deficit reduction could be achieved by cutting federal salaries.

Larry argued that a 5-10% pay cut for federal civilian employees like that imposed by Ireland could have a major impact on the federal budget deficit. (Larry was greatly influenced by this WSJ oped.)

I had come prepared to talk about a different subject, and so didn’t have the relevant figures at hand, but I suggested that his math sounded incredible. Looking it up this morning, it IS incredible.

While I could find no single source for the total budgetary income of federal civilian pay, I did find this sophisticated calculation at this academic website.

The total annual cost of all federal civilian pay and benefits can be estimated at about $260 billion.

A 5% across the board pay cut would save no more than $13 billion , and in fact much less: remember, federal pay is unusually benefits-heavy.

To put it another way: even if we fired every single federal civil servant and shuttered the entire non-defense federal government, three-fourths of the budget deficit would still be with us.

Does this really come as news to Larry Kudlow, a very smart man and a former deputy to David Stockman at the Office of Management and Budget?

A smart man? No, this kind of basic ignorance is the staple of Kudlow's thinking. He's an absolute buffoon. I'm guessing Frum considers him smart because he's never really tried to compare Kudlow's claims to reality before -- he simply trusted that Kudlow knew what he was talking about.

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posted in: jonathan chait, david frum, david stockman, larry kudlow, office of management and budget, republican party

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