The Magic Asterisk!

by Will on December 22, 2012


Paul Krugman sends us to Greg Sargent, on the mercifully stalled budget negotiations:

I spoke this morning to an official familiar with the fiscal cliff talks. He tells me that ever since Republicans rejected the first White House fiscal offer, White House negotiators have been asking Republicans to detail both the spending cuts they want and the loopholes and deductions they would close to raise revenues while avoiding a hike in tax rates for the rich.

According to the official, Republicans continue to refuse to answer.

And there we see that most wonderful piece of wizardry, the Magic Asterisk.

As best I can tell, the Magic Asterisk entered the American political scene in 1968, accompanying Richard Nixon’s “Secret Plan” to end the war in Vietnam. Nixon would give no details about the contents of his plan, solemnly invoking the otherworldly asterisk. After his election, we learned that what the asterisk meant in this case was: “step up aerial bombardments of South Vietnam, and then invade Laos and Cambodia.” Hey, the war did end, eventually.

In its current incarnation, the Magic Asterisk has been a vital component of Paul Ryan’s budget plan, Mitt Romney’s budget plan, and the budget plan that speaker Boehner recently offered. These plans go something like this:

We want to raise eleventy-twelve TRILLION dollars of revenue by closing loopholes; to cut spending by eleventy-thirteen TRILLION; and to cut taxes by eleventy-fourteen TRILLION dollars, which we estimate will cause eleventy-fifteen TRILLION in economic growth!

This prompts a number of questions: Which loopholes do you want to close? Which spending programs do you want to cut? Which taxes do you propose to cut? What model are you using to predict that growth number, and are there any empirical cases to back the model up? Where are these numbers coming from?

And then we get the irrefutable response: “The Magic Asterisk!”

This is some impressive wizardry indeed.


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