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The Trump budget isn’t even correct math: Why call it an error?

Members of the Trump budget team, hard at work. (Photo by: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

The first proposed budget from President Donald Trump’s administration has been released, and much like the wind or late-night talk show host hand that periodically ripples through Trump’s blond, Medusa-like hair, the already ugly exterior conceals something far dumber than you can possibly imagine. It’s dominating much online political discussion today, and the main point of contention has been found. In a short but efficient article (e.g., the exact opposite of an Alex Jones rant), New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait breaks down a fundamental flaw in the plan. It goes like this: The document claims the budget will be balanced by assuming a $2 trillion increase revenue via economic growth. So far, so hilarious. But setting aside the fact this is already the kind of spurious argument with no basis in reality that makes angels get their wings (from all the anti-government zealots clapping for the speedy dismantling), the budget also assumes the massive tax cuts Trump’s team is calling for are supposed to pay for themselves—to the tune of $2 trillion. What a coincidence!

So the entire thing rests on a double-counting error. This imaginary money that will come rolling in like a tidal wave will first pay for the loss in tax revenues from wildly irresponsible cuts, then it will pay for balancing the budget over the next 10 years. It will be in two places at once! Abracadabra! For its next trick, the Trump administration will make the public social safety net disappear. Can it get a volunteer?


Needless to say, this budget is prima facie ridiculous. But what’s equally odd, to our eyes, is Chait’s assumption that this is a moronic adding error, as though the Trump budget team were an easily distracted child in math class who simply wrote a plus sign instead of a minus sign next to where “$2 trillion” was written down on the blackboard. Using Occam’s razor, the more logical assumption here would be that this is a lie. Trump’s people know full well they’re fudging the numbers; it’s standard practice with idiotic, ideology-driven budget proposals put forth by duplicitous elected officials to make false claims about the workings of their plans. Paul Ryan, for one, is well acquainted with this kind of imaginary money.

It’s unclear if this is just Chait’s well-heeled neoliberal diplomacy at work (which would make sense—given his own specious reasoning in the past, maybe he finds this more polite), or if he genuinely doesn’t think this is a baldfaced lie. When Ronald Reagan made up money and then claimed it would do even more made-up stuff, members of his own party called it “voodoo economics” and mocked the incorrect math behind it. So to read this latest fraud as a situation where, if it were pointed out to them, Trump’s administration would go, “Oh, whoops, we didn’t realize that we were using $2 trillion in not one, but two ways that don’t really add up, numbers-wise” seems tantamount to letting Michael Flynn off the hook if he were to say, “Oh, I didn’t realize those dudes were Russian intelligence! My bad.” This is the funhouse-mirror version of Karl Marx’s dictum that “They don’t know it, but they are doing it”: They know full well what they’re doing, and they‘re doing it anyway.

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