In 1980, the third-party Presidential candidate John Anderson succinctly summed up Ronald Reagan’s promise to simultaneously cut taxes, increase defense spending, keep government services intact, and balance the budget: “Reagan’s budget is constructed with mirrors.” Sure enough, Reagan presided over eight years of deficits that tripled the national debt. Yet the Republican faith that you can tax-cut your way to deficit reduction has never dimmed. This year’s Republican race is dominated by candidates whose budgetary plans make Reagan’s look downright reasonable.
Not surprisingly, the most extreme plan is Donald Trump’s. He would slash taxes across the board, reducing revenues by nine and a half trillion dollars over the next decade, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Yet he has also promised to balance the budget, protect Social Security and Medicare, and not cut services. How? Well, he says he’ll get rid of “waste and fraud and abuse,” and abolish the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. And he thinks that the tax cuts would spur an economic boom, so that revenues will actually increase.
This is pure fantasy. Those spending cuts would save just a tiny fraction of what he claims, and the revenue projections have no basis in reality. Yet, unrealistic as Trump’s ideas are, they differ from those of his chief opponents only in degree, not in kind.
James Surowiecki, “The Campaign of Magical Thinking”, The New Yorker (21 March 2016), 36.