‘Unorthodox’ is a charitable adjective

Politico reports that as the Republican presidential campaign gets underway in earnest, “no economic or monetary policy is too unorthodox for an electorate hungry for change.”

“Unorthodox” is a charitable adjective. What the article describes is GOP White House hopefuls — some credible, some not — touting bizarre economic ideas that would have caused Republican candidates to be laughed out of the room not too long ago, before the radicalization of the party.

The Republican field is filled with potential candidates who have called for radical overhauls of the tax code, the abolition of the IRS, an end to the Federal Reserve central bank — and even a return to the gold standard.

“Part of it is the very high level of unhappiness about taxation,” said longtime tax reform advocate and Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist. “And therefore people are looking for radical changes.”

Flirtation with deeply unorthodox economic policy is usually confined to the libertarian fringes of the Republican presidential fields (read: Ron Paul), but has increasingly bled into the mainstream.

It’s important to realize that the ideas being bandied about are considered “unorthodox” because they’re so far from a sane, credible understanding of how a modern economy works. There’s nothing wrong with challenging long-held assumptions that are in need of a reevaluation, but there’s something deeply wrong with taking crank economic nonsense seriously.

The strongest example of this is Tim Pawlenty’s concerns about “fiat currency,” which made him look like a bit of a loon, but we’ve seen other oddities with economic policies Politico characterizes as “exotic.”

Paul Krugman goes further, noting that it’s also worth emphasizing “the lemming-like rush to endorse the Ryan plan, which, although Very Serious, is also complete crank economics, with its insistence — in the teeth of all the evidence — that privatizing Medicare can somehow provide adequate health care at much lower cost.”

But we can keep going. A growing number of Republicans believe national default wouldn’t be a bad thing, and then there’s the party’s Speaker of the House, who is functionally illiterate when it comes to the basics of economics.

Krugman concluded:

In the first edition (but only the first edition) of his textbook, Greg Mankiw famously derided Reagan’s supply-side advisers as charlatans and cranks. It’s pretty clear that when Mankiw wrote that he imagined that this was only a phase, that the GOP would return to more sensible policies. In fact, however, the party is sinking ever further into deep voodoo. […]

The 2010 election may, in retrospect, turn out to have been a disaster for the GOP: it empowered the extremists, leading them to believe that they could go the whole way and keep winning elections.