Nobody Cares About Deficit Reduction Including Deficit ‘Hawks’

Nor should they–deficits are a policy tool, just like interest rates. John Cassidy points out what should be obvious to all but the most committed centrists, the NPR Totebagerrati, and Thomas Friedman readers (boldface mine):

Having spent much of the past three years reading and writing about this subject, I wonder whether it is even worth engaging with these arguments. The aversion to government spending, and government activity generally, which animates many Americans isn’t actually based on economics, or logic: it is an emotionally driven belief system, founded upon a cockeyed view of American history and buttressed by a variety of right-wing shibboleths.

In the real world that rarely intrudes upon conservative economists and voters, both parties (and all Presidents) are Keynesians. Whenever the economy falters and private-sector spending declines, they use the tax-and-spending system to inject more demand into the economy. In 1981, Ronald Reagan did precisely this, slashing taxes and increasing defense spending. Between 2001 and 2003, George W. Bush followed the same script, introducing three sets of tax cuts and starting two wars. In February, 2009, Barack Obama introduced his stimulus. The real policy debate isn’t about Keynesianism versus the free market, it is about magnitudes and techniques: How much stimulus is necessary? And how should it be divided between government spending and tax cuts?

This should be mandatory reading for every politician and pundit. Despite what people will say–many people will instinctively blame deficits, although when pushed, they can’t explain why*–no one cares about deficits when confronted with the specter of unemployment and falling wages. No one.

Actually, I should write ‘virtually no one.’ A small percentage of people really do care. Unfortunately, they are running things.

This is yet another reason why we can’t have nice things.

*I’m convinced ‘deficits’ are a general purpose catch phrase. Also, the correlation between the improved economy for some during the Clinton era and deficit reduction tends to lead people to think deficits are inherently bad. As long as you didn’t go into debt, those times were good. Unfortunately, a lot of people did–Elizabeth Warren made her ‘academic bones’ studying this problem.

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