While Ross Douthat is correct, he doesn’t get a cookie for this (boldface mine):
Instead, in the spirit of the longer view, I want to use this confessional column to reach back to the early Obama years, and the arguments I made then that assumed the urgency of deficit reduction, the pressing need for honest liberals to champion major tax increases and for honest conservatives to go all-in for major entitlement reform.
I was not the fiercest of deficit hawks, not a hard-money type or an inflation-panicker. But as a non-economist staring at Congressional Budget Office projections and at examples of fiscal crisis from Greece to California, it seemed reasonable to make deficit cutting a near-term priority from 2010 onward, to offset the surge of Great Recession spending with a period of belt-tightening.
But now I think this reasonable view was wrong. Not completely, in the sense that many of the deficit-reducing policies I supported — means-testing entitlement programs, eliminating tax breaks for the wealthy and upper middle class — I still support, because I think the money involved is presently misspent. But I was wrong in the priority that I gave the deficit relative to other issues, wrong to discern a looming “fiscal precipice,” wrong in some of the criticism I leveled at both George W. Bush and Barack Obama for failing to care enough about balancing the nation’s books…
There are always real limits on what government spending or tax cuts can accomplish and how far they can go. A society only has so much productive capacity, dumb tax cuts can be hoarded and dumb spending used to enrich special interests or subsidize social pathology, and too much spending can eventually induce inflation.
But those limits are not established by an arbitrary deficit target. Instead, a rich and powerful country with a stable government and control over its own currency (which is to say, not a prisoner of the euro) should be willing to live with a loose fiscal policy when wage growth is disappointing and inflation low, and it should debate tax and spending changes on their own terms — will this money be put to good use? — rather than pursuing a balanced budget for its own sake.
This is nothing some of us on the left (broadly construed) haven’t been saying for years. Yet oddly enough, now that massive tax cuts for the rich are part of the lay of the land, suddenly worrying about arbitrary deficit targets is no longer the Very Serious Thing To Do. When sick people need affordable healthcare, not so much. When we need to fix all the broken things, deficits are Very Important.
Nope. No cookie for Douthat.