Monday, November 15, 2010

Just Don't Hurt Nobody. 'Less Of Course They Ask You

I remain completely baffled about the mindset of non-partisan budget hawks.  Jonathan Cohn has a great post up today about the complete lack or credit budget hawks gave Barack Obama and the Democrats for making the painful (for them!) choice to place budget responsibility at the core of their health care reform effort.  As Cohn points out, Democrats gave up some of their core substantive concern (universal coverage) and sacrificed quite a bit of surface political gain in order to finance expanded coverage in the short and medium run, and to at least attempt to put both government and private health costs on a sound footing in the longer run.  And yet budget scolds pretty much either ignored it, or criticized it on the basis that future Congresses might repeal those tough measures. 

This is nothing new.  Budget scolds gave little if any credit to Bill Clinton and the Democrats for cutting the deficit in 1993.  They didn't give a whole lot of credit to George H.W. Bush and Congressional Democrats for their budget deal, either --  and they did little to identify Newt Gingrich and other conservatives as the main opponents of both deals, and therefore as the primary supporters of large deficits.

As I said, I continue to be baffled by it. 

I have two guesses. 

One is that there's a high correlation between the impulse to be a budget scold and the impulse to have equal and balanced contempt for both major political parties.  If that's the case, then it may be difficult for budget scolds to accept that, as things stand now, one party is for huge budget deficits forever and the other party more or less attempts to pay for what it spends.

The other is that there's a high correlation between the impulse to be a budget scold and being world-historically stupid.  We know that conservatives -- the group who have supported larger and larger deficits for thirty years now -- are also the party known for giving the loudest lip service to the idea of a balanced budget.  Perhaps most budget scolds aren't bright enough to get that it's just empty rhetoric.

As always, I'll point out that I'm not for balanced budgets at all, and find the standard anti-deficit assumptions built in to almost everything written about the budget (such as the NYT thing over the weekend) to be a classic example of media bias.

7 comments:

  1. Ah, Jonathan, sentences like this are so liberating:

    The other is that there's a high correlation between the impulse to be a budget scold and being world-historically stupid.

    I am working on a missive that elaborates an equally complex thought:

    Republicans are destroying the country.

    And I'm reminded of a great moment from Wieseltier re the Park51 Islamic Center http://bit.ly/bUllPG:

    Why doesn’t Rauf just move the mosque? That would bring the ugliness to an end. But why don’t Palin and Gingrich just shut up? That, too, would bring the ugliness to an end.

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  2. Hear, hear ASP.

    You go to such obvious and admirable lengths to write in measured tones, JB, so it's kind of a giddy rush to see you say something so obvious in such a straightforward way.

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  3. Or, option #3, people who call themselves "budget hawks" are only in favor of a balanced budget if it comes by way of decreasing government revenues. The "end" is lower taxes. The "means" are anything that result in lower taxes.

    Democrats lead to responsible government. Responsible government leads to paying for expenditures. Paying leads to taxes.

    Republicans lead to irresponsible government. Irresponsible government leads to never paying for anything. Never paying for anything leads to no taxes.

    Is it any wonder that the first question any self-proclaimed "budget hawk" asks is "What priorities can we cut?" instead of "Who can we tax to fund our priorities?"

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  4. " high correlation between the impulse to be a budget scold and being world-historically stupid."

    Who is stupid? People who think presidents control economic cycles or people who think presidents have little control over economic cycles but great influence on the budget.

    I think anyone who thinks economic cycles can be fine tuned through tax or fiscal policies is in thrall of an economic theory and has greater faith in economics then it deserves.


    "it may be difficult for budget scolds to accept that, as things stand now, one party is for huge budget deficits forever"

    One party is indifferent. It is not actually in favor - it is under a voodoo spell/economic theory.

    I think voters have shown they don't care about deficits. I don't expect politicians to care if voters reward fiscally irresponsible politicians: see the policies and reelection fates of the two Bushes.

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  5. I will add one more (though it probably correlates strongly with being world-historically stupid). Budget scolds tend to be puritanical; the virtuous pain is more important than details of accounting figures.

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  6. Hey now, I don't think the Puritans were flagellants.

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  7. Third option for budget scolds: they enjoy *talking* down to people about budget options but don't actually *do* anything about it. They don't care about the budget so much as about scolding others on it, either for personal gratification (punditocracy form of cutting?) or cheap political theater.

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