Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Little Learning

Sometimes, politicians learn things.  That can be a very good thing...or, well, not.  So for example one the things that's dominated Republican thinking in 2009-2010 is that if only they repeat exactly what they did in 1993-1994, they'll be triumphant.  There's no way that anyone could convince Republicans that the Contract With America had nothing to do with their success in 1994; the unexpected magnitude of the 1994 landslide convinced them that anything they associated with their actions prior to that election must have been part of the cause of their success.

This gets to yesterday's must-read interview of James Galbraith, by Ezra Klein.  Galbraith believes that budget deficits pose no long-term problem at all for the nation.  That's a view shared by few, but more to the point here it's a view that has almost no chance of being adopted by the Obama Administration and sympathetic elite Democrats.   Why not?  For the same reason that Republicans can't quite believe that Newt Gingrich is a total fraud; because deficit reduction was the cornerstone of Bill Clinton's economic plan in 1993, and Clinton is the only Democrat to be reelected to the presidency in the last forty years, and the first elected Democrat to be reelected in well over half a century.  The lesson that liberals learned was that what they think of as responsible action on the deficit will yield policy, and political gains in the long (medium?) run, even if they cause short-run political trouble.

Republicans learned the opposite lesson from Ronald Reagan's large deficits in the 1980s and George W. Bush's deficits in the last decade, although -- following Reagan -- they also learned to use the exact same anti-deficit rhetoric that the old fiscally conservative Republicans had always used, even though they abandoned fiscally conservative policies.

So for better or worse, that's where we stand today: both parties are rhetorically committed to balanced budgets, and the Democrats, I think, are actually driven to a surprising extent by concern about the size of deficits.  Add that to what I see as a strong media bias in favor of balanced budgets, on both assumed policy and moral grounds (both of which can in fact be contested), and it's good that Klein gives a little publicity to a dissenting point of view. 

1 comment:

  1. I read Galbraith as saying not just that deficits don't matter, but that they can't matter, and those who think they do matter aren't so much empirically wrong as conceptually confused. (


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