Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

Do you believe there is a medium-term budget deficit problem? Do you believe there is a long-term budget deficit problem? I'm assuming that there are basically zero liberals who believe that there's a short-term budget deficit problem, other than that it's too low, but sure, if you disagree, here's your chance.


  1. Long term deficit math is rather like long term political punditry. Too many variables in motion to calculate effectively. I suspect one's sense of long term budget forecasts has more to do with one's psychology than one's math skills.

  2. Borrowing 42 cents of every dollar spent today, and that's no short term budget problem?


    They both have obvious answers, but the mere asking of these questions is the most significant indicator here. If we could hold up a mirror and let the Left see themselves... this would be the mirror to choose.

  3. I'm gonna call a strike on this one. This is the question for liberals; this particular Anon does not appear to be a liberal. I'm not going to zap it, but I'm moving in that direction.

  4. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that our first Anonymous' "obvious answer" is that "yes" deficits are a huge problem in any timeline and that the only solution to the problem is massive spending cuts.

    Anyway, yes, I think there are short, medium, and long term deficit problems. Long term: health care. ACA doesn't fix it, it really just nibbles at it. Short term: yes, it's a problem. I disagree that it's too small; I think that any time you're borrowing, as our anon friend puts it, 42% of your budget, that's a problem. That said, as a liberal, I find that problem much less worse than the problem of hungry out of work people, and I do notice that the infrastucture of the US is crumbling....Of course, in the 1930s, people would take whatever job paid them. I'm much less sure full employment of the construction industry would help everyone in 2011. Medium term: yes, and the problem is taxes. We have the lowest tax rate in what, 70-ish years, and the only reason the deficits aren't even worse is that concentration of wealth has led to a lot of wealth to tax in a slightly progressive tax system. If we had the income distribution of the 1960s now? Yikes.

    So, deficits are a problem in all 3 timelines. However, in the short term, they're not as big a problem as the bad economy, in the medium term, they're easily solved by a tax increase, and in the long term, the problem isn't really the deficit, it's the cost of health care. If the government gets out of the old people/health care business to balance its budget, it'll cripple the private sector. Thus, it's a health care cost problem, not really a deficit problem. If we tax ourselves to death to pay for it, that'd be the mistake. The solution is to fix the underlying cost problem, not make our entire economy depend on keeping ourselves alive.

  5. Yes there is a medium term deficit problem. Almost all of it is caused by the Bush tax cuts, the Bush wars, and the Bush depression. The same two factors are also a large part of any potential long term deficit problem along with health care costs. But I see no reason to take action to address potential problems that may exist 30 years from now when we have so many more pressing problems right here, right now such as 9% unemployment and virtually no GDP growth.

  6. There is a serious deficit problem, but spending cuts are not going to address it. The biggest share of the current deficit (despite the fact that Glenn Hubbard constantly refers to it as a consequence of Obama's "vision of government") is a consequence of the recession, in the form of reduced revenues and emergency spending. Resolving the unemployment problem would go a long way toward resolving the deficit problem (not all the way, but a long way) whereas addressing the defict problem directly through spending cuts will only make the unemployment problem worse in the short to medium term and possibly induce a downward economic spiral.

    In the long term, as Matt says, there is a health-care cost problem. Pushing the cost of health care off the government's books might resolve the government's deficit problem, but it won't resolve society's health-care cost problem. It would be, in a sense, making society pay to resolve government's problems rather than the other way around. Is that the conservative solution? A society that serves government?

  7. I'd love to see someone do a chart projecting the deficit out under the assumption that medical inflation is controlled to the same percentage as the assumption of inflation over the same period.

    I'm not a professional statistician, but I believe that chart would illustrate the degree that the "long term budget deficit problem" is actually a medical inflation problem.

    I think that's why the reforms from the ACA will (over time) lead the country to functionally a single-payer system. Maybe that's why the Koch types are going all-in to defeat Obama in '12.

    (I won't post over there, but I find it amusing that on the Conservative Question side, they are totally ignoring the question Jonathan asked, and claiming "all is well in the GOP".)

  8. A quick reply to Anon#1 (giving him the benefit of the doubt in assuming he's not just a troll who searching for opportunities to post a ridiculous straw-man reply, reassure himself that liberals are idiots, and move on to the next):

    You've misunderstood the question. The only reason it's just obviously wrong to borrow 42c on every dollar spent is that it's obviously unsustainable. But if we're talking about sustainability, we're talking about something beyond the scope of short term effects.
    Now, if you simply meant that the "short term" spending/borrowing ratio is unsustainable over a longer period, then there would be literally no distinction between a "short term" and "long term" problem.

    So either Jonathan is extremely dim-witted and unable to understand his own question, or you haven't grasped his meaning. In the future, you might ask yourself if there's a more sensible interpretation - one that doesn't assume that every opponent is an imbecile - before wishing you could simply hold up mirrors that would display how foolish everyone looks from the view inside your mind.

  9. So Tom, you took a few hundred words to say that no, you don't think borrowing 42 cents of every dollar spent is a problem.

    I used one word and said... yes.

    It's a pity that you find disagreement must be squelched. That too would merit a mirror.

  10. So Tom, you took a few hundred words to say that no, you don't think borrowing 42 cents of every dollar spent is a problem.
    Please show me where I said that. Perhaps you're privy to some kind of code(?)

    It's a pity that you find disagreement must be squelched.
    Ugh. If you're going to just make stuff up, it's going to be hard to talk to you.

    If asking you to take more care to understand someone's intended meaning is what you call "squelching disagreement", then I'm afraid we face a language barrier prohibitive to discussions on any other topic. Go ahead and dissent; I for one won't be able to convince myself that I know what your words are supposed to mean.

  11. I posted first, but as I read through these other opinions I realize that I must change my mind. The nature of the long term deficits is NOT too difficult to calculate.

    The state of the economy is a mere side effect of our long term republican-tea party problem. To the extent they have their hands on the levers of government, we have a deficit problem, and a job problem, and an inequality problem, and an infrastructure problem etc.

  12. Evil NYC Liberal, that's the conclusion that I had.

    Liberals understand the value of short term deficit spending in bad times (part 1), but they also know how to manage and reduce it (part 2).

    Part 1 has already happened (although most of it isn't from the liberal stimulus).

    But part 2 hasn't happened yet, and it seems like the right is going to stop it from happening. So to me the long term deficit problem is really a Tea Party/far-right problem. And I don't think slashing spending is a substitute.

    Anonymous, obviously a perpetual 42% is a problem but neither side wants it to be for long. So the question is over whether a short term 42% is bad, and for that you need to figure out how big of a number the US can handle (a meaningful number) so that you can compare it to 42%. I think between the low interest rates and the US's power in general, we're capable of borrowing a lot more than 42% if we have to.

  13. I understand the meaning of "short term problem" quite well, Tom. And that was the blogger's question. Now, we can go on and on discussing the basis for that problem, but then we digress into the policy swamp, and that takes us into the realm of disagreement, and thus the need for you to squelch disagreement, evidently.

    And the first sign of the squelching is assertions that somebody doesn't "understand" the question, and doesn't conjure the correct "intended meaning". And then of course, nothing that follows can be "correct".

    See, I use the English language precisely, and assume the blogger does as well. And you're right, we would be unable to communicate effectively if that course is eschewed. "Correctness" doesn't enter into the picture, as it leads us directly into the squelching, and that's pointless. I'm not here for the policy squabble, I'm here for the plain politics.

    And the plain politics are that this course you seem to be advocating was overwhelmingly rejected in November 2010, at the local, state and federal levels, in a historic blowout election. We appear to be lining up for a repeat in 2012. Now, there are reasons for that, and they're pretty clear to me, but I can't force the "correct" version of them upon you. For that, we'll have to rely on the mirror... the electorate.

  14. Yes, no and no. The short term deficit is too small. The medium-term deficit will take care of itself if Congress does nothing. The long-term deficit is unpredictable.

  15. Answer the questions first:

    Yes to long-term, mostly health care related.

    Kinda to midterm, and I agree a good amount of that can be solved by allowing Bush tax cuts to expire and continuing our military pullout.

    Short term: Our problem is not spending enough. Agree with that one.

    Now, a quick not on ACA's ability to pull down the costs of long-term health care: It is important to remember that half the bill was associated with cost controls. Many of those were scored as zero is savings from the CBO, because they are untested. To be honest, the ACA may end shrinking our long-term deficit far more than anticipated. My guess is that the ACA will be better than anticipated, but still not enough to control our long-term health care deficits. My hope is that the ACA will collect enough data that we can at least have sane policy options to deal with the problem.

  16. Anon-

    Ok, let's take a step back then to why I claimed you misunderstood the question, since that's the original disagreement and the reason for your odd claim that I was "squelching" your dissent.

    You indicated that there's just obviously a short term problem:
    "Borrowing 42 cents of every dollar spent today, and that's no short term budget problem? Please."

    That problem cannot be "sustainability", as sustainability is not a distinctly short-term problem, and, as you have emphasized:

    "I understand the meaning of 'short term problem' quite well"

    So then, just tell me what you had in mind with your original comment:
    "Borrowing 42 cents of every dollar spent today, and that's no short term budget problem?Please."

    Something obvious, and not sustainability. Otherwise, I think I've made a clear argument that you didn't answer the question. It's not an attempt to "squelch disagreement" with vague and baseless accusations of misunderstanding. It's a clear explanation of how I think you got it wrong.

  17. I'm not the Anonymous in question, but it seems to me the Sunday Question for Conservatives is not similarly policed for liberals who like to answer it sarcastically, or argue with the answers given. Please moderate consistently.

  18. Anon 5:48,

    Really? This week, for example, there aren't any liberal commenters on the conservative thread; last week there was one, and it definitely wasn't a sarcastic or disagreeing comment. It's happened, but not often, and not generally repeatedly by the same person.

  19. For starters, maybe if you set up the comments not to accept "anonymous" replies, people would have half a shot at a reasonable discussion.

    The 'anonymous' that's been trolling the thread is at best a liberal in the sense that Jane Hamsher teamed up with Grover Norquist, ergo Norquist is a liberal.

    I understand you appreciate some ideological balance in the comments, but make the arguments yourself if you want to engage this year's interns at the Heritage Foundation. Should have gone with your first instinct.

  20. Tom,

    Let's keep it simple. I answered "yes" to the question. You, with another hundred words, again answered "no", and further, you now seem to imply that there's really no justification for answering "yes".

    That's what we call squelching.

    No big deal, as again, I'm just holding up the mirror. Do with it what you will.

    And just to get it back to center... November 2012 will give us another data point as to what is obvious, sustainable, squelching, short term, long term... a whole bunch of things get defined by the electorate at that point. I'd say they're plenty defined now, but you may need additional data.

  21. I answered "yes" to the question.

    It wasn't your "yes" answer I criticized. It was the 'you people are nuts for even thinking it could be otherwise and this is what's wrong with the left' attitude that accompanied your "yes" answer - an answer that wasn't even explained or justified. Was that not clear? Sorry.

    Also, you've praised the concision of your one-word "yes" response several times now. I've asked you repeatedly to reveal your reasons for that answer, instead you decline, just praising yourself again for being so concise.

    You, with another hundred words, again answered "no"

    No, I didn't, but never mind, this is hopeless.

    you now seem to imply that there's really no justification for answering "yes"

    Wrong again. I've suggested that there's no obvious answer besides "sustainability" that would justify the tone of your original post. And I've all but begged you to prove me wrong and provide the reason. You refuse. That's not because I'm "squelching" you.

    Regarding your last paragraph- I think you're completely wrong about what has been defined by the electorate. We could have a long and interesting discussion about it, if only we were able to communicate. I don't see it happening though.

  22. Apparently calling a strike wasn't enough to keep this guy from charging the mound. Lame thread.

  23. short-term: well, there is a deficit problem. not one involving numbers, but the incredibly high importance (some) politicians have placed on it. that's a problem, since it is a long-standing truism that economic growth, not austerity measures, mitigates bad economic times.

    medium-term: as some commenters have already pointed out, the US has an artificially low tax burden. It may sound paradoxical, but restoring that tax burden to historical levels (i.e., Clinton rates), even in sucky economic times like these, will probably help in the long (medium?) run. It is also a truism that public investment crowding out private investment is BAD and WRONG, but that isn't the case right now, as there's precious little private investment to crowd out. Demand is way WAY down, and some "pump-priming" is definitely in order.

    long-term: as commenters have already pointed out, and as I have seen in many places, esp. Ezra Klein's various homes, health care costs are a major long term problem. this is not helped by the massive influence that health insurance companies have over our politicians and the 100% of Americans that have to interact with the health care genre. America desperately needs a national health service akin to the UK's NHS, preferably sometime before my dad's younger brother retires, else the enormous demographic shift of long-living baby boomers is going to become a black hole in the middle of the national economy, warping beyond recognition the fabric of anything that comes within reach.

    thank you for your time and I hope my comment was worthy of perusal.

  24. Jonathan,

    It depends what you mean by "problem.". Just in terms of optics there is a giant short-term, medium term, and long term budget problem in that it is a weapon that can be used to block progressive initiatives. Governments aren't households but since we tend to think analogously, and liberals have to balance their own budgets, the imbalance as a starting point puts them one step behind arguing for any new initiative. Over the medium and longer term because most people agree it needs to be paid for and taxes are so hard to raise this is also a problem as it places government programs costantly at risk of being refunded. The other problem is that the area where there is greatest hope from savings, in Medicare, won't demonstrate whether it has helped for many years and over that period the elements that might result in savings may have lost their political support.

  25. No, Tom, I didn't call anybody "nuts". And yes, you criticized my "yes" answer, and immediately set about squelching the very basis for any such affirmative answer, because quite obviously I didn't know how to conjure up the correct interpretation of the question, let alone answer it correctly.

    I merely held up a mirror and reflected back the specter of Mr. Bernstein's question being asked and answered, with surety, which I found quite illuminating. I don't really like the internet tit for tat, post for post nonsense, so hopefully this is the last reference to posting autopsies.

    Borrowing 42 cents of every dollar spent is "not" a problem for you, yet upwards of 75% of the country approves of "Cut, Cap and Balance". That's what's in the mirrors, as I step to the other sides and glance at the reflections.

    I can understand that seeing a reflection in the mirror can sometimes be discomfiting, but that's why it's an important exercise, imo. As for "nuts", if that's what you perceive you see, then you alone must deal with that, and I have no responsibility for either what you see or what you do with what you see.

    I can appreciate you have answered the question, and are desperate for my reasoning for mine, but squelching any such response, and channeling it into your own template, isn't the way to get your questions answered, begging or not. As mentioned previously, I really don't have an interest in the policy swamp, at least not on an predominantly lefty site, other than to mirror the realities extracted from that swamp. They are the things that the electorate used last November, and will be using in November 2012, to define and resolve those reflections.

    Just as one reflection of last November, the electorate dismembered the Left at the local, state and federal levels, and for what they did, not for any love of the Left's opposition. It was a repudiation, for actions taken and not taken. I don't have much interest in arguing that reflection with you, and we'll both just have to sit and wait for the next reflection to come along.

  26. Anon,

    If you don't have any interest in a policy question, please don't respond to my policy question.

    And I'll expand on what I said earlier: the etiquette around here has been for liberals to avoid the Sunday conservative question, or vice-versa, or else if treading in then to do so unusually carefully.

  27. I have great interest in policy questions, Mr. Bernstein, just not in arguing them on a predominantly lefty site. But you weren't seeking to argue policy, as I read your query. You asked a question, and I answered it.

    I do notice that while etiquette may be as you describe, it's not practiced etiquette here, or even close, by my lights. But no matter. If you find my discourse unacceptable, I accept your decision, and that this may just be an insular site.

  28. Yes, all three deficit problems are of a concern. But as previously mentioned, the economy today takes precedent over the deficit for the short term. I'm fearing a Japanese-like "Lost Years" if reason and sanity don't prevail soon. But that's okay--I'm frugal. Just hate it for everyone else, like all those Tea-partiers who want the government out of their pockets. Sweet justice I guess in one way if that happens.

    Additionally, everyone seems to think that healthcare costs are the major contributing factor for the long-term deficit, whether funded through the government or not. I don't know enough about the numbers to agree or disagree, but I do find it ironic that the government pays subsidies to large factory farms that raise polluted, unhealthy food, which is predominantly used as grain feed for meat. How is that acting in the best interest of national health care? Furthermore, why are cigarettes even legal knowing what we know now? Just amazes me how hypocritical of a society we have become.

    I agree--block anonymous comments.

  29. As a certifiable liberal by mainstream standards (I was the most right-wing person in my sociology grad school cohort at UC Berkeley, which means I vote reliably Democratic and liked Paul Krugman even back in the 1990s), I'd say there's a long-term budget problem, and it's the rising cost of health care. Don't think I'm being original there. As to the medium term, no I don't really think there's a medium-term debt problem. I'm of the opinion that we could raise quite a lot more tax money in a fairly economically effortless way (i.e., with small deadweight losses) and also that the example of Japanese interest rates shows we can bear a lot more debt burden at far lower interest rates than we might think. (More of a personal opinion there than broad wonkish conventional wisdom.)

  30. JS said...

    I'd love to see someone do a chart projecting the deficit out under the assumption that medical inflation is controlled to the same percentage as the assumption of inflation over the same period.

    Here it is:

    The yellow line shows what the budget deficit will look like if our health care costs continue to grow as they have in the past. The blue line shows what the deficit would look like if health care costs grew at roughly the same rate as the overall economy. (The yellow line projection also reflects the fact that the U.S. population will grow older and hence sicker, thus raising costs.)


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