Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

Why do you think deficit-cutting is so popular with the neutral press? What, if anything should Democrats be doing about it?


  1. The kind of counter-messaging and discussion of the Progressive Caucus budget on MSNBC this morning is a great start, but I'm afraid those conversations will remain siloed in the explicitly left media.

    The deficit, even before Obama's presidency, is the quintessential issue used by High Broderite reporters and columnists to say: "See? See? I'm not a liberal, and liberal can be dumb just like conservatives."

  2. Because since the '60s we have run a deficit almost every year. So it is always an easy story for a reporter to go to a member of the minority party and get him to criticize the majority's deficits.

    Then every Presidential year the out party runs against the incumbent's huge deficits. This naturally leads reporters to think that deficits are both important and a winning issue.

    Also most reporters are very ignorant of actual public policy so they are very likely to fall for false analogies between the Federal government and a household (they are also ignorant of households who often have large credit card debt and mortgages).

  3. Deficit cutting is always popular in the abstract with people who don't think much about the issue. The media don't think much about the issues because that is now what "neutral" means: reporting what both sides say.

    Liberals make it worse by trying to seem reasonable. There was a series of shocking charts on Up with Chris Hayes this morning. They showed where the Senate Democratic budget was if we use the Ryan and CPC Budgets as defining the Overton Window. Result: the Senate budget was almost on top of the Ryan budget in most areas.

    When most Democratic plans yield 90% of the field to the Republicans, of course the media are going to treat budget deficits as a big problem. "The Republicans say the budget deficit is a big problem; the Democrats say the budget deficit is a big problem; therefore the budget deficit is a big problem."

    I wrote about this in broad terms: No Long Term Budget Problem?

    My bottom line: "All liberals need to pay close attention to this issue. As Kliff points out, 'It's taken as an article of faith inside the beltway: Policy makers need to do something to tamp down on out-of-control health-care costs.' We need to counter this idea at every opportunity. Because we do not know that something must be done. And until we do, there is no reason to cut these programs. Unlike global warming (which we aren't doing anything about), we can deal with any budget problems once they actually become budget problems."

    It might also help if we tried to get the message out that foreign aid isn't 30% of the budget.

  4. 1) Because Democrats attacked W. Bush for it during his Presidency, making it a bi-partisan issue.

    2) Democrats should only talk about the need to get people back to work and the need to ensure that average people benefit from the strengthing economy. I think that in '14 the Republicans are likely going to own a lot of unpopular spending cuts. After they lose another election, maybe the press will realize that no one actually likes or wants spending cuts.

  5. Some good answers so far. I'll just add that proclaiming fealty to deficit-cutting is (ironically) a cheap and easy way of trying to sound like the Adult in the Room. Just look at the common metaphors for cutting the deficit--"tightening one's belt," "taking one's medicine"--old parental cliches we tell our children when we want to instill in them the importance of sacrificing short-term wants for long-term needs. What has been especially frustrating in recent years has been seeing this applied to the idea of fiscal stimulus, which despite being simply orthodox economics that has nothing to do with the government "spoiling" its citizens on "entitlements," is now lumped into the latter category.

    Deficit hawkery also is another device for helping the mainstream press maintain its pretense of neutrality, based on the fallacious belief that adopting a middle-ground position between two extremes automatically makes one more fair and objective. It is deemed to be a middle-ground because the GOP shows no evidence of caring about deficits (despite consistently claiming to do so), while the Democratic Party is still identified--far more because of outdated stereotypes than current realities--with deficit spending.

  6. JB, unrelated to this post, but what is your take on the recent revelation that Nixon deliberately and illegally scuttled peace agreements in Vietnam solely to bolster his 1968 campaign?

  7. The budget deficit is a real problem. Every dollar of taxes we spend on interest buys us nothing. What concerns me is that no one is talking about making health care more efficient. We have doctors making fortunes, medical supplies that cost far too much, medicine that is overpriced while drug companies make huge profits. Our insurance companies are inefficient and in many cases all but criminal. The whole system absorbs too much of our money for excess profits and paperwork. We would be far better off to use universities to do research and have open source medicine made available for a reasonable cost. Just making health care efficient and restoring top tax rates would go a long way toward solving our budget problems. And we need to quit launching wars every decade.

  8. IANAL, but I wanted to observe that this conversation provided me a bit of an a-ha moment:

    Q: How much intermediate/long-term debt should the US issue to foreign entities at prevailing, historic, (essentially zero) interest rates?

    A: As much as they're willing to buy.

    If they're willing to buy enough such paper to run our debt to $160 T (from the current $16 T), we should do it. Even after we've raised more than we need, we should go ahead and run a "debt surplus".

    The problem with the above is transparency of motivation. The underlying reason for Keynesian stimulus is to get the animal spirits (i.e. small businesspeople hiring) alive and well. Those small businesspeople generally distrust government spending. The plan above will make them nervous, make them hesitant to hire, be self-defeating.

    Which gets back to the opening question - why doesn't the neutral media advocate for such a plan? Would the neutral media break down the barriers of distrust in the peanut gallery? That seems a tall order, but maybe. Part of the problem is that the only highly visible person (Krugman) making a version of this case is, unfortunately, pretty off-putting to the other side.

  9. First off they need to point out that it is Republican administrations that have created the largest budget deficit issues. Next they should point out how much the long run deficit has improved since Obama took office. They should next point out that the sole driver of the long run deficits are rising health care cost and start offering alternative projections with lower health care growth projections. Finally they should keep forcing Republicans to spell out what entitlement cuts the Republicans want, then go after Republicans for wanting to cut Medicare and Social Security.

  10. A Time Magazine piece asked the most relevant question: why is Washington fixated on the debt rather than the climate crisis?

    Unfortunately it never really answers the question. The debt crisis is a familiar trope about the future, and the rhetoric on it plays into the tried and true rhetoric of both parties, as other commenters point out.

    But insofar as it is a real problem(and not a crisis), it pales in comparison to climate change. And the dimensions of the climate crisis may be the reason Washington and the media can't come to grips with it. I've come to the conclusion that for most of us even thinking about climate change is much too scary. The irony is that you don't have to look at your child and wonder if he's gay in order to take the issue seriously, as some apparently do on marriage equality. Just look at your children and think about the future they are going to inherit, period.

    What these issues have in common is that Washington is not facing the reality of either. The debt "crisis" is much easier to address, but there is political mileage to be gained on keeping it as an issue. So far there is no perceived political advantage to anyone in addressing the climate crisis.

  11. My simpleton answer: Media folks is just folks.
    They see sporadic examples of waste, fraud, and abuse, and extrapolate out how much is being overspent. They see lots of spending on policies they don't agree with. They hear from the out party how responsible the ins are with their tax cuts/overspending. They look to real life, where common sense and frugality are virtues (in theory, anyway).

    It would be shocking if a plurality of neutral journalists was not deficit hawks. It's an easy position to fall into, psychologically speaking.

    1. I'm just sort of suprised that after Cheny's deficits don't matter quote and what W did to the deficit that the media gives the R's any credit with the deficit.

    2. I'm with you.


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