When the NY Times entitles anything, especially an editorial, starting with “The Truth About …”, you should be immediately suspicious. As Arnold Kling says, that normally means “The liberal elite narrative about …”. And it’s editorial, “The Truth About The Deficit” is no exception. The first part of the editorial is spent on a selective history lesson which makes all of our troubles, as you might imagine, something brought on by the GOP’s focus on tax cuts for the wealthy. Nevermind that they were across the board marginal cuts – this narrative won’t die.
The entire bit of revisionist history (with the normal “blame Bush” tautology) is aimed at justifying this paragraph:
Americans should be anxious, for reasons including the huge deficit. But the cold economic truth is this: At a time of high unemployment and fragile growth, the last thing the government should do is to slash spending. That will only drive the economy into deeper trouble.
What the NYT and the Krugman’s of the world believe is government spending can be substituted for private spending and have the same result – economic growth. And that economic growth, spurred by this spending, will create jobs. But if you think about it, unless the government is buying goods and services produced by the private sector, that’s most likely not going to happen, is it? Temporary jobs located in “infrastructure improvement,” unemployment benefit extensions and jobs “programs” don’t create jobs. Private sector growth does. And when government is borrowing .40 cents for every dollar it spends, it starts to dry up the private credit market. That means if there is a desire to expand, the credit isn’t as readily available as it would be if the 800 pound credit hog weren’t in the market.
Then there’s this:
To truly tame deficits will require serious health care reform …
To which Kling replies:
In Washington, serious health care reform means “fixing” private health insurance. But our deficits are caused not by problems in private health insurance. They are caused by the structure of Medicare and Medicaid. That is where we need reform. But the Times and other liberal mouthpieces need to create a narrative that makes it sound as though unsound government programs are the fault of the private sector.
Spot on. This has been the most irritating part of the “health care reform” issue. It is the public programs – which neither party will touch – that are breaking the bank, yet we continually hear politicians on the left talk about “greedy [private] insurance companies” as the sole reason health care costs or so high. In fact, without private health care insurance to pay the difference, Medicare and Medicaid would have foundered long ago. But the point is the deficit problem is not one caused by private insurance. It has no effect on public debt. That is caused by the mismanagement of the government programs. And other than a passing wave at “stopping waste, fraud and abuse” – the promise of every politician since the inception of those programs, and accomplished by none of them – this “reform” package ignores the real problem while attacking the private market.
But back to the primary point of the NYT’s attempt to persuade you that deficit spending – massive deficit spending – is a good thing:
Here is an unpopular but undeniable fact of life: When private sector demand is weak, the federal government must serve as the spender of last resort. Otherwise, collapsing demand sets in motion a negative, self-reinforcing spiral in which lack of demand — for goods, services and new employees — leads to ever deepening economic weakness.
And here’s the undeniable economic truth about the snake oil they’re peddling:
The narrative is that we are suffering from a shortfall in demand. The reality is that the private sector has decided that workers should be hired on the basis of profits, rather than on the basis of debt. The government may choose to make a different decision, of course, but that will not necessarily strengthen our economy.
One of the many economists not at all in agreement – despite President Obama’s claim to the contrary – with the prescription that deficit spending is not only good, but necessary. And while they can blame the situation on anyone they choose, the decisions being made to run up this massive debt based on some pretty flaky economic logic are theirs and theirs alone.