Krugman posted an article that I quite agree with, A Double Shot of Misunderstanding. Basically, he says that there are two kinds of deficit scolds: stupid and evil. He doesn’t put it that way, of course; he writes for the New York Times, after all. But I feel sure that late at night he turns to Robin and says, “Those deficit scolds are a bunch of fucktards!”
The evil group (the FUCKtards) are people like Pete Peterson. They are people who claim to care about the debt, but who really only use the debt to accomplish other goals. As Matt Yglesias pointed out, Quakers running around screaming that we had to fix the debt by cutting military spending would not really be interested in the deficit. Similarly, Fix the Debt (one of Peterson’s many front groups) claims to care about the debt and yet it calls for cutting income tax rates.
Let me be clear: I understand that someone genuinely interested in the deficit might say we shouldn’t raise rates because it would hurt the economy. But to call for lowering them? That’s madness. What’s more, raising taxes on the rich will not harm the economy nearly as much as cutting spending on the poor. It is clear that the primary goal of Fix the Debt and the many other groups just like it is to cut spending on the poor. They do this because they simply don’t like these programs, not because there is anything about these programs that is destroying our budget. The following graph from Kent Conrad (who is in the stupid category discussed below) presents the following graph that ought to put our budget picture in focus:
Republicans are fond of saying, “Washington doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.” I’ve heard John Boehner say this many times. (Note: in the video he presents extremely misleading data that depends almost entirely on the increased cost of healthcare; he is an evil man.) But the graph shows that Washington does indeed have a revenue problem. Yet the Very Serious People don’t want to deal with this. They want to “lower rates and broaden the base.” This is code for lowering rates and cutting deductions. It is a simple matter to cut taxes later. It is trivial to bring back deductions. The Very Serious People are not serious about the deficit; they are serious about inflicting pain on the poor.
The stupid group (the fuckTARDS) are composed of people like Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. As I reported yesterday, he seems to think that the Fiscal Cliff is some kind of debt explosion, when it is exactly the opposite. As Krugman says, people like Schultz are still very dangerous because they are part of Fix the Debt and allied groups. In his letter to employees, Schultz provided a link to the Fix the Debt website. (The website is a mess of platitudes; it is very hard to get to what policies they actually recommend; this is because they aren’t policies most people would agree with.)
The stupid group provides a patina of reasonableness to the whole endeavor. Sadly, this group is overflowing with Democrats. They are useful fools in what is inevitably a bait and switch. As long as one doesn’t look too closely at the evil deficit scolds’ ideas, one can assume they are good intentioned. But once it comes down to a deal, it will turn out that it is very conservative.
This is what happened with welfare “reform.” By accepting the framing that welfare somehow caused poverty, the liberals ended up destroying the program. The truth is that there is no debt problem in the United States. There is a healthcare problem: we pay twice what we should for our healthcare. But this isn’t even in the discussion of the budget. And so what the deficit discussion is really all about is cutting liberal programs that conservatives hate.
Don’t be stupid or evil.