Media Responsible for Debt Hysteria

Matt YglesiasThere is something that Matt Yglesias wrote that I quote all the time. In it, he talks about how those running around screaming about the federal debt are not really interested in it. He compares them to a hypothetical group of Quakers claiming that we must cut spending on the military in order to reduce the deficit. If the Quakers then rejected raising taxes to reduce the deficit, we would figure that the Quakers didn’t really care about the deficit; they just used it as an excuse to cut military spending. Well, the same thing is going on with the deficit scolds: they claim to want to reduce the deficit, but really they care about other things—cutting entitlements mostly.

Yesterday, Yglesias presented a chart from the Center for American Progress (pdf) that shows that the medium term budget deficit has largely been fixed. Fundamentally, he is making the same argument that Ezra Klein did yesterday: that the changing facts are not changing behavior in Washington. But yesterday, I countered that Klein was being naive. Conservatives are not calling for reducing the deficit because they care about the deficit. If they did, they wouldn’t try to lower taxes and increase military spending.

Yglesias puts it much the same way that I do:

We’ve done things to reduce budget deficits, in other words, but we haven’t really acted to make it tougher for people to retire. But people don’t like to say they want to make it hard for people to retire so instead they talk about “the deficit,” and they’re not going to stop.

And that takes us back to the Quaker problem. Why is it that the mainstream media still take these budget hawks seriously? Really, why did they ever? A budget hawk like Romney who wanted to reduce taxes and increase spending on an already bloated military should have been laughed out of politics. But he wasn’t. Most people pretended as though he was some honest broker.

Now the situation is far more absurd. We’ve managed to bring the deficit down without touching Social Security and Medicare. So what are the deficit scolds going to do now? They’re going to lie and obfuscate. They are going to create calculators like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget that are designed to frighten more than enlighten. But the issue that Klein and Yglesias don’t discuss is that it doesn’t matter what those people do. What matters—what is really important—is that the media take these people seriously. They pretend that they really do care about the deficit. The the real question is when the media will start treating these people as the charlatans they are.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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