Al Kamen Doesn’t Miss the Deficit—but He Should

Dean BakerDean Baker posted something this morning, and I was planning to chastise him for faux naivete. But he was just waiting for the last line of his post. You see, the Washington Post published an article by Al Kamen, So Whatever Happened to the Deficit? That title is actually a bit misleading; the article is about how newspaper coverage of the federal deficit has decreased. The article is fatuous in the extreme.

According to Kamen, the main reason that the deficit isn’t in the news is because it has gone so far down. Well, that’s true, I suppose. But he finished the article by quoting conservative Douglas Holtz-Eakin as saying that the deficit has gone down thanks to the, “American workers, entrepreneurs and families for their work toward economic recovery.” And that, “Washington has done essentially nothing, unless you count stopping making it worse.” Um, no. The economy recovered because economies recover. There is nothing special that the bizarre melange of “workers, entrepreneurs, and families” did for the economic recovery. But it is certainly true that the recovery we’ve had (such as it is) has helped drive down the deficit. But it is also true that the disastrous 2011 budget deal and the 2013 fiscal cliff deals were huge in bringing down the deficit. So Washington has been hugely responsible for pushing the deficit down.

Baker responded, however, that the lower budget deficit is not a good thing. This, of course, is something I rant about all the time here. But he noted, The Washington Post Says it Doesn’t Miss Lower Unemployment and Rising Wages. Because that’s what has actually happened. That’s why the recovery has been so anemic. If federal spending had done what it has always done during recessions since at least Nixon, we would have a roaring recover and our deficit might be even lower than it now is. Baker snarkily noted, “If the deficit hawks at the Post think otherwise they could grab themselves a quick Nobel prize in economics by showing how.”

And what about the two parties? Well, Kamen quoted Bill Galston who rightly noted that Democrats weren’t ever too keen on the deficit obsession. But the Democratic elites certainly were. Obama had a lot of elite Democratic support for his sudden abandonment of jobs in 2011 and sudden obsession with the deficit. It was, of course, just another pathetic example of Obama trying to “reach across the isle.” But Kamen noted that as a result, Democrats haven’t been pushing for credit for the reduction of the deficit. That’s simply not true. What is true is that reporters haven’t been interested in giving them any credit. And example number one is Kamen’s article that ends by saying that Washington should get no credit for the lower deficit.

Meanwhile, he noted that the Tea Party has other things to scream about. But the truth is they are still screaming about the deficit. But that just sets up the same old false equivalence, “Democrats say they have cut the deficit, Republicans say they haven’t. Who can say?” As anyone who has watched politics knows, as soon as there is a Republican President, the Tea Party will lose all interest in deficits. Suddenly, all the real economic arguments for running deficits during recessions will make sense. Because it was never about deficits or any other policy; it was always simply that they hate President Obama.

What Kamen’s article is then, above all, is an example of Villager Thinking. Al Kamen is an upper class columnist. He’s not worried about the unemployed. He ended his article, “Well, we don’t miss the deficit.” Dean Baker explained the problem well:

Actually, people who care about jobs and wage growth do very much miss the deficit. The spending that was cut to reduce the deficit was creating jobs. There is no magical process by which this spending will be replaced by demand in the private sector, which means that the reduction in government spending means less demand and jobs in the economy…In addition, fewer jobs means that those at the middle and bottom of the labor force have less market power and therefore less ability to secure higher wages. This is good news for the small segment of the population that owns lots of stock and can benefit from higher corporate profits and cheap help, but it is bad news for the vast majority of people in the country. At least the Post has made clear which side they are on, just in case there was any confusion.

Well, there was never any confusion. There are, after all, almost no “labor” reporters, but no big time newspaper is without a slew of “business” reporters. It doesn’t matter what is happening to the poorer classes. Low deficits mean when Republicans get power again, they can lower taxes on the rich even more. Hooray for the “objective” press!

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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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