I understand someone like Josh Barro who is a conservative (Neoliberal?) and does usually act as an apologist for the Republicans. But I’ve never seen him intentionally misrepresent the facts. He has his ax to grind, just like I do. But he would never make a statement like, “Raising the minimum wage will cost jobs.” He knows the data. The research on the subject is all over the place. I don’t actually know where he is on that issue, but I know from experience that he’s much more likely to say something like, “The studies are inconclusive. The truth is we don’t know the effect; it will probably depend upon the time and place and the size of the increase.” That’s an honest man—or at least a man who is trying to be honest about issues that matter to him.
But as a result of being so honest, Barro is pretty much left out of Republican discourse. If you see him on television, it will be MSNBC and not Fox News. Because the truth of the matter is that to be taken seriously in the conservative movement, you have to be either ignorant or deceptive. This isn’t because conservatism is inherently indefensible. But in this country, the conservative movement has gone off the rails. And actually, the Democrats have too: they are now halfway on the old Republican tracks, while the Republicans will soon be taking out homes a couple blocks away from the railroad. So in order to keep complaining about the same stuff conservatives are always complaining about, you can’t be like Josh Barro. You have to cherry pick numbers in such a way as to completely deceive your readers.
And that brings us to Robert Samuelson at the Washington Post, where it doesn’t ever matter what the numbers say, the United States economy is on the verge of collapse! Although wrong year after year, Samuelson still manages the headline, Budget Policy as Prayer. The CBO produced one of its long-term budget outlooks last week, and most people think it looks pretty good—better than it has in years. William Gale at The Brookings Institute provides a very middle-of-the-road assessment in, Six Takeaways from CBO’s New Long-Term Budget Outlook. And his first point is, “The size of the budget deficit today isn’t a problem, and it’s not much of a problem for the next few years either.”
Samuelson doesn’t see it that way! He claims that, “Its themes are distressingly familiar.” That’s right: bread lines, roving biker gangs, no parties, no discos. You know the way it is. To give you an idea of just how bad it’s going to get, Samuelson says, “Under favorable assumptions, the CBO projects deficits of $7.6 trillion from 2015 to 2024.” Well, by favorable assumptions, we mean current law. You know: assuming that the Republicans don’t take over the government, cut taxes for the wealthy, start a few more wars, and increase subsidies to every large corporation in the world.
The problem is that Dean “Pundit Slayer” Baker, actually read the report (pdf). While it is true that the CBO projects $7.6 trillion in deficits over the next decade, because of economic growth, this will cause the Federal Debt held by the public as a percentage of GDP to go up just four percentage points: from 74% now to 78% in a decade.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you, the CBO projects the debt to go up from 78% to 106% during the 15 years after that. But there are a couple of issues to bear in mind here. First is that even ten year forecasts are simply bad; 25 year forecasts are complete fantasy. And as Baker points out, the only reason the deficit is 74% now, is because of the financial crisis and the bursting of the housing bubble. In the first quart of 2008, it was 36%. Remember: that ain’t Obamacare or any other new “liberal” laws, since they’ve all been paid for; that is reduced tax revenues and increased welfare programs because people are poorer. So if the Republicans would help the government to grow the economy instead of hinder its growth, we could see a boom that would cause our debt to GDP ratio to go down—way down.
But given that Samuelson seems to think that high debt is just going to kill us, Baker noted that there just isn’t any evidence for that:
The truth is that Samuelson will do anything to push his policy preference, which is to slash Social Security and Medicare. And there isn’t much of a Social Security problem at all. There is a Medicare problem, but that is due primarily to the fact that we pay twice as much as other advanced countries for our healthcare. And even Medicare isn’t looking as bad as it was a few years ago. Plus, there are lots of ways to deal with any shortfalls in these programs: we could raise the Payroll Tax cap and make that tax slightly less regressive. But that is exactly the sort of thing that Samuelson wants to avoid.
Samuelson writes pretty much this same column once or twice a month. He is always freaking out that we are going broke. Today is just special because it shows that even when the data are positive, he’s still freaking out. He carefully pulls out data and quotes from the CBO report to make his case. There is no way that he is unaware of what he’s doing. His intent is to deceive his readers. Robert Samuelson is a liar, which should come as no shock because most conservatives are liars.