Bill McBride has a question about, Ornithology: What is a “deficit hawk”? It might seem easy: a deficit hawk is someone who cares a great deal about the deficit and is willing to make a lot of compromises to get rid of it. But is that really what a deficit hawk is? McBride has noticed what I have: deficit hawks don’t seem to care much about the deficit; they just seem to care about using the deficit to push other things they actually do care about.
How else do you explain the fact that almost all the prominent deficit hawks are for lowering taxes? Yes, they claim that this will create growth that will decrease the deficit. But as McBride noted, “All data and research shows that at the current marginal rates, tax cuts do not pay for themselves and lead to much larger deficits.” Speaking of economic growth, these are the same people who don’t want to do anything to head off recession. And how do you explain that they are generally for budget-busting wars? The only “sacrifice” that these deficit hawks seem to be willing to make is cuts in spending on the poor and middle classes.
I think the answer really comes back to one of my favorite analogies: Matt Yglesias’ Quaker budget hawks:
But somehow, in our society, rich people must be given the benefit of the doubt — regardless of how absurd that becomes. My favorite example doesn’t even come from the United States. Back in 2013, France was being forced to do austerity — because balancing the budget is so important in a recession. (Note: sarcasm!) But when France met its budgetary target through tax increases rather than spending cuts, European Commissioner Olli Rehn was upset. He said, “Budgetary discipline must come from a reduction in public spending and not from new taxes.” And why is that? It certainly isn’t because the economics dictates this. In fact, the economics probably point in the opposite direction. It’s just that Rehn’s conservative ideology dictates it, but like almost all of the deficit hawks, he doesn’t actually care about deficits.
I should be clear: I don’t care about deficits. In a booming economy, they are a problem, of course. But when was the last time we had a booming economy? For two years at the end of the 1990s? And that was such an aberration that people still talk about. It was also a time when the deficit was gone because of the boom. But I’m willing to talk about deficits if we can get a political system that shows it is actually interested in creating jobs and not just more income for the very richest among us.
But what’s clear is that those who want to use the deficit as an excuse for their conservative ideology are not honest brokers. We can’t deal with them because they won’t say what they want. And we know why that is: what they want is truly unpopular. It sounds so much better to say that we must screw the poor in order to help the poor. And somehow, that’s an argument that has worked for four decades now — even as the poor are doing worse than ever.