Jonathan Chait noticed something interesting, The Obama-Era Deficit Scolds Want Big Tax Cuts Now. He notes that all the big people behind Fix the Debt and other groups supposedly so concerned about the federal government’s debt are now only too happy to support Donald Trump and his idea of a huge debt-financed tax cut for the rich.
Oh, how can this be?! Could it possibly be that these people never cared about the debt? As Chait noted, “The debt scolds’ professed panic at looming fiscal insolvency turns out to be, in large measure, cover for a panic at a government that would redistribute too much income from people like themselves.” One would have to be Third Way columnist at a major daily newspaper to think otherwise. You know, someone like Thomas Friedman. But people don’t come around here to listen to such Very Serious Nonsense. So I think we can take this as a given.
No One Cares About Debt
The truth of the matter is that everyone can come up with reasons for debt-financed spending as long as they agree with the spending. Debt is not a problem. When people start worrying about debt burden, then I might take their concerns seriously. That’s the amount of money it costs us to pay for our debt.
All through Obama’s time in office, the cost of US government debt was extremely low. It was so low, in fact, that it was less than it was during George W Bush’s terms in office. In other words, debt was a much bigger concern when Bush was in the White House than when Obama was. Yet we heard very little about the federal debt during Bush and very much about it during Obama.
So it was always clear that the debt scolds were spouting nonsense. And I’m not just saying that now. You can go back and look at what I was writing over the last eight years — there is lots of complaining about this. But the truth is that as soon as a Democrat is in the White House, the debt scolds will be back.
Which Kind of Redistribution?
And the reason is because Democrats won’t increase the debt for things that the scolds want — like tax cuts. Democrats might increase the debt to provide healthcare for poor children! And that would be a bad thing because the debt scolds are committed to a single kind of redistribution: from the poor to the rich.
These are the same people who will tell you that there is nothing we could have done about our loss of manufacturing jobs. It’s just globalization — simple supply and demand — nothing to be done. Of course, even as these people fought to make sure manufacturing workers competed directly against workers in other countries, they were against the same thing happening to doctors, lawyers, and financial advisers.
Both of these things are related because they they shift wealth from the poor to the rich. But we don’t hear this discussed much in the press. We hear lots about how terrible debt is (when it might be spent on the poor). We hear about how great tax cuts on the wealthy are — economic growth! And we hear about how globalization lowers the price of paper towels. But we rarely hear about the good that can be done with debt. (No one blinks when they hear a friend has gone into debt to buy a house.) We never hear about how the professions of rich people are shielded from international competition. And we only hear about the bad parts of globalization except in the context of, “To bad we can’t do anything about it!”
The Real Fake News
I get so tired of hearing President Trump talk about fake news. He’s just lying, of course. But the truth is that our news is largely fake in that it pushes a narrative that is designed to help rich and powerful people like Trump.
So sure, the debt scolds are disingenuous. But why is it that our media outlets follow them in reporting on the subject of the debt. Do they not notice that when a Republican is in the White House all concern about the debt goes away? I’m not good at predicting the future, but I have no problem predicting this: if a Democrat is elected president in 2020, we will start seeing a lot more coverage about the federal debt and how catastrophic it is.