Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Dean Baker

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research

November 23rd, 2009 4:06 PM

The Budget Deficit Crisis: The Blame Is Bipartisan

The country is being bombarded with stories claiming that record budget deficits threaten our children's future and jeopardize the credibility of the dollar. These stories are a serious problem - they have hugely confused the public about the nature of the country's economic crisis. And both parties share the blame.

Starting with the reality behind the scare stories - trillion-dollar deficits are really huge relative to the money that any of us will ever see in our lifetime. But this is an absurd measure. The United States is a country with more than 300 million people. It doesn't matter than a trillion dollars is a huge amount to any of us individually. What matters is the size of the deficit and the debt relative to the size of the economy.

Only people who want to deceive the public would talk about the deficit or debt in "trillions" of dollars. This is a very simple lie-detector test since honest economists and policy analysts always refer to these sums relative to the size of the economy.

Relative to the size of the economy, the deficits that we are running are large and the debt that we are projected to incur is substantial, but the deficit level is still not coming close to the levels hit in World War II. Nor is the debt level projected to reach post-war peaks or the levels sustained by countries like Italy and Japan. The idea that we are near some debt-driven crisis is absurd on its face.

The United States had the strongest period of growth in its history in the three decades following World War II. This undeniable fact should put to rest the idea that our debt levels will threaten the prosperity of future generations. We hand our children a whole economy and society. If we give them a bad education, a decayed infrastructure, a ruined environment, then we will be jeopardizing our children's economic well-being. However, the debt levels we are currently projecting aren't even large enough to make it to the list of serious problems.

The claim that the dollar faces an imminent crisis because of the budget deficit or national debt is readily refuted by the example of Japan. Japan already has a debt to GDP level that is far larger than we are projected to have by the end of the next decade. In spite of this debt burden, investors are willing to hold ten-year Japanese government bonds at just a 1.5 percent interest rate. If these debt burdens are supposed to make Japan a high risk, someone forgot to tell the people who are putting billions of dollars on the line by holding Japanese government bonds.

There is another side of this Japan story that makes the idiocy of the deficit scare stories even more apparent. According to the deficit fear mongers, the dollar has been falling in recent months because investors are becoming increasingly worried about the US government's ability to pay off its debt. But one of the currencies that the dollar has fallen against is the yen. Are investors who are worried about the US government's ability to pay off its debt selling dollars to buy the bonds of the Japanese government, which has an even higher debt burden?

Let's face it: The deficit hawks will say anything to advance their agenda. Even worse, the media will print it.

This deficit nonsense should have been put to rest long ago, but both parties have hyped it to advance their ends. Currently, the Republicans are making headway in the polls by blaming the Obama administration for a deficit that is primarily the result of economic mismanagement during the Bush years.

But Republicans don't have a monopoly on demagoging the deficit. During the Bush years, many Democrats spoke of the Bush deficits in cataclysmic terms. This was absurd. The deficits were larger than was desirable during part of the Bush administration (large deficits in 2002 and 2003 were helpful in boosting the economy), but they were not hugely out of line. There is certainly no story that can pass the laugh test in which these deficits are responsible for the collapse of the housing bubble and subsequent recession.

There were plenty of grounds to attack President Bush for the economy's performance under his watch. Most importantly, he let an $8 trillion-dollar housing bubble grow unchecked, and giving big tax cuts to the wealthy is not the way to create an educated workforce and a modern infrastructure.

But the Democrats often hyped the deficit - it was the easiest way to score political points. That helped to give us a situation in which tens of millions of people somehow think the deficit is the cause of the economy's problems when in reality it is the only thing keeping it afloat. In short, the Democrats are paying the price of their own political opportunism. Unfortunately, so is the rest of the country.

Tags:

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... www.theonion.com President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States www.theonion.com WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract pando.com As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors pando.com If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa ...by Nick Turse www.michaelmoore.com Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 www.theguardian.com Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? www.huffingtonpost.com I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | RootsAction.org act.rootsaction.org The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

More in David Sirota's continuing series on the billionaire takeover of PBS: More PBS conflict woes as activists move to eject David Koch from board of...

Mar 3rd
12:35 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles