Friday, February 19, 2010

Q: Bush deficit bad, Obama deficit good? A: Elder column terrible.

The self-proclaimed Sage of South Central needs to matriculate.

Or he could control his urge to lie by omission.

In "Bush deficit bad, Obama deficit good?" Larry Elder accuses New York Times columnist Paul Krugman of hypocrisy. That is, an hypocrisy that I'm confident exists only in Elder's simple-minded conservative fantasyland.

The World Nut Daily columnist claims that it is hypocritical of Krugman, a Nobel prize-winning economist, to attack the Bush II deficits and yet defend the Obama deficits:
Questions: Didn't Krugman, less than six years ago, call the deficit "enormous"? Wouldn't he, therefore, consider a $1.5 trillion deficit at 10 percent of GDP mega-normous? Didn't he describe the economy with 5.5 percent unemployment as "weak"? Isn't the current economy, at 9.7 percent unemployment, even weaker? If the 2004 deficit was "comparable to the worst we've ever seen in this country," wouldn't today's much bigger deficit cause even more heartburn?

Nope. Now a huge deficit is actually a good thing: "The point is that running big deficits in the face of the worst economic slump since the 1930s is actually the right thing to do. If anything, deficits should be bigger than they are because the government should be doing more than it is to create jobs." The deficit "should be bigger"?!
Therein lies the answer to your questions, O Sagely One. No one, except those with a partisan axe to grind, will claim that the economic troubles during the first Bush II administration were anywhere near as serious as our current economic crisis. This is obviously a relevant difference.

If government has any role in managing the economy, it should run surpluses when the economy is growing and deficits when the economy is contracting. This would make it easier for government to stimulate the economy when necessary. Bush II and the Republican Congress chose to run up huge deficits at the wrong time by starting an unnecessary war of choice and making unnecessary cuts in taxes. (It might be argued that the economic effect of the 9/11 attacks required stimulus in the form of tax cuts. But this would not show that Krugman is a hypocrite, again because the threat of the economic impact of the 9/11 attacks was nowhere near the economic threat we faced in 2008.)

It is easy to believe that their real agenda is to force the government to shrink: cutting government services is less unpopular than raising taxes, thanks to the GOP's incessant call to cut taxes in response to virtually every problem. Their current complaints about deficit spending—which many of them failed to make during the previous administration, by the way—represents the next phase of this plan.

I'm not sure that I'm comfortable with the enormous debt we're racking up. But I don't believe that Republicans are being entirely forthcoming about their motivations. And I don't believe that Krugman is being a hypocrite. Rather, the so-called Sage of South Central has, intentionally or otherwise, oversimplified the discussion in order to score political points. This is a common strategy in our civic debate, unfortunately, and our civic debate suffers for it.

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson