Saturday, September 25, 2010

Deficits matter... to whom?

We keep hearing from the right that deficits matter.  But they matter to whom?

I think the answer provides both insight and explanation into behavior of the GOP.

Long-term deficits matter to the poor and middle class - not the uber-wealthy. Long-term deficits will, at some point, drop us into an era of high interest rates and high inflation - destroying the life savings and crippling the wage-driven economy for the middle-class and poor.

GOP presidents have been in charge for 80% of the deficits. GOP presidents had veto power over all that spending.  Did they just forget themselves? I can see it through a glass, darkly: the GOP wakes up one morning with a head slap and says "Damn, I forgot to stop the deficit spending."

Why should deficits matter to the uber-wealthy?  They can easily move money offshore into investments that are inflation protected.  They can even move themselves offshore if the peasants become a problem. It's really rather simple logic. If deficits mattered to the uber-wealthy, the Bush administration would not have run up massive deficits. People don't spend 8 years doing what they really oppose.

If you claim "deficits matter" while simultaneously creating deficits through both good and bad economic times, then you are either stupid or a hypocrite. As proven by behavior, as long as deficits are created by lowering taxes and providing services to the wealthy, the GOP is quite content to let the red ink run up. Indeed, the GOP doesn't mind deficits created for middle class spending as long as it also helps corporate interests and doesn't shift power out of their hands (for example, the GOP drug benefit in Medicare).  But any Democratic spending that might please the middle class and shift power out of GOP hands brings out the clarion: "deficits matter."  Notice how quickly the argument disappears when you say - "OK, let's tax the people who have the money to solve the deficit problem." 

If deficits matter to the wealthy, why didn't they wield their political clout in the Bush administration to maintain the Clinton surplus or (at least) keep deficits small? The answer, of course, is that you can't balance the federal budget except by 1) taxing the wealthy - as Clinton did, or 2) cutting services to the middle class - including social security and medicare - which the GOP threatens but has never done. Of course, during the Bush years the first option was unacceptable to the wealthy GOP base (who are needed for campaign contributions), and the second option would have lost votes of the independents and elderly the GOP needed to get Bush re-elected. It follows that the only way the GOP could maintain their position in the Bush years was to pretend that deficits matter while doing nothing about them.  Today, nothing has changed.

The GOP's historical behavior in simultaneously promoting deficit spending and tax cuts is unworkable. 

The only question is how badly will they wreck the country before the voters stop them.

P.S.  To the extent I understand economics - I'm a Keynesian and support deficit spending during bad economic times, along with increased taxation and spending cuts during good economic times.

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