Posts Tagged ‘national debt’

Deficits Don’t Matter?

November 7th, 2010

In a moment of honesty, Vice President Dick Cheney told a reporter, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter” (source). Yet, more often the Republicans and their fringe backers, Fox News and the Tea Party, have made the public debt a source a public anxiety and anger. The reality is that deficit spending is required for a healthy economy, and we have been in much more debt in the past (i.e., during WWII) and we experienced the greatest boom and largest middle-class in our history (source). This is not an endorsement of “welfare for the rich, capitalism for the poor.” I think it is a crime when the government bails out corporations who have been irresponsible, and the public gets stuck with the bill. No, I strongly disagree with what went on during the Bush and Reagan years: Redistribution of lower-income/middle-class wealth to the rich, through corporate welfare (i.e., tax cuts/loopholes/shelters, no-bid contracts, bailouts, deregulation, privatization of public resources, etc.). But being against welfare for the rich does not mean all deficit spending is a bad thing. In fact, it may actually be essential for a thriving economy.

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(Rick Seaman of Portland, Oregon, made this chart from data he found on TreasuryDirect.gov.)

Republicans seek to spook the population into balanced budget spending, but then they go on a spending spree when they are in power (see the chart above). Keynesian economics have proven over and over, and history bears this out, that during economic downturns government spending is essential for recovery. Some economists even insist that ongoing deficit spending is required for a vibrant economy, and deny that there is a downside. Republicans pose as the “fiscal conservatives” who are for “fiscal responsibility,” but this is a ridiculous claim. It is Democrats that have been the fiscal conservatives, and have tried to balance the budget during economic booms.

Joe Conason of Salon.com wrote that, “In our time, the Republican Party has compiled an impressive history of talking about fiscal responsibility while running up unrivaled deficits and debt. Of the roughly $11 trillion in federal debt accumulated to date, more than 90 percent can be attributed to the tenure of three presidents: Ronald Reagan, who used to complain constantly about runaway spending; George Herbert Walker Bush, reputed to be one of those old-fashioned green-eyeshade Republicans; and his spendthrift son George “Dubya” Bush, whose trillion-dollar war and irresponsible tax cuts accounted for nearly half the entire burden. Only Bill Clinton temporarily reversed the trend with surpluses and started to pay down the debt (by raising rates on the wealthiest taxpayers)…Not all of the warnings about deficit spending are false. Wasteful federal spending can eventually lead to inflation; excessive deficits can cause interest rates to rise, although that doesn’t always occur. But as Clinton proved in confronting the huge legacy of debt left over from the Reagan era, it is possible to raise taxes and slow spending without damage to the broader economy” (source).

According to their own stated standards, Republicans regularly commit the unpardonable sin of massive deficit spending. If we buy-in to their fear-mongering about deficit spending (even during recessions) then we must give Republicans very poor ratings. It is worth mentioning that when Republicans implement deficit spending, the spending usually ends up in the hands of the ultra-rich, who tend to save; whereas Democrats typically channel deficit spending to the middle-class, who are likely to spend, which leads to a stronger economy. There is a big difference between awarding no-bid military contracts to Haliburton and Blackwater, and on the other hand, extending unemployment benefits. Only the later actually ends up helping the economy.

Conason also points out that, even though deficit spending is an essential part of sound fiscal policy,”Not all of the warnings about deficit spending are false. Wasteful federal spending can eventually lead to inflation; excessive deficits can cause interest rates to rise,although that doesn’t always occur. But as Clinton proved in confronting the huge legacy of debt left over from the Reagan era, it is possible to raise taxes and slow spending without damage to the broader economy” (source). Tax rates in the U.S. are among the lowest of industrialized countries (only Mexico, Turkey, South Korea and Japan have tax rates lower than ours), and we spend more on our military than all other nations combined—if our deficit become a real problem, we could easily make some changes in these areas, without cutting “entitlements,” and wipe our our debt in a decade. Ron Paul has said, “Deficits mean future tax increases, pure and simple.” Perhaps there is truth to this. However, take a look at countries that have higher taxes. For example: Denmark. » Read more: Deficits Don’t Matter?