Striking how today’s Washington deficit and debt debates echo Continental arguments and policies in the 1920s and 1930s. As before, Malthusian linear extrapolation of today’s circumstances leads to a cataclysmic future. Ideology and epistemology fuel and derive sustenance from that apocalypse.
While E.J. Dionne is not often cited here in the bunker, he did sum up the Malthus Cheerleaders well:
The moment’s highest priority should be speeding economic growth and ending the waste, human and economic, left by the Great Recession. But you would never know this because the conversation in our nation’s capital is being held hostage by a ludicrous cycle of phony fiscal deadlines driven by a misplaced belief that the only thing we have to fear is the budget deficit.
A major reason Malthus walks among us again is so few American policy makers are economically literate. And shrink from basic maths. Economists aren’t much better. Consider how ideology as ‘free trade’ ignored mercantilist manipulation from Tokyo, Taipei, Singapore, Seoul and Beijing because ‘consumer welfare’ was the immutable barometer. (Lawyers, too – remember the Chicago School (law and economics) influenced decision that Japan couldn’t dump TVs in America because Japan was a capitalist country and firms don’t do unprofitable things).
Adding to difficulties? The federal budget’s opacity and arcana induces a particularly sudden coma. Only the most fanatical (masochistic) dive in. Thus, Paul Ryan’s outsized public presence. And David Walker’s. Who, you ask? A previously obscure U.S. Controller General, he launched his Comeback America Initiative to sound the alarm of budgetary doom without massive and immediate cuts. Omnipresent in D.C. and its Acela Mid Town adjunct, Walker comes perilously close to demanding an emergency government of national deficit reduction act. If you wonder where Joe Scarborough got his talking points (and Mika, too) look no further.
What Ryan and Walker (and les autres) provide are essentially crib sheets for how to sound informed while not really understanding the math, economics or actual budget mechanics. They dodge questions by barraging arcane factoids and posing existential act or die false binaries. They’s also spent years building to this moment. Even if their public notoriety seems overnight. It’s that trifecta – seeming expertise, simple solutions (draconian budget cuts) that people can analogize to their home cheque book, and relentless Malthus meme promotion.
There’re no corresponding figures promoting growth engaged across this full spectrum engagement. Who can and will feed the sound bite news entertainment machines. And walk the halls of Congress, lobbying with hard simplicities. Or taking years to build national grass roots movements.
Bruce Bartlett, for example, as a Republican budget and fiscal analyst long argued for spending restraints under Bush. And was fired for his troubles. He also understands that growth is the solution to debt and deficit constraints. Still, he’s an outlier in most Movement/Republican circles and by temperament and training more wonky than meme political. (Meant as a compliment, Bruce). Krugman has similar but even more profound limits. And so on.
To see E.J. Dionne above write a column is nice. Or the Daily Beast writing that E.J. Dionne wrote that column (albeit showing pretty shoddy understanding of macro-economics 101). This highlights our point. When columns are themselves noteworthy, it underscores the vacancy on the actual political playing field.
Are we wrong? Who’s the champion for a growth-led strategy?