A Republican Magic Trick
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It’s becoming increasingly clear that America’s deficit hawks are using the classic magician’s trick of misdirection: wave your right arm around frantically, and you’ll distract your audience from your left hand as it pulls a card from your sleeve. In their version of the trick, Republican lawmakers and well-financed right-wing think tanks (some of whom call themselves centrist) are sounding the alarm about a huge rise in the U.S. budget deficit when we reach the 2030s. Then, they pick the pockets of Americans by getting concessions on cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and other vital programs.
The long-term deficit scare is based on projections of rapidly rising health-care costs that will almost definitely not occur. In the past four years, these costs have been growing slowly. Moreover, America spends so much on health care, it has a lot of room to become more efficient without undermining quality — maybe even while improving it.
The projections come from the supposedly non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. But the office is making simplistic extrapolations from the historical data. The CBO’s economic model is demonstrably conservative, lending far too much weight to the deleterious consequences of future budget deficits; the office’s economists are big advocates of the “crowding out” thesis that federal deficits reduce business investment, and great deniers of Keynesianism. To base fiscal policy on their twenty-year forecasts would be like betting the ranch on a Farmer’s Almanac prediction.
It may be time for the president to hire a professional magician himself. Or at least time for him to tell Americans they’re being bamboozled, and to stop buying the Republican line that program cuts are necessary.
More from Jeff Madrick:
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”