What does Washington currently fear? Topping the list is fear that budget deficits will cause a fiscal crisis any day now. In fact, a number of people — like Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairmen of President Obama’s debt commission — have settled on a specific time frame: terrible things will happen within two years unless we make drastic spending cuts.
I have no idea where that two-year deadline comes from. After all, what we do in the next couple of years hardly matters at all for U.S. solvency, which mainly depends on what we’ll do in the long run about Medicare and taxes. And, for what it’s worth, actual investors — people putting real money on the line — are notably unworried about any near-term fiscal crisis: the Treasury Department continues to have no trouble selling debt and remains able to borrow very cheaply, indicating high confidence on the part of investors that debts will be repaid in full.
Do the scare-mongers even believe their own stories? Maybe not. As Jonathan Chait of The New Republic notes, the politicians most given to apocalyptic rhetoric about the deficit are also utterly opposed to any tax increase; they argue that debt is destroying America, but they’d rather let that happen than accept even a dime of higher taxes. Yet the inconsistency and probable insincerity of their fear-mongering hasn’t stopped it from having a huge effect on policy debate.
Sunday, May 08, 2011
Fear or politics?
From Paul Krugman.