David Leonhardt, Please Shut Up

Compañeros, I have a dream today. No it’s not the dream where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers . . . I have that dream too, but today’s is different. In this dream, Obama’s deficit commission, the Pew-Peterson Commission, Erskine Bowles, Alan Simpson, Peter Orszag, Alice Rivlin, Peter Peterson, and David Walker are cast into the middle of Redskins Park, surrounded by a thousand eager flesh-eating zombies.

For the love of the sweet baby Jesus, I beg you all to not get embroiled in the bankrupt pastime of figuring out how to balance the budget. That is what all the very serious people, the economic royalists of The Washington Post (“If you don’t get it, you’ve got a quarter!”), the ignorant television talking heads, and now a parade of bankrupt commentators and commissions would have us do. This is the ultimate sucker’s game.

There should be no doubt that austerity — tax increases and spending cuts — would make the current awful employment situation appreciably worse. This is frankly acknowledged by deficit hawks, who are nothing if not cagey. Nevertheless, they would immerse us in discussions of austerity, in the middle of the worst employment crisis of the past thirty years.

In the face of this perverse distraction, what is called for is a doctrine of implacable massive resistance: no discussions of austerity until the current employment situation is adequately addressed. What is called for is a trillion of new spending. It’s time for the WPA and the CCC. High-speed rail. Rebuild the Gulf Coast wetlands. Weatherize tens of millions of houses. Wire the schools. Free municipal wireless broadband. Reverse all state and local government budget cuts.  [cont’d]

Maybe in five years we will have some leeway to start looking at reducing the rate of growth of Federal spending. Any talk before that point is a vicious affront to the current plight of tens of millions of Americans.

The deficit commission(s) would presume to not merely reduce the deficit, but to remake social policy (by eliminating the most defensible piece of welfare reform — the Earned Income Tax Credit), tax policy (by using revenue increases to cut taxes in other ways), and health care policy (by proposing effective monkey-wrenches for the new health care reform act), among other adventures in hubris. They are way out of their league. Of course, they are undaunted by a history of incompetence and failure. As Noel Coward said of another, “[They] are completely unspoiled by failure.”

By failure we of course refer to the mismanagement of financial markets leading to this horrible recession, topped by a massive reward to the miscreants at the bottom of it all: bonuses and elimination of competition, in the form of now-immortal “too big to fail” financial institutions whose fangs are granted official license to our financial necks indefinitely.

Show me an enacted program to raise employment massively, and I’d be willing to talk about ways to fix the budget in a humane way, closing military bases, withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq, raising taxes, and plenty of other wholesome devices. Until then, forget it. The notion that we have to do something “now” or else is just a flaming lie. We’ve been told this for twenty years. Who can still believe it?

You would think twice if you lived under a totalitarian regime and some mundane topic like civil service pay, legitimate in and of itself, was raised. No, there are some issues that automatically justify postponement of other discussions. 9.5% unemployment is one of them.

The flagship proposal of the commission’s chairmen is to slash Social Security benefits and 401(k) tax advantages simultaneously. So our children will enjoy less debt and more indigent parents and grandparents. The effective political response is obvious: “WHERE ARE THE JOBS?” You fucks.

The legendary Henry Aaron demolishes the Bowles-Simpson excuse-for-a-plan. Future legend Dean Baker motivates “the urgent case for delay.”

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