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The Great and Narrow Fiscal Debate of 2012

Having got my Ryan budget post out of my system, let me reiterate that this is not only a debate we shouldn’t be having at a time of mass unemployment, but a debate the public doesn’t want in a time of mass unemployment. The media have done yeoman work in trying to conflate “the economy” with “the deficit” – and considering that we could actually use a higher deficit right now for stimulative reasons, this is partially true – but that’s not the debate we’re going to be having. We’re going to talk about what the role of government should play 20 years in the future, rather than what it should play right now when we have an unemployment crisis.

But what I object to the most is the fact that this is being framed as a debate of competing ideologies, rather than a debate between an ideology on the extreme right and one in the center, leaving out a mass of perspectives on the left. Here’s a representative take from Beltway scribe Ryan Lizza:

But the good thing about the Ryan pick is that the Presidential campaign will instantly turn into a very clear choice between two distinct ideologies that genuinely reflect the core beliefs of the two parties. And in that sense, Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan is good news for voters.

No it doesn’t. It’s a choice between one distinct ideology, and a technocratic center which doesn’t reflect the core belief of the party as it has been defined over the years. The part of the debate that believes Social Security needs to be adequate to provide for retirement and not cut from its already puny benefit – that will not get a hearing. The part of the debate that says that Medicare and Medicaid do a better job of controlling health costs than private insurance, and that they should be expanded and joined for a single-payer program, starting with allowing people to buy in to Medicare – that will not get a hearing. The part of the debate that says that in a time of mass unemployment, government must be the spender of last resort to increase aggregate demand and create jobs – that will not get a hearing. This great deception, that the pole of the debate represented by the Administration represents the [left]ward pole, will only facilitate a post-election move to cut safety net spending, as the “wise responsible middle course.”

I don’t think that the electoral outcome will give running room for policies to deal with mass unemployment – that seems like a rabbit out of the hat. It seems much more likely it will give running room for the policies that would naturally arise out of a two-month debate where one side wants to end a substantial portion of the safety net, and the other side merely wants to cut it in the spirit of compromise as part of a grand bargain.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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