Let’s talk about the budget. The whole business of government deficits has been a political smokescreen for decades. The Reagan Administration deliberately used deficits as a way to force cutbacks in what had been popular social programs. What the first President Bush called “voodoo economics” was a convenient way to camouflage the real objective of trying to take apart programs that had worked well, and helped to keep us out of another depression, for half a century. Reagan’s budget director was explicit. But it was obvious. For decades Republicans had been screaming about deficits. Then they enlarged them. Deficits were then used as a tool to attack what had been invulnerable. Suddenly even Social Security became a problem. That was Reagan’s success – or failure.
The younger George Bush did it again. All these balanced budget hawks came in and immediately decided to unbalance the budget, not because there was a problem but because a balanced budget didn’t give them the excuse to cut more social programs. So they unbalanced the budget by giving large tax cuts to people who needed none and then claimed they had no money to give a hand up to people who needed one, for education, Social Security and other programs. More cuts.
When George W. Bush took office in 2001, there was no good reason for deficit spending. Despite the internet bubble, the fundamentals of the economy were strong and we’d had a decade of strong growth. Good times are times to keep the budget in balance and build up a surplus for future hard times. Clinton was onto that project.
But bad times are times for deficit spending. The very definition of a depression is when a large part of the economy starts economizing at the same time. If one business, even one city, economizes by laying off some workers, they should be able to find jobs and there should not be any significant impact on the economy. If lots of firms and governments start economizing at the same time, they create a whirlwind – less employment and less money force still more people to do the same until the economy hits bottom and we’re all out of work. It just isn’t true that we can all do the same things at the same time without disaster.
Now Republicans, conservatives, Tea Party-ers are still screaming about the budget. They claim the budget is out of whack and they want to cut revenues even further. But I cannot accept all the Tea Party nonsense at face value. Cutting budgets now will deepen the recession. It’s the wrong remedy at the wrong time.
There’s a big subterfuge at work. It’s not about deficits. It’s a back door attack on programs they don’t like but can’t attack except on budgetary grounds. Who could attack education except on the claim that we can’t pay for it even while they insist on cutting those sources of revenue that don’t depend on the very unfair property taxes? Who could attack Social Security except on the claim that we can’t pay for it? But if they cut the budget again, all we’ll have left will be the survival of the meanest and best armed bullies.
So the Tea Party budget hawks are really offering us a deal with the devil, a path to hell, when all of us will need those social programs we don’t have any more. To get rid of the social programs they don’t like, they’re willing to put millions of people out on the street selling apples and sleeping under cardboard. I’m not willing to deal with that devil. Better to run the devil’s minions out of politics.
This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, July 13, 2010.