After the election campaign, the nation likely will turn in one way, shape or form to dealing with the budget. Several analysts and bipartisan groups have had their say on what the ultimate plan should be. Among those statements is a paper by Andrew G. Biggs, Kevin A. Hassett and Matthew Jensen of the American Enterprise Institute, entitled “A Guide for Deficit Reduction in the United States Based on Historical Consolidations That Worked.” This paper, released in December 2010, has received an enviable amount of attention for a fairly technical enterprise.
To tell you what I am going to tell you: The authors argue that the United States should reduce its deficit much more (they pick 85 percent) by reducing spending, and thus much less by raising revenues, than the most widely recognized bipartisan plans (which are at about 50-50). I think they overplay their statistical hand. This post gets a bit nerdy, but in my view the reasoning comes down to a fairly fundamental issue. So all but the faint of heart, please read on.
Two columns in the Washington Post this week provided serious misinformation. One misleads the making of economic policy in the future; the other slanders the innocent dead. Both fail to recognize shlock economics when they see it.
The first column, “The denier in chief,” was written by Michael Gerson. Gerson was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush for six years, and this column is a very straightforward election-campaign attack on President Barack Obama, which of course is Gerson’s right. However, he should be called to task for a fundamental economic error in his argument, because that error is gradually making its way into the conventional wisdom and could hamper policymaking crucially in the future.
Is the federal budget problem caused solely by overspending? Or does it have roots on both sides of the ledger? And what does the answer to that question say about a potential remedy going forward?
There are people who believe in, and want, bigger government. And there are people who believe in, and want, smaller government. But that is a different issue. It is the gap between spending and revenues today which equals the deficit, which is the annual increment to our potentially unsustainable debt. What is the cause of that gap? To see, it might be worth taking a look at the numbers.