Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A "Common Sense" Guide to the Great Deficit Debate

No matter how much liberals may poke fun at them, Tea Party partisans can claim victory in fundamentally altering the country's dialogue...Thanks to the Tea Party, we are now told that all our problems will be solved by cutting government programs...Does anyone really think that cutting such programs will create jobs or help Americans get ahead? But give the Tea Party guys credit: They have seized the political and media agenda...

E.J. Dionne Jr. Washington Post: 2-21-2011

In the wake of a deep financial crisis and continuing high unemployment, we are confronted with a contentious, often angry argument over our future as a nation: 

- How best to expand economic productivity and resources, and to “grow” jobs?    
- What programs and social policies do we value as citizens?  
- What public goods will we invest in? 
- How do we pay for government at a scale that we can agree we need? 

These vital concerns are increasingly reduced - problematically - to the sole issue of deficit spending.

For most people, economic issues boil down to the need for jobs at decent wages. Beyond that, we worry about affordable health care, good education for our children and security when we can no longer work.

A parade of analysts and business leaders offer their “expertise” - despite the fact that most professional experts and insiders were as shocked as the rest of us when the financial system collapsed in 2008. As a disastrous meltdown erased the presumed savings of millions of homeowners and investors nearly overnight, the crisis raised lingering questions of credibility on the part of economists in academia, business and government. It further called into question the motives and methods of powerfully positioned managerial elites who reap unprecedented wealth from control of the nation’s central financial institutions. Now these are the circles where the focus is most often fixed on “the deficit.”

Whenever a politician or pundit raises the subject of government debt and deficits, numerous related issues follow almost immediately – the future of Social Security and Medicare (framed as “entitlements”); identifying various programs - often including safety nets and infrastructure - as “waste, pork and earmarks”; extending tax cuts...and perhaps a nod toward paring back some of our large military expenditures. Critical issues are heating up at the state level as well, where governments are facing decreased local revenues - primarily due to the economic downturn.

These are all complex problems, but much of our confusion as citizens at ground level is rooted in the fact that the very terms of this debate as posed in the media are muddied. Half-truths are often allowed to pass as fact and “conventional wisdom” is colored by special interests and partisan ideology.

This “average citizen’s primer” is intended to promote informed dialogue among Americans concerned about their economy and seeking to shape the political debate driving key economic policy. It is an effort to help “the rest of us” become better equipped both to participate and to evaluate what we’re hearing in a critical debate that is certain to profoundly affect our future and that of generations to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment