The deficit hawks are prevailing. The economy remains an economic and social disaster. Medicare has already been cut by the Democratic majority in the new health care bill. Social security is now under attack by the new bipartisan Congressional Commission on Fiscal Sustainability and Reform. Meanwhile, the media tries to present a balanced approach, pairing deficit hawks with deficit doves.
But the deficit hawks aren't the problem. They do the best they can with arguments that feature empty rhetoric supported by the underlying assumption that deficits are 'bad.'
Actually, it's the well-intentioned but misinformed deficit doves featured by the media that may be doing the most harm. They don't understand actual monetary operations and reserve accounting, and therefore incorporate the same fundamentally incorrect assumptions as the deficit hawks. They agree deficits are 'bad,' but try to argue that's the case only in the long term. They agree that deficits can be too high, but try to argue they have been higher, particularly in World War II, and therefore larger deficits should be easily manageable, while agreeing there is a level that could not be manageable. They agree markets could be 'unfriendly' and a lack of confidence could translate into far higher interest rates, but argue that the current low rates for Treasury securities are the markets telling us that at least for now confidence is high indicating markets are eager to fund current deficits. And they agree that 'bang for the buck' matters and support tax cuts and spending increases based on higher multipliers.
The problem is that the two sides of the story are in fact fundamentally on the same side. The media does not feature the true deficit dove story. Nor do any of the true doves have even a small piece of the administration's ear, or the ear of anyone in Congress willing to speak out. There are maybe a hundred true doves, including many senior economics professors. The problem is this professional, highly educated, highly experienced collection of true doves does not get a fair hearing.
The true deficit dove positions include:
- Since government spending is merely a matter of changing numbers in bank accounts on its own spread sheet, there is no solvency issue or sustainability issue
- The right size deficit is the one that coincides with our stated goals of full employment and price stability.
- Interest rates for government are set by the government, and not by the market place.
- Bang for the buck considerations are moot as the size of the deficit per se is not an issue.
The answer to why the true doves capable of articulating the above points don't' get a fair hearing may be credentials. My BA in Economics from the University of Connecticut in 1971 doesn't cut it, nor the fact that the very large fund I managed was the highest rated firm for the time I ran it. And my net worth never getting anywhere near a billion hasn't helped either. Seems billionaires get celebrity status and lots of airtime for just about anything they want to say.
The same is true of the economics professors who've got it right. Without being from and at the usual 'top tier' schools, none can even get published in main stream economics journals, where submissions featuring obvious accounting realities are routinely rejected. In fact, any economist who states accounting identities and operational realities such as 'deficits = savings' or 'loans create deposits' or 'Federal spending is not constrained by revenues' is immediately labeled 'heterodox' and unworthy of serious mainstream consideration. Even the late Wynne Godley, who did have reasonable credentials as head of Cambridge Economics, and was the number one UK economics forecaster, was labeled 'unorthodox' because his mathematical models featured the deficits = savings accounting identity.
My three proposals that can immediately turn the tide and get us back to full employment and prosperity remain:
- A full payroll tax (fica) holiday
- $150 billion of Federal revenue sharing to the States on a per capita basis
- An $8/hr Federally funded job for anyone willing and able to work to facilitate the transition from unemployment to private sector employment.
The only thing between today's state of the economy and unimagined prosperity is the space between the ears of policy makers that's filled with the deficit hawk rhetoric, and unfortunately further supported by the rhetoric of the deficit doves the media selects to present the 'opposing view.'
Warren Mosler is President of Valance Co.