David Callahan had a smart column in The American Prospect about natural and economic disasters, and why they must be met with the same level of urgency.
If most of us take for granted that we should be there for our fellow citizens during natural disasters, using the tool of government, why is it so controversial that we should also lend a helping hand during man-made economic disasters? Why are unemployment benefits under attack in numerous states, even as millions remain jobless through no fault of their own? Why is an idea as obvious as a direct government jobs program off the table in Washington?
The answer is no great mystery: Critics of a government safety net tend to think that individuals will solve their own economic problems if government isn’t there to coddle them—and also that private charity would do the job of helping people, and do it better, if government weren’t in the picture.
Both assumptions are wrong.
Americans donate to the Red Cross after natural disasters, but they don’t believe that charity alone can solve the problem. There’s no reason to differ from that when faced with a national economic disaster, wider in scope than a localized storm or tornado. And nobody thinks the people of Staten Island can simply pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Why the millions of long-term unemployed, facing a job market with four seekers for every opening?
This is why progressives are right to be concerned about a grand bargain. Despite the relatively strong jobs report, we still have a mass unemployment crisis mitigated only by a hefty amount of government spending. At the current rate of job growth, we would not return to full employment until the next decade. And yet lawmakers in Washington are obsessed with snapping back fiscal accommodation to appease actuarial projections 30 years down the road. They even know this would cause a near-term recession, yet they insist on deficit reduction to replace the “fiscal cliff,” which itself is nothing more than deficit reduction.
A first-strike post-election action on the national debt is simply a fake fight – like responding to a natural disaster on the Atlantic Coast by building an evacuation center in Wyoming.
It’s hard not to think of this ad when listening to the agenda being pushed by the Campaign to Fix the Debt. This is yet another project supported by Wall Street investment banker Peter Peterson. For the last two decades Peterson has used his fortune to bankroll a number of organizations that were ostensibly pushing fiscal responsibility, but always had the same punch line: cut Social Security and Medicare [...]
Of course the real story of the deficit is very simple. We have large deficits at present because the collapse of the housing bubble crashed the economy. That’s it [...]
There is a longer-term deficit problem but this is entirely a problem due to the projected explosion of healthcare costs. Interestingly, the data doesn’t seem to be cooperating with this story either. Healthcare spending grew at just a 0.5 percent annual rate in the most recent quarter. Its growth rate has been far below projections since the start of the downturn.
If healthcare costs continue anywhere near their recent path, our deficit fighters will lose their long-term deficit crisis story. They will be left pushing cuts for Social Security and Medicare that lack any basis in budget realities.
And it won’t stop them. Because if you invent a big storm, you just need enough meteorologists to point to it on television to convince the public to fight it.