Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Deferred Pain of Budget Deficits

Slate editor Jacob Weisberg writes in the Financial Times (sorry, subscription needed):
This week, the White House announced its 2007 federal budget, which projected a shortfall of $423bn (€355bn) for the current fiscal year. The good news: budgeters predict diminishing deficits in years ahead, even while accounting for extending the Bush tax cuts. The bad news: for that to happen, Iraq will have to turn into Canada next year, Afghanistan into Sweden and the US Congress into an order of mendicant monks.
Mostly, the new numbers are shameful for the fiscally unbalanced Republicans who run the government.
Weisberg goes on to ask:
If deficits are so terrible, why is the economy so good?
One reason he cites is that a deficit of 3.2 percent doesn't immediately bring the economy crashing to a halt. As Weisberg puts it, "our metaphors have become stale." Budget deficits don't cause immediate pain, which is why Dick Cheney can smugly assert that deficits don't matter. Weisberg concludes:
Running a deficit is not so much like going on a spending spree or shooting yourself in the foot, which hurts immediately. It is more like smoking, drinking to excess and not exercising. It will in fact kill you -- just not tomorrow.

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