The United States has more than 25 million people unemployed, underemployed, or out of the labor force altogether because of the weak economy. Investors are willing to make long-term loans to the country at 1.5 percent interest. The idea that the budget deficit should be the country’s major concern is close to loony, but nonetheless in policy circles that seems to be the case.
This is best demonstrated by Niall Ferguson’s nutball column in the Financial Times, which we are warned is only the first of four. I would tear this thing to shreds but I want to get some sleep tonight.
I’ll just pick one choice nugget. Ferguson tells us:
“The most recent estimate for the difference between the net present value of federal government liabilities and the net present value of future federal revenues is $200 trillion, nearly thirteen times the debt as stated by the U.S. Treasury.
Notice that these figures, too, are incomplete, since they omit the unfunded liabilities of state and local governments, which are estimated to be around $38 trillion.”
Hmmmm, $200 trillion at the federal level and $38 trillion at the state and local level? Can we get a source for this? Is there a date there for when the Martians will attack Planet Earth?
In fairness, there are nutty projections that assume that per capita health care costs in the United States will be four or five times as high as in all other wealthy countries. If this proves true, over an infinite horizon we will have a very bad deficit problem. Of course, these health care costs would wreck our economy regardless of what we do with public sector health care programs. These projections would cause serious people to talk about the need to fix the health care system. But this is national economic policy that we are talking about.
But this piece suggests an easy route for dealing with the deficit. Clearly there is a big market for deficit hawks. (I assume that Mr. Ferguson was well-paid for this piece.) It certainly is not difficult to train someone to write this stuff. Suppose that we set up educational programs that will train millions of deficit hawks to write stuff for the Peter Peterson–BBC–Financial Times crew. We split the payments between our former students and the government.
This would be a great win-win-win story. Otherwise unemployed college grads could get good-paying jobs being deficit hawks. Taxpayers would get a cut of their payments, helping to bring down the deficit. And, even Peter Peterson, the BBC, and the Financial Times would gain because they would be able to find deficit hawks who would be every bit as knowledgeable as Niall Ferguson and would work for much less. (We could assure the deficit hawks that our students would not be more knowledgeable because then they probably would not write such dreck.)
There you have it: a plan for compromise and bipartisanship. Do we have a deal?
Economist Dean Baker is co-founder of Center for Economic Policy and Research and writes regularly on CEPR’s Beat the Press blog, where this post first appeared.