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Friday, February 22, 2013

 
Debt vs Deficit

by digby

Steve Benen flags an interesting result in the most recent Bloomberg poll:



I put together this chart to help highlight the Bloomberg results. A 62% majority believe the deficit is getting bigger, 28% believe the deficit is staying roughly the same, and only 6% believe the deficit is shrinking.

In other words, in the midst of a major national debate over America's finances, 90% of Americans are wrong about the one basic detail that probably matters most in the conversation, while only 6% -- 6%! -- are correct.

For the record, last year, over President Obama's first four years, the deficit shrunk by about $300 billion. This year, the deficit is projected to be about $600 billion smaller than when the president took office. We are, in reality, currently seeing the fastest deficit reduction in several generations.

And yet, 90% of Americans don't believe the demonstrable, incontrovertible, entirely objective truth. It's worth pondering why.

Benen blames the Republican fearmongering and the media's obsession and he's right. But it's not as if deficit fever isn't a bipartisan illness. I'm going to guess that a majority of the Democrats believe this because they assume the President wouldn't be focusing on the deficit like a laser (and taking credit for the cuts made so far but proposing even more) if it was a problem that was coming under control.

What most people see is stuff like this, which they show all the time on TV and which makes them believe that the debt and the deficit are the same things:
U.S. NATIONAL DEBT CLOCK

The Outstanding Public Debt as of 22 Feb 2013 at 05:02:46 PM GMT is:
$ 1 6 , 5 9 5 , 6 4 6 , 2 5 1 , 0 8 4 . 5 0
The estimated population of the United States is 314,470,975
so each citizen's share of this debt is $52,773.22.


I haven't heard anyone trying to explain the difference between the two.  Indeed, it seems clear to me that both parties see some utility in keeping this debt boogeyman out there.

The sad thing about all this is that we went through this education exercise back in the 90s.  They managed to at least persuade people that the deficit and the debt weren't the same things for a while so that both parties could take credit for eliminating the deficit --  as if it were a very spectacular achievement. We all know what happened next.

So, this whole argument is a scam. The debt might be a problem some day, although there are many people who would argue that the this too is something of an illusion. But right now it is the least of our problems. The deficit is simply what the government needs to borrow to pay its bills on a yearly basis.  And right now, with interest rates at historic lows, borrowing money is very cheap and the amount we need to borrow is coming down, not going up. Not that anyone would know that by the conversation in Washington.


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