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From DC's Deficit Panic to Flint's Poisoned Water

By       Message Dean Baker       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
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We know that the Washington Post editors really hate Bernie Sanders and rarely miss an opportunity to show it. Dana Milbank got in the act big time today as he once again denounced Sanders (along with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz) in his column.

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There was much good stuff in the column, but my favorite was when he told readers:

"MacGuineas' group [the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget] calculates that Sanders would increase government spending to unimaginable levels: to as much as 35 percent of gross domestic product, from the current 22 percent."

The key word here is "unimaginable." Most Western European governments have ratios of government spending to GDP of more than 40 percent and some have ratios of more than 50 percent. Apparently Mr. Milbank finds the whole European continent unimaginable.

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What is especially striking is that most of the increase in government spending would be the result of the government diverting payments for employer-provided health insurance to a government-run universal Medicare system. Apparently Milbank thinks it intolerable that the money taken out of workers' paychecks to be sent to private insurers would instead be taken out of workers' paychecks to be sent to the government, even if it would lead to savings of several hundred billion dollars a year in administrative costs and insurance industry profits. In Dana Milbank land, this is the height of irresponsibility.

What is perhaps most incredible is Milbank's notion of irresponsible. His sole measure of responsibility is the size of the government budget deficit and debt, which are for all practical purposes meaningless numbers. (If the government puts in place patent protection that requires us to pay an extra $400 billion a year for prescription drugs, this adds zero to the budget deficit or debt, and therefore doesn't concern Milbank. However, if it borrowed an extra $400 billion a year to pay for developing new drugs, he would be furious.)

On the other hand, forcing millions of people to be out of work because of deficits that are too small apparently does not bother Milbank in the least. Since the crash in 2008, we have needlessly foregone more than $7 trillion in potential output. Millions of people have been kept out of work, with their children thereby growing up in families that were in or near poverty levels. We also have the stories like the children in Flint exposed to lead, all because Milbank and his friends want to whine about budget deficits.

Many might view this set of policies as being irresponsible. But in Milbank's worldview, which is widely shared in Washington policy circles, it doesn't matter what you do to the country as long as you keep the deficit down.

 

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Dr. Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University. (more...)
 

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