The term "fiscal cliff" is a one-sided propaganda phrase that misinforms and triggers public fear and anxiety. The fiscal cliff is not a "cliff" and the country isn't going to fall off anything at the end of the year. Journalists: don't help the misinformers -- don't say or write "fiscal cliff." Congress: when people are scared and misinformed our Congress should pause, step back and help inform us instead of rushing to take advantage of the fear.
What The Fiscal Cliff Is
At the end of the year the Bush tax cuts expire and several budget cuts start to phase in (including military spending cuts.) This reduces the deficit, and some of those cuts will slow the economy if nothing is done to restore them in the next several months. That is the "fiscal cliff" that you are hearing so much about. Except it isn't a cliff, it kicks in gradually, Congress has a lot of time to work it out and can fix anything that is a problem.
That's right, if nothing is done in the next several months -- there is no "cliff" at the end of the year -- some of those cuts will slow the economy. All the screaming and hysteria are about putting pressure on the "lame duck" Congress to do something in a big hurry, outside of the accountability of democracy and before the president and progressives have more leverage.
What The Fiscal Cliff Is NOT
The "cliff" does not mean that the government runs out of money on December 31 because the deficit is so big and all kinds of terrible things happen on January 1. This is sort of the opposite of what is going on. Even the few who didn't think it was about the country running out of money were misinformed in one way or another, with most thinking something terrible happens January 1.
The "fiscal cliff" is about taxes going up and budget cuts, which reduce the deficit. And absolutely nothing in anyone's life will change on January 1, or for some time (weeks, months) after.
That's right, all the people who were hysterically screaming about the deficit are hysterically screaming now because of deficit cuts. Go figure. But the reason is that they have an agenda.
Journalists Should Not Help Misinform And Scare People
The very term "fiscal cliff" misinforms and scares people. Some media outlets, like FOX News, exist to misinform and scare people. But responsible media outlets should try to help the public understand complicated issues, not help scare and misinform.
Any journalist using the propaganda phrase "fiscal cliff" is taking the side of misinforming and scaring.
Settle Down, Beavis
Everyone should settle down. There is no "cliff." No one is going to fall off of anything. And after the first of the year the president and progressives have much more leverage in this fight than they do now -- hence all the pressure to act before then.
When people are this misinformed and scared the Congress owes it to the public to stop, take a break, work to inform the public and not act in a panic. Journalists, especially, owe it to the public to inform, not misinform and scare.
Update -- I wrote this and went to bed. I wake up, and there is a perfect example in the Monday New York Times titled, "Debt Reckoning, The Fiscal Deadline In Washington." The write-up in the morning New York Times email is "The New York Times is beginning a new online feature that will chronicle the talks on the fiscal cliff between President Obama and Congressional leaders."
The clear message of this headline and summary is that the country is in crisis because of debt. The public cannot help but get the impression that the country goes broke in a few weeks. As I explained above (and as Paul Krugman explains today in Fighting Fiscal Phantoms) this is really the opposite of what is happening.