Wikipedia Propaganda On The Deficit

Until a moment ago, Wikipedia contained the following words:

“The 2009 deficit includes the cost of the Troubled Asset Relief Program ($154 billion in 2009), the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 ($202 billion in 2009, $353 billion in 2010, and $232 billion in 2011 forward), and the 2009 Omnibus spending bill ($410 billion).”

Yes, the numbers are not far off, but these words, emanating from a now deleted account named “Numeropolix” apparently expressly created for the purpose, are propaganda. To see why, begin with the meaning of the word “fungible.”

Now the purpose of the sentence is to create the appearance of a value-neutral fact that appears to immediately entail that The Democratic Party caused the deficit by coming into power in 2008. All but the first program is attributable to the Democrats, and the first one, TARP, is widely (among conservatives) but falsely believed to be attributable to the Democrats. Thus, the solution to the budget deficit is to not vote Democrat.

But, alas, money is fungible. This means that without more, all one can say is that the deficit is caused by spending more dollars than we receive in revenue. There isn’t a special little red dot sticker attached to the physical dollar bills spent on TARP, say, that says “from bond-holders; for TARP; do not spend in any other way.” Now intuitively, everyone understands this when it comes to their own budget. What counts as having caused a shortfall depends upon how one conceptualizes what one has spent. You are now short by exactly the same amount as your new car payment. Shouldn’t have bought that new car? Maybe. But maybe the problem is you should’ve bought a cheaper house, and then you could’ve afforded the car. You had to put your groceries on plastic last week. Is this because you eat too much? Or because you don’t like to cook? Or because you prefer the ambiance of the expensive store that buys local and organic? It’s not any one thing, it’s all of those things, to the extent that they contribute to you not having enough.

So was everything just peachy until the Democrats came in and in an instant spent a trillion dollars we don’t have? I don’t know, and neither do you, because it’s not a factual question, it’s a normative question. Iraq, which an awful lot of people now think was a pretty bad idea, has cost about $700 billion dollars. That’s almost three-quarters of the way to the trillion plus shortfall. Extending the Bush tax cuts to 2020 would increase the national debt by $3.3 trillion; I don’t have any data on how much damage the cuts did previously, though I do know that Bush’s last budget was already running a $400 billion deficit.

Now one can reply that tax cuts are non-negotiable because “it’s our money” and that taxation is theft. One could say that Iraq is legitimate because it is defense spending and defense is one of the few legitimate government functions, unlike almost everything else our government does. But those are just normative claims, no different from the normative claims that preparing for and waging war is always immoral, or that un-equal distribution of wealth is always unjust. By all means, keep making them; naturally your normative claims are the correct ones (whoever you are reading this) but in the meantime we must all make these collective decisions, and it looks like during this meantime, we do not agree. The only thing we are all sure of is that our opponents are thieves.


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