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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Finding truth in the debt ceiling debate

Sorry for the recent silence. I went to a wedding in Boston and then spent a little more than a week at Fenwick Island, Deleware. I attended a minor league baseball game (Delmarva Shorebirds vs. Asheville Tourists), consumed a great deal of seafood and my fair share of Dogfish 60 IPA, and swam virtually every day. It was fun and relaxing.

Today, I spent some time at the Duck of Minerva blog catching up on national politics. Josh Busby, who is very interested in climate change (and thus mentioned it in passing), wrote a very good post on the debt ceiling debate.

One commenter (Ht) reacted in a highly partisan way -- dismissing climate change science as fraudulent, calling Democrats Marxists, labeling the Obama administration as socialist, etc.

I felt compelled to reply:
This comment illustrates a frequent problem with public debate in the US. People throw around terms like "socialism," "Marxist," and "crony capitalism" (disclosure: I've used that one) without always grounding them in facts.

Dan pointed out that even the DoD accepts climate science. Almost every "real" scientist does -- certainly major national science organizations, atmospheric scientists, other specialists, etc. Still, there's some room for doubt about specifics given modeling, projections, assumptions, etc.

There's very little doubt, however, about other factual inaccuracies in this comment. Obama most certainly did not triple spending.

Tax rates are much, much lower than they have been, historically. Indeed, the Obama era not only saw the extension of the Bush tax cuts, additional tax cuts targeted at lower and middle income people were passed (payroll taxes, for instance). Tax rates were higher under almost any "ideal" past (at least since FDR). They were higher under Ike, JFK, Nixon, Reagan, etc.

Likewise, as a portion of GDP, federal spending is *not* at historic highs. There was a blip peak for TARP (passed under Bush), but the overwhelming majority of that was repaid. Also, federal spending was still relatively low compared to Depression-era initiatives. Indeed, the stimulus only temporarily increased spending and it was pretty tame for the remarkable economic crisis of 2008. Also, it included one-third tax cuts. The spending surge was temporary and mostly ended by now.

The "Marxist" regimes the US opposed during the cold war had economic and political systems not at all like the US systems. The somewhat more socialist *western* European states have historically taxed and spent at much higher levels than the US has done. And I would note that they have superior social welfare systems -- without really posing any threat to political liberty.

Now crony capitalism, particularly in the defense sector, there's a problem...
I added some relevant links, obviously, and fixed a minor error.

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