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Noted for February 19, 2013

Mark Thoma Sends Us to Jonathan Chait: Scarborough and Friends 'Bug-Eyed, Table-Pounding Terror'

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Mark Thoma:

After two relatively wonky posts, let's turn to Jon Chait for a bit of (serious) fun:

Scarborough and Friends Trying to Make ‘Debt Deniers’ Happen, by Jonathan Chait: The deficit scold cause has suffered significant intellectual erosion…. In the short run, the interest rate spike they keep insisting will happen keeps not happening. In the long run, the health-care-cost inflation that is at the root of the long-term fiscal predicament is growing markedly less dire. The case for prudent fiscal adjustment remains strong, but the case for bug-eyed, table-pounding terror is growing increasingly ridiculous. But bug-eyed, table-pounding terror is the stock-in-trade of the fiscal scold movement. And so they are striking back by labeling anybody with a calmer view of the deficit as a “debt denier.” Joe Scarborough… has a new op-ed in Politico brandishing the epithet….

Analyzing the argument in a Joe Scarborough–authored op-ed is inherently challenging. (The written word in general is just a terrible medium for Scarborough, hiding his winning personality while exposing his inaptitude for analysis.) It mainly consists of using variations of “debt denier” repeatedly to describe his opponents. To his credit, Scarborough finally cites one actual economist… Unfortunately for Scarborough, the economist he cites, Alan Blinder, turns out to hold essentially the same view as Krugman…. That Scarborough would support his claim that Krugman’s view is “extreme” and “indefensible” by citing Blinder is just a total failure of reading comprehension…. It is the belief of the debt scolds that their issue holds such overweening importance that it can only be considered in moralistic terms. To Joe Scarborough and the whole team of anti-debt television personalities, calibrating out the ideal terms of debt reduction is like calibrating out how much to spend fighting Hitler. The fiscal scolds have so successfully inculcated their moralistic urgency about debt, so thoroughly dominated the news agenda, that millions of people like Joe Scarborough think it is self-evidently insane and evil to in any way minimize the awesome scale of the crisis. Scarborough can't really explain why Krugman is wrong, because the nub of the issue is that Krugman's way of looking at the issue simply offends him.

We do have to make adjustments in the long-run, but as Jon Chait notes, "Not only do we not need to start reducing the budget deficit this year, it would actually be harmful to do so with unemployment still high." That's the most important problem we face right now, high levels of long-term unemployment…. If Scarborough and friends would use their "bug-eyed, table-pounding terror" when talking about long-term unemployment, we might get somewhere…