Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What Caused the Deficit and Who Should Pay?

James Crotty's entry in the January 2012 issue of the Cambridge Journal of Economics, "The great austerity war: what caused the US deficit crisis and who should pay to fix it?" reads like it has a bit of a chip on its shoulder ... but perhaps reasonably so. Crotty clearly cares about what he sees happening.

According to his analysis from the abstract, "our deficit crisis is the result of a shift from the New Deal-based economic model of the early postwar period to today’s neoliberal, free-market model. The new model has generated slow growth, rising inequality and rising deficits. Rising deficits in turn created demands for austerity."

The piece begins with a brief history of how we got into such a mess from the twists and turns of interaction between economics and politics. That history leads naturally into discussing the method through which the right-wing's neoliberal model works its madness.
"Since the right-wing economic model relentlessly pursues regressive tax cuts and slows the economic growth rate, it has a strong structural tendency to restrain the growth of government tax revenue. While committed to reducing government spending on the social safety net and public investment, it supports increased defence expenditure and giveaways to corporate America. However, proposals by conservative politicians to defund or privatise popular spending programmes such as Social Security and Medicare have, until recently, triggered a powerful political backlash that has made them impossible to implement. In practice, at least until now, the model restrains revenue growth more effectively than it lowers spending. This combination has made rising deficits a structural attribute of the right-wing model."
Another observation along the way that would probably surprise the "taxed enough already" crowd is that we're very lightly taxed by international standards.
"Total federal tax revenue in 2010 as a percentage of GDP was at a 60-year low (Bartlett, 2011). The fact that the USA is, by international standards, a very lightly taxed nation suggests that it would be possible to raise substantial additional tax revenue without serious economic side effects. If the USA had the same tax-to-GDP ratio as the median country in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) country in 2009, we would have had $1.4 trillion in extra revenue that year and we would not have a deficit problem at all.
But we don't even need to go that far. Simply letting the so-called temporary tax cuts finally expire in 2012 and massively reducing troop numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2015 should, according to Crotty, "cut the prospective decade-long deficit in half, reducing it to manageable proportions without gutting important government programmes."

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