Thursday, February 28, 2013

The mostly uncritical role of the press

In this day before the Budget Apocalypse I have been watching with amusement how uncritically the press corps (with some notable exceptions) has accepted the claims of the Obama Administration on what would happen if the tiny little red piece of the budget were taken away.

Even the Washington Post could not take all of the baloney that the Administration officials have been trying to peddle.   For example, in an article titled Sequester Spin Gets Ahead of Reality the Capitol's lapdog paper found that claims by many administration officials were just plain nonsense.    What was odd about the story is that the WP appended the White House's fanciful list of cuts to the article as somehow to atone for the sin of actually doing some reporting.

According to David Jackson of USA Today, the Administration actually has threatened WP reporter for pointing out that the original idea for the sequester came from Obama.   But the sloppy reporting on this issue has not been completely one sided.   The Defense Department takes an inordinate hit in this game compared to its current share of the budget.   But part of the cuts come from the net savings of winding down our commitment in Iraq and Afghanistan.   Wonkblog presented two charts yesterday which give a good picture of this effect.

After each demobilization since Korea military spending has taken a downturn.   That is to be expected.   The second chart shows more graphically the increase and reductions related to our commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq.   This is not a debate about whether the initial commitment or the strategy for withdrawal was the best policy but it does present a pretty good picture of how those commitments affected the budget.
The reality of this budget fight seems to be lost on almost everyone in Washington.   According to the Administration's budget projections, over the next ten years tax revenue is projected to rise at  7.6% per year.   Spending is expected to grow at 5% per year although there are considerable uncertainties in those projections - Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are projected to grow at 5.8%, 6.6% and 8.5% respectively.   Net interest is projected to grow by 14.2% (the underlying assumption here is for some pretty significant optimism about the progress of rates over the period - if those are wrong - that could balloon even more).

We should be appalled at the attempts to create hysteria by many senior people in the Administration.  The release of felons by the DHS and all the other claims and actions for this very tiny percentage of the federal budget in projected spending is caused in part by the permanent nature of campaigns (which this administration has taken to new levels) and by the significant innumeracy of most people in the press.

Wilkins Micawber should be there to advise our political class much as he did David Copperfield in Dickens' classic - he told young Copperfield “My other piece of advice, Copperfield, you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and—and, in short, you are for ever floored. As I am!”   I am not a fan of blighted blossoms or withered leaves.

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