A big red dog explains the fiscal cliff

By Felix Salmon
December 12, 2012

The main problem with trying to explain the fiscal cliff, as I see it, is that people get far too caught up in the details — tax deductions, tax hikes, spending cuts, debt ceilings, and the like. Which are all important, but they’re not fundamentally what the austerity bomb is about. Rather, the reason that everybody’s worried about the effects of the fiscal cliff is simple Keynsian mathematics: if we cut spending and raise taxes, that means less economic activity — and a nasty recession, just when we can least afford it.

So this video is my attempt — with a big red dog, and Superman, and Batman — to get back to what really matters, and to try to underscore something quite interesting, which has been lost in the politics, which is that in terms of the deficit, both Obama and Boehner want something very similar. The deficit is big now — about $1.1 trillion — and they both want it to come down by roughly $200 billion, which is much less than what will happen automatically if they do nothing. In that case, the deficit would plunge by a disastrous $500 billion or so.

Deficits are a good thing, in terms of economic stimulus, and taking away a large deficit too quickly is a great way of causing a recession. I do understand that at some point deficits become a bad thing, especially if the bond markets decide that there’s a real question mark over whether all that borrowing can ever be repaid. But we’re not at that point yet. So it falls to Barack Obama and John Boehner to come together to prevent an entirely avoidable recession. They can do it, and they will do it. But we’ll have to suffer a lot of sturm und drang — not to mention gimmicky YouTube videos — before we get there.

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