Just sayin’

by Eszter Hargittai on September 12, 2008

I’m reposting this “Fiscal Conservative” cartoon with permission from Steve Greenberg, Ventura County Star, California:

Fiscal conservatives

Bob Herbert’s recent column summed up a lot of my sentiments:

Ignorance must really be bliss. How else, over so many years, could the G.O.P. get away with ridiculing all things liberal?

Or are some of us overreacting?



Bruce Baugh 09.12.08 at 1:22 pm

Just to preempt the stock conservative talking point…

It’s true that Clinton faced Republican Congresses, who wouldn’t have passed budgets with large deficits for a Democrat the way they had for Republicans, and the way they would again for the next Republican. But it’s also true that Clinton submitted budgets that went for balance and then surplus. None of the others in that cartoon ever tried – they all talked about balance and surplus coming somewhere way down the road, and went for the unsupported spending in the here and now.


CTP 09.12.08 at 1:25 pm

From the outside, it is always amazing how American conservatives, who have so much to be ashamed of, can be so bombastic, whilst American liberals, who have so much to be proud of, can be so cowed.

Bob Herbert’s sentiments are marvellous. Until recently, you could only hear that kind of thing on blogs… Is it possible the dirty hippy bloggers were right all along?


Monte Davis 09.12.08 at 2:03 pm

The cartoon’s message should be repeated many times, many ways, until it sinks in. David Stockman blew the whistle 27 years ago, but Republicans are still succeeding with the “tax-and-spend” chant.

Democrats and true conservatives have to make vivid the consequences of “don’t tax and spend anyway.”


lemuel pitkin 09.12.08 at 10:04 pm

So it’s the liberal consensus now that the purpose of fiscal policy is to to produce supluses, and not — for instance — to guarantee full employment?


c.l. ball 09.12.08 at 10:16 pm

The basic message is right, but the Reagan numbers are wrong. Reagan left with a current dollar $155 billion deficit. If the numbers are inflation adjusted, then Clinton number is too low by $100 billion.


Steve LaBonne 09.12.08 at 11:47 pm

So it’s the liberal consensus now that the purpose of fiscal policy is to to produce supluses, and not—for instance—to guarantee full employment?

That, my friend, is precisely why I never join in Clinton lovefests. Bill Clinton governed as a conservative- a sane one, that is, as opposed to the loony-tunes variety that infests the Republican Party.


HH 09.13.08 at 12:11 am

“Conservatism” is just a code word for the propaganda cloud upon which the American plutocracy floats. Deficits don’t matter to our plutocrats because they exist on the books of the US Treasury, not in their private and overseas personal accounts.

The looting of America’s wealth by a kleptocracy armed with superb propaganda technicians has been proceeding steadily for several decades, and the only thing that is being conserved is the riches of the looters.


Kenny Easwaran 09.13.08 at 12:35 am

Re 4: This doesn’t mean that “the purpose of fiscal policy” is producing a surplus, just an admission that a surplus is often a positive (especially when there have historically been huge deficits) even if not the primary goal of police. Perhaps more importantly, this points out that by their own lights Republicans should prefer the fiscal policies that Democratic presidents have demonstrated.


salient 09.13.08 at 5:50 am

So it’s the liberal consensus now that the purpose of fiscal policy is to to produce supluses, and not—for instance—to guarantee full employment?

A “liberal consensus”? None of us will ever live to see the day.


I, Kahn O'Clast 09.13.08 at 11:01 pm

I would love to see that thing re-based in Real 2008 dollars!


LFC 09.14.08 at 1:13 am

@8: Part of the reason Clinton left office with a surplus is that he had the good fortune to be president during a period of upswing in the business cycle (plus various bubbles that didn’t burst until after he left office). His policies perhaps should get some of the credit (if you want to use that word) for the surplus, but not all the credit by any means.


mpowell 09.17.08 at 3:16 pm

11: Fail.

Clinton could have lowered taxes on the rich and funneled government monies to his pals in business. This is what a Republican would have done. In an era when lying and corruption barely dent a Republican’s reputation because “all politicians are that way”, responsible fiscal management is a massive achievement that should be heralded as such.

4: Yes, that is the liberal consensus. The American public is basically fiscally conservative. They think that means they line up with the Republicans. In actuality, they line up with the Democrats. I understand that as a true fiscal progresssive, this is frustrating, but let’s be realistic here. Fiscal government is never going to be to the left of national sentiment. And responsible fiscal management, like Clinton’s, does produce the proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats. It’s really not significantly worse compared to progressive fiscal policy, especially when the real world alternatives have been demonstrated so clearly.


lemuel pitkin 09.17.08 at 3:34 pm

Perhaps more importantly, this points out that by their own lights Republicans should prefer the fiscal policies that Democratic presidents have demonstrated.

Well yes. But my point is, should we (liberals/progressives/what have you) prefer them too?


mpowell 09.17.08 at 3:39 pm

Prefer them to what? If you say, preferable to the realistic alternative in this country, I think the answer is pretty clearly yes.


lemuel pitkin 09.17.08 at 3:52 pm


OK, that would be a “yes” to my original question. Keynes is dead, the Treasury View has won.

But tell me: do you think most Americans would be better off if the US had been in surplus over the past few years? if it were possible to balance the federal budget next year, do you think it would be wise to do so?


mpowell 09.17.08 at 5:23 pm

As for your first question, I think the answer is: we would have been better off not cutting taxes and running a surplus in the 200-2003 time frame. I’m not sure what impact this would have had on the business cycle, but at some point it would have been acceptable for the government to start running a deficit. Even this might have been avoided if we had saved $1T by not going to war in Iraq.

At this stage, balancing the budget in the coming fiscal year would probably do more damage than good. It is best to use the federal government as a lender and insurer of last resort to minimize the considerable damage our financial sector is suffering. But this question is somewhat unfair. Grossly negligent fiscal management over the past 8 years has been the American economy between a rock and a hard place. Even the best answers call for pain somewhere.

I don’t really blame the Democrats, though, for the fact that the Treasury View has won. In a reasonable society, we would see the Treasury View and Keynes competing for the dominant paradigm. Instead, the Republicans co-opted the political messaging and forced us to flock to the Treasury View just to defend our society from their strain of plutocracy. But the blame for this really lies with the liberal Republicans in the 50s-80s. Once the Republicans pulled out the southern strategy, headed up by plutocrats, the Democrats were powerless to stop the current political landscape from emerging. The Republicans were able to build an effective political coalition based on racial and cultural resentment and economic ignorance. I don’t see that as a force you could reasonably expect the Democrats to combat after LBJ’s championing of the Civil Rights Act. It was, I believe, the liberal Republican’s responsibility to prevent their own party from being hijacked. Unfortunately, I think the seeds were already there, and once the strategy was shown to be successful, I think the outcome was pretty much inevitable.


lemuel pitkin 09.17.08 at 8:09 pm

But there’s a line between conceding that sensible conservative fiscal policy is the best we can hope for right now, and adopting it as a positive goal.

The big intellectual advance of Keynesianism was the realization that in a modern industrialized country, taxes exist not to finance government spending but as a tool of macroeconomic management. The *only* reason for the federal government to move from deficit to balance (or from balance to surplus) is to reduce aggregate demand. I certainly understand the use of arguments like the one (implicit) in this cartoon to win elections or oppose tax cuts or spending expansions that are undesirable for other reasons, e.g. because of their distributive impacts. But let’s not forget: when Republicans say “deficits don’t matter,” they are *entirely right*. Government deficits do not importantly constrain future public spending or crowd out private invesment.

… or at least, again, that was the view of the mainstream Keynesian center-left for several decades.


mpowell 09.17.08 at 8:56 pm

Okay, that’s fine. But running a deficit because you’re throwing money at the military and cutting taxes on the rich isn’t smart policy nor is it Keynesian. One reason I think the Clintons may have been criticized unfairly from the left was that Congress was just not going to let them increase spending on desirable domestic programs. Better to just run a surplus at that point even if you’re a Keynesian, right?


LFC 09.18.08 at 5:13 am

Of course Clinton was better, in some areas much better, than a Republican would have been. That doesn’t mean that DLC-style neoliberalism was the only conceivable alternative Democrats (especially once in power) had available. True, after the ‘contract with America’ midterm election and Gingrich becoming Speaker the political landscape changed; however, Clinton had roughly 2 years in office before that happened.

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