The Daily Parker

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Why the Tea Party is not helping you

A friend of mine, who lives in a sea of Tea Partiers, sent me this question today:

How would you refute/debate/argue against the following opinion:

"I think it's [Paul Ryan as Romney's VP choice] a good choice because I sincerely hope the collective national attention and focus will be on the fact that we are on the verge of becoming the next Greece. And that the only hope of prosperity for our children is massive cuts in government spending and entitlement reform. I'd even be in favor of raising taxes if we could slash government spending by > 25%. Otherwise, we should be teaching our kids Mandarin and Hindi because that's where the opportunities will be. Just like most young Greek grads have left Greece for opportunity, so I fear our kids will have to do the same."

Of course I'd be happy to help. Let me see if I can distill down how Paul Ryan is either a dangerous, right-wing radical, or a dangerous, right-wing fraud.

Essentially it comes down to your view of government. If you believe that government's job is to spread risks and benefits, in order to make life better for everyone, then vote Democratic. If you believe that people should be individually responsible for all the good and bad things that happen to them, then Paul Ryan's your man. And by "all the good and bad things," I mean that Paul Ryan believes it's OK for someone to get kicked to the street if they can't afford the medical bills they incur after their employer lets them work in toxic fumes in order to save money on safety gear so Mitt Romney can get a bigger dividend check.

Or, more simply, vote for Paul Ryan if you want to return to the good old days of feudalism.

But let me address the specific panic and obfuscation that the Tea Party is trying to spread. The argument they make is that our long-term deficits are a problem, and in order to fix the problem we need to stop spending money on the government.

First, it's not clear that our long-term deficits are a problem at all. Second, even if deficits are a problem, you can also fix a deficit by raising revenue. Third, cutting spending in a recession is like curing anemia with bloodletting.

And fourth, they're lying. The Tea Party doesn't care about deficits, they care about taxes. Paul Ryan believes that government does nothing good, and therefore paying taxes to support it is theft. (Yes, he actually believes that.) Their goal is to reduce government to almost nothing, so using deficits as a way to scare people into shrinking the government is just a means to an end.

Let me go a little more in depth.

We really do have a long-term deficit problem, mainly because we borrowed nearly $3 trillion (so far) to pay for two wars without raising taxes to cover the debt, and also because our current Social Security funding formula doesn't cover the changing demographics in this country. Now, you can have any opinion you want about wars or taxes or old people, but simple arithmetic shows that if you borrow money to pay for something because you don't have the cash on hand, then you have a debt. So Republicans are correct that if we *do nothing at all* to fix our long-term problems, in about 20 years we'll be fucked.

We Democrats think planning to do nothing for 20 years is preposterous. Of course the U.S. will fix the long-term deficit. But talking about long-term debts in the middle of a short-term disaster misses the point. We need to stop the bleeding before worrying what the scars will look like.

Right now, businesses are scared to hire because no one's buying; and no one's buying because they're out of work; and they're out of work because businesses are scared to hire; ad infinitum. In order to get out of the depression, we need get people to spend money, which will get other people to making things, which will get employers to hire people, which will get them to spend more money, which will grow our economy.

So how to get people to spend money? It turns out, there is one employer that can hire and pay people without caring about profits or where the money would come from: the U.S. government. We've done it before, in 1938. We built roads, bridges, railroads, airports, telephone lines, electric power plants, and the biggest military the world had ever seen. Once the war was over, and we wound down the military, we still had roads, bridges, etc., which improved everyone's lives.

Where will the money come from, I hear you ask? Well, we can borrow it, and pay it back later when we're earning more.

It turns out, people are not only loaning us money, they're paying for the privilege: 2- and 5-year government bonds have negative interest rates, and 10-year bonds are at zero. Usually if you loan the government $100 for two years, you get back, say, $104. Right now people are loaning the government $100 knowing they'll only get back $99 in two years or $96 in five, because it's the only truly safe investment left in the world. They know the U.S. will pay them back, but they're not sure anyone else will.

Even with the wars and the free money, U.S. government debts are only about 60% of GDP, which is roughly where they were in 1955. In 1945, our debts were almost 120% of GDP, and at the end of the war, many people, and most Republicans, predicted disaster and wondered how we'd ever pay back the money. But in the 55 years that followed (1945-2000), we had the biggest economic growth of any country in history. Our deficits disappeared completely. In 2001, the day W took office, we had a $236 billion *surplus.*

If we take all that free money and put it towards fixing our infrastructure, we'd (a) put money directly into the economy, (b) get people working again, (c) throw states and cities lifelines (all those working people will be paying taxes, after all), and (d) make future growth more likely because we'd have fixed our infrastructure.

The Republicans have blocked the President's efforts to do all that because it would remind people what government is for. Also, we'd have to raise taxes eventually, which would fall disproportionately on the people best able to pay them.

Now let me compare the U.S. with Greece, China, and India, for just a second, to show why people who worry about us turning into them are irrational or lying. (Paul Ryan is in both groups, it turns out.)

Greek government debts are 165% of GDP and rising. In the history of the U.S., we've never had that much public debt. Greece household debts are also staggering. But unlike the U.S., which gets free money from people, Greece is paying through the nose. Then they have to borrow just to pay interest, which makes the debts even higher. And Greece borrowed all this money in euro, rather than drachma, so as the value of the euro rises, Greeks have even more difficulty paying their debts.

Ordinarily when this happens, a country simply devalues its currency (or has its currency devalued by the market), which makes the debts easier to repay. That is, if I'm Greece, and I borrow 100,000 drachmas at an exchange rate of one euro to 100 drachmas, I owe €1000. As the Greek economy slows down, it costs more drachmas to buy euros, because no one wants drachmas anymore. Suddenly one euro is worth 200 drachmas. The loan that cost €1000 is now only worth €500, which is a lot easier to repay. Sure, my lenders are pissed off, and I can't afford German cars anymore, but at least people aren't starving on the streets. (Food and housing tends to rise and fall with the currency, so 500 drachmas will likely buy the same amount of food or housing in good times and bad. But that BMW that cost 2m drachmas at €1 to 100 drachmas costs 4m drachmas at €1 to 200 drachmas.)

Greece is fucked because they don't have drachmas anymore; they have euro. They borrowed all their money in euro, and they don't produce anything anyone wants to buy with euro, so they have no way of repaying the loans in euro. But they're stuck with euro-denominated loans. Oh, and food costs the same number of euro as it did before, but half the country's unemployed and has trouble paying for it. Also, Greeks refuse to pay taxes, but that's another matter.

This happened to Argentina in 2000. Argentina set the peso at one U.S. dollar per peso, so that you could walk into any Argentine bank with 100 pesos and walk out with $100. Then their economy hit a slump, their interest rates skyrocketed, people started to dump pesos and buy dollars, but the government couldn't buy dollars anymore because of the slumping economy and high interest rates, so people couldn't get their dollars, so they got fucked. The government finally removed the dollar peg in 2001. Poof! The peso fell overnight to 20c ($1 = 5 pesos), and 80% of their debt evaporated. Unfortunately 80% of people's life savings also evaporated...but they were able to start over. Now, 11 years later, Argentina is thriving again.

Greece can't do that unless until they leave the euro. Meanwhile, their college graduates are generally stuck in Greece, because unless they speak fluent German or English, no one outside Greece will hire them.

So we're not Greece. First, because our debt ratio is still sane; second, because people are loaning us more money than we want to borrow; third, because we make more shit that people will pay dollars for than any other country in the world; and fourth, because unless the Tea Party completely knock us off the rails like they almost did a year ago over our debt ceiling, our fundamentals are pretty sound.

India has a billion people, but (a) 400 million of them can't read, and (b) their economy (GDP $1,850 bn) is smaller than California's ($1,913 bn). China has 1.3 billion people, about a third of whom can't read, and their economy ($7,300 bn) is only about half as big as ours ($15,300 bn). We think. Actually, they lie about their economic numbers all the time, so even saying "their economy is big" is only a guess. China will someday overtake the US in economic output; maybe so will India. But not for a century at least, and only if they're really lucky.

I'll just skip the ignorance of Indian and Chinese linguistics for now, except to say English is one of India's two official languages, and Mandarin, while the dominant language of China, only accounts for about 60% of the country.

In conclusion: the Tea Party's talk about cutting the deficit is a smokescreen for their ideological goal of shrinking government "so small we can drown it in the bathtub," as one of them said in the 1990s.

Why this goes along with racism, misogyny, and a pathological fetish with guns, I simply don't know.

I hope this helps. :)

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