Political Animal


December 29, 2012 10:30 AM It’s the Unemployment, Stupid

By Jesse Singal

You should check out Joe Wiesenthal’s chart-jammed Business Insider piece arguing that there is only one way to fix the deficit, but it’s “painless”—increase growth by reducing unemployment.

I liked his take on the psychology of “pain,” a word we have heard a lot of in the recent, seemingly endless negotiations/grandstanding exhibitions:

It’s understandable why the pain metaphor is so popular. One, it’s logical to think that the answer to big deficits is cuts, and cuts are painful. More importantly, it appeals to an innate sense that pain is frequently a long-run redeeming thing to experience. You go to do Crossfit, and you feel pain. But then pretty soon you’re a beast that’s never felt better. Some religious groups use to mutilate their own flesh to show proper respect to The Lord.

It is also, I would add, a signal of Seriousness on the part of Serious People that they are Seriously thinking this through in a bipartisan manner, that they have truly done the Serious, requisite chin-stroking before coming to the conclusion that, dang it, we just don’t have any choice but to cut Social Security.

I also thought this was a useful point:

In the debate over fiscal policy, you frequently hear liberals argue: “It’s not time to deal with the deficit, we need to fix the economy first and then fix the deficit when the economy is stronger.” While this has merit as a political concept, it’s actually giving into a false frame that dealing with the deficit and dealing with unemployment are two separate things that you do at different times. Steps you take to improve unemployment are deficit reduction measures, as the above chart from IBD shows. While the government has done, technically, nothing to address the deficit in the last few years, the deficit is shrinking (relative to GDP) merely because the economy has improved, and more people are going back to work. If unemployment drops to 7 percent, or 6.5 percent, or 6 percent, we’ll get quite a bit of deficit reduction then.

Great, a plan! Good thing we have such a highly functioning legislative branch of our government to enact it for us.

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.


  • SteveT on December 29, 2012 11:07 AM:

    ". . . it appeals to an innate sense that pain is frequently a long-run redeeming thing to experience. You go to do Crossfit, and you feel pain. But then pretty soon youíre a beast thatís never felt better. Some religious groups use to mutilate their own flesh to show proper respect to The Lord."

    The difference is that the pain Mr. Wiesenthal describes is self-inflicted. The reason we are at a political impasse is that Republicans ABSOLUTELY REFUSE to impose pain on themselves or the people that they like.

    The pain that Republicans are demanding that we impose is the pain that the Holy Inquisition imposed on the heretics and unbelievers.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on December 29, 2012 11:08 AM:

    There are no problems in the United States that we couldn't solve, or begin to solve, tomorrow. We have a political problem; nothing else.

    The Republican party and Republicans must be crushed and humiliated for their intransigent, stubborn, reality-denying ignorance and stupidity.

  • jhm on December 29, 2012 11:16 AM:

    Another useful frame is that the so-called disaster (with or without cliffiness) is distinguishable from the wingers' balanced budget totem in only one respect: they contemplate the elimination of the social safety net instead of tax increases (and DoD cuts).

  • Ron Byers on December 29, 2012 11:19 AM:

    This concept should be saved in the "Duh" folder. The reason anybody can write an article and anybody else can create a blog post out of the obvious reality that putting people back to work will reduce the deficit is most of us have no idea what is actually driving the deficit. Oh, we know about two wars on the credit card, Medicare D's give away to Big Pharma and the Bush tax cuts, but the real drivers are we have high unemployment, and falling wages, that means fewer tax revenues relative to expenditures.

    Nobody in the media realize that stimulus is a big part of a solid deficit reduction plan, because most media types just aren't that curious. As a result the general public and their elected representatives, right and left alike, are left with the sort of common sense, but wrong idea that deficit reduction and job creation are two competing, no conflicting, ideas.

  • c u n d gulag on December 29, 2012 11:49 AM:

    How's 'bout we give our blessed "Job Creators (All kneel... Let us pray for them... While they prey on us... Blessed be they, who have acquired great wealth - whether by fair means, or foul, for they are truly God's chosen... Let us rise)," tax cuts when the actually start to create feckin' jobs, and tax the living shi*t out of 'em 'til they feckin' do?

    Create, or start, a job?
    Here's your tax cut.

    Eliminate a job, to save labor costs, and/or productivity?
    Tax the living sh*t out of the saved labor costs and productivity gains.
    This way, a company has to figure out if that planned automation of jobs, X, Y, and Z, or shipping them overseas, are worth losing the tax cuts, and getting a tax increase.

    Of course, this is un-possible, because we've got one party with their head's so far up the @$$es of the rich, and corporations, that they can lick the hair roots from the inside.

    And then there are the Republicans, who are even worse...

    What's that CRAPTCHA?
    eopener necessary
    For what?

  • golack on December 29, 2012 11:53 AM:

    Alas, that message gets twisted in GOP circles--cut taxes on wealthy and benefits will "trickle down", economy will grow magically, and deficits will disappear....which has never, ever happened.

  • Mimikatz on December 29, 2012 12:20 PM:

    The relationship between the recession and falling tax receipts hence deficits is correct. In addition, declining wages and salaries for those who do have jobs means less purchasing power and hence more unemployment.

    The GOP has it backwards, as do the majority of pundits, who have internalized their frame. It is workers who make goods and do services who make jobs by spending their wages on goods and services produced by other workers. The top 1-2%, especially those in finance, are mostly parasites getting rich off of the labor of others, and moreover they don't spend as high a percentage of their income but rather stash it overseas in tax shelters or invest it in each other's scams. In any case it isn't productive here. They aren't job creators at all. They are more of job destroyers through their greed.

    So what we need is to return to high top marginal tax rates which would, in turn, make it more profitable to plow earnings back into the business rather than distribution them to the already have too much top management.

  • Doug on December 29, 2012 6:30 PM:

    "The top 1-2%, especially those in finance, are mostly parasites getting rich off the labor of others...what we need is to return to high top maginal rates which would, in turn, make it more profitable to plow earnings back into the business..." Mimikatz @12:20 PM

    A convert! Well, at least this is the first post I've seen! From our blog posts to the halls of Congress!

  • Anonymous on December 29, 2012 11:09 PM:

    The media have accepted and internalized the GOP framing of this largely because elected Dems. (as opposed to the occasional pundit like Jared Bernstein or Paul Krugman) haven't provided an alternative frame. With only a couple of exceptions like Tom Harkin and Bernie Sanders, the Dems. are all running around yapping about deficit reduction and pain and "making the tough choices" and the truly loathesome phrase "entitlement reform" as eagerly as the GOPers are.

    This mystifies me because it ain't all that complicated. You just did it in a few graphs in this post. I'm trying not to think too hard about the motivations of elected Dems., including Obama, because the conclusion is hard to escape.

  • Briteleaf on December 31, 2012 2:21 PM:

    All change must come from congress. Currently, the house is still ruled by radical, right wing obstructionists who voted down legislation originally written by their own party. Here's just a couple of things that cannot be addressed to improve the situation in America:
    Infrastructure jobs bill
    The ownership of congress by lobbyists and donors
    Maintaining our own budget
    Getting America out of the war business
    Removing the tax loopholes of the rich
    Banning military style weapons (slaughter will continue)

    None of these things will be altered until the citizens of our country wake up and stop electing obstructionists who put political struggles before the needs of the folks who elected them.