For ‘the grandchildren,’ the deficit isn’t like climate at all
Chris Hayes, political editor at The Nation, guest hosted The Rachel Maddow Show last night, and unleashed this terrific segment:
Even for a cynic like me, it’s truly astonishing what’s going on in D.C. right now.
Congress is fresh off a decision not to do anything to spare their grandchildren the ravages of climate change. Despite the rhetoric, this decision was driven by the imperative to protect wealthy status quo incumbents. Money talks. Screw the grandchildren.
But now here the grandchildren come, in the form of projections derived from actuarial tables. You see, the Congressional Budget Office says we’re gonna have a big deficit in 30 or 50 years, and that will be a problem … then. Based on this speculative future threat, the Very Serious people in D.C. want to slash social spending on the poor, the elderly, and, um, children. It’s a tough choice, mind you, but in the end they’re brave enough to impose suffering on other people. (Wake me when you hear a deficit hawk propose major cuts to military spending.)
Now, I’ve talked this over on Twitter a few times and I run into a frequent objection: Isn’t the climate situation similar? You have projections of future damages used as a justification for imposing present-day pain. What’s the difference?
This strikes me as insane, but I hear it a lot, so it must be a common perspective.
Start with the first half, projections. Which is on firmer ground? There are climate projections based both on models and on empirical evidence from a dozen fields in the physical sciences. Then there are economics projections, which have been wrong in virtually 100 percent of past instances and are based on … voodoo. The idea that we would collectively ignore and dismiss climate projections while imposing suffering on society’s weakest on the basis of economic projections is nuts.
The second half: suffering. The suffering that Very Serious deficit hawks want to impose is concentrated on the poor and marginalized. Those happen to be the very people who will spend the money they get — as opposed to the wealthy, who will save it — so arguably exacerbating their suffering will also prolong our recession, which is driven by low demand.
Meanwhile, climate hawks want to raise the cost of dirty energy, funnel some of the revenue to protect the poor and middle class, and invest heavily in clean energy research and deployment. They want to make cities more walkable to give the poor more transportation choices. They want to build out an infrastructure of smart electricity grids, energy storage, and electric-car charging stations. All these investments in the future will create jobs.
Deficit hawks want to “tighten the belt” in a way that will strangle the least fortunate. Climate hawks want to expand the circle of opportunity and options, to invest in the future, to improve public health, to create more jobs and a more economically competitive America. So who’s imposing suffering?
The deficit and climate situations are not parallel, except on some hopelessly broad, abstract level. In reality, deficit concern is being drive by the wealthy, to secure their privileges. Climate change will affect everyone, but its worst effects will fall on the marginalized, poor, and dispossessed, and as a result, it’s being ignored and minimalized.
Addendum: It’s worth noting that even if one accepts deficit projections at face value, the solutions proposed by D.C.’s Very Serious are grotesquely regressive. They are obviously using the deficit as an excuse to push long-held goals: keeping the tax burden on the rich low, degrading and shrinking entitlement programs, delegitimizing government.
Want to tackle the long-term deficit? Get economic growth going again through Keynesian spending, slash military spending by at least half, and tackle the growth in medical costs. Done.