Thursday, June 17, 2010

Screw the unemployed

Do the unemployed matter? Not so much to a majority of the Senate, it seems, which yesterday voted 52-45 against reauthorizing key expired programs such as extended unemployment benefits. At this time of need, desperation, and hopelessness for so many Americans, what the oligarchs in that august body worry about is the deficit, not the human cost of the economic crisis that has engulfed the country. In that, they are grossly -- and cruelly -- misguided.

As "Democrat" Ben Nelson explained:

I've said all along that we have to be able to pay for what we're spending $77 billion or more of this is not paid for and that translates into deficit spending and adding to the debt, and the American people are right: We've got to stop doing that.

Ezra Klein responds:

No, sir, they're wrong, and we don't. It's hard to say this loudly enough, but it really doesn't make sense to offset stimulus spending, at least in the short term. The point of the money is to get the economy moving faster, to give people cash to spend. This isn't like health-care reform, where you're purchasing something and you should pay for it. When you're trying to expand the economy, you need to use debt to put more money into it than would otherwise be there. If you're just moving a dollar from one purpose to another, you may be using that dollar better, but you're not expanding the total amount of demand in the economy by very much. You're just moving it around. It would be like bailing water from a boat, but throwing it into another part of the boat.

There'll come a time when we need to start reducing the deficit. If we can get the economy back into gear, that time might even be soon. But for now, increasing the size of the deficit isn't some nasty side effect of stimulus spending. It is, quite literally, the point of the enterprise.

I would add that the point is also to help people, and one hopes that the people (that is, those who haven't been lured into the of the Tea Party "movement," even though Republicans and "Democrats" regularly vote against their interests, too) will take it out on those who really have no interest in helping them, those in the Senate, as well as the House, who have the well-heeled luxury of worrying about balancing the books at a time when so many of their own constituents are having trouble paying the bills and putting food on the table. It is fine to be fiscally responsible, of course, but the American people and the American economy demand other, more generous priorities if they are to recover in any meaningful and lasting way.

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