NRO’s eye on debt and deficits . . . by Kevin D. Williamson.

The Times vs. Reality: Yes, We’re Broke


Question for Jay Nordlinger: Why isn’t there a Nobel Prize for computer science? We need to create one, in order to bestow it upon the unknown genius who wrote the cliché-conjoining algorithm that produces editorials for the New York Times.

There is more stupidity and wishful thinking in today’s editorial, headlined “The Hollow Cry of ‘Broke,’” than I can add up. (And I’m not bad at simple addition.)

Let’s start with the outright error: The Times argues that the problem with our governments’ budgets is not spending, but insufficient taxation. We have a revenue shortfall, and “a substantial part was caused by deliberate decisions by state and federal lawmakers to drain government of resources by handing out huge tax cuts, mostly to the rich.” Mostly to the rich.

Cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for “the rich,” meaning families making more than $250,000 a year: about $800 billion.

Cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for the non-rich, meaning those making less than $250,000 a year: about $2.2 trillion.

My always-suspect English-major math says that the tax cuts for the middle class and poor were 2.75 times as expensive as tax cuts for the “rich.” (No, I don’t make $250,000 a year, but, contra Ezra Klein, I don’t think that a family making $250,000 a year is necessarily rich. Maybe in Lubbock, Texas, maybe not in New York, N.Y. Question: Where do you think more of those families are to be found?) I can’t think of a way to make that add up to “mostly for the rich.”

The Times says our deficit is “too large for comfort,” but says that even modest spending cuts would be disastrous. (No, I can’t think of how to make that add up, either.) Let’s consider:

U.S. national debt: about $14 trillion.

U.S. GDP:  About $14 trillion.

Symmetry! Not the good kind.

Obligations of U.S. federal, state, and local governments, including sovereign debt, bonds, pension liabilities, and entitlement liabilities, i.e. the real national debt: About $130 trillion.

GDP of Planet Earth: About $60 trillion.

If you owe more than twice the sum total of the planet’s economic output and you think you are not broke, what the hell qualifies as broke? Do we have to take out a zero-down mortgage on Centaurus A? The Times, I note, has experience with several definitions of broke. Pinch Sulzberger owed a heck of a lot less proportional to his income when he hocked the family heirloom.

Boehner et al. are forcing through some spending cuts. The Times is aghast: “In a matter of days, the Senate will be forced to take up the House bill to make more than $61 billion in ruinous cuts over the next seven months, all under the pretext of “fiscal responsibility.” Ruinous. That $61 billion amounts to 1.7 percent  of FY2010 spending. How big a decline is 1.7 percent? The New York Times lost 8.7 percent of its readers in the first half of the 2010 reporting period, and it’s still in business. We’re feeding Leviathan dollars by the trillions and it’s going to be ruined by a 1.7 percent cut? Horse. . . feathers.

 —  Kevin D. Williamson is a deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, just published by Regnery. You can buy an autographed copy through National Review Online here.

Tags: Debt , Deficit , Despair


(Simply insert your e-mail and hit “Sign Up.”)

Subscribe to National Review