Who Ate the Dessert? (Extra!)

I know this title makes it sound like a Spencer Johnson sequel, but it’s actually an investigation of how the U.S. news media has largely bought the line that the growing federal deficit is a sign that Americans have been splurging too much and need to tighten their belts — or have them tightened for them via new taxes. Yet this neatly overlooks the fact that pretty much the only people benefitting have been a tiny percentage of rich people, whose tax rates even under Obama remain at historic lows:

No sooner had the unemployment rate dipped from its January high of 10 percent than the media drumbeat began: What will the Obama administration do about looming deficits?

The danger, it was made clear, was both imminent and mammoth: The federal deficit, warned the New York Times (2/2/10), was on pace by 2020 to “equal 77 percent of the gross domestic product, the highest level since 1950.” The Times (1/26/10) even alluded to “perceptions that government spending is out of control” as a cause of Obama’s falling poll ratings among independents.

The “out-of-control spending” theme, in fact, dominated news coverage of the deficit panic, with numerous news outlets drawing parallels between the government’s rising debt and individuals’ irresponsible spending. “We’re going to talk, this morning, about what happens when you put off paying the bills,” began an NPR report (3/5/10) on the deficit… [read more]