Public Service Announcement: Sometimes a Higher Deficit is Good. Like, For Example, Right Now.

| Tue Dec. 4, 2012 7:09 PM EST

More polling fun: Business Insider conducted an internet survey that asked people what would happen to the deficit if we go over the fiscal cliff. Nearly half thought the deficit would increase. The correct answer, of course, is that the fiscal cliff involves tax increases and spending cuts, which would dramatically reduce the deficit.

My initial reaction to this was pretty meh. I figure most people have only a vague idea what the fiscal cliff is, but they know it's bad. They also think that deficits are bad. Ergo, the fiscal cliff must produce higher deficits. This is wrong, but pretty understandable for the large majority of the population that doesn't really follow this stuff closely.

But Paul Krugman points out a related but different interpretation:

In a way, I understand this: the VSPs have been pounding the drum over and over again about how deficits are bad, evil; now they are warning about a fiscal something-or-other, so how are people supposed to know that they’re suddenly worried that we’ll reduce the deficit too much?

Right. Given the current level of discourse, it's inconceivable to a lot of people that reducing the deficit could be bad. That being the case, it's inconceivable that anything that would cause a deficit reduction could be bad. Therefore the fiscal cliff must not do that. It must cause a deficit increase.

This makes perfect sense even if you do follow this stuff fairly closely. As long as the media continues to treat the federal deficit as a self-evident apocalypse, what else would most people think?

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