We Are All Fixated on the Wrong Deficit Number

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Over at CAP, Sarah Ayres and Michael Linden have a post about how much the Simpson-Bowles plan proposes to increase revenues (i.e. taxes). The press usually reports it as $1.2 trillion, they say, but the real number is $2.7 trillion. Why the difference? It depends on what timeframe you use (eight years vs. ten years), your baseline (current law vs. current policy), and a few other things. In other words, it’s complicated.

I think this is a good reason why we should all stop talking about changes in revenue and spending compared to current levels. There are just too many games you can play with that. Instead, we should simply pick a year, and then describe what happens that year under the plan in question. So we might pick, say, 2017, and report what the budget will look like under various proposals. That’s much harder to fudge.

Simpson-Bowles, for example, says that in 2017 their plan produces about $3.6 trillion in revenue and $4 trillion in spending, for a deficit of $421 billion, or 2.3 percent of GDP. (It’s Figure 16 in this report.) Those are the three numbers we should want to see. Obviously we’re also interested in the details of how they raise revenue and cut spending, and those details might continue to be tricky to describe. But the basic figures we should be interested in aren’t how much spending and taxes go up or down, which are too easy to manipulate, but simply what spending and taxes will be.

I don’t imagine this is going to happen anytime soon, but I thought I’d toss it out there.

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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