Austerity the Boogeyman

Anyone who is using the term ‘austerity’ to describe the proposed budgets in Congress is irresponsible and dangerous, and here is why.  A debt that is already large and continuing to get larger is not good for this country.  I’ve already written about how non-discretionary spending will become an increasingly larger portion of our spending in Budget, how the debt hurts our foreign policy in It’s the Debt Stupid, how solving the debt problem will become more and more difficult over time in The Biggest Loser, and how nothing in the Ryan or Murray budgets comes close to being described as ‘austerity’ in Myths of Austerity so I don’t want to revisit those ideas in this post.  

So why is using the word austerity irresponsible and dangerous?  First, it is simply not accurate.  Neither budget cuts spending.  They reduce the rate of growth of spending.  If an alcoholic drinks 8 beers every night, plans on drinking 10 tomorrow but only drinks 9 when tomorrow comes, did he cut down on drinking?

But more importantly, the word austerity scares people and makes them think that we are about to take draconian measures.  People equate austerity with chaos and rioting in the street so using the word makes it less likely that people will be willing to consider any deficit reduction measures.  

Here’s the problem.  Imagine the debt is a cavity on your tooth.  In Ryan’s plan the cavity keeps getting worse for 10 years and then stabilizes.  In Murray’s plan the cavity will keep getting worse forever.  Either way, the cavity is continuing to decay for a while.  Now imagine your friend or a loved one tries to scare you about seeing a dentist to get a filling.  Being scared, you do nothing until eventually the tooth gets so bad you need a root canal or get the tooth pulled completely.  By scaring you about handling the problem at an earlier stage, the problem got worse and required more drastic measures.  The same analogy from the Biggest Loser post could be used here as well.  Imagine that you have an overweight friend.  Their excess weight is causing health problems but they just continue to put on more weight.  Would you scare them by talking about how horrible exercise is or how brutal eating right is going to be, or would you explain to them the health risks of obesity and look for sensible ways to address the problem?  If you scare them now into doing nothing, it will only get worse.

Scaring people with the word ‘austerity’ will have the same effect on doing something about the deficit and debt.  Make people aware of the facts and let them make a decision on deficit reduction, but don’t use the boogeyman of austerity to scare people away from the facts.  When you see the word ‘austerity’ trying to describe any attempt to reduce the deficit, call the writer out as irresponsible and false.  I think the American people know that we can not continue to add to our debt year after year with no plan in sight to reverse that trend.

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About voxlogicae
Using logic and reason to examine current events.

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