In the Two Minute Drill, we explain complex issues in politics in 250 words or less (roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor). Politics just isn’t always that complicated. Without the fluff and partisan bias, even the most complex of our political differences can be explained succinctly. This week: Examining the declining federal deficit.
This is indisputable: the federal deficit has shrunk dramatically since President Obama’s inauguration. But last February, when Bloomberg News commissioned a survey asking Americans whether they believed the budget deficit was growing or shrinking, just 6 percent of those surveyed believed that the federal budge deficit was “smaller” than last year. Ninety-four percent had no clue: 62 percent believed the budget deficit was “bigger,” 28 percent believed that it was “about the same,” and 4 percent were “not sure.” The results are striking, and reflect a remarkable dissonance between perception and reality. What’s going on here?
The Explanation (250 or Bust)
In fiscal year 2010, which was President Obama’s first full fiscal year in office, the federal budget deficit was $1.29 trillion (8.8 percent of GDP), according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). In fiscal year 2013, the CBO reported that the federal budget deficit had shrunk to $680 billion (4.1 percent of GDP). And according to the latest figures from the CBO, the red ink for the first quarter of fiscal 2014, which began October 1, dropped by almost 40% compared with the same period a year earlier.
The facts, therefore, directly contradict the widely held notion that the Obama administration is out of control when it comes to the nation’s finances. Why does that belief persist? It’s likely due to a combination of two things. First, economists, politicians, and pundits have failed to communicate the facts to the public, or are deliberately misleading voters with manufactured narratives. Second, and more importantly, large numbers of voters likely confuse the deficit with the national debt. While a deficit can be seen as a barometer of administration policy, the debt reflects longer-term trends in government spending and policy. Debt, therefore, is essentially accumulated deficits.
These factors have fueled the rampant confusion and disillusionment among voters across the political spectrum. But in order to have a rational discussion about the economy, government programs, and the level of government spending, however, voters need to have a better idea of what the deficit actually is.
Word Count: 242.
The Five Most Interesting Things We Read This Week
Here are the five most interesting articles (both political and non-political) we’ve read this week:
- “Early in her career as a learning specialist, Mary Willingham was in her office when a basketball player at the University of North Carolina walked in looking for help with his classwork. He couldn’t read or write.” A CNN study on the large academic achievement gap between college athletes and their peers at major universities found many students that could only read at a fifth grade level, and others who reportedly needed help sounding out multisyllabic words. CNN: Some College Athletes Play Like Adults, Read Like Fifth Graders.
- “The real story is that people have forgotten what cold is like.” National Geographic: U.S. Cold Snap Inspires Climate Change Denial, While Scientists See Little Room for Doubt.
- It is striking, and disheartening, how few female voices are heard in the public life. Pacific Standard‘s Amanda Hess explores this phenomena, and explains why women aren’t welcome on the internet. “And as the Internet becomes increasingly central to the human experience, the ability of women to live and work freely online will be shaped, and too often limited, by the technology companies that host these threats, the constellation of local and federal law enforcement officers who investigate them, and the popular commentators who dismiss them.” Hess: Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet.
- Snort reform. “There’s no such thing as cruelty-free cocaine. You can’t buy sustainable crack at the farmers market.” Slate‘s Erik Vance: Cocaine is Evil.
- “I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.” The eleven best quotes from Chris Christie’s press conference. Digging further: When David Wildstein got an email that read, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” he responded with two words…”Got it.” Yesterday, he was far less loqacious during questioning.
And in case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. This past week addressed Smith v. Maryland and the legality of the N.S.A.’s surveillance programs. Read the Column – Smith v. Maryland and the Legality of NSA Phone Records.