Austerity Doctors Warn: If We Don’t Stop Spending We’ll Go Blind!

I have seen and heard countless Democrats, including President Obama, make the case that allowing sequestration to happen next week is bad for the country, from jeopardizing our military readiness to damaging our ability to conduct medical research.

However, none of the scary stories that Democrats tell reporters, who then tell the public, are working to change the minds of Republicans, many of whom have actually decided that sequestration is the best cure for what ails the country.

Haley Barbour, former governor of Mississippi and a man who once chaired the Republican National Committee, is one of those Republicans—let’s call them “austerity doctors”—who want to fix the patient by hurting the patient.

National reported yesterday:

...Haley Barbour says he expects the GOP to allow sequestration to occur, and that the party should see it as an important step toward fiscal responsibility. “I hope and believe that Republicans will allow the sequestration to go into effect, so that we can start down a path of trying to get control of spending and reduce the deficit,” Barbour explained on Fox Business Network’s Cavuto…

These austerity doctors are so worried about the deficit that they are willing to do almost anything to get Americans to stop what Republicans see as our bad habit of pleasuring ourselves with federal dollars.

All of which reminds me of another doctor who tried to do what he thought was right by using rather strange techniques to get Americans to stop pleasuring themselves.

John Harvey Kellogg is most famous for co-inventing the breakfast cereal Corn Flakes in 1895. But he also had a medical degree and ran a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And he also held what we regard today as bizarre opinions about, well, I’ll let Wikipedia say it:

He was an especially zealous campaigner against masturbation.

Self-pleasure, according to the theologically-minded doctor, was self-destructive:

Kellogg strongly warned against the habit in his own words, claiming of masturbation-related deaths “such a victim literally dies by his own hand,” among other condemnations. He felt that masturbation destroyed not only physical and mental health, but the moral health of individuals as well.

Dr. Kellogg thought that masturbation caused cancer, epilepsy, insanity, and, according to Wikipedia, “dimness of vision.” Yep. Keep it up and you’ll go blind.

Given the doctor’s views, something had to be done to fix things:

Kellogg worked on the rehabilitation of masturbators, often employing extreme measures, even mutilation, on both sexes. He was an advocate of circumcising young boys to curb masturbation and applying phenol (carbolic acid) to a young woman’s clitoris.

He also creatively applied “one or more silver sutures” to the penis in order to make erections “impossible,” therefore,

the slight irritation thus produced acts as a most powerful means of overcoming the disposition to resort to the practice.

This guy was serious:

He also recommended, to prevent children from this “solitary vice”, bandaging or tying their hands, covering their genitals with patented cages and electrical shock.

In his Ladies’ Guide in Health and Disease, for nymphomania, he recommended “Cool sitz baths; the cool enema; a spare diet; the application of blisters and other irritants to the sensitive parts of the sexual organs, the removal of the clitoris and nymphae…

In Teaching America About Sex: Marriage Guides and Sex Manuals from the Late Victorians to Dr. Ruth , the authors, M.E. Melody and Linda Peterson, try to explain Dr. Kellogg’s work:

Kellogg certainly was not deluded. Part of the American tradition includes a view of a righteous God who punishes moral transgressions. In Kellogg’s view, these transgressions are acts of treason against divine governance and, hence, call for decisive responses. Though his teaching about masturbation seems extreme, the act must be understood as rebellion against divine governance, an ostensibly minor event that can, if amplified, cause the destruction of nations.

Masturbation can cause “the destruction of nations”? I remind you that Speaker John Boehner told a gathering of religious broadcasters two years ago:

Yes, this debt is a mortal threat to our country.

If all this is a little too much for you, good. It’s too much for me too. I share with you Dr. Kellogg’s zeal against onanism because I see a similar zeal among Republicans regarding, as I said, what they see as our national bad habit of pleasuring ourselves with federal dollars. They want to stop it, and if it means using the fiscal equivalents of silver sutures and carbolic acid and cool enemas and a spare diet—the sequester—then so be it.

Meanwhile, economist Paul Krugman—who has been under fire from the austerity doctors on TV and radio and in print—has exactly the right take on the sequestration mess:

The right policy would be to forget about the whole thing. America doesn’t face a deficit crisis, nor will it face such a crisis anytime soon. Meanwhile, we have a weak economy that is recovering far too slowly from the recession that began in 2007. And, as Janet Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, recently emphasized, one main reason for the sluggish recovery is that government spending has been far weaker in this business cycle than in the past. We should be spending more, not less, until we’re close to full employment; the sequester is exactly what the doctor didn’t order.



  1. Holy cow, Duane! This is so brilliantly on point, I don’t know where to begin. I do know that I’ll never be able to look at a bowl of corn flakes the same way again. In fact, this my be the issue. I have a theory that congressional Republicans are pouring crunchy corn flakes into their boxers and briefs in an effort to curb their masturbative tendencies. All the scratching, and pinching, and general discomfort of having cereal in their shorts has made them crazy.
    If you were wearing panties full of Wheaties, you wouldn’t be able to focus on the well-being of the Nation, either.


  2. Troy

     /  February 22, 2013

    Bravo! The Republicans need To be treated by Obama Care doctors. They’re sick. The only time they are worried about the deficent is when a democrat is in the White House . Hell when they are in charge, they spend like drunken sailors. Screw the GOP! Phoney bunch. They need a doctor to give them a shot in their asses and put them to sleep forever.


    • Perhaps you have forgotten that the hysterics ginned up by Sarah Palin and others (“death panels”) put a stop to those kinds of shots! ObamaCare can’t cover them now…


  3. Roger H Frost

     /  February 22, 2013

    When more people and professions doing Christian healthcare write in to the AMA and the British Trade Journals like the Lancet and their representatives in government the proper court hearings in discourse will happen to awaken this apostasy. Remember what Ben Franklin said…… All Healing Comes from God

    In the book of James we read, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” [James 1:17]. Whatever is good and perfect comes from God.

    God considers healing as doing good. The scripture says Jesus, “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him [Acts 10:38]. Jesus even made some comments about being a physician [Matthew 9:12, Luke 4:23, Mark 2:17, and Luke 5:31].

    God works through physicians using natural principles to assist the human body in recovering itself [See Wikipedia]. There is no competition between receiving your physical healing through the spiritual principles of God or a Medical Doctor. There is also no condemnation in seeking medical care from a physician [Romans 8:1]. If you need to see a medical doctor, see a medical doctor. Seek God’s guidance in choosing the right physician for your symptoms.


    • Sorry, Roger, but abandoning a reasonable scientific understanding of anatomy and biological functioning to religion makes no sense whatsoever. In fact, ignorance and complacency are major reasons why the U.S. leads the developed world in medical errors. Based on the literature and on my 76 years of experience, it is absolutely vital that patients assume substantial ownership of their own healthcare in partnership with the medical system.

      Recently my wife underwent two important procedures in one of our local hospitals and in each case she and I caught a significant error and prevented it. Maybe God is getting even with me for not believing (but I don’t think so).

      P.S. – Doctors are no less human than the rest of us, but their education does promote hubris and their profession makes them more dangerous than most when they screw up.


      • Good point, Jim. One of my biggest fears, should I ever have to go into the hospital, is that I will be a victim of one of those medical errors. How hard was it convincing the doctor (or nurse) that a mistake was about to be made?


        • Duane, you said:

          How hard was it convincing the doctor (or nurse) that a mistake was about to be made?

          It wasn’t hard at all. As a matter of fact, they didn’t even blink, much less apologize, which led me to thinking this kind of thing happens all the time!

          This happened only last week and I will tell you the specifics. My wife has been suffering from acute anemia, cause unknown, and our family doctor ordered a transfusion. As he did so I heard him instruct the nurse to also order the addition of Lasix, a diuretic, to be infused between two units of blood. When we got to the infusion center I remembered to inquire about the Lasix and they had no such order. The nurse cheerfully said they would call our doctor, the order was confirmed and the Lasix promptly supplied. When I asked about its utility she said it is often prescribed because it makes it easier for the body to accept the fluid addition. Now this clearly wasn’t critical, but what if it had been?

          The second instance came just two days later when my wife underwent endoscopy to determine where she was losing blood. The only order transmitted was for a colonoscopy with no mention of an upper G.I. exam. I requested it from the gastroenterologist’s secretary who immediately wrote it down with a breezy “no problem!”. Mollie’s hemorrhage was found in the upper G.I.


          • First, I hope Molly is doing okay. All that stuff sounds harrowing to me.

            In any case, all of what you mention screams for a 21st-century system in which whatever the doctor inputs would go immediately to the other unit and so on. No need for a middle man. Even in the Freeman Health System (which, I think, is trying to digitize its processes), needless duplication and other aggravations of an older bookkeeping model are still the norm. One would think that at least within one hospital system, record-keeping and order transfers would be seamless. Not so, though. Sad.



    • Roger

      “Remember what Ben Franklin said…… All Healing Comes from God”

      I don’t think Benjamin Franklin made that quote so it’s falsely attributed to him. He was a Deist and didn’t accept the Christian bible as anything more than fiction.


      • I am tempted to ask that if all healing comes from God, where does all sickness and injury come from? And then I am tempted to ask that if God is the author of sickness and injury, why doesn’t he save himself the trouble of healing everyone and everything by simply not messing stuff up in the first place?


        • ansonburlingame

           /  February 28, 2013

          Com’on you two,

          All “healing” and death, disease, etc. comes from BIOLOGY with some intervention by medical science concoted by humans. Now if you want to discuss who exactly, or what for that matter, “invented biology”, well there we go again into the really unknown.



          • Anson

            I think that you’re misreading our posts. I was referring to a comment made by in a post above, by Roger, that this quote ““Remember what Ben Franklin said…… All Healing Comes from God” wasn’t made by Ben Franklin.

            Of course Duane and I understand how healing occurs, and although you’re mostly correct when referring to biology, that’s less and less true. For example type 1 diabetes would lead to certain death without medical intervention and science which lead to the discovery of insulin. Others include sickle cell, the majority of cancer victims, pacemakers, transplants, and countless other conditions that benefit entirely from modern medical science.


            • ansonburlingame

               /  March 2, 2013


              Of course life has been enhanced by medicine and I said so above. But in terms of death and diseases in terms of “causes” it remains biology that creates such life threatening things (less medical errors for sure) and humans continue to play “catchup” with biology to prevent (actually simply delay) the course of biology. No reason to argue about that I hope.



  4. ansonburlingame

     /  February 22, 2013

    I must admit, I have never considered the “dangers of debt” in the same vein as the “dangers of masturbation”. Thanks for the “brilliant” (someone above acutally used that word) insight!!! THAT is self acknowledged satire by the way!!

    I suppose “great” minds think alike, but reach different conclusions. I posted, probably about the same time this one went up, my own blog on “Tides”.

    No I don’t think we face a tidal wave of masturbation, or any other form of sex in America. But I at least envision an “ocean of debt” sweeping across the land and believe, categorically, that you liberals have as many solutions for those “tides” as you do for the real tidal effects of Global Warming as well. $50 Billion to rebuild along the shorelines of the Atlantic is an example!!

    I used those two comparisons in my own blog, Global warming and oceans of debt!! And no, I will not now go back and add concerns about too much masturbation to that blog.



    • Duane, I will never be able to eat a single Cornflake again, but I do see how the comparison to current republican ideology fits.

      Anson, I wouldn’t worry about masturbation at this point in life, if you’re not blind by now then you should be okay. I reviewed a Youtube video that reminded me of some of our earlier debates, and most importantly the times when we came to an occasional agreement. You once stated that you believe that Social Security payroll tax caps should be increased, and I agreed. How could I not agree when I was witnessing your inner liberal progressive side awakening. I was so touched by the moment that when I encountered this video, the first thought that came to mind was that particular slice in time.


      • The Ezra Kline clip is outstanding, HL! In viewing it I couldn’t help recall something I saw on the street this week, several persons holding a job that I submit has to rank right down near the bottom of the enjoyment scale of all jobs. It was wearing a statue-of-liberty suit, brandishing a sign to passing automobiles to advertise a tax service. Out there in the cold, hour after hour, alone, a human billboard. And you know what’s ironic? No Social Security at all for those folks – it’s part time work.

        Ezra is right, dull, monotonous, unpleasant jobs are the norm, not the exception. If you don’t believe me, I refer you to Studs Terkel who, years ago, <a href=""wrote a marvelous book of personal interviews with people in a panoply of jobs, and the enduring lesson I took from it is that only social interaction saves most from being stultifyingly dull. The poor human income-tax ads don’t even have that.


        • Jim

          I posted the video because it reminded me of a debate Anson and I had, when he had stated a need to raise Social Security caps on the wealthy (Anson you old progressive Dog). Many of the “monied” class would if given opportunity in the absence of opposition, pay as little as they can to struggling unemployed workers. If they could only pay them bread and soup they would. Low unemployment and low wages are an enormous benefit to our manufacturing base, because it eliminates the need to cut costs through outsourcing, even though it would increase our onshore poverty.

          What is the real difference between current student loans and historical indentured servitude? Nothing! Call it what you will but it’s nothing less than a modernized form of debt bondage shouldered on our children before they even enter the work place. We force our disadvantaged children to sell themselves to vague promises of future financial gain for a college education, without guarantees of any kind, and yet those who hold their bonds are backed by government law to prevent them from bankruptcy proceedings. Private sector banks get high interest returns from student loan while zero risks. Welcome to the free money economy where health care is just one way Americans are being bilked.

          Sorry Jim, but you know how I drift!


          • HLG,

            Your point about student loan debt is right on. Conservatives talk a lot about the debt we are leaving our children and grandchildren, but they rarely talk about this kind of debt. They don’t seem to mind much if kids, mostly those without means, have to accumulate tons of debt just to get a college education.

            And think of this: Before Obama took the student loan business away from the banks–which generated enormous pushback from the right-wing–things were even worse!



          • HL, you said,

            Many of the “monied” class would if given opportunity in the absence of opposition, pay as little as they can to struggling unemployed workers. If they could only pay them bread and soup they would.

            While I completely agree I know that many Conservatives would scoff at your statement, so I offer the following from page 87 of this month’s issue of Scientific American magazine’s feature of excerpts from “50, 100 & 150 years Ago”, this being from March, 1863:

            “The hours of labor exacted by some of the Brooklyn railroad companies are so many and the work is so severe that it is astonishing that men can perform the labor and live. The Brooklyn Central Railroad Company requires seventeen and a half hours of labor per day, and allows no time for procuring meals; the food necessary to sustain life being eaten in the cars. The compensation for conductors and drivers is $1.34 per day.”


      • I actually saved that Lloyd Blankfein interview on my DVR for awhile, so outrageous was it. But I somehow missed the Ezra Klein take on it. Fantastic. That segment needs to be shared and shared often (has only had 17,771 views on YouTube so far).

        Thanks so much.


    • “I must admit, I have never considered the “dangers of debt” in the same vein as the “dangers of masturbation”.”

      Okay Anson, I’ll bite. Consider the costs that unwanted pregnancies burden the nation with, especially if it involves a single parent or financially struggling family. Look at all the money Republicans have wasted fighting abortion, even though they have little or no chance of winning. If everyone connected to these unwanted pregnancies had taken a little time to masturbate then the rest of us wouldn’t be saddled with these costs. So yes Anson there is a connection between debt and masturbation.;-)


  5. I’m at a loss as to what post Robert H. Frost is commenting on. I think he’s a robot summoned by an incantation that Duane inadvertently penned.


    • ansonburlingame

       /  February 23, 2013

      Ha, talk about “incantations”. Go see what Herb “did” to Duane’s and St. Rachel’s graphic presentation!!!



  6. I agree that austerity has morality based roots.


    • ansonburlingame

       /  February 23, 2013

      And thus, because Christ would NEVER drive an SUV, we should……



    • Bruce,

      I’d be interested in knowing (in light of your Krugman piece) just how many economists you believe agree with Krugman’s “short-term considerations take precedence over the long term” philosophy. My guess would be 75% or more.



  7. “I don’t think we face a tidal wave of masturbation, or any other form of sex in America. ” What a shame!


  8. ansonburlingame

     /  February 23, 2013


    If I believed Kellog I am very lucky, today not to be blind from my actions as a teenager!!! But I knew I was ”safe” as I frequently checked for hair growth on the plams of my right hand and never found any!!

    But on your other point, one of infrequent “agreement” on things. There are MANY things upon which you and I could agree but “politics” gets in the way. And when “politics” turns polemical, well “Katy bar the door” as sometimes happens herein.

    Somewhere in this blizzard of statistics are numbers showing that making ALL salaries and wages subject to SS and Medicare taxation would relieve the deficits in such spending (about $250 Billion and counting annually for Medicare alone) would “fix” about 70% of that problem. Do that and then we could argue over the rest of the issue, about a 30% argument which would be far easier. Pay as we go is my whole point, but many herein won’t touch that one with a ten foot pole. They only want someone else to pay for it.

    Makes sense to me, “unlimit” taxation on wages and salaries for SS and Medicare for ALL, but….. And yep, I still am accused of associating with (or even being) a facist!!!



  9. Duane,

    Well, you’ve given a whole new meaning to “Frosted Flakes!” And by the by, I’ve been wearing glasses since I was TWO! Just sayin’ . . . .

    But on to the subject at hand (pun intended.) I put the question “do austerity programs work” to google to see what insights I could get. And I got a lot of hits. So, I dove into Wikipedia, Investopedia, The National Review, the London Daily News, and U.S. News and World Report. The results, as you can imagine, were mixed. For example:

    WIKIPEDIA – “In periods of recession and high unemployment, austerity policies are counter-productive, because: a) reduced government spending can increase unemployment, which increases safety net spending while reducing tax revenue; b) reduced government spending reduces GDP, which means the debt to GDP ratio examined by creditors and rating agencies does not improve; and c) short-term government spending financed by deficits supports economic growth when consumers and businesses are unwilling or unable to do so.”

    INVESTOPEDIA – “Do austerity programs work? America continues to test that hypothesis in the real world, in real time, rather than speculating on the theory of austerity. Belt-tightening worked well during World War II, but economic circumstances then were different than they are today. What are the prospects for America? There are no certainties in economics – part science, part art, and subject to unpredictable variables. A burdensome austerity program and overwhelming debt may plague the American economy, and consequently its taxpayers, for the indefinite future. Or a vigorous economic recovery and long-term boom may be coming as a result of the austerity programs.”

    THE NATIONAL REVIEW – (Talking about Estonia) “. . . the Estonians rejected Keynesianism in favor of genuine austerity. Among other measures, the Estonian government cut public-sector wages by 10 percent, gradually raised the retirement age from 61 to 65 by 2026, reduced eligibility for health benefits, and liberalized the country’s labor market, making it easier for businesses to hire and fire workers. Estonia did unfortunately enact a small increase in its value-added tax, but it deliberately kept taxes low on businesses, investors, and entrepreneurs, refusing to make changes to its flat 21 percent income tax.Today, Estonia is actually running a budget surplus. Its national debt is 6 percent of GDP. By comparison, Greece’s is 159 percent of GDP. Ours is 102 percent. Economic growth has been a robust 7.6 percent, the best in the EU. And, although the unemployment rate remains too high, at 11.7 percent, that is down from 19 percent during the worst of the recession. It’s hard to see how a Krugman-style stimulus would have done much better.”

    THE LONDON DAILY NEWS – “Austerity is all the vogue among European central bankers and Republican congressmen. The Republicans, and especially their tea party wing, have bought into the idea that the only way to cure the present recession/depression is to adopt the Paul Ryan austerity budget: cut spending, reduce entitlements and work toward a balanced budget. This is perverse. Our economy [the U.K.] has no problem that austerity will not make worse. Austerity does not lead to growth; quite the opposite. The International Monetary Fund did a study that shows an austerity policy that cuts the deficit by 1 percent of GDP reduces incomes by about 0.6 percent and increases unemployment by 0.5 percent.
    U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT – “Critics of “austerity” would have you believe Europe is suffering because they have embraced radical frugality, cutting public spending and turning away the poor and needy. The evidence proves that’s not true. Yes, European nations are struggling with economic woes, but those woes don’t stem from spending restraint—they stem from a broad variety of factors, including high levels of taxation, fractious E.U. politics and the hard demographic realities of an aging population demanding greater levels government support.”

    And on and on it goes. I would have referenced the NYT, but that’s Paul Krugman, and we all know where he stands on this subject.

    As for me, I tend to side with the Keynesians. As you point out above, you don’t cure the patient by making him sicker. Plus, IMHO, there is no equivalence between the U.S. and Europe, and especially not with any particular country like Estonia.

    There are signs of recovery here, but they seem to come in fits and starts. At the end of the day, it’s a question of what strategy will best grow the economy because that’s the only way we’re going to get out of this mess. Who knows what will happen.

    Then again, you know what conclusions you get when you lay all the economists end to end.



    • Herb,

      1. If you’ve been bespectacled since two, God apparently visited the sins of your father (or his father) on you. God’s funny that way.

      2. The Keynesians are right, of course. Why? Because we’re all Keynesians, even Republicans. I post Republican Bruce Bartlett’s entire NY Times piece (in case you’re over your quota for the month!):

      Republican Keynesians


      Bruce Bartlett held senior policy roles in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and served on the staffs of Representatives Jack Kemp and Ron Paul. He is the author of “The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform – Why We Need It and What It Will Take.”

      Most Republicans and conservatives despise the British economist John Maynard Keynes and believe his theories are the root of all evil in economic policy. Yet when push comes to shove, Republicans are happy to fall back on Keynesian theories when it suits them.

      As David Frum, a speechwriter for George W. Bush, recently put it, “We’re all Keynesians during Republican administrations.”

      The latest evidence comes from Mitt Romney, in an interview with Time magazine, during which he expressed concern about the impending fiscal contraction on Jan. 1, 2013, when the Bush-era tax cuts expire and various large cuts in spending are scheduled to take place – a result of last summer’s budget deal. A May 22 report from the Congressional Budget Office estimated that these actions would reduce the federal budget deficit by about 4 percent of gross domestic product next year.

      One would think that Mr. Romney would embrace this huge deficit reduction and say, “Bring it on!” After all, his party has long asserted that deficits drain capital from the economy that would better be put to use by the private sector.

      Indeed, many conservatives claim that deficits are destabilizing and the principal impediment to economic growth. In Europe, conservatives have been successful in making fiscal consolidation the principal means of stimulating growth.

      Keynesians, including the Times columnist Paul Krugman, have been highly critical of the Europeans for impeding growth rather than stimulating it with contractionary fiscal policies. For example, with an eye on Europe, Professor Krugman has written, “Slashing spending in a depressed economy depresses the economy even more, and if you don’t have to, you shouldn’t do it — ­you should wait until the economy is stronger.”

      Consequently, it is somewhat heretical to hear Mr. Romney express grave concern about the potential economic impact of embracing the conservative consensus and slashing the deficit quickly. As he told Time’s Mark Halperin:

      If you take a trillion dollars, for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink G.D.P. over 5 percent. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression. So I’m not going to do that, of course.

      Continuing, Mr. Romney said:

      I don’t want to have us go into a recession in order to balance the budget. I’d like to have us have high rates of growth at the same time we bring down federal spending, on, if you will, a ramp that’s affordable, but that does not cause us to enter into an economic decline.

      According to the C.B.O., Mr. Romney is in the ballpark with his estimate. It projects that the fiscal tightening already programmed into law will reduce the deficit by $560 billion next year, which will reduce real G.D.P. growth to −1.3 percent from 5.3 percent in the first half of next year if all the fiscal tightening is postponed. Generally speaking, economists define a recession as two back-to-back quarters of negative real growth.

      The problem is that this forecast makes sense only if one accepts Keynesian economics — something the C.B.O. has long been accused of doing. Partly for this reason, Newt Gingrich referred to it as a “reactionary socialist institution” and called for it to be abolished.

      Mr. Romney is not the first Republican to embrace Keynesian economics. The free-market economist Milton Friedman, who advised the G.O.P. presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, in 1964 told Time in 1965, “We are all Keynesians now.” (Dr. Friedman later complained that the Time reporter truncated his full quotation, which was, “In one sense, we are all Keynesians now; in another, nobody is any longer a Keynesian.”)

      In 1971, Richard Nixon famously told the broadcaster Howard K. Smith that he was “now a Keynesian in economics.” Mr. Smith expressed shock at Nixon’s statement. He likened it to a Christian saying, “All things considered, I think Mohammad was right.”

      In 1975, Gerald Ford responded to the recession that began in November 1973 by supporting a one-shot tax rebate of 10 percent of a taxpayer’s 1974 tax liability, with a minimum rebate of $100 and a maximum of $200 (between $418 and $836 in today’s dollars). This was pure, unadulterated Keynesian economics — just put money in people’s pockets, and they will immediately spend it and growth will ensue.

      Although Ronald Reagan never expressed sympathy with Keynes, many economists have asserted that his economic policies were de facto Keynesian. They point to the sharp rise in federal spending to 23.5 percent of G.D.P. in 1983, from 21.7 percent in Jimmy Carter’s last year, which significantly softened the blow of the 1981-82 recession and helped restore growth.

      In 2001, George W. Bush responded to the recession that began in March by proposing another tax rebate of $300 to $600, even though extensive research by the economists Alan Blinder and Franco Modigliani and Charles Steindel showed that the 1975 rebate had very little impact on growth. According to the journalist Ron Suskind, when Mr. Bush’s economic advisers tried to tell him that the rebate was bad policy, he told them, “If I decide to do it, by definition it’s good policy.”

      Although research by the economists Joel Slemrod and Matthew Shapiro in 2003 found that the 2001 rebate had minimal stimulative effect, Mr. Bush supported yet another rebate in 2008 of $300 to $1,200, depending on one’s income and filing status, to counteract the recession that began in December 2007.

      Subsequent research by the C.B.O. and the Bureau of Labor Statistics once again found that it had a minimal impact.

      My view is that sometimes Keynesian policies are right and sometimes they are wrong; it all depends on the economic circumstances. Historically, many Republicans have apparently agreed.


  10. I’m not sure I agree that Republicans are embracing the sequester. Many GOP types seem anxious that it be seen as Obama’s sequester. Though it seems clear to me it was a pretty bipartisan way to sidestep the 2011 debt ceiling impasse.


    • Bruce,

      Many conservative pundits are embracing the idea, and many Republicans in Congress are too. The problem for the GOP is that its governors recognize how much pain may be involved to the various states. That may change things in D.C.

      As for the right-wing’s attempt to wrap the sequester around Obama–shamefully and falsely promoted by Bob Woodward–that is the point: some of them think the only way to cut the budget is through the sequester and they think they can blame it on the President. Thus, they get the cuts without the responsibility for them. That, of course, won’t work, since a goodly number of them, including GOP leadership, not only voted for sequestration, but enthusiastically supported it as part of the original bill.



  11. ansonburlingame

     /  February 25, 2013


    Once again you show how picking “links” does not provide definitive solutions to big issues. “Solutions” are all over the map, one way or the other, particularly on economic matters that take a lot of time to improve or degrade once “actions” are taken.

    Most economists try hard to use history as a guide, one way or the other. The Keynesian solution to the Great Depression is a classic example. But there is one huge difference today from “those days”, late 1930’s when Keynes wrote his suggestions. Debt to GDP was NOT in the 100% range back then, no where near it. It took WWII to both win the war and get us out of the Great Depression.

    To argue FOR the Keynesian solution today is ignore Debt to GDP ratios for those countries already DEEP in debt. I would challenge Krugman, for only an example, to explain to all of us just how high that ratio should be allowed to go before putting a brake on deficit spending. Is 200% too much or is 100% ALREADY, too much as some would argue.

    Which leads me to the point that we in America (and elsewere) are breaking new ground, economically. My point in that regard is rather simple. I believe we are now at the point where even robust economic growth will FAIL to resolve our debt problems which will someday “eat us alive”. Crushing debt is a historical REALITY of almost every empire that eventually failed, with all the attendant human suffering resulting from such failure.

    Go figure JUST the economic growth requried to bring down our CURRENT deficits, $1 Trillion plus deficits each year (OK, $915 BILLION this year if sequestration takes effect and sticks, on Mar 1.

    Let’s take a quick “whacK” at that drill. IF we had 10% economic growth in one year and ALL of that extra money was ONLY used for deficit reduction, well…… The math is easy to visualize. If GDP is $16 Trillion then we get an extra $1.6 Trillion and the deficit vanishes, in one year. But……

    But if GDP growth is around 1% well we “sequester the deficit” only IF the federal government gets all the money from such growth. For sure THAT won’t happen even under a socialist government, here or anywhere.

    My point again is simple, at least to me. Pick any reasonable and sustainable level of economic growth, use REAL GPD so inflation does not cloud the issue and only take a reasonable amount of such growth to return to government thru taxation. My educated guess is we will never “grow our way” out of even deficit elimination, much less the “mountain of debt” confronting us today.

    Theoretically, Keynes works fine until a government hits some undefined limit on debt accumulation. Have you heard anyone say at what level, in terms of the ratio to GDP that that ratio becomes far too much?



    • Anson,

      Look:You keep saying “$1 Trillion plus deficits each year.” Nope. The CBO says the current year deficit will be $845 billion (5.3% of GDP), falling to $430 billion by 2015 (2.4% of GDP). After that the CBO says:

      Deficits are projected to increase later in the coming decade, however, because of the pressures of an aging population, rising health care costs, an expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance, and growing interest payments on federal debt.

      The point here is this: As Paul Krugman and others say, we have a window in which we can aid the economic recovery and help ensure economic growth and upgrade infrastructure, etc., all without worrying ourselves to death about the deficit. No one says not to worry about the accumulation of debt, just not to cut back now when the economy is relatively fragile. That’s all we’re saying.

      And all you keep saying is the debt is an existential threat—today. It’s not. You’re worried about the mortgage on the house while the house is still on fire. Put the damn fire completely out, make needed repairs, then we will worry about the mortgage. Okay? Why is that so hard to understand?



  12. ansonburlingame

     /  February 26, 2013


    I “understand” the problem pretty well, from my own perspective, but not yours.

    We are in this situation, blocked up against the stops of massive debt (a Navy metaphor) and at least in my view and that of some economists as well (I am NOT an economist), we created the debt by too much borrowing during good times (less four short years) over 50 years.

    Yes, I believe the house is on fire to a degree and want to put water on it. You want to pour gasoline on it, add fuel to the created the fire in the first place by too much spending. The “flames” are caused by borrowing (spending too much money) and you will increase the intensity of the “flames” with MORE borrowing.

    As for predictions of deficits, go pick one, a prediction. They move so fast that I can’t keep up with them, each time Congress “does something” which ususally entails spending MORE money, not less.

    “If the rich will pay just a little bit more, we will get control of deficits” so says (in so many words) you know who. So we raise taxes by $60 billion and turn around a month later and spend $50 Billion more, which is of course unfunded spending. We have been doing exactly that, raise revenues (through higher taxes a la Bush I and Clinton) or “growth” and continue to spend more than is raised for 50 years.

    Using you own metaphor, the house has had a fire in the basement for half a century and now it is spreading, FAST. Get out the gasoline say Dems and put water on it says GOP.



    • Anson,

      Your metaphor proves you don’t understand the problem as well as you think you do. You wrote,

      Yes, I believe the house is on fire to a degree and want to put water on it. You want to pour gasoline on it, add fuel to the created the fire in the first place by too much spending. The “flames” are caused by borrowing (spending too much money) and you will increase the intensity of the “flames” with MORE borrowing.

      No, the house is still smoldering (with pockets of flames here and there) from the Great Recession, the most traumatic fiscal mess we’ve been in since the 1930s. You want to put austerity gas on it, which would stoke the remaining fires, causing the recovery to sputter even more or die. If the chairman of the Fed isn’t worried about the debt in the short term, perhaps you should rethink your position, something I don’t think you are capable of doing, since you have so much invested in it by now.

      I will here, once again, remind you that our deficit-to-GDP ratio is declining and is projected to go down to 2.4% of GDP in 2015 before going up to 3.8% in 2023. The debt held by the public is also going down to 73.1% in 2018 and then increasing to 77% in 2023. Bernanke indicated that we need to keep it in a manageable range, and we’re not that far from manageable, especially if Republicans would stop sabotaging the economy.

      Finally, another measure we can use is the ratio of interest payments to GDP. Go check that one out, buster, and maybe you’ll stop being Johnny One Note on the debt. Measured this way, we are near low levels not seen since WWII (the ratio was much higher under Reagan in the 1980s). And that’s not even counting the fact that some of the interest payments we actually make to ourselves (via the Federal Reserve’s holdings of government bonds). So, the actual ratio is even lower.



  13. Here is an article that provides a list of some rather esteemed people who agree with Paul Krugman.


    • HLG,

      Thanks for that excellent link. We have been saying this stuff for four years now and still the deficit hawks keep winning the political, if not the economic, argument.

      CNBC is mostly a collection of supply-siders, with a left-leaning economist or CEO thrown in now and again. John Harwood is excellent, and Becky Quick is okay. But Maria Bartiromo is irritating and Joe Kernen is insufferable—should have stuck to cancer research at MIT. Oh, yeah. Larry Kudlow makes me bleed.

      In any case, the most salient point of that article, one that should be shouted from every housetop, is found in this graph:

      Graph of 10-Year Treasury Constant Maturity Rate

      Money is cheap and there is much infrastructure and retraining and research to be done. We should do it, and the fact we’re not part of the reason the recover won’t take off completely.



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