Greg has been making the case here that we’re increasingly caught in a “Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop.” The constant talk about the deficit from politicans of both parties makes voters believe that the deficit is very important and leads to far more media coverage of the deficit than of our jobs problem — both of which cause politicians to prioritize the deficit even more. And so on.
It turns out that a key aspect of this theory is supported within the political science literature.
Political scientist John Sides over at the Monkey Cage has a detailed item spelling this out. He argues that the theory is supported by a venerable, well-documented concept known as “agenda-setting,” which he defines this way: “the more news coverage of an issue, the more the public thinks that issue is important.”
As a political scientist myself, I’d add that “agenda setting,” as a media phenomenon, is caused entirely by editorial decisions made by big news organizations. In other words, what’s really to blame for getting the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop started is that most reporters seem to proceed from the premise that deficits are simply, unambiguously, bad things.
Over on his new blog, former White House Jared Bernstein has been working hard to challenge that view. He gets to the heart of the matter today by saying: “Polonious was wrong.” Borrowing money is simply smart policy, for individuals and for governments. It should be done prudently, but it is in principle part of a sound economic strategy.
The bottom line is that it is simply irresponsible for pundits, and even more so for reporters, to treat deficits as inherently bad, and deficit reduction as inherently virtuous. It should instead be treated like any other issue, from abortion to gun control to Iraq: as something which is open to legitimate debate on all sides.
But the viewpoint that deficits are sometimes good things has been excluded from our political conversation. Which of course only makes the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop worse ... and worse ... and worse ...