Increasing public debt is bad for a number of reasons. Journalist Matthew Yglesias, speaking on vox.com, gives voice to a very different, more Pollyannish perspective: “Debt is just not a problem right now,” he says.
“The U.S. can never run out of dollars.” After all, the Fed can just print more.
That’s not an uncommon view where I live, near the center of privilege, Washington, D.C. Indeed, it’s what liberals and progressives say every time a Tea Partier protests federal overspending and multi-billion-buck budget deficits.
In other words, the idea is as common as dirt. So why General Electric supports vox.com as propounding “Unique views on policy, from the best in the news,” I don’t know. The project is billed as “#pressing.” I look at it as “hashtag: depressing.”
But the GE money has been put to some use. The video sports state-of-the-art graphics and comforting music. Mr. Yglesias, narrating his own script, sounds convinced himself. He titles the talk in the form an instruction: “Stop freaking out about the debt.”
May we freak out about his naivety?
J.D. Tuccille at Reason took on the video by focusing on Yglesias’s initial pooh-poohing of the sheer size of the national debt. Tuccille noted that Yglesias under-reported its ginormity, and that the Congressional Budget Office finds, counter to insider Pollyannas, no small reason to worry about the ballooning debt.
But my mind still reels not over size comparisons but over the money quote. That is, the money-printing quote.
Yglesias really did argue that the federal debt is no problem, because, unlike you and me and the states and our businesses and non-profits, the federal government can simply turn on the printing presses. That is, the Federal Reserve can fiddle with money creation on bank computers.
Yglesias informs us of this as if it’s news. As if it’s something we hadn’t heard of before.
As if we’re idiots.
Someone, please, send a note to Mr. Yglesias: anti-public debt and anti-inflationism has a long and august tradition. Some of the leading minds of economics took the position, as have some of the major figures in American and British politics. Today’s heirs to this tradition know that government can create money out of, well, nothing. We just don’t think it should.
What he sees as a solution we see as a problem.