Don't Turn the Deficit into 'The Passion of the Boomers'

This post is part of our forum on Michael Kinsley's October cover story exploring the legacy of the Baby Boomers and what they owe the country. Follow the debate here.

Let's narrow the brush for a change, to three little pen-and-ink paragraphs:

1. I missed the part of my piece where I ostensibly wrote that "deficits are harmless."  Even my spell-check tool can't find it.  

2. I missed the part of Kinsley's piece where he explained in what ways he disagrees with Krugman, who has been making a useful pest of himself incessantly wondering aloud why, if the deficit is the burning issue of our time, long-term bonds are doing so nicely.  Disagreement as such--with anyone, Nobelist or not--isn't interesting, useful, or illuminating.  What might be all three are reasons for disagreement.  And by the way, Krugman, to my knowledge, doesn't say "deficits are harmless" either.  In fact, in The Age of Diminished Expectations: U.S. Economic Policy in the 1990s, he argues against both left and right-wing variants of that claim.  (All references Googlable, by the way, even by pundits.)
Can the Boomers Save America?
3. Kinsley asks, "If deficits are harmless, why do we have taxes at all?  Why not borrow the entire cost of running the government?"  This strikes me like asking:  If you like hamburgers, why not eat a thousand of them tonight?  Or, if you prefer:  Since it's dangerous to jump out of a second-story window, why jump when your apartment is on fire?  Yes, big long-term deficits are said by virtually all knowledgeable people to be somewhat problematic under some conditions.  But why should Boomers drop all their other public interests--would that more had them!--for a deficit passion when the icecaps are melting? To do something about convulsive, irreversible global climate change (a.k.a. "global warming," which sounds so much cozier) might well entail some deficit spending, among other burdens. To choose the deficit as The Boomer Passion would seem--pun intended, though awkward--to choose solvency over solution.

The debate continues here.

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Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology, and the chair of the Ph.D. program in communications, at Columbia University. He is the author of 15 books, including Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street.

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