The Chart That Should Accompany Every Discussion of Deficits

All the time, and every day.

It's this one, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, released yesterday (and also highlighted by Andrew Sullivan and Ezra Klein today).

DeficitChart.png

Why does this chart matter? Because it makes clear, in that wonderful "worth 1,000 words" way, two realities that are fundamental to sane discussion of public finance, but that most of the public doesn't realize and that the Republican leadership is actively working to obscure. They are:

- The very large, but temporary and self-limiting, expenditures for TARP and other measures proposed by both the Bush and Obama administrations to avoid a second Great Depression, plus Obama stimulus spending. And;

- The very large, but permanent and worsening, budgetary impact of the "Bush tax cuts" -- which when first proposed back in the pre-9/11 era, were supposed to end in 2010 and were in response to what back then seemed to be the "problem" of a burgeoning surplus in federal accounts! Since "extending" those cuts just sounds like business as usual, I think it is hard for most people to envision the profound and growing effect they have. The chart above helps toward that end -- and doesn't even go into how heavily those cuts are skewed to the "haves" of society. Last year Austan Goolsbee had a marvelous chart of his own on that point.

And, as a bonus half-point, the chart clarifies that budget problems would be on the path to self-correction, if the Bush cuts had lapsed as originally planned.

So: print out this chart. Carry it around. Take it to Tea Parties and say you share their determination to get to the root of this deficit problem. Make sure people at least have to grapple with the argument it conveys. Ross Perot changed people's minds with charts 20 years ago. These things make a difference. Thanks to reader Bruce Johnson.

And here's one more for good measure, from the same CBPP source:

Budget2.jpg

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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