How to Think About America's Deficit

I've written a lot about the deficit and jobs and government spending, and all the while, I've just been trying to say what Noam Scheiber says perfectly right here:

It's not that voters oppose government spending per se, or that they're especially exercised about the deficit itself. What they're really worried about is the economy and unemployment. But because they perceive the government's response to have been ineffective (emphasis on the word "perceive"--I actually think it's been much more effective than [NYT columnist Ross] Douthat does), they see it as worse than no response at all. Some believe the government's response has actually hurt the economy--a reasonable (if completely inaccurate) conclusion if you know very little about economics, given how unprecedented 10.2 percent unemployment is.

Put differently, the choices many voters perceive are: 1.) 10.2 percent unemployment (or lower) without having spent a trillion dollars and change; or 2.) 10.2 percent unemployment after having spent a trillion dollars and change. Given this perception (and, again, I don't think it comes close to reflecting reality, which would have been positively gruesome without the bank bailout and the stimulus), it's no surprise many voters are saying they prefer choice 1. But--and this is key for the current debate over additional stimulus versus lowering the deficit--that's *not* the same thing as them saying they prefer a smaller deficit for its own sake.

I suppose I'm more surprised than Noam about the public's enthusiasm for canceling the rest of the stimulus while the economy stinks. But the rest of this post is really, really spot on.