2010 vs. 1985: A Comparison That Doesn't Hold Up

There are a thousand ways to attack the Obama administration on economic policy and the budget. The Wall Street Journal chooses one that ignores context:

As for the deficits, the 2010 total was $1.29 trillion, down slightly from $1.42 trillion. That's a two-year total of $2.7 trillion, or more than the entire amount during the Reagan Administration, when deficits were supposed to be ruinous.

Anybody can play this 30-year comparison game. Look: Our GDP in 2010 is about $14 trillion, more then three times the size of the economy in 1985, when the economy was supposed to be awesome. Does that mean our economy is healthy? No, it means the size of our economy and our deficits makes 30-year comparisons worthless.

The headlining statistic of the WSJ column is that government spending grew a whopping 21 percent between 2008 and 2010. Once again, this ignores that fact that government spending tends to grow, over time, and especially during downturns. Federal spending tripled between Reagan's first year and George W. Bush's first year. Runaway spending! Between 2000 and 2002, a much milder recession, outlays grew more than 12 percent. Stop this train!

Should we panic? Maybe. But I'd prefer to read reasons why panicking and reversing course is more likely to help the economy and achieve growth. The WSJ is just throwing numbers around to scare people.