I just talked to a friend who is high up at a big New York bank about my take on the deficit, asking:
Is it accurate so say that (leaving out Medicare/Medicaid and the cost of private insurance, all of which are time bombs) that the logical thing to do with the economy is keep spending/running deficits ’til we’re really out of the recession, then jack up taxe rates on the wealthy and cut spending to bring the deficit down?
He said that, yes, he agreed and that many or most in finance would though with varying degrees of concern about excessive borrowing possibly causing a spike in interest rates and inflation.
This is not an issue that should be discussed in moral terms, but in pragmatic ones. If someone argues that the current deficit is catastrophic, that person should make an argument as to how it is, and not just claim that belt-tightening is inherently moral.
Pundits like to phrase things in terms of morality for a variety of reasons. Movement conservatives, especially Straussians, think it’s the right language to reason with/propagandize the Bieber-fearing proles. Some intellectually-inclined conservatives believe that everything should be argued morally rather than pragmatically/empirically, because that’s how Burke and Oakeshott and Jeebus did things. Villagers like moral arguments because they’re both simple and safe. Condemning a president for getting a blowjob is lot easier than combing through budget reports and you’ll never take any heat for it either.
The run-up to the war in Iraq was phrased in moral terms too. It was all about having the Churchillian resolve to fight evil and spread freedom, not about the pragmatic real-world problems that arise from creating anarchy in a large country with a history of ethnic strife. And so it is with we are all Georgians, Iranians, Egyptians, Algerians. It doesn’t matter whether anything we do helps the situations, what matters is that we’re on the right-side morally, in our minds, which are places that are infinitely more important than the world of other human beings.
I don’t deny that moralists can make certain arguments much better than a pragmatist (like me) can. Moral conviction against torture and for gay marriage is probably more convincing than “it doesn’t work anyway” and “why not?”.
A lot of issues just don’t come down to good versus evil, though, a lot come down to the numbers adding up, or a realistic plan, or an economic theory that is supported by historical evidence. Sure, we should get angry and self-righteous about the fact that we are ruled by sociopaths, but if their decisions were less destructive in practice, it wouldn’t be such a big deal that they are sociopaths.