Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Vast and Daunting Deficit Misunderstanding

As a result of my work I'm on lots of mailing lists for publications from various types of companies. I open up my personal inbox this morning to find this press release from Deloitte:

The gathering storm

Tax and spending implications of the federal deficit crisis

The United States faces unparalleled fiscal challenges. Over the next decade, the gap between revenue and spending that would result from continuing current tax and spending policies appears unsustainable. This imbalance is driven by the demographic and entitlement challenges created by the imminent retirement of the Baby Boom generation and the interest on our publicly held debt. Our political leaders differ on the relative contribution that spending cuts or tax increases should make in bringing the federal budget closer to balance. However our leaders address spending and tax policy in the face of these deficits, the direct and indirect consequences on business will be far-ranging.

I read it, and I sigh. Of course. "The imbalance is driven by... entitlement[s]". No mention of the contribution of tax cuts - it's purely a spending problem.

See, the thing is, I know how the communications departments of these sorts of companies work. They're not trying to be slanted or biased. In fact, I'm sure that they think that they're being neutral. They recognize that they're so big, and have so many diverse clients, that they can't afford to appear ideologically biased in any way.

Which is why this is so depressing. The notion that the federal deficit is simply the result of out-of-control spending is so deeply entrenched in corporate America - by which I mean millions of individuals, good and bad, liberal and conservative (and mostly middle-of-the-road), who work in large corporations - that they don't even have an inkling of the possibility that there's another part of the story:

This is just more evidence of a massive PR failure by those who are truly concerned about the deficit. Because there's no way to fix the problem if its true causes are still obscure to most Americans.

So if I could offer one piece of advice to people who are genuinely concerned about the federal budget deficit, and want to actually take constructive steps to fix the long-term problem, it would be this: hammer the message that taxes are too low given the government services that Americans want. Repeat it. Over and over. Don't deviate.

Taxes are too low given the government services that Americans want.

Taxes are too low given the government services that Americans want.

Taxes are too low given the government services that Americans want.

It's not that complicated, is it? And maybe, with time and enough repetition, Americans outside of policy circles will start to understand, or at least consider, that possibility.

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