Federal Deficit Attention Disorder Or #FDAD(#GotBitcoin?)
We’ll Be $1 Trillion in the Red in 2020. No Big Deal! Federal Deficit Attention Disorder #FDAD (#GotBitcoin?)
The U.S. has its own kind of attention deficit disorder: We don’t pay attention to the deficit.
When word got out that the federal deficit is poised to surpass $1 trillion this year, my reaction was pretty much the same as everyone else’s. Who cares? Except for the usual naysayers, spoilsports and gloomy Gusses, nobody seems to mind much one way or the other if the annual deficit is $1 trillion, $2 trillion or $10 trillion.
Sure, people used to get in high dudgeon about this stuff, but that was before the Dow hit 29,000. Now the public’s attitude seems to be: We don’t care that the deficit is $1 trillion, and we don’t care that the national debt is 23 times that size. If remaining hopelessly underwater until the end of time is the price we have to pay for seeing our 401(k)s bursting at the seams, we’re fine with that.
I am not suggesting that deficits don’t matter. All I’m saying is that they don’t matter that much. The American public, clearly suffering from some form of Federal Deficit Attention Disorder, just doesn’t get terribly riled up by the astonishing deficit staring us right in the face.
Why is that? Here are several possible explanations.
$1 trillion is a meaningless number. People would pay way more attention to the deficit if it were a manageable number, like $634,678. The figure $634,678 provides scale and context. Scale and context are everything. The public never cares if somebody steals $3 billion from Fannie Mae. But they get really upset when they read about a $3,500 Pentagon toilet seat. That’s because $3,500 is a number they can wrap their heads around. $1 trillion is an enigma.
The word “deficit” is never used in ordinary life, so nobody knows what it means. It’s like “legerdemain” or “puce.” The term “deficit” is just too confusing, and it lacks sex appeal. To grab the public by the lapels, the government needs a much better word. I like “The Big Magilla.” “The Federal Vig” or “Major National Juice” might work, too.
Economists don’t help. When economists try to explain how dire our fiscal situation is, they always say things like “Our national debt translates into $55,890 for every man, woman and child.” Not if you’re pushing 85, it doesn’t. It translates into $55,890 for your kids and grandchildren. So what? Let them pay the freight. Those freeloaders have mooched off the rest of us long enough.
Here’s another annoying thing about economists. When economists say things like “Our national debt translates into $55,890 for every man, woman and child,” it’s like saying “If you laid the bodies of all the people who will die from high cholesterol this year end to end, the line would stretch from Topeka to the moon.” No one can follow that kind of logic. You guys really aren’t helping.
Some of us think deficits are ‘kewl.’ That’s right, a lot of people are proud of our humongous deficit. It shows that we’re the Bob’s Big Boy of finance. It shows that we can still hit the long ball. Dinky little countries like Norway have tiny deficits. Canada’s deficit is a puny fraction of ours, barely the width of a hockey stick. Slovenia’s is a joke. And these guys wonder why they’re not Number One.
Not to harp on this or anything, but nobody believes economists. Every time they open their mouths to warn us about how deficits crowd out private investing, somebody points out that economists have predicted 2 of the last 3,456 recessions. Everybody’s on to their gloom-and-doom gambit.
A lot of Americans think that $1 trillion is less than $1 billion. More than anything else, this explains why nobody seems to get terribly worked up about our deficits or debt. It’s yet another area where our educational system is failing us. If only a tiny percentage of Americans know that World War I came before World War II and that Belgium is not in France, how can you expect them to grapple with a bewildering concept like a $1 trillion deficit?
Again, I’d stick with numbers easier to grasp. $5 million. $876,000. $9,378.49. Let’s start small and work our way up. Otherwise our days are numbered.